Doctor Who complete reviews: The Horns Of Nimon
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Altogether now: 'It's behind you!'
Pantomimes: I hate 'em. Let me count the ways: The forced jollity. The cheesy music. The gaudy sets and costumes which could melt the eyeballs from a million miles away. And don't even get me started on the strained attempts at audience participation.
Plus there's the fact that panto season means Christmas, a time of year that depresses the hell out of me because of the empty bank account, the turkey, the freezing weather, the fact that summer seems like a dot on the horizon, the X Factor winner getting to number one, Cliff - or the fact that I am a great big Scrooge who makes the Grinch seem like Ronald McDonald.
So it's with trepidation that I approach The Horns Of Nimon, a Doctor Who story that can only be described as pantomime. Appropriately, it originally went out during the Christmas period of 1979, and as a result, it contains more silly japes and jokes than ever before. The Doctor gets to say very obvious corny lines along the lines of "Why is it that every time I say Nothing Can Go Wrong, something goes wrong?" Cue a lurching TARDIS, ho ho ho. And then we get panto baddies like the Co-Pilot, and more directly, the eye-rolling Soldeed, a man who makes Abanazar look like a small-time amateur.
Even for season 17, a jokier than usual run of stories, Horns is sillier than normal. And the fans have not exactly lapped this one up. It's been frequently pulled apart by various Whophiles in reviews, forums and polls, and was tellingly the last Tom Baker story to be released on video (remember those days?). That said, maybe the drubbing's started to ease up a bit, since while dreck such as Time And The Rani and The Twin Dilemma still get roasted, Horns is getting a slightly smoother press.
And maybe that's OK, since at the heart of The Horns Of Nimon, there's a decent plot waiting to burst out. The idea of a race feeding off planets in a kind of gruesome intergalactic Coach Trip is quite a dark one, and there're some neat ideas such as the claustrophobic changing maze of the Nimon domain or the live tributes to the Nimon (human takeaway basically).
"The ever-versatile team of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward make the story worth sitting through"
The effects and production aren't as bad as you might have heard either. Yes, it's a studio production and yes, the spaceship scenes aren't that convincing, but there's still the odd attempt to impress, such as The Doctor, Romana and K9 beaming through space from the TARDIS to the drifting ship or the exploding complex at the end.
More importantly, the ever-versatile team of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward make the story worth sitting through. Tom's Doctor may have a few silly moments, such as his OTT distraction of the Nimon with a red hanky, but he still achieves the right mix of gleeful humour and intense drama. Just look at his quietly furious confrontation with Soldeed after the bearded one has tried to convince the Time Lord that he knows nothing about Romana.
This is one of the best stories for Lalla in fact. The concept of making the second Romana a female version of The Doctor really comes through loud and clear here, and Lalla's having a ball. Not only does she have her own swanky version of the Sonic Screwdriver, she also stands up to potential threats, discarding the Co-Pilot as a a "despicable worm" and shrugging off Soldeed's many attempts to look big and tough. For once, it's Romana who's at the heart of the action, as she investigates what's going on, transports to Crinoth and gets to the heart of the matter on the planet of Skonnos (even though these last two examples are more by luck than judgement).
At least The Doctor/Companion team compensate for the lack of decent supporting characters, as they're all either too wet or too hammy. In the "Wet As A Paddling Pool In A Torrential Rainstorm" corner we have Seth and Teka, two limp tributes who have about as much gumption as a tin of baked beans. Seth is constantly touted as a hero by his beloved Teka, even though Seth couldn't even stand up to a 75-year-old bus driver for charging him too much for a ticket fare. Teka by contrast is whiny and annoying. Fans of Blue Peter legend Janet Ellis can gawp in wonder at their heroine's early attempts at drama, but the end result is about as successful as her attempts at winning Celebrity Masterchef.
"If you want to play a Horns Of Nimon drinking game, go easy on the strong stuff, since you'll be downing a lot of shots for the many 'Weakling Scum!!' references"
On the other side, in the "More Hammy Than A 20 Mile Long Meat Counter" corner, we have The Co-Pilot and Soldeed. Let's take the Co-Pilot first, a man so useless he doesn't even have a name. Imagine him applying for a job: "OK, so what's your name?" "Uh, I-I-I-I-I don't know sir. Uh, Co-Pilot?" If you want, you can call him Dave, as he resembles a slightly cherubic Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd with the haircut of a 12-year-old choirboy from 1968.
