Review: Doctor Who – 127 – Castle of Fear

Castle of FearBig Finish seem to have a new plan: trilogies. We’ve had the Key2Time season followed by three Seventh Doctor stories. We’ve just had another trilogy – the jettisoning of Charley Pollard from the mainstream Doctor Who Big Finish universe, except in Companion Chronicles. There’s the forthcoming Seventh Doctor/Nazi scientist trilogy, which is going to be followed by the Sixth Doctor/Jamie trilogy which is going to be followed by the Fifth Doctor/Nyssa/Tegan/Turlough trilogy (well, it’s a two-parter so far, but…).

But for now, we have the Stockbridge trilogy. This sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa deal with events in Stockbridge’s past, present and future. Apparently, Stockbridge was big back in the DWM comic strip of the 1980s (I missed it somehow), so this kind of follows on. Joy.

Here, though, before we get ahead of ourselves, we have the fifth Doctor and Nyssa turn up in Stockbridge, 1899, to watch a mummers’ play. Despite being handed down word-for-word since the middle ages, somehow the Doctor, an Earl of Space and a Lord of Time, is included in the play’s storyline. How did that happen? Best go back in time and find out, hey?

1199: Returning from the Crusade, Hubert, the new Earl of Mummerset, comes to take possession of Stockbridge Castle, his ancestral home. The only trouble is, in his absence, demons took possession of his Castle…

1899: The Stockbridge mummers’ play takes a wholly unexpected turn, when the Dragon slays St George.

These events are not unconnected, the Doctor and Nyssa discover. There’s an alien presence squatting in Stockbridge Castle, and it’s their job to expose it. If Turkish knights, killer boars and a gang of rogue paladins don’t stop them first…

The Battle of World’s End Junction by Marc Platt
Cornered by the coffin loaders, the Doctor and the Brigadier make their last stand at World’s End Junction. Meanwhile, the mysterious Thomas Brewster finally prepares to step out from the shadows…

Is it any good?
It depends what you’re looking for. If you’re expecting an historical, stop right now. Step away from the “Buy Now” button. If the five historical inaccuracies in the first ten minutes that I counted aren’t enough to set your teeth on edge, it won’t be long before you realise this is as much an historical as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Brace yourself – they’re going for laughs here.

Now, here’s the trouble: as Bernard Cribbins says of farce, you have to play it very, very seriously, because it all falls apart as soon as you start signalling that it’s supposed to be funny.

Now, while Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton manage to do a very good deadpan the whole way through, everyone else involved is playing it for laughs. The script wants you, desperately, to know it’s funny. The director does, too. The other actors, even those who should know better, such as John Sessions, Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners), Susan Brown (Torchwood: Children of Earth) and Trevor Cooper (Star Cops), are yucking it up for all its worth.

As a result, it’s not. Funny, that is. It feels like sitting through a very painful student revue at times. So don’t listen to it as either an historical or a comedy or you’re going to be very sad you’ve handed over money to listen to it.

But, if you can overlook the mugging and general ham, the story itself is relatively strong. Once the Doctor and Nyssa are back in medieval times, it’s traditional old Who, with a returning villain to fight, history to cause and wrongs to right. Those craps accents that will have been bugging you since the start of the play will get explained, and the characters benefit as a result of the explanation. The big revelation isn’t thrown out at the end of part one as with other BF plays, so there’s at least some surprises to be had. And Nyssa actually gets to do something and be smart, which is nice.

There’s also a semi-decent cliffhanger at the end that leads on to the next play, Eternal Summer, although there’s a bit tacked on before that feels a bit unnecessary. There’s a bit too much continuity guff (I spotted a reference to some of the later comics, I think, in the form of Sir Justin, but I could be completely wrong about that) and a little too much sci-fi jargon, but that’s kept to a relative minimum.

Not bad, but just don’t expect to laugh as much as Big Finish does, not even at the Russell Brand pun they think is just the best thing ever.

The Three Companions
Meanwhile, over in The Three Companions, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Literally. I just sat there going “What? Who is this? Why are they doing this? Er…” And I’ve been listening to these for the last 2,000 CDs, so Heaven help anyone leaping in for the first time. Still, something appears to be happening, since “the mysterious Thomas Brewster finally prepares to step out from the shadows”. He doesn’t, except to invite Polly and the Brigadier to a party or something. Maybe that’ll be interesting, unlike the story so far.

Amazon CD: £9.56
Big Finish download: £12.99
Big Finish CD: £14.99

Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
John Sessions (Roland of Brittany/Mummer)
Joe Thomas (Hubert, Earl of Mummerset/Mummer)
Richard Cotton (Osbert/Mummer/Yokel/Demon)
Susan Brown (Maud the Withered/Yokel)
Teddy Kempner (Yavuz/Mummer/Yokel/Demon)
Trevor Cooper (Smithy/Mummer)  

Writer: Alan Barnes
Director: Barnaby Edwards


  • 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.