|"Cuddlesome", the Fifth Doctor adventure included with this month's Doctor Who Magazine (#393), probably won't win any points for originality. It does, after all, immediately seem to be an admixture of "Terror of the Autons" with the basic legend of The Toymaker from Superman comics. And, like most classic adventures, an intriguing set-up at the beginning descends into a mad rush to explain things with a dash of mumbo-jumbo.
But that hardly stops it from being one of the better giveaways to grace the cover of DWM.
Companionless Fifth Doctor adventures are rare at Big Finish, so what novelty is lost with a retread plot is compensated by Peter Davison in the mode of an RTD Christmas special. This is just a bit of fun, featuring a one-off pairing with new pseudo-companion, Angela Wisher (Roberta Taylor).
And it is that pairing that offers the most interest in this story. Davison and Taylor immediately spark off each other, in a way not dissimilar to the Colin Baker/Maggie Stables adventures. Although Angela's age is never specified, Taylor's voice obviously skews older than the typical companion's. One result is a charming balance between fully adult heroes and childish villains. But a more important consequence is the way in which Taylor gives Davison's Doctor nuance. "Subtle" has always been a word that could be applied to the Fifth Doctor, but here it's in full bloom. Davison and Wisher judge their performances deftly, effortlessly pulling the caliber of the play up a full notch on their own.
To some extent, this is made easier by the fact that "Cuddlesome" is, in effect, an introductory companion story, whether or not Taylor returns to Big Finish. There's always a certain amount of fun in a new person learning about the Doctor, but here the actors manage to wring every last delicious drop of that particular elixir from the script. There's simply not a better "companion introduction" story in the whole of the Fifth Doctor's era — and only a few that are better in the whole of Doctor Who.
The play is also somewhat unique for its format. Aside from the first two series of Eighth Doctor/Lucie adventures, Big Finish haven't typically produced stories of the same length as the modern series. "Cuddlesome" is thus a glimpse of Davison as a "new series Doctor". This format change isn't just a matter of length, though. It affects the whole way the story is told. There's no time for explanation as to why he's traveling alone or where he was actually trying to go; he's whisked into the action immediately and learns about his new companion as the story unfolds. It's a naturalistic way of storytelling that's a far cry from the Fifth Doctor's televised era.
In fact, it may even be fair to say that the plot isn't stolen from "Terror of the Autons" so much as the first episode of the 2005 series. All-in-all, this is "Rose" for adults.