It’s funny that its taken this long to swing back round to the Lost Stories that started them all, but here we are! The Nightmare Fair is the first of an impressive run of eleven Sixth Doctor Lost Stories (twelve if I hadn’t already reviewed Ultimate Evil) and is one of the ones I knew about before the range started. It was originally supposed to kick off Season 23, with the last line of Revelation of the Daleks originally making reference to Blackpool being their next destination before everything became uncertain and they removed it. So how does the Nightmare Fair hold up? Is it better than the other Lost Story featuring one of the Celestial Beings?… It would be hard not to be! Let’s take a look!
The TARDIS has been drawn to Blackpool in the year 1986, where the Doctor intends to investigate a dangerous space/time vortex… while enjoying some local attractions along the way. But an old enemy is watching from his base deep within the amusement park, a timeless being who craves revenge.
The Celestial Toymaker has returned. The game is on. And, should he lose, the Doctor will pay the ultimate forfeit…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“*GASP!* They’re recast the Celestial Toymaker!” said nobody ever. At least his God-like nature means it doesn’t need explaining!
There’s a lot to like about the setting of “The Nightmare Fair”, the funfair setting gives The Doctor, who at this point was still his super-grumpy TV self, some room to uncharacteristically enjoy the rides, and Peri to generally enjoy herself. Plus connecting a funfair to the Celestial Toymaker is an obvious but fun idea.
Speaking of the Toymaker, he’s played here by David Bailie, Michael Gough no longer being with us, and he really ups the giggly childlike nature of the character more. We also find out a bit more about him, that’s he’s from a different dimension entirely, which is why he can fiddle with the rules of this universe so freely, but as the two dimensions are so far apart and getting ever further it makes time pass so slowly for him that’s he’s not only immortal but he’s lived for millions of years already, and will live for millions more. It’s interesting, and makes The Doctor feel sorry for him…
Admittedly not sorry enough to allow him to kill millions of human with his ultimate Arcade Machine that will take the actual life of anyone who loses their three in-game lives. A very mid-80s Arcade game too, but the sounds of it! (Obviously, given when the script was written!). It’s an odd plan, but it makes sense as it’s established the Toymaker only likes games so much because he’s lived so long that unpredictable games of chance and choice are the only things that give him any entertainment… plus killing has always seemingly been a bonus for him too, so… Hooray? Anyway, I also like that the Toymaker is surrounded by people from Earth’s past who have lost games to him and therefore become enslaved, the sadistic Stefan (Andrew Fettes) is particularly fun.
All that backstory is all well and good, but what about the story? Eh… It’s okay. The first half is mostly wandering around a funfair, The Doctor and Peri meeting nice local kid Kevin (Matthew Noble) who is looking for his lost brother (who has been enslaved by the Toymaker) and then a chase around a haunted house ride that is one of the standout scenes in terms of something that clearly was written for TV rather than audio. Then the second half is The Doctor meeting prisoners in the Toymaker’s cells, scheming with them, Peri and Kevin, and playing the ultimate game. Although he losses he throws Stefan into the path of the killer game alien and lives just in time for a trap he laid for his foe in the cells based around an alien android’s circuitry and Peri screaming his name comes into effect which stuns the immortal. The Doctor them proceeds to trap the Toymaker in his own psychic field that won’t shut off until he dies… which will be a good while, as established!
It’s perfectly fine, a lot more interesting and varied than the Toymaker’s original appearance, and certainly better his sister’s Lost Story from earlier in this run (or later, release-wise).
This image comes from a booklet with the CD version. I wish there was a bigger scan of it!
As mentioned, it has its slower moments as well. Quite a bit of the first episode is talking and wandering around on and off rides, and a lot of the second is talking in prison cells, but again comparing it to similar stories, it’s fine. Honestly I think if I was reviewing this before my re-listen of “The Queen of Time” I’d probably be more harsh towards it, but there you go…
The cover of the Target novelisation of the original script. Why not?
The Celestial Toymaker first appeared in the First Doctor TV story “The Celestial Toymaker”, and would later reappear in the Seventh Doctor audio “The Magic Mousetrap”, and again against the Eighth Doctor in comic story “Endgame” and audio “Solitaire”. As already mentioned, the Second Doctor Lost Story “The Queen of Time” features the Toymaker’s sister Hera, and … is not very good, to put it politely…
That’s it really. There are a few brief mentions of past adventures, but they’re just that: fleeting mentions.
I don’t know where this image came from, but I thought I’d add it in. Breaks up the text a bit!
The Nightmare Fair is perfectly fine. If you have to tell a story about an other-dimensional immortal who likes to play games with mortals, this is a more interesting way of doing it than his TV appearance or his sister’s Lost Story, but it’s still not the most interesting concept to run with and as a result the story can slow down in places. Not perfect, but a decent enough start to the Sixth Doctor’s run of Lost Stories (and technically the range in general!)