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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 November 2015
An old, old enemy returns to challenge the Doctor to one last game, among the attractions and amusements of Blackpool, 1985. But will either of them play fair? 4* (2 episodes, 2 CDs, 100 min)

Graham Williams’ ‘The Nightmare Fair’ should have opened the ‘lost season’ of Colin Baker’s television era. Written but never made, John Ainsworth’s adaptation for audio does a great job of bringing back to life not just this story, but the entire ‘feel’ of mid-1980s ‘Doctor Who’.

It’s a fairly simple story for the most part and I can easily imagine the Blackpool location filming that would have been used to spice things up, but it still works for audio. It works because of many fun moments and characters in the script, the excellent performances from the guests as well as the regulars (one in particular) and an ending that shows the Doctor at his most ruthless – you think the Tenth Doctor was tough when dealing with ‘The Family of Blood’? Judging by this story, Old Sixey could show him a thing or two!

Colin Baker recreates a less abrasive version of his television Doctor here, though this Sixth Doctor is still far more pompous and verbose (and louder!) than his normal audio persona - perfectly in keeping with the 1985 era, in other words. Nicola Bryant recreates her TV era Peri equally well, a more conventional ‘companion’ role than we’re used to now, with a certain amount of screaming – but that’s played on very nicely, making it appropriate and essential to the plot.

After some opening scenes around the funfair and local chap Kevin (Matthew Noble) looking for his lost brother and trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the Police about the weird goings-on he’s seen (which would have given a clue to older fans), the main theme of the story is revealed – the mercurial, manipulative, mandarin-robed Celestial Toymaker is back after twenty years. This would have been a terrific and totally unexpected ‘return’ if the television story had gone ahead and a great start to the season; as it is the CD cover tells all, but I suppose they thought most potential purchasers would be fans who already knew about this ‘Lost Story’ (I didn’t).

David Bailie gives a new take on Michael Gough’s classic character with a magnificent performance as the Celestial Toymaker. His brilliant, new interpretation is as an incurably bored eternal, prey to sudden mood swings and desperate for distraction, for something, anything to take his mind off yet more of his ceaseless existence. So he plays games with people and whole worlds, games where the price of losing is undying slavery…

Always one of the most mysterious of the Doctor’s opponents, the Toymaker’s own history finally gets some explanation here. His battle of wills with Colin Baker’s Doctor would be my first reason for recommending this audio; their characters are well matched in egotism and self-confidence, of course with totally different aims but I couldn’t help thinking that the Doctor was not wholly unwilling to prove himself the ‘top dog’ again, by playing “one last game” between them. But when the game is over, each of them has a final trick to play…

The mid-80s atmosphere is reproduced very well in this story through Jamie Robertson’s authentic sound design and music. The script is also very topical for its time, including what would then have been controversial satire as Peri is attacked by rock-throwing ‘miners’ (actually androids) in the ‘Gold Mine’ ride, and it’s no surprise to find that the Celestial Toymaker’s latest game is a computer arcade game – but just as sinister as all his old games…

After the ‘location’ first half, the Doctor and Peri do spend rather too long locked in a ‘studio’ cell and trying to escape, but the story holds up well thanks to some very unusual fellow captives who give the Doctor a helping hand (and claw). We also meet some of the Toymaker’s earlier victims – not all of whom regret their servitude. William Whymper plays the old, time-weary Regency roué Shardlow (who longs for his final escape) but Stefan (Andrew Fettes) has been serving his evil master for many centuries and clearly enjoys every minute of it…

The excellent performances and characterisations keep the interest up though a quite static second half that nonetheless works well, as the studio-based stories always did when the script was a good one. And we know that the ultimate showdown is coming, when the two games-masters will each play their last throw of the dice…

And the loser will lose for all eternity… 4*

(The CD booklet has interesting story notes, cast photos and a very good CGIed picture of the Celestial Toymaker in his lair. The documentary tracks are on the end of both discs and are particularly good on this release, enjoyable and very informative about the background of this lost story.)
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 June 2014
This is the first one released of the Lost Stories, one of those stories which never quite made it to the small screen in the 1980s, and which have now been released as full cast audio dramas by Big Finish. Unusually, although it never made it to being televised, it was novelised by Target Books as a Missing Adventure in 1988. This audio story features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, with his companion Peri, as played by Nicola Bryant. In the scheme of things, the story fits between Revelation of the Daleks and Mission to Magnus.

