Bonus chapter #7. Doctor Who – The Nightmare Fair (1989)

Synopsis: After surviving an encounter with The Nexus of the Primeval Cauldron of Space-Time, the Doctor and Peri arrive in Blackpool, where a visit to the famous Pleasure Beach sees them ensnared by the Celestial Toymaker. But why is the eternal villain there and what does he want with the Doctor? It can’t be anything as mundane as revenge, can it?

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Nine.

Background: Graham Williams adapts his scripts for an unmade serial intended for broadcast in 1986 before the original Season 23 was cancelled.

Notes: The Doctor and Peri begin their adventure on the observation platform of the Blackpool Tower, just as the Doctor nearly promised at the end of Revelation of the Daleks. The young guest hero this time is called ‘Kevin Stoney’ [see The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Invasion and Revenge of the Cybermen for why that’s funny] and he’s from Liverpool. The Toymaker – also referred to as The Mandarin – uses a crystal ball to observe the Doctor and other points of interest. The Doctor boasts that he has ‘shot through Black Holes’, ‘sailed through Supernovae and ‘eaten Vanarian Sun Seed Cake’ but has never experienced such a ‘magnificent’ thrill as the roller coaster; although there is a coaster in Blackpool called ‘The Roller Coaster, this one is most likely the Revolution, Europe’s first full-loup rollercoaster, which opened in 1979 and, like the Sixth Doctor, once featured in a memorable episode of a BBC wish-fulfilment entertainment show that we can’t really talk about any more. By the way, the Doctor’s also never had candy floss before; Peri pays for it with a £5 note she found in a sporran in the TARDIS wardrobe, prompting the Doctor to note that it must have been Jamie’s and he was always so careful with money [so putting aside offensive stereotypes for a second, Jamie having legal tender from the mid-1980s suggests an unseen adventure].

After hearing Kevin’s statement about seeing ‘red giants’, Detective Inspector Truscott suggests that if the lad sees any more that he directs them towards Preston North End, as they could do with the help; Preston North End’s kit at the time was white with blue piping, and the away kit was yellow and blue – but they did eventually adopt a red jersey as their main away kit for the 95-6 season. 

As in the Toymaker’s debut adventure, it’s suggested that he and the Doctor have sparred on many occasions. The Doctor took part in the Globus Wars of Independence. His pockets contain a single jelly baby and ‘the signet-ring of Rasillon’, which is ‘the most powerful single object in the known Universes. He tells Peri and Kevin that he doesn’t actually know who the Toymaker is:

‘Nobody knows. He existed before the start of Time Lord records. There was an attempt to track him back through his own continuum – trace his path through the fabric of time, but the researchers got bored with all the games, which was possibly what they were there for. As they do so often,’ he sighed, ‘my erstwhile colleagues met something they didn’t understand, and they ran away from it. If they’d been able to control him, they would have investigated further, I’m sure. But they couldn’t, so they didn’t.’ 

The Toymaker is known to be telepathic and telekinetic, ‘up to a point’, and he was once ‘observed playing with a supernova as though it was a kiddies’ paddling pool… and we know he’s old beyond imagining…’

If fact, the Doctor realises that the Toymaker is from another universe and that he carries his own matter with him – but not anti-matter – concluding that the Toymaker will live for millions of years; the Toymaker confirms that he already has done, having spent thousands of years creating and destroying civilisations until he came up with the idea of his games.  

Cover: Alister Pearson’s composition includes the Toymaker, the Blackpool Tower, a sign for Space Mountain, a miner and a fanged-and-clawed alien. The first edition featured a flash proclaiming ‘The Missing Episodes!’

Final Analysis: The whole concept of a ‘celestial’ toymaker is an archaic pun, ‘celestial’ meaning both ‘of the stars’ and ‘from China’ (a loose translation of ‘Tianchao’, the former name for the Chinese Empire). While the word might have been used to signify ‘exotic’ or mysterious qualities, it was also a racial descriptor that is now largely forgotten. As previously mentioned in (among other chapters) The Sensorites, the word ‘oriental’ can also be problematic for some. Meaning simply ‘from the East’, it’s a colonial view of the world map, positioning China solely in relation to how it appears on a British Empire map with the United Kingdom (well, let’s be honest, England) at its centre.

… and in Doctor Who, we then have the Celestial Toymaker as a Chinese-presenting character played by an English actor. While Michael Gough didn’t resort to the kind of theatrical make-up we saw in The Talons of Weng Chiang, it’s still an example of cultural appropriation – or at best cosplaying – based on a suspicion of the Chinese. How might that have seemed had this story made it to air in 1986? In a season where a story set in Singapore had a working title ‘Yellow Fever and How to Cure It’…. you can draw your own conclusions as to how this might have played out at the time – and how it might have been received by young viewers discovering the era for themselves 36 years later. Despite spending two paragraphs discussing this issue, it’s not really something I dwell on, but it’s a handy distraction to ruminate on while trying to avoid thinking about the rest of the book.

What we have here is something that feels authentic to the period it might have been a part of had Michael Grade not stepped in and saved us. By which I mean, the Doctor is fairly unlikeable and while the adventure features a returning villain, he’s one that few of the viewers would have actually remembered and he doesn’t even act like the character as portrayed in his original appearance. The story is, like the original, a series of events rather than a plot and, sadly, it’s all a bit dull. The greatest joy comes from the Doctor’s two companions being called ‘Kevin and Peri’ in a book published a year before Harry Enfield’s teenage characters Kevin and Perry made their TV debut. All entirely coincidentally. 

To be fair, there is one scene though where Williams captures that alien quality that Colin Baker had so wanted to portray, able to comprehend the vastness of eternity:

‘The isolation of aeons,’ whispered the Doctor, overcome with compassion for the being he’d detested all his adult life. ‘The crushing loneliness of thousands of millennia… you poor, poor creature…’

2 thoughts on “Bonus chapter #7. Doctor Who – The Nightmare Fair (1989)

  1. I vaguely remember moderately enjoying this – the 1980s computer games would be fantastically dated and nostalgic now, like the one the Mogarians play in the televised Vervoids adventure. I especially liked something about the Toymaker’s origins and fate – I think something about his universe and ours continually drifting further and further apart (presumably in the Tennant-era “void” or something similar) which was having an effect on him. But it’s so long ago I can’t really remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fun, but, yeah, comparatively rather safe. I do like the effort that Williams went to try and develop the Toymaker as a more complex figure. In his origins and his modus operandi. The author’s very good at writing engaging one-off characters. I remember the butler, Shardlow, especially. Doomed to literally gamble his life away because of an honest mistake hundreds of years ago. The plotting, though… It’s not as tightly written as the premise offered and I do wonder if that was down to a combination of a) budgetary worries, and; b) video games being such a terribly new thing in the mid-1980s. The prison in the ending, in particular, almost feels like it’s setting up “The Nightmare Fair” as a prequel to the original story, but it’s (probably) not. All in all, decently told, but it just needed one more decisive push to really make it sing.

    Liked by 1 person

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