Cuddlesome

Posted in Audio by - January 12, 2019
Cuddlesome

Released March 2008

Originally released in Doctor Who Magazine issue 393 to mark the Fifth Doctor’s return to television in ‘Time Crash’ and to date serving as the last physical CD the publication has released from Big Finish due to the cost effectiveness of online downloads, Nigel Fairs’s ‘Cuddlesome’ sees the Doctor confronting a most unexpected reminder of popular culture’s past that now threatens an entire generation.

Much like the 2001 included story ‘The Last of the Titans,’ ‘Cuddlesome’ traces its origins back to a story from Audio Visuals which worked so hard without a license to keep Doctor Who alive in the 1980s and early 1990s, though here Nicholas Briggs understandably steps down from his role of the Doctor and into that of a local newscaster instead. This is again another testament to what that dedicated collection of people who would become so integral to Doctor Who’s official continuation on television and in audio avhieved, and the basic premise of a toy from the past regaining popularity while acting as an instrument of death is a brilliantly subversive one that taps into nostalgia and popularity’s cyclical nature while also serving as something of an homage to the Earthbound Third Doctor era.

There’s a surprising amount of heart and emotion to ‘Cuddlesome,’ and the reports of a viral outbreak give a looming sense of danger to what initially seems like a fairly superficial albeit unique threat. Still, the evocative image of a long-forgotten stuffed toy going for the throat of its owner as it proclaims its love for him and chastises him for forgetting it is in itself an immense hook that aptly sets the scene for what ensues. The Cuddlesome is a toy that once dominated toy shelves and children’s homes across the globe, featuring voice recognition well before it became standard, and it is now undergoing a resurgence as a new version once more preps for launch. Of course, this in itself would hardly make for much of a story, and so the tragic tale of the Cuddlesome creator Ronald Turvey likewise adds a much more personal element to this unexpected incursion while also providing a source for the alien Tinghus who has masterminded it. As a psychic leach, the Tinghus seized upon the mental anguish of a young Turvey who had just seen his childhood stuffed bear destroyed in an act of peer bullying. Although this being was suppressed when Turvey was serving a prison sentence for tax fraud, the time has now come for the new wave of Cuddlesomes to wreak havoc, aided by an even newer iteration of human hybrids. The Tinghus is harmed by hormones present in humanity’s adults, and so the scheme to use the desires of children and the nostalgia of adults as something of a Trojan horse is as cruel as it is ingenious in terms of finding a solution to its plight. While it must be said that the stereotypical surfer intonations of the second wave that Big Finish occasionally utilises again undermines much of the genuine threat they pose, the much softer and cuter tones of the original version all the more effectively hint at the dichotomy between form and the new function of these creatures.

The Doctor isn’t quite as involved as much as might be expected in a shorter release with a relatively small cast, but Peter Davison brings out the utter conviction and determination of his character when finding out the truth about the Cuddlesomes to wonderful effect. Similarly, David Troughton makes the most of a more generic villainous role with the Tinghus, and Timothy West and Angela Wisher give memorable performances while acting as the human and empathetic eyes for the audience. ‘Cuddlesome’ may not be the most complex story, but the solid production values and layering of the plot ensure an enjoyable and at times surprisingly poignant tale that is much more than the cute toys at its core suggest.

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