THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH CD#120
RELEASED IN APRIL
the Doctor finds
himself halfway up
mountainside, on his
way to an exclusive
sanatorium for the
rich and famous run
by the Viennese
‘Ludo’ Comfort. In
between bouts of
patients – including
faded music hall turn
Harry Randall, chess
Khan and Lola Luna,
darling of the
Weimar cabaret scene
– fill their time with
endless rounds of
Snap!, among other
someone’s playing an
Someone with a score
The Magic Mousetrap
The Magic Mousetrap, written by popular Year of the Pig author Matthew Sweet, is a release that many Big Finish devotees will have really been looking forward to. And, even though I wasn’t all that taken with Year of the Pig the first time around, I have enjoyed it a little bit more with each subsequent listen, and as such I too have been awaiting the release of this play with keen interest.
On the face of it, Sweet’s two plays have much in common in terms of when and where they are (apparently) set, however The Magic Mousetrap is by no means as redolent as Year of the Pig was. Indeed, this time around Sweet ‘wastes’ far less words on ambience and atmosphere, and as a result The Magic Mousetrap feels much quicker and more plot-driven, not to mention altogether more claustrophobic. Further, in terms of tone, The Magic Mousetrap is a much darker play than Sweet’s last. Much darker.
However, as was the case with Year of the Pig almost three years ago, the first episode of this play didn’t really grab me at the outset. Impatient as I am, I found the mystery built up by the author to be more frustrating than intriguing. As the episode progressed though – and certainly by the time of the startling cliffhanger – I found myself more and more engrossed by this strange tale.
“I hate this. Lying to him. Manipulating him…
Ace, is this what it’s like being the Doctor?”
Having the seventh Doctor’s companions play ‘out of position’ is certainly not a new idea by any means, but even so I still found it tremendously invigorating to see Ace and Hex in the driving seat, pulling the strings whilst the Doctor ran around scratching his head (and snow-boarding, at one memorable point). I think that a lot of this fresh feeling is attributable to the exuberant performances of both Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier – the pair seem to have relished putting on silly voices and flitting between their regular characters and their rather asinine alter egos, Bunty and Bobo. It’s also somewhat refreshing to see the tables turned without the need for any acrimony – in past stories where Ace has effectively switched roles with the Doctor (for example in some of the Virgin New Adventures), seldom has it been in good humour, as it is here.
Nevertheless, even as the second episode made it overt that Ace and Hex were deliberately manipulating the Doctor, all the big questions still remained unanswered. Sweet may have skilfully littered his first two episodes with a glut of clues about where this story is really set and who might be responsible for whatever is going on, but not to such an extent that it would lessen the impact of the second episode’s climactic reveal. The Celestial Toymaker’s shock appearance at the end of Part 2 has to be ranked up there alongside the Master’s in Dust Breeding or the Cybermen’s in The Harvest – just how on Earth do Big Finish manage to keep these things a secret?
The Toymaker is certainly not how we remember him though, and I’m not just talking about him being recast again - in this story he’s locked in the form of a wooden ventriloquist’s puppet! It seems that immediately prior to the events of this story, the Toymaker played one game too many and found himself on the losing side. The Doctor, Ace and Hex had led the Toymaker’s slaves in the Celestial Toyroom in a rebellion against him, and the Toymaker was ultimately defeated and forced to suffer the same fate that he had inflicted on so many others since the beginning of time. And then, in order to finish him off for good, the Doctor arranged for the separate ‘pieces’ of the Toymaker’s consciousness to be held inside the minds of his former slaves, as well as in himself, so that the Toymaker would wither away into nothingness when they all returned to the real world. The trouble is, they never quite made it back to the real world…
“And then I lost, and now my eyes are two glass beads strung on a wire.
My legs are two pieces of wood with a hinge where my hyperdimensional knees should be.”
The resulting interpretation of the Toymaker is eerie in the extreme; each of the puppet’s lines is underscored by the clicking of its wooden mouth. Personally I find stuff like this far more unsettling than Daleks, Cybermen and the like; particularly on audio. Incidentally, the sound design on this whole story is absolutely breathtaking. From the realisation of the Toymaker to the sound of oversize chess pieces scraping across a colossal chessboard, or from avalanches to even the attenuated interior of a Swiss cable car, Richard Fox and Lauren Yason have really outdone themselves. Even their score is beautifully apposite.
I also admire how Sweet has brought the Toymaker bang up to date. Fair dues, games like Snakes & Ladders and Chess may still occupy an important place in his munitions store, but so do modern television quiz shows like Family Fortunes. My only regret was that there wasn’t a round of Eggheads to be found in the last episode. Maybe next time…
On a final note, The Magic Mousetrap is the first release to contain a ten-minute segment of a twelve-part Companion Chronicle, The Three Companions by Marc Platt, which I understand will round off the next year’s worth of releases in place of the second disc’s CD Extras. Personally I think that this is a fantastic idea, not just from the obvious marketing point of view (you need to keep subscribing, see…) but from a value for money perspective too, and more so than ever if Big Finish eventually follow through on what has been intimated in recent podcasts and also make additional bonus material available to download. In any event, even though the CD Extras included on this release are more compact than usual, it’s still hard to feel short-changed as the interviews on offer feature insightful contributions from all three members of the regular cast as well as the writer, including a very interesting tête à tête between Aldred and Sweet.
And so on the whole, there is much more to like about this release than not, and the return of the Toymaker is handled so very well that Big Finish may well have shot themselves in the foot so far as this November’s Nightmare Fair goes. I’ve read the Target novelisation of Graham Williams’ aborted 1985 script, and whilst it has its merits and no doubt Colin Baker and David Bailie will make it one to remember, it really is going to have its work cut out in trying to top this surreal and grotesquely macabre effort.
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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