Doctor Who complete reviews: Nightmare Of Eden
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
An anti-drug message in a mixed 1970 Tom Baker Who adventure...
What is it with 1979 and drugs in telly sci-fi? Early on in the year, Blake's 7 came up with 'Shadow', a stark warning about the dangers of drug-taking. And to get in on the act, Doctor Who came up with Nightmare Of Eden, which pushed the 'Just Say No' message even further.
But while 'Shadow' has generally been praised for its complex script and flashy visuals, Nightmare Of Eden has had more of a turbulent press. The problem with the story is that while it boasts a well written, witty and entertaining script from Bob Baker, the production's throwing obstacles in the way with nonchalant glee. As a result, like some other season 17 stories, more is being asked of the viewer to tolerate these deficiencies in order to see the bigger picture.
But what huge deficiencies there are in Nightmare. In time-honoured fashion, let's look at the bad apples:
1. The Mandrels
A great idea on paper, shuffling, growling bear-type animals with razor-sharp claws. A bad idea on screen, since they resemble giant overgrown Muppets - almost to the point where I expect them to start singing the Mah Na Mah Na song. It's sad really, because in theory, they're a great set of monsters. We see the results of their work after workshy addict Secker is dragged out of the mist with great bloody claw marks on his face. But in the all-important cliffhanger in which we see the monster for the first time, the rather sad sight of a lone Mandrel swinging its arms about like a drunken reveller destroys the illusion.
"Lamentably, Fiander opts for ze stock mad scientist approach, which means lots of gormless face pulling and a stereotypical German accent."
Again, great idea on paper, poorly let down on screen. It is admittedly blatantly obvious that Tryst is behind the whole drug-smuggling operation (along with Dymond and his mullet perm), but on paper, there's no indication that he's meant to be a complete joke. But thanks to Lewis Fiander's slightly - um - over-enthusiastic performance, Tryst is consigned to the Clown pile of Doctor Who's supporting characters, along with the Kastrian Eldrad, King Yrcanos and the Chief Caretaker.
Lamentably, Fiander opts for ze stock mad scientist approach, which means lots of gormless face pulling and a stereotypical German accent. This especially manifests itself when he's talking about his pride and joy, the CET Machine (a planetary iPod of various destinations and life forms, if you like) - or as he calls it on a constant basis, "Zee. Ceeee. Eeeee. Teeee. Macheeeen" - as in, "Oooohhhh, ey em zoooo deelaaateeed zat yoo aah takeeng an interest in maah Ceee. Eeee. Teee. Macheeen!"
It's a shame, since the ultimate reveal of him as the baddie is quite effective, as are his weak justifications for supplying Vraxoin to his clients ("Zey had a choice!" he splutters to his assistant Della). And his final protests to The Doctor fall on deaf ears, as he claims it was all in the name of science. Poor old Tryst - from luxury first class travel to a lifetime of gruel and pacing about in a futuristic cell. But as I said, a great character, let down by a crass comedy performance.
"Strutting about looking like they're auditioning for space-age Village People, the Excise Men are rather sad"
3. The Excise Men
Talking of crass comedy buffoons, they don't come much worse than the incompetent Excise men, Fisk and Costa. Strutting about looking like they're auditioning for space-age Village People, the Excise Men are rather sad. They're forever chucking red tape in the faces of anyone they come into contact with, being pompous, and crowing about how they'll be the golden boys of the day by framing The Doctor and Romana for the Vraxoin smuggling. Yeah, the Excise Men are meant to be a parody of pompous pen-pushing bureaucrats, but they're clunky and ill-conceived, thanks to clichéd dialogue and rather broad performances from Geoffrey Hinsliff and Peter Craze. And for some odd reason, Fisk calls Tryst by his own name when interrogating the evil smuggler in part four! Or it could just be a classic fluff...
4. The effects
Not stellar - the first shot is a rather fake-looking spaceship on an invisible stick moving wonkily across a backdrop of stars. That said, some of the video effects make up for this, which I'll mention in a mo.