The Co-Pilot is so bloody useless at everything that he does. He manages to blow up his ship by making it go too fast, even though he's been warned by his boss that the ship's so old that it can't take the strain. He then kills his boss in the process. And despite bringing back the tribute, he's so rubbish that he can't stand up to Soldeed's evil line of interrogation, and worse still, can't even die convincingly. First off, he does a bad impersonation of Bruce Forsyth: "Ewewewewewew--it's me sir, I brought you the tribute!!" Then he shakes his jowls around in an attempt to look horrified (looking more like Porky Pig in the process). And as the poor sod is killed by a Nimon, he splits his trousers open in the process. What a loser.
Perhaps thanks to this massive inferiority complex, the Co-Pilot spends most of his time bellowing "Weakling scum!!" at the hapless tributes. He does this a lot, you know, and if you want to play a Horns Of Nimon drinking game, go easy on the strong stuff, since you'll be downing a lot of shots for the many "Weakling Scum!!" references. Poor old Malcolm Terris, he was great as Roger Ackroyd in the Poirot adaptation, but this is just OTT parody.
Having said that, it's still not as OTT as Graham Crowden's ridiculous turn as Soldeed. Seriously, the man's incapable of uttering just one word without making it sound like a great big piss-take. Strutting around in a silly comedy beard with a futuristic lollipop stick and calling for his beloved Nimon like he's calling for his lost cat ("Lord Niiii-iiiii-moooon! It is I!! Soldeed!!"), Soldeed cuts a rather sad figure, full of his own self-importance and blinded to the fact that he's just a pawn in the Nimons' game.
Like Tryst in Nightmare Of Eden, Soldeed's quite an interesting character on paper, callously ruthless on the surface but gullible and stupid because of his own greed. Again, there's very much the sound message of not relying on material goods, wealth and status - but this is totally drowned by Crowden's ridiculous performance which gets sillier and sillier as the story progresses. By the time he's picked his jaw up off the floor at discovering that there are several Nimons rather than one, he's gone totally cuckoo, but Crowden's playing his final scene for laughs rather than anything approaching realism. He even corpses as he becomes - um, a corpse. Not wishing to sound all Christopher HAMILTON Bidmead, but even Crowden's performance is just too much to take.
None of the other characters make much of an impression - there's only Sorak, his silly hat and his eyeliner, but at least John Bailey (Edward Waterfield from Evil Of The Daleks) gives an excellent performance in the minor role of Sezom.
"Horns Of Nimon just about holds together, but sadly, there're a few too many howlers which dampen the whole experience"
And so with the rather OTT characters, the dramatic element of Horns is considerably reduced. Everything's played just that bit too close to parody, and like Destiny Of The Daleks, the balance between humour and drama is a bit uneven. There are some great, dramatic concepts at work here, but they're buried underneath the pantomime elements of the production and especially the acting. Some of the production is rather weak, with a few retakes needed (the unfortunate 'pants incident' or Soldeed's choir, who don't know how to cheer at the same time). It just about holds together, but sadly, there're a few too many howlers which dampen the whole experience.
Which is regrettable, since this was the last story of the season. No one could have known that the big season finale Shada had been canned because of a BBC strike. So that means no more iconic tunnel titles. No more Delia Derbyshire arrangements. No more Dudley Simpson scores (Blub!). No more fun, you could argue too, given the next season's ban on anything approaching a smile.
And with that in mind, there's the answer for why Horns doesn't really deserve the brickbats. Yes, the performances are hammy. Yes, there's maybe just a bit too much silliness. But at least it's fun - the actors look like they're enjoying themselves, especially Tom and Lalla. And at the end of the day, Doctor Who is all about having fun - escaping from the cold, hard real world and entering an enjoyable escapist fantasy full of funny jokes and joie-de-vivre.
So as Lalla infectiously breaks into what looks like unscripted giggles at the story's climax, that's the last you'll see of humour for a bit in Who on terrestrial TV. The Horns Of Nimon may be too OTT and silly at times, but maybe it's over-compensating for the next season. Or maybe I'm not quite the Scrooge that I thought I was...
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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