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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Doctor Who – Nightmare of Eden. Episode One

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It’s possible to tell from the opening few minutes that this one is going to give us a something of a bumpy ride.  The modelwork is shot on videotape, rather than film, which would become a more regular occurrence as the series moved into the eighties.  Compared to the model shots from City of Death it looks much less impressive (something which Colin Mapson, the visual effects designer admitted to) but he had no choice in the matter.  Money was tight and since it would take several hours to record these scenes on videotape compared to about four days on film, it was an obvious cost saving.

Our first sight of the interior of the Empress, a space cruise-liner, doesn’t offer many surprises.  Like many spaceships down the years it appears to have been cobbled together with whatever was at hand (I’m sure many of the instrument panels had played sterling service in other Doctor Who’s and Blakes’ 7’s).

If the visual aspect is a little lacking, then there’s still a nice hard-SF concept at the heart of Bob Baker’s only solo script for the series.  After emerging from hyperspace, two spaceships collide with each other, which is just the sort of problem the Doctor relishes ….

With a wobbly production, what you really need is a strong guest cast.  Hmm.  David Daker is his usual solid self as Rigg, the captain of the Empress, whilst Lewis Fiander’s turn as Tryst is somewhat hampered by his decision to employ a comedy Germanic accent.  This means that he mangles various words in a way that is supposed to be amusing, but really isn’t.  There are two points of view with Fiander – either he sabotaged the story by overacting or he breathed life into a fairly routine script.  I tend to favour the former over the latter, but there’s some undeniable pleasure to be gained from his wonky performance.

Tryst is a zoologist who has gone from planet to planet with his invention, the CET machine (the Continuous Event Transmuter). It doesn’t just record what it sees though, it scoops up whole sections of planets and stores them as electromagnetic signals on an event crystal inside the machine. The Doctor’s less than impressed with this electronic zoo.

Tryst’s assistant is Della, played by Jennifer Lonsdale. It’s not really her fault, as Della’s rather underwritten, but Lonsdale doesn’t really put a great deal of life into her performance. But I guess anybody standing next to Tryst would tend to be overshadowed.

What we’re really waiting for is the reveal of the monster and it doesn’t disappoint. The episode one cliffhanger must be one of the funniest in the show’s history as a Mandrel pops his head through a hole in the wall (although I’m not sure that laughter was the intended effect). As seen below, in still shots they can look rather menacing, but when they’re called upon to move it’s more problematic ….

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