(ISBN 1-84435-430-6)




 BLURB  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


 1899: The Stockbridge

 mummers’ play takes

 a wholly unexpected

 turn, when the

 Dragon slays SAINT


 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…


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Castle of Fear








Big Finish’s final season of 2009 – the “Stockbridge Trilogy”, if you will - commences with a suitably jovial script from former Doctor Who Magazine editor Alan Barnes, the patently Pythonesque Castle of Fear. To date my experience of Stockbridge, the fifth Doctor’s Gloucestershire stomping ground in his DWM comic strip, has been limited to Big Finish’s two previous jaunts there – 2007’s Circular Time: “Autumn”, and this summer’s Company of Friends: “Izzy’s Story” – as well what I was able to glean from the Peter Davison edition of Stripped For Action (available on the Black Orchid DVD). As such I was able to approach this four-parter with the same sense of detachment that its director, fellow Stockbridge-greenhorn Barnaby Edwards, did.


© Big Finish Productions 2009. No copyright infringement is intended.And, ignorance notwithstanding, I soon found myself at home in this wacky little cartoon village. Castle of Fear is just so damned enjoyable; a riotous pun-fest that pays homage to sources as diverse as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Blackadder, The Young Ones and even classic Doctor Who serials the like of The Time Warrior and Horror of Fang Rock. Barnes’ script fuses his penchant for intricate plotlines with a sharp, almost caustic sense of humour (“Right-o. The rustle brand it is then…”) that put me very much in mind of another favourite Big Finish play of mine, Nev Fountain’s Kingmaker. What impressed me the most about this one though was how Barnes and Edwards managed to instil the feel of a comic book within the production. Audio dramas and graphic novels are poles apart as mediums, yet the entirely aural Castle of Fear somehow captures the style and the spirit of a comic book. In fact, full as it is of bangs and flashes, this one is probably the most overtly visual audio drama that I’ve come across to date. It’s a real testament to Barnes that he managed to pull it off without having to resort to clunky narration or implausibly descriptive dialogue.


“Oh yes, there is a Doctor near at hand, ready to make the champion stand;

Not another paltry mime, but an earl of space, and a lord of time.”


The plot itself is similarly remarkable; not quite the comprehensive conundrum that Barnes’ recent Brotherhood of the Daleks was, but still chock-full of twists and turns and characters who aren’t quite what they seem. The main thrust of the narrative is framed by a delightfully hammy 19th century mummers’ play which rather deftly reflects the events in the 12th century, whetting the listener’s appetite for the most theatrical of finales right from the start.


What’s more, Castle of Fear features a fantastic cast. Channel 4’s magnificently puerile teen comedy The Inbetweeners has been one of my guiltiest viewing pleasures this year, and so I was delighted to find that Joe Thomas, who plays Simon Cooper in that series, stars here as Hubert, the putative Earl of Mummerset. The Footlights’ newest prodigy steals the show with his bombastic performance, particularly as the story progresses and his character is required to drop his histrionically pompous guise. John Sessions (100) also impresses as Sir Roland of Brittany, another exaggerated character to whom there is far more than meets the eye; and Bridget Spears (Torchwood: Children of Earth) really makes her presence felt as the evocatively-named Maud the Withered, a medieval crone able to foretell everyone’s gruesome end but her own.


Turning to the regulars, Peter Davison breezes his way the whole play with the confidence of someone who has recently spent more than half a year performing in a Monty Python production. However, even he is outshined by Sarah Sutton, who, in a humorously explicit metaphor, is literally wearing the trousers here.


On a final note, it’s nice to see the Rutans finally make an appearance in the Big Finish range. A natural born comic book baddie if ever there was one, these amorphous green blobs pack enough of a punch to stop this one becoming a circus, but not so much as to tip the balance into Barnes’ usual murky waters. Indeed, the wild and wacky Castle of Fear marks a fabulous start to the Stockbridge Trilogy, and comes highly recommended indeed. Vworp vworp...


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.


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