Baker’s End – the series of audio stories set in the world given half a twist that is the village of Happenstance, where someone called ‘Tom Baker’ (played by Tom Baker) lives – is weird. Gloriously, unabashedly, in fact exultantly weird.
The story so far: Tom Baker – veteran actor and one-time darling of the nation’s children when he starred as their favourite alien-bashing protector – died. Except, it seems, he may not have, as he then declared himself ‘reborn’ as both Tom Baker and the legendary ‘King of Cats’ – a creature that looks astonishingly like Tom Baker in a cat costume, who now cavorts with goblins, speaks even more glorious gibberish than ever before, and stops dark and eldritch forces that, for reasons entirely of their own, want to come to Happenstance and frankly lark about a bit.
In episode 1, “The King of Cats”, Tom and his friend (and former plucky TV companion) Suzie Goshawk – played splendiferously by Katie Manning – defeated the dark intent of the absurd and evil Clacky the Dragon, and the Sinister Presence behind it. In Episode 2, Gobbleknoll Hall, Tom and Suzie, along with Tom’s housekeeper, the ever-up-for-a-bit-of-screechy-possession Mrs Frimbly (Susan Jameson), get mixed up with a case of spooky shenanigans at the local stately pile, where creepy paintings, spiritual reunions, an unorthodox barbecue, a gang of goblins and a couple of long and not-so-long dead celebrities crowd in for your attention…
When a TV crew turn up to poke the spooks of Gobbleknoll Hall, they get much more than they bargained for when a deeply-‘fluenced Mrs Frimbly starts consorting with the Sinister Presence and coming over all peculiar, and Tom and Suzie crash the séance. Marcella Doody (Diane Morgan) – a riff on ghost hunting presenter, Yvette Fielding – and cut-price Derek Acorah, Brian Loughdick (Stephen Critchlow), give the story some much-needed anchoring in the world of well-meaning but ultimately cynical TV production, to counterpoint the genuine spooky mayhem that makes the village of Happenstance tick.
The plots in the Baker’s End stories have a certain manic determination to grab you by the scruff of the nonsense and pull you from the start to the finish, whether or not you understand a great deal along the way. There’s a level of wild exuberance in the language that you simply have to go with, or you’re going to want to throw Baker’s End far away from you. But if you can let the jabberwocking, ninky-nanky, slubberdegullion language of the at-least-marginally-fictionalised Tom Baker wash over you, it does something clever, and as such, remarkable – it creates the world of the fiction, a world that is ours, but given a deep colour-wash of dark, edge-of-reason fantasy, where the ghosts of Gobbleknoll Hall are actually the least peculiar things and people you’ll encounter. When you consider the burden of origin story that the first episode had to carry, bringing Tom Baker ‘back from the dead’ as Tom Baker, King of Cats, this second episode is actually slightly easier going in terms of its comedy, more accessible than the tale of Clacky the Dragon was.
Gobbleknoll Hall offers a linguistically mad, stylistically quirky time with the grooviest ghouls around. There is a plot, and it makes some sense, and is also rather good fun, but the plot is by no means the main reason to follow Baker’s End. That’s the combination of Paul Magrs and the actual Tom Baker, creating a dark-washed scary-tale world of Happenstance, in which events all circle around Tom Baker. Like Alice and the Hatter in a Wonderland of their own devising, Magrs and Baker together create an alternative reality that’s dark, bright, colourful and almost entirely loopy. You have to be in the right frame of mind to get the most out of Baker’s End (so to speak). If and when you are, Gobbleknoll Hall is a story that will fly by in a whirl of glorious madness and the flick of a tail.