Put very simply, if you enjoyed The Celestial Toymaker (or The Nightmare Fair in either its book or audio incarnations, John Dorney’s Solitaire or Gary Russell’s Divided Loyalties), then chances are you’ll like this story, which is very much a remix of the earlier Hartnell tale. The Doctor and his friends arrive in a land with its own rules, where its autocratic controller puts the humans through various tests while sparring verbally with the Time Lord.
Perhaps slightly surprisingly, this doesn’t come across as a rip-off. Working from Brian Hayles’ original two-page pitch, Catherine Harvey has created a four-part story, telling it in audiobook style – so Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury function as narrators as well as playing the parts of the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. The story might have benefitted from reduction to three parts, allowing for a better paced sequence of events, although that might have deprived us of some of Hines’ best embarrassed-Troughton sequences. As always, Hines gives us a terrific Second Doctor as well as recreating Jamie, while Padbury goes through vocal gymnastics for the various versions of Zoe in the story. Caroline Faber keeps the titular monarch just this side of madness emphasising how dangerous a foe she is.
In the CD extras, Harvey says she asks herself why the story might not have been accepted in the first place (Hayles made 15 different pitches – Big Finish has elected to mount just three of them). I suspect that she has greatly improved the version that the contemporary production office assessed, since it works well on its own terms: director Lisa Bowerman emphasises the many different spatial and temporal locations, giving it a scope that 1960s television would have been unable to achieve without massive amounts of stock footage.
Verdict: The temptation is to dismiss this (as I will admit I did after the first two episodes) as a bit of a knock-off, but in fact it acts as an intriguing adjunct to the earlier story. 7/10