Doctor Who: Nightmare Of Eden REVIEW
"I spent six months earning my Equity card for THIS?"
Release Date: 2 April 2012
1979 | PG | 96 minutes | £19.99
Director: Alan Bromly
Cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, David Brierley, Lewis Fiander, Jennifer Lonsdale, Geoffrey Bateman, David Daker
Fourth Doctor tale “Nightmare Of Eden” deserves a better rep than the one it has. It hails from the show’s 17th season, an era rife with budgetary problems and BBC industrial disputes, which had an all-too-obvious effect on what ended up on-screen.
One version of Who history has it that the show had, by this point, become badly made and (thanks to an out-of-control star) overly silly, and that incoming producer John Nathan-Turner rescued the series in the nick of the time when he swept in as a new broom the following year. Sorry, but we take a dissident viewpoint: in 1979, Who was clever, witty, and massively popular; the ratings slumped when it started taking itself more seriously.
The story of “Nightmare Of Eden” is a strange one for Who in some ways, revolving as it does around what’s essentially an intergalactic traffic accident. When space liner the Hecate accidentally materialises around a small trade ship, the Doctor gets tangled up in the ensuing dispute. The secondary plot strand is even more startling: someone on the Hecate is smuggling Vraxoin, a deadly drug. It’s jarring (but fascinating) to see a child-friendly show like Who tackle this topic without reaching for a more palatable metaphor; Vraxoin is basically heroin by another name. Admittedly, the treatment is pretty simplistic (“DRUGS IS BAD”), but the fact that they have a crack at it all is laudable.
And that’s not all! There’s a third element: the CET machine, a sort of hi-tech zoo which can store alien habitats on a crystal, while the presence of a shadowy figure and the mystery of a missing crewman add a whodunnit factor.
With all these elements combined, there’s never a shortage of intrigue. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are on top form as the Doctor and his unflappable Time Lady companion Romana, tossing off playful dialogue with immense charm. And you’d have to have undergone a complete humour bypass not to be tickled by Lewis Fiander’s Professor Tryst (inventor of the CET), a zoologist with an utterly outrageous Germanic accent.
There are some questionable plot points: for one thing, how can the CET capture the sun in the sky of an alien planet? And once the source of the vraxoin is revealed (in a neat twist), the fact that there was previously another source on another planet fails to make any sense.
But these are minor quibbles. The only thing that’s really wrong with “Nightmare Of Eden” is the design, and much of the paucity of that can be put down to BBC penny-pinching. The monsters of the piece – lumbering, flared-trousered bear-things called Mandrels – look faintly pathetic as they lumber about with their arms spread, looking like they’re desperate for a cuddle; the sets are bland or shabby (even the Police Box prop looks monumentally knackered); and the costume designer is clearly working under the illusion that everyone in the future, from co-pilots to customs officers, will be decked out in sparkly fabrics. But in every other respect this is a strong example of a season that deserves re-evaluation.
Human-IMDb Toby Hadoke chairs the commentary, marshalling a rotating cast of participants which includes Lalla Ward, writer Bob Baker, visual effects designer Colin Mapson, make-up designer Joan Stribling and actor Peter Craze. Ward is particularly good value, despairing of her “maternity dress” costume and revealing that script-editor Douglas Adams was “good at slapping down Tom”.
Making Of “The Nightmare Of TV Centre” has an interesting story to tell, since the whole production was a behind-the-scenes disaster. Mapson, video effects guy AJ Mitchell and Assistant Floor Manager Val McCrimmon all chip in, with a picture soon building of an old-fashioned ogre of a director who infuriated absolutely everyone – and was eventually sacked – and a badly behaving Baker. The coup de grace comes when McCrimmon unfurls one of the celebratory t-shirts they had run off on the last day of shooting, which bears the legend, “I’m relieved the nightmare is over”!
The bafflingly-titled “The Doctor’s Strange Love” (16 minutes) turns out to be a discussion of the story featuring Torchwood/SJA writer Joseph Lidster and comedian Josie Long, much of it composed of affectionate mickey-taking. “Going Solo” is a short, unremarkable interview with writer Bob Baker (eight minutes). Michael Aspel quizzes Lalla Ward in a vintage clip from Ask Aspel, in which The Honourable Sarah Ward (daughter of the seventh Viscount Bangor) lives up to her lineage – barely a sentence goes by without her declaiming the words “ghastly” or “frightful” in those cut-glass tones. Both stories come with the usual informative text commentary, gallery and Radio Times PDFs.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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