Nightmare Of Eden

Written by:
Bob Baker
Directed by: Alan Bromly/Graham Williams
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1979
Video Availability: Try

Nightmare Of Eden is the last Tom Baker story that I've reviewed in this format. Doing a fair majority in a random order it's the final one that I got round to, though that's certainly no reflection on the story - far from it. Sad confession time: once, a few years back, I'd just come to the end of a relationship. Wanting to indulge my sorrows I chose not drink or dating a string of girls - I got my Who collection from round my parent's and put it on. What story did I watch first? Well, it's a bit obvious, innit? I mean, if it wasn't Nightmare Of Eden I wouldn't have brought it up, would I? Jeez.

Anyway, Nightmare Of Eden is the perfect good-time story. Again, I wouldn't like it if all Who was like this, but if I was feeling down I wouldn't put on Full Circle, would I? Yet so few stories have such an unbridled sense of joie de vivre - most of the ones that have are part of the same season, explaining why I've used that poncy phrase already in my City of Death review. Where to start though? This first episode opens up with some fun spaceship effects that are nowhere near as poor as I recalled (they're a vast step up over some of the mid 80s counterparts, most notably those in Terror of the Vervoids, made seven years later). Then there's David Daker, his "Oh no!" absolutely priceless. This is a story where it just doesn't matter if the acting is ropy, it's all just part of the charm, and (arguably) an intentional element of the self-aware humour inherent. Lewis Fianders's cod foreign accent (two in a season) is a little too much for me, but the rest of it is superb.

It's the sheer breadth of ideas too, something Who does better than most SF series (if not all). Yeah, it's possible Bob Baker unconsciously borrowed from Carnival of Monsters for that Miniscope, er, Continuous Event Transmuter, but the merged spaceships is excellent. And when you consider that Tiger's bones are ground down for aphrodisiacs, then having an alien race that can be ground down to make a narcotic is absolutely, positively inspired. And maybe that's the problem with the story. For something that's such a freefalling laugh-in then it's problematical that it also deals with the most adult topic in the entire history of the series. This is Doctor Who covering drug addiction. Doctor Who. Drug addiction. Read those words back a few times, you rarely see them together. And, perhaps fittingly, Tom (who you would imagine had enjoyed the odd lengthy cigarette if you're being really honest) plays it largely with serious gravitas. It's not obvious, because all around him is so silly and tacky, it makes his performance seem light by proxy. And this huge juxtaposition between concept and execution is what creates a dichotomy at the heart of the story.

To be honest, I don't care anyway. I love this story, love it to bits. It's fun, it's bright (rarely a good thing in Who, but I can't get enough of it here) and engaging, with expansive sets. It's just so much Goddamned fun. Here's some more observations: Mr. Dymond is played by the strict boss from This Life, and is amusingly encouraged to overplay. There's also a crispness to the dialogue that puts it above the norm, a pace and a not inconsiderable amount of vibrancy. "Galactic went out of business twenty years ago." "I wondered why I hadn't been paid." "Now that's not good enough." "That's what I thought." Was Dave Martin the weak link in his and Bob Baker's writing partnership? While they could produce some decent scripts (The Claws of Axos, for example, no matter what you make of the production of said script), they were also more often than not masterminds behind some of the biggest dross to hit the show (The Three Doctors). Nightmare Of Eden, love it or hate it, is easily their greatest triumph from a scripting point of view.

I guess I should also mention David Brierley as K-9, something I haven't done in any of my other season 17 reviews. He gives a decent stab at it, but his bubbly K-9 isn't quite the dog that John Leeson made him. This one's going on a bit, but there's so much good stuff here I want to mention it all. This is a story you can forgive filing cabinets being on a spacecraft of the year 2116 because of lines like "You see, I didn't actually expect a spaceliner to materialise halfway through my ship today." What makes this line so killingly funny is that you're not sure if Geoffrey Bateman is deliberately being hammy or that he genuinely believes he's giving a good performance. But what takes it to the level of genius is Tom's deadpan agreement of "No." This furious ship captain has just been blatantly sarcastic yet it's gone totally over the Doctor's head. A final score can't really take into account the qualitative worth of this episode - there must be dozens of stories that are better acted or better made. But so few are as wilfully enjoyable. Yeah, you can clearly see the hole before K-9 burns it, but what other Doctor Who story has this as a character motivation for the Doctor: "Oh, don't mind him. He just likes to irritate people." Class.
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Am I the only one who keeps thinking this story is called Nightmare On Eden? Not only is it a better title, but it also makes sense, too. Anyway, the story. Yes, the Mandrells are a crap monster, but I liked 'em as a kid and the people that pan them are probably the same people who claim The Three Doctors is a classic. In terms of character, then K-9 gets a different coloured ray here, an effect made less impressive by the hand helping Tom hold up that wall. Speaking of Tom, then "I'm not working for anybody, I'm just having fun" is practically a raison de etre.

