The Lost Stories make an unexpected return this month (as in it was unexpected when it was announced months ago…), starting with Nightmare Country, a Fifth Doctor story that was proposed for Season 21 but deemed too expensive to produce. This audio adaptation proved not only fun to listen to, but also… not really sure how it would have been too expensive, honestly. Either way, let’s have a look at Nightmare Country!
The Doctor wakes up on a planet of relics, a dead world, a hostile world… He has no memory of who he is, or how he got to be here. He’d better remember soon, because the very structure of reality is at risk and it all has something to do with that strange blue tomb with the light on top.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
So this story is a little high concept, but basically some travelling Time Lords who repair and upgrade TARDIS consoles and devices have met up with The Doctor and together they’ve decided to use a reality-creating machine to give the travellers a home in a pocket reality. The Doctor and several of these engineers hook themselves up to said machine, but the issue comes when it malfunctions and instead draws inspiration from the subconscious, rather than the conscious, causing everyone to forget who they are / where they are, and have to deal with creatures formed from their deepest fears.
It’s an interesting idea, and an extra layer is added on top when Tegan, who along with Turlough is observing the madness while in the TARDIS, gets put into another machine that creates a duplicate of her to enter the new emerging reality and try to jog The Doctor’s memory, specifically the memory of how to get out of there and back to reality. This fake, sentient Tegan is well aware she’ll be left behind to die when she succeeds though, giving it a grim subtext. Given the “Nightmare Country” is described as just a large graveyard, and the TARDIS sets are pretty standard, I’m thinking it’s less that it would be too expensive and more they thought viewers wouldn’t get it. Which is silly, but hey-ho.
A good cover, though the Vodyani aren’t what I pictured in my head, personally…
The Doctor and co. do escape, but the Vodyani (the evil creatures formed from the subconscious) also escape to reality, the machine doing its job and bringing them to life, leading to the final part being set in the TARDIS itself. Turns out that nice guy apprentice (whose name escapes me) who has been helping Tegan and Turlough this whole time was responsible, his traumatic upbringing having a imbedded effect on the reality machine after he had been one of the testers. The Vodyani are outsmarted and sent back to the bubble world, the story ending with the Vodyani, the sentient Tegan copy and a similar copy of The Doctor all being erased along with the reality.
It all sounds overly complicated, but really most of the story is an amnesiac Doctor and some well-acted crew members being chased in a graveyard world by skeletal creatures, then the last little bit on the TARDIS just wraps it up.
There’s a character called “Big Bob” who only seemingly exists because a character called “Big Bob” who doesn’t talk in anything other than grunts is the joke, I guess. It was a small part of the story, but it stood out as… not very good?
Also Turlough does very little, not once appearing in the false reality, so he’s just watching on in the TARDIS. He does gather together the workers and gets the leader out of hiding at one point, but really he’s on the side-lines.
Nothing much. At one point everyone takes refuge in the second control room, first introduced in the Fourth Doctor TV story “The Masque of Mandragora”, and used for a season or so after it before reverting to the classic look.
Nightmare Country was a fun addition to the Lost Stories range, full of an interesting concept or two and a good old fashioned run-around. It’s one of those Lost Stories that feels like a shame it wasn’t made, though the 80s visual version of it may not have came across as well…