On 26th December 2019, 627 pieces of Classic Doctor Who content were made available to Britbox subscribers. Every Sunday in 2020, our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, looks back at some of the classic stories. Here is the Fourth Doctor adventure The Horns of Nimon...
I have a confession to make. The Horns of Nimon is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. I know that, like most of Season 17, it looks hopelessly cheap. I know that the Anethans are as wet as a bag of Adrics. I know that that there is some hamtastic acting going on, especially Graham Crowden’s Soldeed.
Soldeed's death in particular being one of Doctor Who's most bizarre moments but this I can forgive. Soldeed is quite clearly a lunatic before the appearance of multiple Nimon pushes him right off the sanity express. He's supposed to be the last surviving scientist on Skonnos and I like to think the reason he survived the civil war was that his scientific expertise was in something odd and esoteric, which makes his later rubbishness as a scientist slightly more explicable, especially as there are no other scientists left to contradict him. Until the Doctor arrives.
However despite all the obvious negatives there is a kind of wonderful glory about the whole thing to me. Tom and Lalla are on sparkling form, the script contains some great wit and charm and the Nimon themselves have been given a genuine menace totally outweighed by their actual appearance, certainly compared with our friends the Mandrels.
For once the cheap look of the sets is excusable. After all this is an Empire on the wane. It can’t even do fist waving and cheering properly anymore. Their ships are old and unstable so the fact that the co-pilot is a dumpy, unthreatening bully desperate to get home even if it means cutting corners makes sense. The co-pilot's regular cries of ‘Weakling Scum!’ hark back to a time when the Skonnon Empire meant something.
They are also a key factor in the creation of my Horns of Nimon drinking game the rules of which can be found in Issue 9 of The Terrible Zodin fanzine, along with some bits of this review, which in true Douglas Adam's style I have recycled and extended.
The relationship between the Doctor and Romana II is one of the great Doctor-Companion relationships. When I was young and a less cynical chap the fact that there were two bright, charming and witty people plotting the downfall of tyrants and monsters armed with just: “A teaspoon* and an open mind.” (To quote The Doctor in another Season 17 cheap fest ‘The Creature from the Pit’) was why Doctor Who was so great. No one apologised for being intelligent and witty. Only the bad guys had no sense of humour. It was what the world should be like.
The story itself is just Theseus + the Monitor in Space (with a dash of the Trojan horse thrown in). The Nimon invade by stealth offering gifts to the people of Skonnos. But we learn this is just a devious way of draining a planet of its natural resources before pinging down a black hole to the next likely victim. Beware Nimon baring gifts. We get to see what they do when Romana arrives on Crinoth, the Nimon's previous victim planet.
On Crinoth Romana gets to meet Sezom, the Soldeed of Crinoth. Played by the wonderful John Bailey Sezom provides both huge chunks of exposition and a little bit of dignity. It is Sezom's story that spells out to us the vampiric nature of the Nimon.
Every time I finish watching it, ‘The Horns of Nimon’ makes me happy and whilst some of that might be down to dumb nostalgia I’d like to think there’s more to it than that. ‘The Horns of Nimon’ is what brilliant people can produce when they’ve got no money but lots of inspiration.
I know a lot of Doctor Who fans find the Graham Williams era silly and childish. I think it’s generally the opposite. (With the exception of The Nightmare of Eden which is just a little too silly for its own good.)
Doctor Who is a family show made for everyone from 6 to 65 but it is at its best when it's adult smart but child friendly. When a story can be enjoyed on various different levels with a bit of terror thrown in. Aimed to entertain children it might be, childish it ain't. Although as The Doctor himself once said, “What’s the point in being grown up, if you can’t be childish sometimes?”
* It should be noted that said teaspoon makes a reappearance in the final episode The Horns of Nimon in a nice little moment between the Doctor and Romana.