I have an affection for many of Doctor Who‘s also-rans, those stories which sit unloved and unappreciated at the bottom of every favourite story poll. You could argue that this is because I have absolutely no taste at all, but I prefer to believe that it’s more about appreciating what does work, rather than criticising what doesn’t.
There’s certainly plenty wrong with Horns of Nimon, but it also entertains (and sometimes intentionally). The first scene offers an impressive info dump, as we learn that Skonnos was once a mighty planet of warriors which has now fallen on hard times. No matter though, as the mysterious Nimon will make them great again (provided they deliver the final cargo – which turns out to be a collection of young people dressed in yellow jumpsuits).
The co-pilot (played by Malcolm Terris) has a limited line in insults (“weakling scum”) which he freely uses on several occassions to taunt the cargo. Terris possibly wasn’t best served by the two Doctor Who stories he appeared in (The Dominators being the other) but still manages to make something out of this unpromising material. The co-pilot, like most of his fellow Skonnons, is a weak man, full of bluster and desperately clinging onto the hope that Skonnos will rise once more to become feared throughout the galaxy. Is there a faint touch of satire here? For Skonnos, read Britain, which back in the late 1970’s had also fallen on hard times. I wonder.
Two of the cargo have speaking parts – Seth (Simon Gipps-Kent) and Teka (Janet Ellis). Seth and Teka are young and earnest (especially Teka, who hangs on Seth’s every word). Like most of the other roles across these four episodes, their characters are only lightly sketched, so both Ellis and Gipps-Kent have to work hard to make Seth and Teka come to life.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s tinkering with the TARDIS. This is a scene which allows Tom Baker to freewheel as we see the Doctor carry out some slapdash repairs. If you view Tom’s performance during this era as somewhat self-indulgent then this probably isn’t the story for you – since the tone for Nimon is firmly set right from the start (it should come as no surprise to learn that the Doctor’s mouth to mouth resuscitation with K9 was unscripted).
But what we do have is a nice contrast between the increasingly erratic Doctor and the long-suffering Romana (as has often been observed, throughout the story Romana – complete with her own sonic screwdriver – acts more like the Doctor than the Doctor does).
We then jaunt to Skonnos to meet Soldeed (Graham Crowden) and Sorak (Michael Osborne). Plenty has been written about Crowden’s performance over the years and I can’t add much to what’s gone before, except to wonder what would have happened had Crowden been cast as the fourth Doctor in 1975. Given how exuberant he is as Soldeed, one can only imagine how his Doctor would have ended up by 1979. In contrast, Osborne looks faintly embarrassed, but then he is encased inside a somewhat bizarre costume, courtesy of June Hudson.
The Doctor, noticing the Skonnos ship in distress, naturally can’t resist popping over to help. He doesn’t take to the gun waving co-pilot, but is more concerned about the shivering cargo, which he learns are “sacrifices”. The Doctor agrees to help, but the co-pilot, more concerned about his cargo and his reputation, leaves the Doctor and K9 stranded in the TARDIS once the ship is operational again …