Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Four

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The Nimon’s hyperspace portal has transported Romana to the Crinoth (the previous planet occupied by the Nimons) where she meets Sezom (John Bailey).  Bailey adds an instant touch of class to proceedings: after some of the exuberant performances seen during the last few episodes he essays something which was much more subtle and grounded in reality

Needless to say, after what we’ve witnessed recently it’s somewhat jarring to have a decent spot of acting but never mind, this first scene brings into sharp focus the Nimon’s planet hopping and destructive capabilities.  Sezom, like Soldeed, foolishly believed the Nimon’s promises.

SEZOM: But I have caused the deaths of so many others. The total destruction of our planet and all its people. I am to blame.
ROMANA: Why? What did you do?
SEZOM: I allowed the Nimons to come here. I worked for them, became their creature. They promised us technology, peace, prosperity. It ….
ROMANA: Go on.
SEZOM: It seemed so easy. Such a small price.
ROMANA: Did you have to provide them with some sort of tribute?
SEZOM: How did you know that?
ROMANA: I’ve seen something similar.
SEZOM: There was only one of them to start with. I never knew what was to come. I swear, I never knew what was to come. It seemed such a small price to pay.
ROMANA: It always does.

It’s something of an egregious info-dump it has to be said. Romana just happens to stumble straight into the path of someone who can put the final pieces of the plot together, but no matter – at least now we know the fate that awaits Skonnos.

Elsewhere, the Doctor has a friendly chat with the Nimons, which features one of my favourite exchanges of the story.

NIMON 2: Later you will be questioned, tortured and killed.
DOCTOR: Well I hope you get it in the right order.

The other main point of interest is Soldeed’s death scene which has to be seen to be believed. And even then, I don’t quite believe it …

To be fair to Crowden, it does appear that he believed they were only rehearsing rather than going for a take, but as the clock was probably ticking round to 10 pm (when the plugs would be pulled) it presumably was felt to be “good enough”. Which rather sums up the end of season feel of the story (even if Nimon was never intended to finish S17). By this point it seems that time, money and inspiration had rather run dry.

The Horns of Nimon is certainly fun if you’re in the right mood – Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden are always worth watching – but it also has a definite end of an era feeling.  Change was coming and for many it wasn’t a moment too soon.

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Three

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Anthony Read once admitted that The Horns of Nimon was written as a somewhat tongue in cheek story, but he’d hoped it would have been played in a slightly more serious manner.  Although if you script scenes like the opening one of this episode – the Doctor uses a red handkerchief to indulge in a spot of impromptu bull-fighting with the Nimon – then you can’t really be surprised if things turn out the way they did.

After being absent from the main action for the last episode or so, the Doctor is back in the thick of things after meeting up with Romana, Seth, Teka and the remainder of the Anethans (who remain – as befits non-speaking extras – mute).  He starts to wonder exactly what the Nimon are up to, whilst also highlighting Soldeed’s clueless nature (whatever the Nimon are planning, Soldeed seems to be kept in total ignorance).

Sorak has begun to question why the Nimon has decided to aid them in their quest to once again become the dominant force in the galaxy.  “Soldeed, it sometimes occurs to me to wonder exactly why the Nimon is doing this for us. I mean, to be blunt, what’s in it for him?”  It’s a reasonable question, which you’d have assumed someone would have asked before.  Possibly Skonnos is a totalitarian state which brooks no free will from any of its subjects or maybe Read’s script was just rather ill-defined on this point.  Skonnos is pretty much represented by two individuals only – Soldeed and Sorak – which means that it never comes alive as a real, functioning society.

This isn’t a problem isolated to just this one story, since Doctor Who often struggled to create well-rounded civilisations.  Some writers – such as Robert Holmes – were skilled at using dialogue to put meat onto the bones (think of The Ribos Operation which builds up a fairly vivid portrait of its planet – complete with changing seasons and a strong air of religious dogma) but this isn’t something that Read attempts here.

The major revelation in this instalment is that the Nimon isn’t a single creature as Soldeed thinks.  There are many, many others and they all plan to use their newly built hyperspace tunnel to travel to Skonnos and take over the planet.  As far as invasion plans go it’s rather long-winded – couldn’t they have found a planet closer to home to colonise?

This leads into a rather nice piece of dialogue, with Teka declaring that the Nimon’s invasion is going to take quite a while, considering they’ve only got the one transmat machine.

DOCTOR: Yes, it happens all the time. When a race runs out of space or destroys its home, it has to find somewhere else to live.
SETH: Skonnos?
DOCTOR: Yes.
SETH: But it’s already inhabited.
DOCTOR: Yes.
TEKA: Then how many more are coming?
DOCTOR: Well
ROMANA: To make all this worthwhile, there must be thousands.
DOCTOR: Millions.
TEKA: What, two at a time?

As Romana is accidentally transported in the hyperspace capsule to who knows where, Soldeed once again pops up to menace the Doctor ….