In Blackpool in 1985, the Doctor and Peri are looking for a bit of a holiday and relaxation. But the Doctor is about to meet up with an old enemy who has been waiting for him for quite some time. Who it is is no surprise to the listener as the features on the cover of the audio cd are quite clearly those of the Celestial Toymaker, whom the Doctor first met up with in the tv stories in 1966, played by Michael Gough. By the time of this audio adventure, the part is played very ably by David Bailie who injects the voice with a suitable menace and brooding nastiness. If you’ve never seen the 1966 story, don’t worry, you will not have trouble picking up on the nature of the character of the Celestial Toymaker.

This is a great story, and I could visualise it playing well on the tv (although I’m not sure how they would have approached televising the Toymaker’s game which sounded rather larger than life). The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has softened from the original Sixth Doctor/Peri clash of personalities, and they clearly have a rapport and trust in this story. The other characters in the story are well portrayed, although I would have liked to know what the Venusian Mechanic looked like! A really good story, and I’m really glad we have finally had the chance to hear and ‘see’ this story which otherwise would have been lost to us.
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on 30 July 2014
The first in the 'Lost Stories' series from Big Finish, this lost 1985 story from ex-producer Graham Williams see the fiery Sixth Doctor and Peri enjoy a trip in Blackpool, unwittingly stumbling into the sinister mechanations and games of the ancient being known as The Celestial Toymaker, whom the First Doctor had previously encountered. Booby trapped rides, robot miners and deadly arcade games ensue...

Adhering to the original 45 minute format from the era, 'Nightmare Fair' may not be a lost gem, but it's still an enjoyable ride, and would've made for a fun television serial, as well as season opener. However, its televisual roots are impossible to hide; Blackpool, the rides, the video games, it's all rather visual, and for all the solid sound work, Big Finish can only do so much. The opening is one prime victim; on TV, it would've been suspenseful and scary, but in audio form, it's kind of confusing as there is no establishing of location or character, so all you're hearing is just a guy huffing and screaming in a void. The Toymaker's video game is another, and this is an issue as it's the climax, but the game's appearance isn't well explained by the other characters, so it's hard to visualize what the Doctor is playing.

However, despite this, the team must be commended for even pulling this off, and for the most part, rather successfully. On top of our two leads Baker and Bryant in fine, and fiesty, a form as ever, we also have a terrific cast, with David Bailie leading the charge, relishing in his villainy and manipulation, as well as sounding a little like Michael Gough (the original Toymaker). What's more despite the odd hiccup, Williams' often amusing script still shines through, and the solid audio work permits the story to boast a mostly solid recreation of the sights & sounds of Blackpool and theme park rides, as well as classic, retro-gaming sound effects that will warm the heart of many a 80s child.

As for the package itself, the story is spread across two discs, and each half ends with a making of/interviews with some of the cast and crew, so this is a meaty release. To close, while Big Finish does stretch the audio presentation at points and is not always successful, it does not alter the fact that 'Nightmare Fair' is a good double-parter, peppered with great dashes of wit, fun performances from a wonderful cast, and an evocative atmosphere that conjures up fairgrounds, candy floss and classic arcades.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 August 2010
As any fan of the classic Dr Who series knows, in eighties it was unceremoniously taken off the air after revelation of the Daleks, and scripts for the planned next series which had already been commissioned were scrapped. After an 18 month wait the show returned with trial of a Time Lord, and the unmade Colin Baker episodes seemed doomed to never be made.

Until now. Big Finish have located all 8 original scripts, adapted them for audio and recorded them with Colin Baker as 6 and Nicola Bryant as Peri. This should be a fascinating series of releases.

6 and Peri have been dragged to Blackpool, where they are having a fun time until they realise that there are some dodgy goings on at the Pleasure Beach. The Doctor soon finds an old enemy, the Celestial Toy Maker at the heart of things and finds he has been brought there for a diabolical purpose.

This is an excellent production all round. The script really evokes the feel of the TV series of the time. Baker does an excellent job of rolling back the years. His Doctor has developed quite a bit in the Big Finish releases, but here he goes back to how it was in the 80s, recapturing the character perfectly. He is full of energy, determination and compassion. It's a great performance, especially the Doctor's reaction to a rollercoaster, and his final line.

