REVIEW | Classic Doctors, New Monsters: The Stuff of Nightmares

The Classic Doctors, New Monsters range returns with The Stuff of Nightmares, a collection of four new audio adventures which pit Doctors from the classic series of Doctor Who against monsters from the post-2005 series. This set sees Tom Baker, Colin Baker and Paul McGann return to the range alongside Tim Treloar in his Classic Doctors, New Monsters debut, as the Time Lord encounters the Hoxx of Balhoon, the timid Tivolians and the sinister Kantrofarri. It’s an exciting lineup to be sure, but will listening to these stories prove a series of sweet dreams, or the stuff of nightmares? Read on to find out!

There are mild spoilers in this review, so do be aware of that as you go on!


1. “The House That Hoxx Built” by Tim Foley

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive on Earth in the far future, finding it devastated by the ravages of time and devoid of life… or so they think. Sheltering from the rain in an old priory, the travellers encounter the genial Hoxx of Balhoon who, alongside his holographic butler, Butler, and his ovine ward Francesca, has come to Earth to explore and celebrate its history. But the Hoxx’s historical investigations are about to be ruined as his house is wracked by strange and disturbing phenomena. Might Earth not be as deserted as it seems?

I must admit, The House That Hoxx Built was probably the story in this boxset I was most trepidatious about. The Moxx of Balhoon is hardly a classic, celebrated monster, having only appeared briefly in one story, and so an episode about his heretofore unmentioned cousin, the Hoxx, seemed unappealing. With Tim Foley at the helm, however, I should have known I had no need to worry!

The House That Hoxx Built is a charming story which takes the hints about the future of the Earth seeded in TV story The End of the World and uses the Hoxx of Balhoon to explore them further. Doing so through a haunted house story is an inspired move from Foley and, though the eventual explanation for the spooky goings-on is slightly out of left field, the build-up is atmospheric and gripping, and the expansion on Russell T Davies‘ ideas from The End of the World is captivating.

Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller are joined in this story by Dan Starkey, who brings the titular Hoxx of Balhoon to life with an enjoyably quirky performance. David Rintoul also stars here as Butler the butler, a Digi-Human who has been affected by the house’s spooky happenings. The standout cast member, however, is Ozioma Whenu as anthropomorphic sheep-person called Francesca. She gives a compelling performance in her Big Finish debut, and I hope we hear more from her in future productions.

Sound design and music are handled here by Howard Carter, who does a great job at bringing the story’s spooky atmosphere to life. Standout moments include the various hauntings and the final dawntime scene, while the constant sound of rain beating down on the house underscores the less action-packed scenes perfectly.

Overall, this is a surprising hit: a creative and gripping story which uses a returning monster not as a means for nostalgia, but in order to further develop a world we’ve only had glimpses off in the past. Bravo Tim Foley!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2. “The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much” by Robert Valentine

The Fourth Doctor and Leela find their Italian holiday interrupted when they’re dragged into the machinations of a crime boss and his gang! Alongside timid Tivolian Timble Feebis, the TARDIS twosome must guard a data chip from intergalactic criminal Volen Steasel, all while evading the clutches of the determined Inspector Letícia Giallo. Will Timble Feebis manage to overcome his fear of, well, everything and defeat Steasel? Or will this prove too much for the trembling Tivolian?

The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much takes a very different approach from the other stories in the boxset, with a more lighthearted, rompy feel than the spookier tales that surround it. It’s a nice tonal shift, and Tom Baker is, of course, wonderful with a comedic script, but it does mean that this story feels a little more lightweight than the others in the set. Nevertheless, it’s consistently entertaining and does some interesting things with the Tivolians.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are joined here by Robert Daws, who is excellent as the cowardly, lovable Timble Feebis. I’d honestly be very interested in hearing from his character again; the way Valentine leaves him at the end of the story is just begging to be fleshed out more! Meanwhile, Anthony Howell impresses as the villainous Volen Steasel who, while a somewhat one-dimensional character, is suitably menacing performance-wise.

