THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
AND "THE FOUR
DO YOU REMEMBER THE
THE CUDDLESOMES -
HAMSTERS, THE MUST-
HAVE TOY OF TWENTY-
FOR SO LONG NOW, THE
BEEN FORGOTTEN, LYING
IN ATTICS AND JUNK
SHOPS. BUT NOW
THEY'RE WAKING UP.
AND THEY WANT TO GIVE
US ALL A CUDDLE. A
LONG, SLOW, DEADLY
LANDING IN AN ENGLAND
GRIPPED BY A STRANGE
NEW PLAGUE, THE
DOCTOR IS SOON ON THE
BUT THE TOYS ARE JUST
PART OF A TWISTED
PLAN TO WIPE OUT A
It has been two long years since Doctor Who Magazine last treated its readers to an exclusive slice of Big Finish action, but this month the front cover proudly promotes the Peter Davison audio drama “Cuddlesome”, a copy of which is enclosed on CD, gratis. And it has never been a better time for Big Finish Productions to seize some much deserved mainstream exposure; with the revamping of their website and the introduction of their new download service, the company is certainly in prime position to win over some new listeners.
In the past, many of these Big Finish ‘freebies’ have felt somewhat fleeting. Early efforts like “Last of the Titans” and “The Ratings War” only just scraped past the thirty-minute mark, and even 2006’s more substantial offering - the two-part “Veiled Leopard” – saw the Doctor notably absent. “Cuddlesome”, on the other hand, feels like something that you should really be paying good money for. And so as well (and as gratefully) received as previous freebies have been, each has had the distinct feel of being something ephemeral, even throwaway, whilst “Cuddlesome” is more on a par with the hour-long bonus stories that Big Finish subscribers are treated to each Christmas.
For me, the first thing that stood out about “Cuddlesome” was that it is a full-cast audio drama, as opposed to just a two or even a three-man show. And what a cast.
Timothy West, who appeared in last year’s BBC7 episode “Phobos”, is once again on stellar form here as “tick tock Turvey”, a nerdy youth who grew up into a resentful businessman with a penchant for killer toys. West manages to walk that fine line between pity and contempt with consummate skill, imbuing what could have been a fairly preposterous character with a little bit of magic. Furthermore, David Troughton (“The War Games”, “The Curse of Peladon”) is simply magnificent as the ominous Tinghus. Listening to his voice on audio, I could not believe just how similar he sounds to his late, great father. Even so, it is Robert Taylor of Eastenders fame that steals the show as Angela, the fifth Doctor’s makeshift companion. Loosely cast in the Donna Noble mould, Angela is a middle-aged alcoholic female plumber with a toy boy (and, once the Doctor arrives, a shattered greenhouse). Taylor and Davison gel so very well together – indeed, at times “Cuddlesome” is laugh out loud hilarious.
Nigel Fairs’ story itself is based the old Audio Visuals play of the same name, which I understand he also wrote back in the 1980s. Apparently the gore has been toned down substantially for this new version, but even so the Cuddlesomes still manage to evoke those “Terror of the Autons”-style fears. The episode is also replete with some stunning touches of dialogue, both comic and poignant; there really is so much to like. Even having the fifth Doctor thrust into an adventure set on present-day Earth is refreshing, as opposed to the Earth of the 1980s. Presumably he dropped in on Angela straight after “The Gathering” as he was in the temporal neighbourhood…
The only possible criticism that I could have of “Cuddlesome” is the monsters’ voices. The Cuddlesomes sound like some revolting cross-pollination of Bart Simpson, Bill & Ted, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which suits the bright and breezy tone of the play entirely but does tend to negate the fear factor somewhat.
And so with what Doctor Who Magazine are billing as the show’s thirtieth season due to begin transmission next month, I have the sneaking suspicion that newer fans and those who have not yet succumbed to the might of Big Finish may well find themselves filling up the
next few agonising weeks with a glut of Doctor Who audio dramas. If “Cuddlesome” does not ensnare them, then “The Mutant Phase” teaser will…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
“Cuddlesome” began life way back in the eighties, when I was nothing but a wee lad (possibly even before that). It’s the latest of Big Finish’s updates of an old Audio Visual play. These amateur works, starring Nick Briggs as the Doctor and made by many of those who went on to create Big Finish itself, are still highly regarded by fans, despite being pretty much impossible to track down these days. Thankfully, every now and again, we get an adaptation of an old AV favourite. “Cuddlesome” is one such adventure and, what’s more, it’s free!
Doctor Who Magazine’s free CDs haven’t always been of especially high quality in the past, but I’m happy to say that “Cuddlesome” breaks that trend. By no means a classic, it’s nevertheless a highly enjoyable slice of comic adventure. Set around Brighton and Shoreham makes it feel particularly real to me, as this is my neck of the woods – a little mention of the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath was a nice surprise, and I loved the way Angela, the Doctor’s pseudo-companion for this tale, corrected him when he suggested she was from Brighton with a very firm ‘Hove!’
This is a tale of whimsy. The Cuddlesomes of the title are a race of diminutive aliens masquerading as interactive teddy-like toys – something like a Furby, only not as scary. They come in two varieties – the Mark Ones, made in the eighties (an obvious nod to the original version of the play) are squeaky-voiced and cutesy, while the Mark Twos are the modern equivalent. However, their gnarly surfer dude voices are purely nineties cheese, making them sound far more dated than the originals. The Cuddlesomes, old and new, are brought to life by Ronald Turvey, their creator, played sympathetically by Timothy West. Without giving too much of the slight plot away, it’s unsurprisingly part of a world takeover scheme, masterminded by the Tinghus, a sort of Cuddlesome brood queen, voiced with pomp and aplomb by David Troughton, who’ll soon be on our screens in the forthcoming television episode “Midnight”.
Peter Davison is the natural choice of Doctor for this release. Being a freebie designed to attract new listeners to the Big Finish range, it makes sense to use the Doctor that the young audience will have already seen – “Time Crash” being only a matter of a few months back, Doctor number five should still be recognisable to all but the newest fans. Beyond marketing logistics, though, the use of the fifth Doctor makes sense; Davison’s understated performance is a good contrast for the lively, asinine antics going on around him. Roberta Taylor is equally suited to this production. Best known for her roles in Eastenders and The Bill, Taylor’s subtle, sensible performance makes her an excellent foil for the Doctor; the fact that her character, Angela, has a thing for younger (or, at least, younger-looking) men also gives the opportunity for a hint of sexual tension and humour.
Backed up by an interview with the cast and crew in the pages of DWM, “Cuddlesome” is
far from being a Big Finish classic, but it is well worth a listen nonetheless if you’re in the mood for a chuckle.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
No propositional guidance accompanied the release of this Doctor Who Magazine freebie. However, given that the Doctor is travelling alone, we have placed it after the audio drama The Gathering, whilst Peri and Erimem are still embroiled in their Monte Carlo mission depicted in The Veiled Leopard.
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