Plaudits must also go to David Baillie as the villain of the piece. His performance is charming and menacing in equal parts, making the perfect foe for the Doctor.

An excellent production, well worth getting for any fans of the 80's series. Hopefully the other 7 stories in this set of releases will be as good. There is a second set of Lost Story productions planned, which will include the Sylvester McCoy season that had been planned to follow `Survival'. Given how his final season had developed I cannot wait to see what that is like!
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on 11 July 2014
As a television story, this might have been a lot of fun - lots of running around Blackpool with various rides being given a showing. As an audio, this doesn't quite work. Thankfully John Dorney has ripped out the visual moments to spare us extended descriptions of characters running around Blackpool or enjoying the rides.

Plot: Actually a lot of fun and kudos to Graham Williams for providing not only a return for an unusual old enemy but an explanation of his origins that provides his motivation. In retrospect the Doctor's solution to the Toymaker is rather cruel. This is also a product of its time with video games at their height of popularity this would have had the Doctor playing some unknown video game to the bitter end.

Script: Rather good. It is unknown how much of this is Williams and how much Dorney, but it all comes across very well. Of particular note is a wonderful scene of Peri screaming.... Because she is on one of the rides :).

Other: This would have been a good season opener - the Doctor and Peri get involved in the plot pretty early on and there would have been lots of visual elements to keep us interested.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2009
A new doctor who audio play, featuring colin baker as the doctor and nicola bryant as his companion peri. And it's first in a new series of these that takes stories which didn't make it onto tv and gives them a whole new life on audio. the nightmare fair would have been on tv in 1986 if not for the show being rested for eighteen months by the bbc. It was novelised a few years later, but now here's an audio version of the tale.

This runs for two long episodes, of forty and sixty minutes each, and there's two discs here with one on each. Plus interviews with cast and crew at the end of both. These are good listening but the sound quality in them can be a bit variable.

The story has the doctor and peri visiting blackpool, and having an enjoyable time at the fair until they run into the doctor's old enemy: the celestial toymaker. A being of great power, previously seen on tv in 1965 battling the first doctor and played by michael gough. The toymaker likes to play games. anyone who loses to him will be his. forever. and he has a few schemes on the go. can the doctor survive?

The script has been rewritten to make it work on audio and it works very well as such. but you can tell this was a doctor who tv story from the mid 80's nonetheless, because of the way it's structured. there are many scenes of the rather small cast wandering around what would have been sets in the bbc studios on tv, and the length of the two episodes being so different does make them feel a bit unbalanced.

And yet there are quite a few great little moments to be had along the way. The doctor and peri do acknowledge at points how their relationship has softened since their abrasive early days. David Bailie [taking the role of the toymaker as michael gough has now retired from acting] gives a superb performance. the toymaker is someone who can be charming but can also get easily bored. and the moments when he gets annoyed are really subtly scary. Added to which the characterisation of his servants - those who lost to him and are now condemned to do his will forever - is really quite superb. some embrace the opportunity but some don't. this leads to some memorable scenes for two of them in particular.

Had this been on tv at the time it would have been a good story, rather than a great one. But it's nice to get the chance to encounter it in this form, and for that I'm grateful.

Listen to the start of disc one for a trailer for Mission to Magnus (Doctor Who: The Lost Stories) the forthcoming second story in this range.
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on 31 March 2010
'The Nightmare Fair' kicks off Big Finish Productions' The Lost Stories series, a collection of 'Doctor Who' tales written in the 1980s, but never produced for various reasons, chief among them being the cancellation / enforced hiatus the show underwent in 1985. Effectively, the series is supposed to represent the original Season 23, whose stories were written off and ultimately replaced by 'The Trial of a Time Lord' in 1986.

First up is this tale, which sees the Doctor and Peri taking a trip to Blackpool's Pleasure Beach, only to find themselves caught up in the warped games of the Celestial Toymaker, who originally appeared in the series in 1966 - a mysterious being with extraordinary powers, a penchant for games, and a grudge against the Doctor. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the problem with resurrecting these lost tales on audio is that they weren't necessarily great stories in the first place. 'The Nightmare Fair' isn't bad, but a fair chunk of the television version would have entailed location filming in Blackpool, so the appeal of the setting is somewhat lost in the audio medium. Even without that, though, the script is a bit of a muddle. Even immediately after listening to it, the overall impression is of a collection of really interesting ideas in search of a story - there's some good stuff here, but it doesn't quite fit together, feeling less of a plot than a collection of set-pieces.

