Written by Cavan Gilbey
‘Classic Doctors, New Monsters’ has been a novel concept for a range, both previous boxsets have been inventive with their match ups and often taken their chosen monsters into new and exciting territories; Judoon in Chains being the easy stand-out from those first sets with how it creatively uses it’s monster of choice. Weeping Angels, Sycorax, Racnoss and Carrionites are all obvious choices for the range but this third volume does plumb the depths a little bit; I mean who is really asking for Balhoon or Tivolian stories? Although I must admit a two parter involving the Dream Crabs is pretty inspired as you have the potential to create some truly surreal audio landscapes. But that aside, the four stories we get are all great fun thus making this a set that really is more the ‘Stuff of Dreams’ rather than Nightmares.
Tim Foley opens up the set with The House That Hoxx Built which sees the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane stranded in a haunted heritage site with it’s rich benefactor The Hoxx of Balhoon, but something is amiss when the novelty of the haunted house suddenly becomes too much to handle. This is Foley’s second outing with Pertwee’s Doctor after his pitch-perfect story The Gulf from 2021 and his skill at writing the character has not faded in the slightest. Perfectly capturing this occasionally curt but often warm and encouraging spirit incarnation alongside Tim Treloar’s ever improving performance. The Doctor and Sarah’s dynamic throughout feels professional and yet has a true feeling of friendship behind it, Foley really gets the shared sense of humour down between them as they each point out the very tropey nature of this fabricated haunted house. But there is still that softer side, especially well-captured in a short moment where the Doctor comforts Sarah about humanity’s future.
As haunted house stories go this is certainly well executed if a bit unadventurous at points. Sure Foley captures the atmosphere perfectly with the ever-creaking house, windswept moore and folklore heritage surrounding the setting. The very image of this single antique house standing amongst the ruins of earth is so evocative and instils a true sense of the uncanny, but once we get in
the house I can’t help but find the familiarity a little bit disappointing. After something as creative as The Gulf, a pulpy horror story doesn’t sit right. The creepy butler character in particular felt slightly tiresome as it was just some audio glitches passing off as horror.
The biggest question I’m left with is what about this story specifically needs a member of the Balhoon to be in it? Despite Dan Starkey’s great performance, Hoxx could have been any member of the extra terrestrial gentry and the inclusion of this race feels like both a wasted opportunity and a result of a limited selection.
On the whole, a fun enough start to the collection that works just on how well Foley writes this particular Doctor/Companion duo. The haunted house narrative is nice sure, but I can help wanting more from Foley.
Next up is Rob Valentine’s The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much and in a departure from the horror roots of the previous story we have a comedy crime caper with The Fourth Doctor and Leela helping a humble Tivolian accountant save his planet from the wrong kind of conqueror. Another departure is how well this story utilises its choice of ‘New Monster’. First off Valentine really fleshes out the background of the race with their desire to be conquered being something mired with bureaucracy and protocol, with envoys and special forces designed solely for seeking out new overlords. Valentine adds to this a breakaway group of Tivolians, who were hiding out on Earth in mafia disguises, who desire to not see their race conquered but devoured and destroyed. The intelligence of the race is really played up as our villainous Tivolian taunts an intergalactic law enforcer by playing into their hero complex; pointing out that no hero would ever shoot a race that habitually surrenders.
Valentine has been one of the best Big Finish writers who can blend the comedic with the serious, and here is no exception. His script is expertly paced, exciting chases through Rome and rescue missions are often punctuated by this wonderful wit that really suits the more tutor-like Doctor of Season 15.
A perfectly characterised Fourth Doctor and Timble Feebis provide many of the best exchanges, a pairing I really wish we could see more of in the coming years since Timble would make for a great recurring ally for this Doctor. I don’t really want to say any more on this one since the mystery-thriller narrative is best heard without any of the twists and turns revealed. But rest assured that you are in for a good time which perfectly captures the comedic tone for Season 16 and 17. 9/10
Roy Gill pens the penultimate story Together in Eclectic Dreams, which sees The Sixth Doctor and companion Mari investigating a dream therapy facility overseen by popstar Tara. The Dream Crabs are a well of potential and Gill definitely knows this as he creates an excellent surreal story that actually puts it’s extremely visual monster to good use on audio. While the crabs barely appear, their presence is felt from the get go with some stellar world-building; trails of slime in the corner of the room, squirming and squelching in the background. The dream world created by the Crabs really feels just as hostile as the creatures themselves, acting on a dream logic where things don’t make full sense or characters are able to communicate with dreams within dreams. The musical manipulation idea comes back from Last Christmas and works great here as Tara, played by Rebecca Front with a villainous streak, plans to use the music to control the crabs in order to steal ideas from dreams to create her music.
The true standout of this story is Mari. A wonderful performance by Susan Hingley brings to life a character whose arc throughout the story is wonderful, undercut with a bittersweet ending. Her chemistry with Colin is electric, feeling like these are performers who have worked together for years and years. When The Green Man is introduced later on, the chemistry there is just as good as Mari’s initial unwillingness to trust them feels earned but it builds into a much funner dynamic as the story progresses.
Together in Eclectic Dreams is a stand-out not just for this boxset but for Big Finish’s 2022 output as a whole. Hugely creative in every way and is a brilliant use of it’s ‘New Monster’, this is a must listen and the reason to get this boxset full stop.
If I Should Die Before I Wake by John Dorney and Jacqueline Rayner wraps up the boxset with a rare damp squib from both of the authors. The story sees The Eighth Doctor and Charley exploring dream layers as they battle a myriad of mythical beasts and figures.
As the diametric opposite of the previous story, this one uses the Dream Crabs really poorly in my opinion. They don’t feel like much of a threat, they don’t even much of a looming presence as they only become known in the very last minutes and it somehow feels like a copout. The main focus is more so on the exploration of a series of bedtime story, the issue is these stories are explained to us by very clunky narration that ends up feeling like I’m listening to the world’s dullest game of Dungeons and Dragons. The story itself is structured around a series of not very interesting vignettes that don’t explore the potential for how creative a dreamscape can be. The only thing holding this together for me is the persistence of McGann and Fisher’s perfect
chemistry. They are my favourite TARDIS duo and this story maintains the wonderful relationship they have, capturing the whimsical friendship of those original four Monthly Range titles. Fisher in particular does an amazing job at capturing a wide range of characters within the dream world, showing a skilful range. At the end of the day this story feels a bit like someone watched The Mind Robber while half asleep, misremembering the core ideas and thematic focus. It is a proper shame to have a dud from two of Doctor Who’s best writers.
The third volume of this range, while not as exciting or as fresh as the first entry in the series, offers up two of the best stories Gill and Valentine have penned and it really helps to highlight how creative and entertaining they can be when working with concepts they obviously have a great passion for. However with a pretty fun but uninventive first entry and a disappointing final entry, the boxset does struggle to stand up on its own somewhat. But honestly I would consider buying these just for those middle two entries alone.
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