The Stuff of Nightmares provides drama, laughs and scares in four very different combinations of the best of old and new Doctor Who

Classic Doctors New Monsters is back for a third volume pitting pre-millennial Doctors against 21st century monsters. Back in 2016, when the original volume debuted the entire concept was a huge deal. Big Finish had only recently acquired the licence and were keen to immediately demonstrate the possibilities. Otherwise we’d have waited for such monsters and villains to creep into script pipelines prepared years in advance. A second volume followed in 2017. But quite why this third volume, The Stuff of Nightmares, has come along five years later never quite becomes clear. After all, mixing and matching elements right from 1963 to 2017 is relatively commonplace these days. There’s no reason on paper that the stories here couldn’t have slipped smoothly into any of their Doctors respective ranges.

But that’s not to take away from their quality. The accompanying interviews make clear the writers each worked to a specific brief matching Doctor and monster. But all of them rise to the challenge in their own unique way. The result is four very different stories that interprets their mandate all the way from fun romp to, well, the stuff of nightmares.


The House that Hoxx Built successfully inserts Tim Treloar’s Doctor into the narrative style of Doctor Who 2005

Big Finish stories often seek to convincingly recreate the atmosphere and storytelling style of the relevant television era. That’s true of the Third Doctor Adventures more than most. He’s gotten into spycraft shenanigans with the Draconians that could have come from the typewriter of Malcolm Hulke. And most recently The Annihilators provided a sinister conspiracy thrillers smoothly invoking the spirit of Season Seven. So, as great as those have been, it’s perhaps understandable that writer Tim Foley seizes the opportunity to plunge Tim Treloar’s Doctor and Sadie Miller’s Sarah Jane into fresh territory. For The House that Hoxx Built leaves 1974 behind to be pure 2005 vintage Doctor Who through and through.

The plot builds on a couple of throwaway lines in The End of the World. It takes those crumbs to build a version of Earth freshly restored by an intergalactic conservation group. All the continents are back to their ‘classic’ format, and the trust have installed a whole new molten core. They’ve even reconstructed an example of an ancient human dwelling for tourists to visit and learn about the planet. That’s the house of the title, while the eponymous Hoxx (Dan Starkey) is brother of the Moxx of Balhoon from End of the World. Like his brother, the Hoxx is diminutive, blue, and possessed of a huge head, and Blogtor doesn’t mean his ego. Unlike the Moxx, however, he prefers to walk unaided, thanks to the wonders of audio.


The Moxx of Balhoon (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who The End of the World
The Hoxx of Balhoon’s brother as seen in publicity material for Doctor Who Series One in 2005 (c) BBC Studios
The Hoxx of Ballhoon, pompous but loveable, makes a perfect foil for the Third Doctor

On paper, it’s a strange choice of creature for Big Finish to bring back for this set. He was little more than a background character on screen. But it’s easy to forget the Moxx was a big part of the promotional push for the reborn Doctor Who. The BBC team used his image extensively as proof that this new incarnation of the old favourite would be bang up to date in its use of prothetics and FX. So the Balhoons perfectly target the nostalgia centres of the brain for fans of a certain age.

But the Hoxx himself is far from the only distinctly Davies-like touch in the script. There’s Francesca, a ‘woolly-kind’ descended from Earth’s sheep returning to her ancestral home. There’s a ‘digi-human’ holographic butler called Butler. And there are spooky goings on in what is, as the Doctor points out, the most haunted house on the planet, if only by default. The story’s mix of futurist whimsy and Hammer Horror thrills is very on brand for the Davies era. As is its ultimate moral about the carelessness of the powerful in their treatment of the world around them. All in all, the mixture of the Third Doctor and Sarah with this very modern story makes for a satisfyingly tasty Doctor Who cocktail.


The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much brings the Doctor on a fast paced and hilarious romp up and down the seven hills of Rome

The Fourth Doctor’s entry in the set doesn’t cast its gaze nearly so far into the future for its inspiration. Instead, despite Leela’s presence by the Doctor’s side, this is a story cut from a distinctly Season 17 patterned cloth. In fact, with its scenes of the Doctor and co dashing to and fro between the tourist landmarks of Rome, stand offs in the urbane master criminal’s plush residence, and the Doctor and his companion being saddled with a third wheel of dubious usefulness, it’s very specifically a case of ‘Città della Morte.’

If that makes it sound reductive, it doesn’t communicate the enormous amount of fun writer Robert Valentine is having here. Or, for that matter, Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Robert Daws and everyone else in the cast – all of whom seem to be having a hoot. It’s also made distinct by plugging directly into the style of the sort of breezy, funny thrillers of the 1960s. The ones where the likes of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, or Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren would bounce around major European cities trying to work out what on Earth was going on before the mystery literally kills them. An extra layer of fun comes from the Doctor knowing exactly what movie genre they’re in and enjoying it immensely. While Leela is simply non-plussed by how much fun he seems to be having, even for him.


The Doctor and Leela hit the tourist spots of Rome in The Tivolian That Knew Too Much Doctor Who
The Doctor and Leela hit the tourist spots of Rome in The Tivolian That Knew Too Much
The timid and feeble Timble Feeble provides a Hitchcock style reluctant hero out of his depth

They’re both aided and hampered in their pursuit of Don Sanguino (a wonderfully OTT Anthony Howell) by the Tivolian of the title, Timble Feeble. In a classically Hitchockian introduction, Daws’ Feeble is a mild mannered accountant on holiday on Earth when he finds himself the unwilling recipient of a dying man’s data chip, leading to a potentially fatal case of mistaken identity.

