Review: Doctor Who – The Wishing Beast/The Vanity Box

The Wishing BeastThere is a certain truth to the idea that what you can imagine is a whole lot spookier than what can be shown on-screen. With the minimal budget available to the Big Finish team, you’d have thought they’d have taken advantage of that simple premise to do their best trying to spook us with sound effects, rather than trying to pretend that battles between giant robot transformers sound good.

Hang on, they’ve tried spooky with Sapphire and Steel. I can understand their reticence now.

Anyway, they’re giving it another go with this slightly intriguing tale, in which two old ladies try to grant a wish for that amazing adventurer in time and space, Mel – and her companion, the Doctor – with the help of their pet dragon The Wishing Beast. There are ghosts. There’s a vacuum cleaner. And it alternates between silly and threatening.

Oh yes, it also comes with The Vanity Box, a one-episode play better described as Doctor Who: The Coronation Street Years.

Plot (crash-landed from the Big Finish web site)

The Wishing Beast

What can it mean when the Doctor and Mel are drawn to an asteroid by a message from the strange, elderly Applewhite sisters? The travellers are promised that they will receive their dearest wishes when they enter the frozen forests of this benighted shard of a world. But the ghosts that haunt this place are desperate to warn the Doctor about the sisters’ promises. Only the ghosts know the true nature of the legendary Wishing Beast.

The Vanity Box

A strange beauty parlour has opened its doors for business in a dowdy Salford terrace circa 1965. Monsieur Coiffure is the talk of the street with his fabulous make-overs. When the Doctor arrives, however, he knows at once that there’s been some unnatural titivation going on.

Is it any good?

At times it is, and there are some genuinely quite spooky moments. However, this is mostly played for laughs, with the two old ladies the Doctor and Mel meet hardly threatening even when they try their hardest.

Baker’s good, although starting to sound his age, and Langford’s performance means you can almost forget her time on the show proper ?��Ǩ��� or at least you could if you could ignore the constant references to Mel’s day-glo leg warmers.

Mostly though, it’s pretty forgettable.

The Vanity Box, with which it’s paired, is surprising because not only does it follow on directly from The Wishing Beast chronologically, it’s also a sequel, which is a first for Big Finish’s new two-plays-for-the-price-of-one policy. Populated entirely by escapees from a certain Northern soap opera and Alan Bennett plays, it’s really just an excuse for the Big Finish cast to muck around and let off steam, and for Colin Baker to do a Northern accent.

As a pair, they’re not bad, but there are better things to spend your money on.

Rich tea biscuitsHow much should you have to pay for it?

Asking price: ?Ǭ�14.99

Actual worth: ?Ǭ�6.99 or you could barter a few packets of McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits

Listen to a trailer (Windows Media Player format)


The Wishing Beast

Colin Baker (The Doctor)

Bonnie Langford (Mel)

Jean Marsh (Maria)

Geraldine Newman (Eliza)

Sean Connolly (Ghost/Mildew)

Toby Sawyer (Daniel/Ghost Brother)

Toby Longworth (The Wishing Beast)

Rachel Laurence (Female Ghost)

The Vanity Box

Colin Baker (The Doctor)

Bonnie Langford (Mel)

Diana Flacks (Nesta)

Christine Moore (Winnie)

Rachel Laurence (Bessy/Barmaid)

Toby Longworth (Monsieur Coiffure)

Writer: Paul Magrs

Director: John Ainsworth

Available from the horrible-looking Big Finish web site.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.