Overall, The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much is a fun and exciting story, and a nice change from the more serious tales contained within this boxset. Good stuff.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

3. “Together in Eclectic Dreams” by Roy Gill

When his trusty companion Mari Yoshida begins to suffer from nightmares in the TARDIS, the Sixth Doctor takes her to the Archipelago of High Dream in an effort to cure her. There, they discover the Lethe Foundation and its overseer, famed musician Tara, whose Dream Guides lull users to sleep with personalised melodies. Are Tara and her motives as pure as they seem? Who is the mysterious Green Man appearing in peoples’ dreams? And what will happen when the Kantrofarri set their sights on the Lethe Foundation?

Together in Eclectic Dreams (bonus points for the title!) is not only the strongest story in this boxset, but one of the strongest stories released by Big Finish this year, second only to Tim Foley‘s superlative Auld Lang Syne. Writer Roy Gill seizes hold of the Dream Crabs, an alien race introduced in 2014’s Christmas special Last Christmas, and takes them in some brilliant new directions with a script full of tantalising new ideas, gamechanging twists and lots of surprises. Just when you think you know what’s going on, Gill pulls the rug from under your feet and throws in a new element to shake things up, meaning that even though this story comes in at an hour and eleven minutes, it never drags for a second.

Gill’s script is brought to life by a brilliant cast, led by Colin Baker and Susan Hingley as the Sixth Doctor and his companion Mari Yoshida. Mari is a new character introduced in this story, and she makes a great first impression, performed and written perfectly. Baker and Hingley are joined by strongest guest cast in the set, formed of the inimitable Rebecca Front, whose Irish-lilted performance as Tara is simultaneously sinister and compelling, Sam Stafford as endearing Lethe employee Sam Duffy and Raj Ghatak, who is excellent in his dual roles of the Monk of High Dream and Professor Klovis.

Also featuring here is Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, who makes a surprise appearance ahead of the next story, which he stars in. Doctor #8 is a background presence for much of the tale, appearing in Mari’s dreams and warning her about the Kantrofarri, but his inclusion in the story is completely warranted, meaning this never feels like a multi-Doctor story done just for the sake of it. It’s really exciting to hear him interact with Colin Baker too; I’ve never heard these two Doctors meet before, but it’s safe to say they have great chemistry with one another.

Toby Hrycek-Robinson is the sound designer and composer for this story, and with his work on this story he gives us the best soundscape in the boxset. Not only does he bring the Dream Crabs to life effectively, which is no small task given that they scuttle and hiss instead of speaking, but he also does a great job at making the story’s dream sequences sound disorienting and surreal.

Overall, Together In Eclectic Dreams is a triumph of a story, claiming a very rare five stars from me! Excellent work from Roy Gill and all the cast and crew.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

4. “If I Should Die Before I Wake” by John Dorney (from a story by Jacqueline Rayner)

The Eighth Doctor and Charley are lost in a world filled with creatures from Greek mythology. How did they get here? Can they escape? Whose story is this to tell? The Doctor and Charley must work out the truth, before their Fates unravel and the Dream Crabs feast on their minds…

If I Should Die Before I Wake is a difficult story to talk about, not because it’s complex, but because it’s deceptively simple. In essence, it’s a two hander between Paul McGann and India Fisher (and if that’s not enough to entice you to listen, I don’t know what is!), which sees the Doctor and Charley navigating several Greek myths while fighting the Dream Crabs. It’s very Companion Chronicles-esque in its execution, complete with narration, but it feels more epic in scale, with John Dorney and Jacqueline Rayner‘s story taking the TARDIS team on an enormous, twisty-turny journey through their own minds.

With an ethereal tone and a seemingly open-ended conclusion, If I Should Die Before I Wake is both highly unusual and highly enjoyable, putting yet another spin on the Dream Crabs that really justifies their reuse in this boxset.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Overall

The strongest instalment in the Classic Doctors, New Monsters series so far, The Stuff of Nightmares consists of four highly creative stories each of which does something fascinating and new with the returning villains featured. I’d even go as far as to argue that these stories each use their monsters better than in their original appearances, such is the range of ideas on display here. Without a doubt, this is one of the best boxsets released by Big Finish so far this year. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Classic Doctors, New Monsters: The Stuff of Nightmares is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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