Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fourth Doctor adventure The Nightmare of Eden...
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: and I loved Nightmare of Eden. Unfortunately I put away childish things & now Nightmare of Eden just doesn't work. It's entertaining in a 'so bad, it's good' kind of a way but this might rival 'Invasion of Time' as the worst story of the Tom Baker era - so far.
The reason it doesn't work is that it falls off the tightrope that a few late Tom Baker stories walk from funny into out & out silliness. And yet this is supposed to be a story about drug smuggling & drug addiction. At a different time in Doctor Who history this might have turned into a dark, dark tale but unfortunately it is in Season Seventeen.
One of the problems is Tom Baker. I love Tom Baker's Doctor. He's MY Doctor. He's eccentric & intelligent but not everything he does works & it takes firm direction to stop him turning some of his ideas into reality. The scene in the final episode where he disappears into the Eden projection & does the 'my arms, my legs...my everything' stuff is so misjudged as to render any tension or fear created by the previous four episodes redundant. There's not much of that anyway.
That is because the main monster threat, the Mandrels are about as threatening as Fozzy Bear. They're badly designed - particularly the legs again; flimsy & frankly risible. The cliff-hanger at the end of episode one where one bursts through some polystyrene, arms akimbo & roaring is one of the series most unintentionally amusing moments ever. I actually laughed out loud, which isn't what I suspect the production team were aiming for but as I said perhaps I'm getting old.
The scenes where the Mandrels are seen through television screen massacring some of the passengers should be horrific & terrifying but they're not. They seem to kill people by swatting them casually out of the way, rather than ripping them to bits with claws & they just don't work.
Of course the real 'monster' in this story is Vraxoin, the drug being smuggled by Tryst (Lewis Fiander) & Dymond (Geoffrey Bateman). There is some attempt to convey the seriousness of the problem. The Doctor & Romana talk of whole planets being destroyed by the addiction & we see its effect on two of the Empress's crew, Secker (Stephen Jenn) & Captain Rigg (a woefully underused David Daker) but this part of the story is so anchored it the 'reality' of drug addiction that it seems insulting to tag it on to this silly, silly story.
Lewis Fiander's performance as Tryst features an accent of baffling origins & overt silliness, allegedly encouraged by his friend Tom Baker. It isn't quite as bad a performance as you might think but the ridiculous accent hamstrings him from the off & makes him less of a threat. I'd link him with Professor Zaroff but that would be an insult to Joseph Furst.
Then there's Officer's Fisk (Geoffrey Hinsliff) & Costa (Peter Craze). These two idiots are supposed to be police officers but seem to be a dumb as a bag of spanners. I know Geoffrey Hinsliff is a good actor, he was lovely in 'Image of the Fendahl' but in this he seems totally miscast & out of place. I can see where the seeds for 'Shooty' & 'Bang Bang' the two coppers from the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy were sown now (well that & Starsky + Hutch).
Finally we have Della (Jennifer Lonsdale) & Stott (Barry Andrews), the love-lorn couple separated on Eden when Stott is given up for dead. Unfortunately for Lonsdale & Andrews they're just the supporting good guys so they're as dull as ditch water & neither of them has to stretch their acting chops much.
The design doesn't help. It looks cheap & it looks flat, although Eden's jungle - the little we see of it - is impressively realised. It definitely has the feel of a 'running out of budget, near the season's end' story, which is a shame.
The CET machine is a clever idea (although slightly similar to the Miniscope) & the fact that the accident between the Hecate & the Empress makes the CET unstable & allows creatures to escape from it is good but in truth this is a pile of pants.
You won't find yourself bored watching 'Nightmare of Eden' but you might find it annoying, laughable & silly, which if you're that way inclined will probably mean it isn't the sort of Doctor Who story you'll enjoy.
I should admit that despite my criticisms when it comes out of DVD I shall certainly buy it & watch it, probably having made up a suitable drinking game by then.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.