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Two

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Episode Two opens with an ambitious effects sequence, which sees the TARDIS deliberately placed in the path of a spinning asteroid.  The Doctor succinctly sums this up.  “Oh, you know, K9, sometimes I think I’m wasted just rushing around the universe saving planets from destruction. With a talent like mine, I might have been a great slow bowler.”

With the Doctor and K9 stuck in the TARDIS, this leaves Romana, still onboard the ship, free to quiz Seth and Teka.  She learns that the Nimon lives in the Power Complex (“that fits”) one of a number of witty lines which possibly may have gone a little unnoticed due to the broad performances elsewhere.

We meet the Nimon.  Season 17 really wasn’t a vintage year for monsters, was it?  Following Erato and the Mandrels, the Nimon are another disappointment. With a combination of stack heels, an obviously stuck-on head and weird movement, it’s hard to see the Nimon striking fear into anybody.  It’s interesting to learn that the Nimon heads were supposed to look artificial (with their real faces being visible beneath) but this isn’t something that ever comes across during the story – they just look like cheap, ill-fitting masks.

Whilst Romana, Seth, Teka and the others are delivered up to the Nimon, the Doctor eventually arrives on Skonnos and has a chat with Soldeed.

DOCTOR: Having a little trouble with the neutrino converter?
SOLDEED: Neutrino converter?
DOCTOR: Neutrino converter.
SOLDEED: What do you know about such matters?
DOCTOR: Oh, I’ve seen similar things here and there.
SOLDEED: Oh, come now, Doctor. This is my invention.
DOCTOR: How very odd, how very extraordinary, then, you don’t know what a neutrino conversion is. Did you know that someone’s building a black hole on your doorstep?

It’s remarkable for Tom Baker to come up against a fellow actor who makes him look fairly normal, but Crowden’s idiosyncratic performance left Baker with two options – either attempt to match him or play it straight.  Tom decides to play it straight, which was a wise move (leaving the field open for Crowden to indulge himself).  Soldeed’s manic cackling as the Doctor enters the Power Complex is a joy to behold, a weird joy, but a joy nonetheless.

What’s interesting about this scene is the way it shines a light on Soldeed’s self delusion.  He later claims to Sorak that making the Doctor venture into the Power Complex was all part of his great plan, when it was plainly nothing of the sort.  Soldeed might nominally be the power on Skonnos, but he’s continually buffeted by events outside of his control (with the result that every time something unexpected happens, he desperately attempts to reconcile it into his worldview).  This character trait makes Soldeed a much more interesting character than if he’d simply been just another single-minded maniac, utterly convinced of his own omnipotence. Soldeed’s increasing self-doubt is a nice touch.

Before the Doctor enters the Power Complex, he dashes about desperately looking for an alternative.  This gives rise to one of my favourite moments in the story, as he spies a group of councillors standing about.  “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’d like to say one thing and let me make it perfectly clear, I stand before you desperate to find the exit. Can anybody help me?” A wonderful Tom moment.

Meanwhile Romana and others come face to face with the terrifying Nimon. Roarrrrrr!!!!!

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode One

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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 …

Doctor Who – Nightmare of Eden. Episode Four

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Stott seems a little surprised when the Doctor tells him that Tryst is behind the drug smuggling.  Eh? Considering that Stott is a Major in the Intelligence section of the Space Corps and joined Tryst’s expedition in order to find out who was responsible for the smuggling, surely he must have considered the possibility? And anyway, how did the Space Corps know that Tryst’s expedition was involved in the first place?

Tryst’s personality tends to change from scene to scene. When he’s alone with Dymond (Geoffrey Bateman), the pilot of the other ship and his co-conspirator, he’s cold and ruthless. But when Della confronts him, he’s somewhat apologetic about his involvement.

DELLA: You! You’re smuggling the Vrax.
TRYST: Della, I, er …
DELLA: Yes is the word you’re looking for.
TRYST: No, it started just as a little thing, just to help me over a slight financial difficulty. The cost of the expedition, that was bankrupting me!
DELLA: But Vrax is destroying people by the millions!
TRYST: I had to continue my research! Without me, many of those creatures would have become extinct!
DELLA: I think a few million people becoming extinct is rather more serious.
TRYST: Ah, but they had a choice. It was their own fault that they became addicted.

Did Tryst really smuggle the Vraxoin because he wanted to continue to fund his expeditions or is he simply a cold-hearted criminal? It’s an intriguing question, but one which I doubt many audience members were too concerned about – by now I’ve a feeling that Fiander’s interesting performance choices had rather alienated them.

The Mandrels continue to wave their arms about in a windmilling fashion which makes me wonder why nobody in the gallery or on the floor told them it might be slightly better if they didn’t do that.  Anyway, the Doctor leads them into the Eden projection and (off-screen) utters this immortal line.  “Oh, my fingers, my arms, my legs! Ah! My everything! Argh!”

Tom does get a chance for a moment of more restrained acting a few minutes later, after Tryst attempts to justify his actions to the Doctor. “Doctor! Doctor, I didn’t want to be involved in all this. Tell them. Tell them that I only did it for the sake of funding my research. You understand all this. You’re a scientist.” The Doctor’s cold, whispered “go away” is very effective.

