Cross-promotion is one of those little ideas that publishers have from time to time. "Why don't we include some kind of free gift with our next issue? That way, people who want the gift will buy the magazine and be introduced to our high quality editorial content and then buy every issue from now until the end of time? And the free gift maker will get their product in the hands of our readers, who'll then start buying their high quality merchandise. It's a win-win situation."
Of course, it never quite works like that in practice. Apart from all the readers gradually becoming accustomed to getting free gifts and eventually refusing to buy a magazine that doesn't include one, there's the little issue of the quality of the free gift and whether the readers are the sort of people who'd end up buying more products from the free gift manufacturer.
This month's Doctor Who Magazine includes a brand new, exclusive Big Finish play, Cuddlesome. Starring Peter Davison, Roberta Taylor (off The Bill and EastEnders), Timothy West and David "Son of Patrick" Troughton, it's the kind of play that makes you wonder exactly who it's aimed at and whether you'd ever buy it.
The Cuddlesomes - pink vampire hamsters from the 1980s. For so long now the Cuddlesomes have been forgotten, lying in attics and junk shops. But now they're waking up. And they want to give a whole generation a long, slow, deadly cuddle.
Is it any good?
This isn't the first time that Big Finish have done one of these giveaways, and for the most part, they've been intended as demonstrations of what you're missing out on: look everyone, here's Peri and Erimem and Hex and Ace! Look, it's Charley and the Eighth Doctor! All new adventures with exciting new characters as well as old companions and old Doctors! Fly my pretties, fly, right on over to Amazon or our inept web sites!
Now, whether that strategy has failed so far, Gary Russell's departure as Overlord to be replaced by Nick Briggs has merited a rethink, or they really couldn't be arsed to put many resources into it this time, Cuddlesome is more of a "this is where we came from" tale, combined with "look at our guest stars! Real, proper actors you might have heard of!", which is where Big Finish has been heading to of late.
Originally written by Nigel Fairs and released on audio cassette in 1989, Cuddlesome was one of a series of unauthorised Doctor Who adventures called the "Audio Visuals" that starred Nick Briggs as the Doctor. The AV crew went on to become Big Finish, they started to produce licensed adventures and the rest is Whoy history.
Not having listened to that original tale, I can't really tell you how much it's changed, but it does feel slightly odd as a modern bit of storytelling. Peter Davison, sans companions, crashlands in modern day Britain, just as everyone's favourite computerised cuddly toy from the 80s, the Cuddlesomes, are experiencing a revival. Except, oh no, it turns out the Cuddlesomes are evil and are killing people with their infectious bite.
Sounds a bit daft already, doesn't it?
Of course, it's not supposed to be taken seriously. Although Davison hurtles round the plot in true Adam West style with a mostly straight face, the rest of the cast are playing everything for laughs, as is Fairs. It is enjoyable enough, if a bit long. There are some oddly touching moments involving some of the sentient cuddlesomes, particularly when the originals face the new, 'improved' cuddlesomes (as traumatic as the great big battle in Toys, in fact). It's nice to have a few working class characters in Who who aren't a complete waste of space or a total pastiche. And anything with Timothy West in it can't be all bad.
All the same, is this really Big Finish putting its best foot forward? Will the new readers of DWM, mostly into David Tennant and co, really be motivated to start buying Big Finish plays on the strength of something that makes Aliens of London look like Sartre at his bleakest? I doubt it. And to be honest, it's probably not worth going out of your way to buy a copy of DWM to get it. Save your pennies for something else.
The Doctor - Peter Davison
Angela Wisher - Roberta Taylor
Ronald Turvey - Timothy West
The Tinghus - David Troughton
John Dixon - Matthew Noble
Miranda Evenden - Kate Brown
Newsreader - Nicholas Briggs
New Cuddlesomes - Matthew Noble
Cuddlesomes / Dr Cooper / Vehicle - Kate Brown
Writer - Nigel Fairs
Director - Barnaby Edwards