Why You Need to Listen to The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M. R. James

If you’re a Doctor Who fan who likes a chilling tale, you’ll want to listen to the recent, best-selling release by Bafflegab Productions: Volume 1 of their The Conception of Terror.

It’s a collection of 4 audio dramas, each of which is a liberal reworking of a classic M.R. James short story. If you don’t immediately know the Jamesian strain of understated (though sometimes quite gruesome) supernatural storytelling, you might well have come across productions of his tales on BBC2 around Christmas. Indeed James, a notable Cambridge academic and medievalist, wrote many of his stories as Christmas Eve entertainments that he read aloud to friends. 20 years ago, the BBC honoured this tradition by arranging for that other peerless professor of perilous phantasmagoria, the late Christopher Lee, to read a number of tales by the fireside in a darkened room in King’s College. James was also the subject of a BBC2 profile in 2017 presented by Who’s very own Mark Gatiss.

The incomparable Christopher Lee

For many, M.R. James’ entertainments are as much a part of Christmas as Dickens’ Carol, The Box of Delights, or using copious measures of sherry to sedate racist elderly relatives.

In fact, the new Bafflegab adaptions feature a lot of talent familiar to Who fans: Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts), Reece Shearsmith (Rassmussen in Sleep No More and Patrick Troughton in An Adventure in Space and Time), and Jeff Rawle (Plantagenet in Frontios). On the writing side, we also have Stephen Gallagher, who penned the haunting Warrior’s Gate for Tom Baker’s final season. One of the stories also features the excellent Alice Lowe (who hasn’t been in Doctor Who but really ought to be). Bafflegab themselves will be familiar to some readers for producing the award-winning Baker’s End (a comedy drama series starring Tom and Colin as themselves), The Scarifyers from Radio 4 Extra, and the Hammer Chillers series.

The Conception of Terror is produced in association with Audible and comprises 4 standalone stories, each inspired by one of James’ best-known works: Casting the Runes, Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, and A View from a Hill. It’s available now.

If. You. Dare.