The saving grace of this production lies in the cast and the sound design - after several years playing a somewhat mellower take on the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker deliberately recreates his more abrasive television persona for this series. And actually, it's good to have this version back, even if only as a novelty. Meanwhile, David Bailie steps into Michael Gough's shoes as the Toymaker, and does so wonderfully, with every scene in which he appears a joy to listen to. Sound-wise, there's been a real effort to make this sound like it was made in the 1980s - the score is closer to the kind of synthesised incidental music of that period than Big Finish's usual compositions, and where appropriate, the sound effects feel similarly 'period'.

I'm still not entirely convinced that resurrecting some of these stories is a good idea in the first place - it does feel like some of them are being revived for the sake of it, rather than because they're actually any good - but 'The Nightmare Fair' has taken on a legendary status among 'Doctor Who' fandom, and it's nice to see it enter production at long last. There's a lot to enjoy in this production, but it's not quite the lost classic some might imagine.
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VINE VOICEon 3 April 2010
The first in the Big Finish range of "Lost Stories", scripts which made it to various stages of production for Doctor Who in 80s but for some reason or other did not make it to our screens.

Colin and Nicolas performances are superb (as they always are, and remain so throughout the range). Playing the part of the Celestial Toymaker is the same actor who played the main protagonist in the Tom Baker story "The Robots of Death", he truly makes the part his own, giving a wonderfully memorable performance and putting a much more interesting spin on the character.
The music and sound are both wonderfully 80s, if just a little bit better than they might have been.

The story can be boiled down to the most basic of Doctor Who formulas, that of capture and cunning escape, this however means that whilst this audio was made for Television it is very easy to follow (with the notable exception of the ending which is rather confusing and rushed through too quickly).

I can honestly say about this audio is that it is leaps and bounds beyond the original inspiration (The Celestial Toymaker) in terms of writing and performances, but that is not one of my favourites. Had this been made for Television I should imagine it would join the ranks of "The Visitation", nothing wrong with it, but nothing especially right, just enjoyable, traditional, Dr Who.
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on 5 December 2009
In 1985, during Colin Baker's first full season portraying the Doctor, the "powers that be", more powerful than any dalek, decided that the series needed a "much needed" rest, which led to the cancellation of the proposed next series of DOCTOR WHO and its eventual replacement with THE TRIAL OF A TIMELORD (available on DVD). On-screen, this meant the final scene of that season (the end of REVELATION OF THE DALEKS) had the Doctor cut off mid sentence and instead of stating the location of his next adventure, we got a mysterious "?"...

However, the proposed next season was already being planned and scripts were already written which were then cast aside and never used. Former Producer Graham Williams had been commissioned to write a set of scripts set in Blackpool and written a rematch between the Doctor and an adversary who had appeared way back in the 1960s with William Hartnell's Doctor, the Celestial Toymaker.

Fast forward 25 years and BIG FINISH Productions, who have done some sterling work creating new stories for previous Doctors on Audio, dust off these scripts, adapt them to work better in sound only, and release them in a new series called "The Lost Stories" so that this classic confrontation is finally available to be experienced by everybody. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are back recreating their roles as the Doctor and Peri, with David Bailie taking over duties as the sinister Toymaker. 2 CDs contain the two 45 minute episodes in much the same format as the TV series was using back in 1985 and the style is very much of that period in the show's history. How much you enjoy this story does rather depend then on how much you like that era of the series, but I found it an enjoyable yarn with 2 likeable characters recreating very well the essence of the characters as they were played back then. The Toymaker is played with sinister relish by David Bailie and makes for a suitably menacing foe and there are one or two nice references back to adventures from an earlier Doctor which are a nice touch.

Both discs have a lengthy "behind the scenes" piece at the end which gives a nice roundness to the project in these days of multitudinous extras but the first one can rather break the momentum of the story if you're trying to listen to just that.

All-in-all, then, a fairly enjoyable piece of typical mid-eighties DOCTOR WHO, and certainly worth trying, especially if you're any kind of television Who completist. As to whether the rest of the range as announced does, however, feel quite so essential, remains to be seen. MISSION TO MAGNUS, another shelved script from that same season, is next up, but after that, the source material gets more obscure.
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