Big Finish: Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3: The Stuff of Nightmares, Rview - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3: The Stuff of Nightmares, Rview

Tony’s doing the Maybe-Monster Mash.
The idea of the Classic Doctors, New Monsters range is essentially a kind of fan service. It’s the same impulse that Russell T Davies had when he finally brought the Daleks and Cybermen into battle against one another in Doomsday – taking fan favourite elements and mashing them up in new ways.

As such, there will have been many fans, and indeed some writers (Robert Valentine freely admits in the Behind The Scenes material on this collection to a “Really?” reaction when told his “monster” would be the Tivolians) who were a little underwhelmed at the prospect of the villainous line-up for this set.

The Dream Crabs? No problem – they’re physically creepy, audibly creepy, and psychologically creepy in that they make you fall in love with a fiction while drinking your brains. Overdue a comeback already, and with the potential for lots of different angles. The Tivolians… Hmm. Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor summed them up very effectively, saying their cowardice wasn’t smart or cute, but almost predatory and parasitical. There’s something there, certainly, but they hardly rank as “monsters” in the same way that some other creatures do.

And then there’s the Hoxx of Balhoon. He really feels like a what-the-heck inclusion, because not only was the point of the original Moxx of Balhoon that he looked like a fierce, supervillainous monster, but was in fact an extremely polite lawyer with no ill intent whatsoever, but the Hoxx is actually just a family relation of the Moxx’s, and so there’s a strong potential for the premise of the set to fall over when it comes to him. You can argue that the fact that this is his first appearance makes him a truly “New Monster,” but to do that, he has to be one. And we’re not about to spoil for you the question of whether or not he actually is.

It's with this variation of reactions to the main “monsters” in this collection that many fans will approach the set. And, perhaps predictably, the degree to which the stories are enjoyable grows from the start towards the end (where the Dream Crabs get two separate stories to reduce you to a quivering mess on the floor).

The House That Hoxx Built, by Tim Foley is, it should be stressed, a good story. Tim Treloar’s Third Doctor and Sadie Miller’s Sarah Jane, on a far future Earth which is essentially dead but where the rain remains indefatigable, with a single creepy house offering refuge? So far, so fun, so Rocky Horror.

A creepy holo-butler (David Rintoul), the Hoxx of Balhoon (Dan Starkey), and his ward, Francesca the Fleeceling (sheep-humanoid, natch) (Ozioma Whenu) living in the house alone, having renovated it in “period” gothic Earth style and showing it off to those who want to visit? In keeping with the era of the Earth’s last gasps, as per The End of the World. Getting references to old Earth history and culture wildly wrong? Good fun, in the style of Mr Copper from Voyage of the Damned.

The thing that gets more and more interesting the longer it goes on is that the Hoxx is a sucker for ghost and horror stories, and has built his house with expensively manufactured creepiness factored in. The dust in old rooms has taken decades to accumulate elsewhere and has then been carefully designer-applied. The same is true of cobwebs and creaking door handles. But there’s a problem. Beneath all the constructed mysteries and gruesomeness of the house that Hoxx built, there’s a real terror. Getting down beneath all the reconstruction to find the true horror underneath is the journey of the story.

In some respects, when you find the horror, part of your brain goes “Oh, like the Vashta Nerada?” – and it would have been an effective double-down to actually have them be the real new monster of the story, though of course, they’ve already starred in the range alongside Tom Baker.

As it is, though, the Doctor and Sarah Jane’s investigation of the house that Hoxx built has consequences that extend far beyond its walls, righting an accidental interplanetary wrong and altering the path of the Hoxx and especially Francesca for the better.

As we say, it’s a good story. Add to that some effective creepy sound design, the fact that there’s not a performance in the piece that doesn’t convince, and the perfection of tone for the Hoxx’s world as we’ve previously understood it, and it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour. It just feels like an odd story to be part of this particular box set.

The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much, by Robert Valentine, is a heroic masterpiece of sorts, because it achieves a few important and difficult things. Firstly, it makes at least one Tivolian quite genuinely likeable. Secondly, and although it’s significantly against his better judgment, it makes the same Tivolian Actually A Bit Brave. Thirdly, it delineates the things for which Tivolians will actually stand up and if not exactly fight, then at least run away and tut about from a safe distance.