This Big Finish version puts aside the darker hints about the Tivolians as cunning manipulators. But Feeble, straight up coward and nervous wreck that he is, is still a wonderful creation. His tendency to make calls to his therapist to top up his mindfulness, even in the middle of a car chase, results in one of the most audacious lines Big Finish have ever given Tom Baker. Blogtor was literally tearing up with laughter that they got away with it.


Together in Eclectic Dreams is a dark delight and it plays with the Kantofarri’s very specific modus operandi

The third story in the set enters the stiff competition for Stuff of Nightmares’ most puntastic title, and probably edges a gold medal position. But it dispenses with the first two entries’ twist on the Classic Doctors New Monsters concept. While the Third and Fourth Doctors found themselves teaming up with familiar faces, Colin Baker’s new monster is an implacable and unambiguous foe. After all, nobody ever made friends with a Kantofarri and lived to tell the tale. Yes, in Together in Eclectic Dreams Oul Sixey finds himself face to claws with the dreaded Dream Crabs from Twelfth Doctor story Last Christmas.

The Doctor’s determination to get to the bottom of the mysterious nightmares and headaches plaguing his companion Mari has brought him to an experimental dream clinic. Yes, before you grab your Spotter’s Guides to Big Finish Companions, they’ve outfitted Colin Baker with yet another new companion. But soon the Doctor and cheeky, direct, Mari are fighting their way though various layers of dreamscape towards the realization of what’s really happening to them. And this time, it might be the whole human race on the line.

An incredibly skilful script sidesteps the audience knowing more than the Doctor about what’s going on with layers of unsettling dreamscapes

Part of Steven Moffat’s one man campaign to make viewers terrified of absolutely everything (ticking clocks, statues, shadows, sleeping and more) the Kantofarri are admittedly a bit of a one trick pony. So the bravura feat Eclectic Dreams pulls off is making that setup something unique and compelling in its own right. Roy Gill’s script is also a masterclass in keeping the audience engaged even as they spend half the play two steps ahead of the lead character. It would deserve a standing ovation for that alone, even without its effectively creepy world of sterile corridors, obsessed creatives, and cloying claustrophobia. The gorgeously grotesque work of Big Finish’s sound designers also proves impressively effective in bringing the Kantofarri to life.

But it’s not a trick you could imagine being successfully achieved with the Dream Crabs again.


The Doctor and Charley: Back together and back in trouble (c) Big Finish Productions
The Doctor and Charley: Back together and back in trouble (c) Big Finish Productions

The Dream Crabs are back for more in If I Should I Die Before I Wake in a bedtime story that will keep you guessing to the final page

So, naturally, John Dorney (and story originator Jac Rayner) immediately do exactly that in the very next story. If I Should Die Before I Wake opens with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor reading Charley (India Fisher) a bedtime story. One that takes the form of a free flowing guided dream, as he narrates her path through various Greek myths. And with the Kantofarri clearly advertised, on the cover and elsewhere, as part of the story, it’s not terribly hard to guess what’s really going on. Or is it?

Dorney and Rayner’s concept neatly re-centres the mystery away from if we’re trapped in a Dream Crab created dreamscape. Instead it keeps you guessing straight the way through about who the dreamer is. At face value, both of them are victims, with the Doctor possibly the more aware of the two of what’s happened to them. Or is he a friendly avatar created by Charley’s mind to help her wake up? Maybe Charley is a figment of his imagination, helping him realize the terrible truth? And as events take a darker turn, the dreadful possibility arises that one or other might be a literal sleeper agent – a trap laid by the Dream Crabs themselves.


The Kantofarri are back to invade the Doctor's dreams once more (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who Last Christmas
The Kantofarri are back to invade the Doctor’s dreams once more (c) BBC Studios
Paul McGann and India Fisher continue to be one of Big Finish’s most magnificent pairings

At a superficial level, this is a very straightforward story. But the steadily rising sense of paranoia and doom is expertly crafted. By the end you can almost feel a phantom clammy weight on your own face, and the shadow of a pain in your temple, so effective is the story at pulling you into its world. And a great deal of the credit has to go to Paul McGann and India Fisher. They provide yet another pair of spellbinding performances as the Doctor and Charley. They gauge the subtle ambiguity of these versions of the characters perfectly, and keep you guessing until the final moments. It’s also yet another reminder of just how blissful it is to have this younger, not yet jaded, Eighth Doctor and his best friend knocking about the universe, cracking gags and with one leap escaping danger.

The Stuff of Nightmares’ pick ‘n’ mix of elements proves a quality assortment

The four stories in Classic Doctors New Monsters: The Stuff of Nightmares provide their own unique takes on the concept. But whether bombing around the streets of Rome in fast paced comedy thrillers or gazing deep into the abyss of our darkest nightmares, all of them provide quality selections from the menu of what Doctor Who can be.


Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3 - The Stuff of Nightmares. Cover by Rafe Wallbank. (c) Big Finish Productions Fourth Doctor Sixth Doctor Third Doctor Eighth Doctor Tom Baker Colin Baker Paul McGann Dream Crab Tivolian Balhoon
Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3 – The Stuff of Nightmares. Cover by Rafe Wallbank. (c) Big Finish Productions

Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3 – The Stuff of Nightmares

Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3: The Stuff of Nightmares is now available to own as a collector’s edition CD box set (+ download) or digital download only, exclusively from


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