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 Nightmare of Eden...
When I was a child, I spake 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 and 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 and out silliness. And yet this is supposed to be a story about drug smuggling and 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 and 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 and 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 and frankly risible. The cliffhanger at the end of episode one where one bursts through some polystyrene, arms akimbo and 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 and 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 and 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 and Romana talk of whole planets being destroyed by the addiction and we see its effect on two of the Empress's crew, Secker (Stephen Jenn) and 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 story.
Lewis Fiander's performance as Tryst features an accent of baffling origins and 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 and makes him less of a threat.
Then there are Officers Fisk (Geoffrey Hinsliff) and 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 and out of place. I can see where the seeds for 'Shooty' and 'Bang Bang' the two coppers from the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy were sown now (well that and Starsky and Hutch).
Finally, we have Della (Jennifer Lonsdale) and Stott (Barry Andrews), the love-lorn couple separated on Eden when Stott is given up for dead. Unfortunately for Lonsdale and Andrews they're just the supporting good guys so they're as dull as ditchwater and 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 realized. 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 and the fact that the accident between the Hecate and the Empress makes the CET unstable & allows creatures to escape from it is good.
You won't find yourself bored watching Nightmare of Eden but you might find it annoying, laughable and a little silly, which if you're that way inclined will probably mean it isn't the sort of Doctor Who story you'll enjoy.
[Actually, re-reading my own review here I think I'm incredibly harsh on Nightmare of Eden. Yes, the Mandrels don't quite work but the story as a whole is much cleverer than I give it credit for here. On re-watch, I enjoyed it a lot more and I wonder if I was in a bad mood when I did this review. I found that underneath the patina of silliness was a much darker and smarter story. Ignore this review.]
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.