And the joy is that it does all this while delivering a kind of Hitchcock pastiche, set in Rome, with aliens in hiding, fighting their battles in human disguise.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as the Fourth Doctor and Leela are in joyous, Sunmakers form, their wise idiot/intelligent innocent crosstalk delivered with a real sense of the period, spiced up with a little Douglas Adams flair. Robert Daws makes a superb Tivolian as Timble Feebis, and the rest of the cast is made up of some of the best audio actors you could wish for – Anthony Howell, Damian Lynch, and Imogen Church. (Side-note – more Imogen Church as and when possible, thank you kindly). And the plot itself is bright, breezy, and not a little bonkers – mistaken identity, vital data chips, chases across Rome, cops and robbers with a whole other aliens-in-disguise element. It’s colossally good fun, and feels like a quick listen with a neat pay-off.

The Tivolians still aren’t monsters, but with a breezy hoursworth of fun and frolic, you mind their mis-categorisation less than you do with the Hoxx of Balhoon.

Together In Eclectic Dreams, by Roy Gill (and bravo on the title – we who are old enough to remember the Eighties salute you!) is, for our money, the anchor-story of the set. The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and new companion Mari Yoshida (Susan Hingley) arrive at The Archipelago of High Dreams to try to find a cure for the bad dreams that Mari’s been having on board the Tardis.

That’s about as straightforward as the plot gets. Once they start investigating Mari’s dreams, the story chops and changes, reality shifts, and in what is possibly one dream-reality, Mari encounters the Eighth Doctor, and with help from a friend named Sam, who believes he can summon people he dreams about, she pulls him out of the dream into her Sixth Doctor reality.

There’s a plot afoot to put the Dream Crabs on every bedside in this corner of the cosmos, and the reasons for it are joyously petty. We instinctively love a bit of towering Sixth Doctor rage against anything petty, and this story delivers on that beautifully.

Rebecca Front unobtrusively guest stars in this episode – unobtrusively by virtue of an accent, not because her part is minor. In fact, she’s crucial to the whole thing as Tara, a singer who’s suffering from creative burnout.

And the combination of two Doctors with a plot for the Dream Crabs that’s actually more effective than their TV outing was makes this a chilling winner.

And finally, If I Should Die Before I Wake by John Dorney (from an idea by Jacqueline Rayner) is enormous fun with an undertow of darkness. The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charlie Pollard (India Fisher) star in the mother of all bedtime stories, as the Doctor tries to trap his companion in myth after myth taken from the Greek canon. There’s a lovely note here of authors trying to force their stories in one direction, when their characters, if they’re as bright as they’ve been written, will always find ways out of their perilous situation, rather than embrace oblivion. Whatever monster Charlie’s supposed to face in the stories the Doctor tells her, she always takes over the narration and pulls a solution out of thin air – at least once entirely literally.

That becomes more and more vexing, because when you’re in the mind-caves of the Kantrofarri (the Dream Crabs), the one thing you need to do… is die. The story gets serious only towards the end, though, so for the longer part of it, you’re laughing at Charlie’s magical escapes and her epic use of string to make a nonsense out of a lot of Greek mythology. When the penny ultimately drops, there’s an irresistible twist, and a ticking clock that’s seeded early in the episode takes on a whole new significance.

Where Together In Eclectic Dreams takes a more hardcore sci-fi approach to the Dream Crabs, If I should Die Before I Wake is more esoteric, revelling in the dream-layering for which the Kantrofarri are famous, and allowing the reveal, when it comes, to hit with a certain inevitable stomach-flip.

Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 3 is a mixed bag, to be sure. The Hoxx of Balhoon is a bit of an interloper in the set, but delivers an interesting, if familiar, story. The Tivolians come to life in a brand new way in the hands of Robert Valentine, and with two very different takes on the Dream Crabs, each of them better than the TV version by virtue of not having the crammed-in Christmas dimension, you may never sleep again. At least, not knowingly…

Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3: The Stuff of Nightmares is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 September 2022, and on general sale after this date..

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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