Reviving The Lost Stories range of audio adventures, Big Finish has given us two new stories, Nightmare Country and The Ultimate Evil. Nightmare Country sees the Fifth Doctor and his companions Tegan and Turlough having to face a brand-new threat and virtual realities in a story that feels massive in its scale.
That’s not a surprise when you find it’s written by Steve Gallagher, the same man who gave us Warriors’ Gate and Terminus, two stories that feature some very heavy sci-fi and Nightmare Country is no different. I’ve always enjoyed Terminus, not a story that many fans do but Warriors’ Gate has always felt like more of a slog. I would say though that Nightmare Country is perhaps the strongest Doctor Who script that Gallagher ever submitted to the BBC office in the 1980s and it’s a shame that it never made it to the television screens around the world because this is a story that I would have loved to see in that format.
While Warriors’ Gate, in particular, was a little more ‘out-there’, you’ll be surprised to learn that Nightmare Country does feel a much more traditional fare. That’s not to say that Gallagher doesn’t put his own unique spin on the proceedings but there is a clear beginning, middle and an ending. Throughout the four-episodes, there are some brilliant ideas and some nice twists and some moments that made me think and some emotional beats. It also featured what will probably become one of my favourite Doctor/Companion moments between the Fifth Doctor and Tegan which I found surprisingly sad.
Gallagher has a great handle on the main cast. It’s not very often we get a story that features just the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, normally they’re accompanied with either Nyssa or this year, Kamelion. And the smaller main cast allows Gallagher to give them all moments to shine. The Doctor gets an unusual stance in this story where he has no idea what is going on and finds himself thrown into the events of the story. Tegan gets to play, going into the virtual-reality to save the Doctor and Turlough has to keep everyone together, make sure everyone survives and work out who is on their side and who isn’t.
Each character gets some great moments and the performances from the main cast are particularly strong here. It’s clear they are enjoying the script. Davison has always been my favourite Doctor and he is great here, excelling especially at the more emotional side of things. As does Janet Fielding, who as Tegan, puts aside the attitude for much of the story and gets a lot of the sadder scenes, the difference in Tegan here and say, Four to Doomsday really cementing how desperate things seem here.
And Mark Strickson continues to impress as Turlough. I’ve always liked his character as you never really knew where he stood on the television series, he was just as likely to side with the baddies as he was with the Doctor. Here though, he is clearly in charge, commanding respect from the people around him and saving the day when Tegan and the Doctor are in the Virtual Reality. As perhaps one of the most under-rated companions in the series, Nightmare Country proves why he deserves so much more credit.
For me though, where Nightmare Country falls just short of being an all-time classic is in its experimental way of storytelling. I didn’t like that we knew more about what was going on than the Doctor. If something like that is going to happen, then the Doctor needs to find things out at the same time as we do, not the other way around. Perhaps it just feels strange to know more information than the Doctor and it makes sense to give us some information on what is going on, but there have been other stories that have had similar twists, like House of Blue Fire and the more recent, The Home Guard, that have done this kind of twist better. But is a minor quibble because I really did enjoy this story!
Nightmare Country certainly feels like one of the more obscure Fifth Doctor adventures but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s experimental, it is bold and exciting. Gallagher’s script was clearly too big for a television budget back in the mid-eighties but it is a story that even if they had made it, would have probably been held in high regard for its bold way of telling the story. On audio it works just as well, proving that Gallagher still has a great scientific brain and isn’t afraid of telling stories that dabble with heavy sci-fi. That aspect of heavy sci-fi makes this outing a nice ending for the Gallagher trilogy of Warriors’ Gate and Terminus and like those stories, is an audio adventure I look forward to rediscovering in a few years time!