You could also possibly put the infamous "Oh my arms, oh my legs, oh my everything, whooaaahhh" quote from The Doctor in the pile, but I don't really mind this, especially as Tom Baker's performance is yet again, first rate. He's full of barking mad one liners ("Ah yes, in the same way a jam maker conserves raspberries!"), impressive authority (just look at the way in which he assumes complete control of the situation - "Always do what you're best at!" he booms after Romana suggests that they don't interfere), and of course steely anger ("Go away" he whispers coldly to a babbling Tryst).
"This is, ironically, Bob Baker's best script for the show. It's free of some of the rather awkward lines that peppered his earlier contributions with Dave Martin, and it perfectly melds the jokey and the dramatic."
In fact, Nightmare Of Eden is full of brilliant one-liners, whether they're about The Doctor not getting paid from a defunct Galactic Salvage, or one of my favourite quotes - "I don't work for anybody, I'm just having fun!" This is, ironically, Bob Baker's best script for the show. It's free of some of the rather awkward lines that peppered his earlier contributions with Dave Martin, and it perfectly melds the jokey and the dramatic. It's also brisk, easy to follow, and even quite hard hitting in places. The scenes of the addicted Secker almost crawling to his stash of Vraxoin aren't your average teatime jollies, but more refreshingly, Nightmare doesn't preach or go overboard with the moral message. The moral is tucked neatly away in the story, and The Doctor's cold rejection of Tryst and Dymond sum up what the story's about in a scene that's so understated as to be barely there at all. Marvellous.
As for the production - well,apart from the wonky model effects and the Mandrels, Nightmare Of Eden is a mix of average and innovative. It's obvious that all the action takes place in the studio, even the jungle scenes of Eden, which aren't a patch on the Chloris scenes of The Creature From The Pit. Alan Bromly is back (for the most part) behind the camera, and again, his workmanlike direction is rather similar to The Time Warrior. There are some scenes which really grate - the bit where The Doctor's meant to be running down several flights of stairs basically amounts to Big Tom running down the same staircase set over and over again. Ditto for the bit where he's meant to be passing hundreds of passengers - he's just strolling through the same set with passengers who look like they're auditioning for the 2179 Buggles.
That said, the use of video effects is inspired. The claustrophobic scenes in the mist are really well done thanks to the relatively new Quantel system of ghosting and slowing down the picture. This is seen at its best in the excellent cliffhanger to part three when The Doctor's caught in the interface of the separating ships. The video effects really work when The Doctor shimmers and fades away in a blaze of video trickery, and this tense sequence works even better thanks to Dudley Simpson's eerie synthesised score. In fact, Simpson's piano and electric keyboard-driven score is as brilliant as ever, and it's enough to make you weep that he's only got one story left before making way for some decidedly mixed radiophonic scores.
Bromly's casting is generally OK, apart from the aforementioned offenders. David Daker is probably the best out of the lot as Rigg, the initially genial captain, whose deterioration into drug-addled maniac is handled very well. The scene in which he accosts Romana and demands that she gives him his fix of Vraxoin is again pretty powerful stuff, and well acted by both Daker and Lalla Ward.
Elsewhere, Barry Andrews is very good as Stott, as is Stephen Jenn in a brief cameo as the creepy Secker. Jennifer Lonsdale is OK as Della, although she evidently can't tell the difference between getting shot in the head and the stomach.
Altogether, a story that rewards the faithful. It's a great shame that there are so many flaws in the story, since script-wise, this is just as good as City Of Death. Mandrels, Tryst and Excise Men aside, there's a lot to love in Nightmare Of Eden. The fast-paced, intelligent script from Bob Baker shines through, as do the performances of some of the guest cast, and more importantly, the ever-reliable team of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. Although it doesn't quite live up to its full potential, Nightmare Of Eden is still worth waking up for.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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