With The Horns of Nimon, Graham Williams’ (televised) tenure as producer ended with something of a whimper rather than the bang he intended.
Williams had budgeted two cheaper stories (Nightmare of Eden & Nimon) in order to lavish a generous amount of location filming on the season finale, Shada. But Shada was never completed due to industrial action, which was the final piece of bad luck to befall Williams on Doctor Who.
Even before this though, Williams had more than his fair share of problems to deal with. The late 1970’s was a bad time to be a Doctor Who producer – hyper inflation meant that year on year the show’s budget was shrinking, industrial action was a constant threat and Tom Baker was proving to be more of a handful than ever.
Nimon is rated 223 of out 241 stories in DWM’s 2014 poll. So it’s very much down amongst the also-rans, rubbing shoulders with similarly unloved stories such as Arc of Infinity, Warriors of the Deep and The Time Monster. But whilst nobody in their right mind would call Nimon an overlooked classic, it does have some good points which go some way to balance out the numerous production mis-steps.
On the credit side, Tom Baker is still coming up with the goods. Six years in, there’s no doubt that he’s done all of this stuff hundreds of times before but he still manages to make it seem fresh. Whatever his thoughts about poor scripts and his off-screen spats with Williams, on-screen he’s focused and giving it 100%. And he does have the odd gem, such as –
Nimon: “Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed”
The Doctor: “Well, I hope you get it in the right order”
Lalla Ward is equally good value as Romana. Separated from the Doctor for an episode or so she effectively becomes a surrogate Doctor and manages to effortlessly carry the narrative. Forget K9 & Company, a spin-off with Lalla and K9 was a huge missed opportunity.
As for the guest cast, a mixed bag is the kindest way to describe them. Simon Gipps-Kent and Janet Ellis are really just the Babes in the Wood – and their characters are so under-written that they aren’t called on to do much acting.
Malcolm Terris is pretty poor as the Co-Pilot which is summed up by his final scene as he faces the wrath of the Nimon and his trousers fail to take the strain. Elsewhere on Skonnos, Sorak (Michael Osborne) and Soldeed (Graham Crowden) are an odd couple, to put it mildly.
Osborne plays it dead straight, which is all the more impressive when you consider his costume. Crowden, on the other hand, gives a performance that is on another planet to everybody else – even managing the impressive feat of making Tom look like an actor of great restraint.
Much has been written about Crowden’s turn as Soldeed and it’s the sort of performance that you either love or hate. Frankly, I love it as Nimon is the wrong story for too much naturalistic acting. But as some people have never liked Doctor Who to be fun it’s no surprise that many either don’t get the joke or consider it to be out of place.
But amongst the under-acting, over-acting and no-acting, there is one perfectly pitched performance – John Bailey as Sezom. Bailey had previously appeared as the doomed Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks (1967) and there’s a similar vibe to this character. It’s only a small part, but Bailey is excellent and it’s one of the highlights of the story.
As for the Nimon, oh dear. The Williams era is notable for a run of underwhelming monsters (immediately prior to this viewers would have been reeling from the glowing green bag that was Erato and the less-than-terrifying Mandrels) so the Nimon are pretty much business as usual. And as soon as the first one stumbles onto screen in his platform heels you know it isn’t going to end well.
The Horns of Nimon was the end of an era in many ways. When the series returned it would feel quite different with a much more serious tone to proceedings. But everything is cyclical and there would eventually be heirs to Crowdens throne (Paul Darrow in Timelash for example).
But for the moment, Nimon is the last gasp for this kind of goofy Doctor Who. Full of faults yes, but anything with Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden can’t be all bad.