Nightmare of Eden is something of a mess then, but it tries hard and with a different roll of the dice (a more sympathetic director, a bigger budget) things might have been quite different. But there’s still plenty of things that work, albeit balanced out by those that don’t.

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Doctor Who – Nightmare of Eden. Episode Three

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There’s a lengthy reprise at the start of this episode, which allows us to once again marvel at the ineptitude of Fisk and Costa.  The moment when Fisk angrily hits the door locked by the Doctor is also noteworthy – mainly because of how wobbly it looks.  One good punch would no doubt have caused it to collapse.

The jungle landscape of Eden is very dimly lit.  This not only helps to create a forbidding atmosphere but was probably also done in order to disguise the limitations of the set dressing.  As mentioned earlier, the Mandrels look very impressive in this environment – the sight of one such creature, eyes glowing green, looming in the shadows is a striking image.

Back on the ship they don’t look quite so good.  Although it’s interesting that the lighting levels on the Empress seem to be a little lower than in the first two episodes (was this the point that Graham Williams had taken over directing duties from Alan Bromley?) even this can’t disguise how silly the Mandrels look in the cold studio light of day.  Another infamous moment occurs when they kill a hapless passenger.  What’s particularly silly about this scene is the fact that all the Mandrels were in a lift – are we to assume they piled in and then pressed the appropriate button?  Well, maybe they did – perhaps they’re cleverer than we give them credit for.

The shots of rampaging Mandrels no doubt amused the audience at home and this seems to be acknowledged within the fiction of the programme and we then cut to a hysterically laughing Rigg, who’s watching similar events on a monitor.  A nice post-modern touch, although pointing out the limitations of your production is a dangerous game.

Whilst in the Eden projection, the Doctor gets to tangle with a nasty plant and is forced to bite into it. “You know, that didn’t taste at all bad” he deadpans. All in a day’s work …

The identity of the Doctor’s mysterious assailant from the previous episode is established – it was Stott (Barry Lonsdale), a member of Tryst’s crew who apparently died on Eden.  But now we learn he didn’t die, instead he’s been trapped inside the Eden projection ever since.  This’ll bring the colour back to Della’s cheeks as she and Stott were something of an item.  There’s another surprisingly adult moment in the script when Stott tells the Doctor and Romana of his despair about being trapped inside the CET.  “There were a few times when I felt like blowing my brains out.”

In possibly one of the least surprising plot-twists ever, it’s revealed that Tryst is one of the people behind the Vraxoin smuggling.  Well fancy that.

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Doctor Who – Nightmare of Eden. Episode Two

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If the end of episode one was funny, then the start of the second episode is even funnier – mainly because the Mandrel gets to wave his arms about in a terribly expressive way.  When seen in the shadows of their home planet, Eden (as stored on Tryst’s CET machine) they’re quite impressive – but in the harsh unforgiving light of the Empress’ corridors it’s a different matter entirely.

We don’t see too much of them in this episode thankfully, as the sight of the Mandrels stomping about tends to dissipate any tension which has been generated.  And that’s a shame since there’s an interesting story unfolding.  The problem with the two ships somewhat moves into the background once the Doctor realises that someone on board is smuggling a drug called Vraxion.

The Doctor tells us just how deadly it is.  “I’ve seen whole communities, whole planets destroyed by this. It induces a kind of warm complacency and a total apathy. Until it wears off, that is, and soon you’re dead.” It’s more than a little unusual for the series to tackle drug abuse, even if it’s done in a fairly mild way. Whether the comedic aspect of the script worked against the drug message or actually helped to cushion the reality about the debilitating nature of Vraxoin is a rather moot point.

We get several opportunities to observe how deadly Vraxoin is, firstly after it affects Secker, Rigg’s co-pilot, and later when Rigg unwittingly takes a drink laced with the drug.  This is a slightly perplexing moment – the drink was intended for Romana, but why would anybody wish to drug her?  And just how long had this mystery person been waiting to drop the drug into the drink and how could they know that Romana would want a drink anyway?

The effect it has on Rigg is drastic as he goes from being a sober, responsible authority figure to a hysterical, twitchy mess.  This is well-played by Daker, but unfortunately his role in the serial is coming to an end, something which is suggested as several new characters – Waterguard Fisk (Geoffrey Hinsliff) and Landing Officer Costa (Peter Craze) of the Azurian Excise – are introduced.

With their sparkly uniforms, Fisk and Costa are comedy authority figures who attempt to restrain the Doctor but fail hopelessly. The moment when the Doctor tells them to look over there whilst he hot-foots it in the opposite direction sums them up.  Like Fiander, Hinsliff and Craze are playing it strictly for laughs and whilst they entertain, a little more genuine threat from them would have raised the stakes somewhat.

The Doctor’s spent part of the episode pursuing a mysterious man who clobbered him and took the Vraxoin he found in Secker’s locker. We’re no closer to solving that mystery, but the episode ends in an arresting way as the Doctor and Romana leap into the projected image of Eden ….

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