David Daker's captain takes a drink ahead of a fainted Romana here, which is hardly gentlemanly, but does lead to a new high point of comedy. The opening ten minutes of this instalment see a dip in the energy, but as soon as Daker unwittingly takes the Vraxoin (although it's unbelievable he would discuss possible drugs on the ship in front of a rival captain) the comedy goes back up another level. Discussion of how good his acting is is irrelevant - what matters is that Daker, hammy or not, is absolutely hysterical. Of course, as a Who story based on drug addiction then this is hardly Trainspotting in its approach, but it's bloody funny.

Sadly, while I think this story is nowhere near as cheap as made out, the set limitations are exposed by the lift doors not closing properly and a stair that Tom steps on wobbling uncontrollably. This sequence, while amusing, is also padding under any criteria. An intriguing plot point is that Rigg says that execution is practised in the story's timeline.

Apart from one or two instances of camping it up, Tom again plays it straight in this one. Most notable is his reacton to Romana telling him Rigg has "hit the bottle". "That," says Tom, who should know, "doesn't sound like drunkenness to me." Probably most annoying for hard core fans is the introduction of two comedy policemen, whom the Doctor escapes by using the old "Look!" ruse. Personally, I love 'em.
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Is the Doctor suggesting they go east while in Eden a John Steinbeck reference? Anyway, while the jungle is something of a disappointment after that in the previous story, it still works due to the dark filming, and the Mandrells work better in their own environment. Note that this is possibly the only jungle in Who that doesn't have a parrot going "Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr". I'm not even going to make a remark about Tom's "you know, that didn't taste at all bad", as it's too cheap a joke, even for me. So is quoting the line "Doctor, they're coming from both ways", so I won't mention that either.

Stott's cabin very obviously doesn't have more than three walls and a floor, but there's a certain ingenuity in the design that puts all of the story above its limitations. K-9 making sniffing noises is stupid, but "it's a perfectly ordinary electric dog" is a nice line, and one I'd attribute to Adams.

"They're only economy class, what's all the fuss about?" Daker is hilarious again in this, and Geoff Hinsliff isn't too far behind. Yet having Daker threatening to hit Romana as a result of his cravings jars badly with his earlier comedic highs. Which is pretty much symptomatic of the story as a whole, even though I must observe that the special effects here are really quite impressive for the time.
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Hinsliff's most famous role was, of course, Don Brennan in Coronation St. While having to pretend to fancy Lynne Perrie would have taxed anyone's acting ability, it was clear that Hinsliff wasn't the best actor in the show by some margin. However, while Hinsliff may have later struggled with pseudo-realist acting, in this period's hyperaware, self-reflexive form of exchange (remembering that he also did wonders in Image of the Fendahl), he's outstanding.

"The profits on human suffering." A great line, or just the delivery? Yet while I'm not suggesting that Doctor Who should make a pro-drugs story, the reactionary moral dealt out in this one does worry a little. Just as Vengeance on Varos would later slam video nasties, here we get a "drugs are bad" tale with no attempt to balance the argument. Who is a series aimed largely at children that has often presented alcohol consumption as an acceptable way of life, yet comes down hard on its herbal cousin. That said, Vraxoin is clearly intended to be a Heroin allegory, so maybe Tom's final "Go away" does have some weight. Whatever the outcome and validity of such themes in Who, it's certainly a unique and thoughtful commentary for a story to possess.

On points of random note, then Dudley Simpson's score is one of his better ones, although the shuttle craft effect is a little poor. And there's some fun with guns, with Tryst's gun exploding a console before we see the beam, and Della clutching her stomach after being shot in the neck. There's a heartbreaking subtext there, with Della and Stott lovers torn apart. After believing Stott to be dead, Della discovers he is still alive… only to be killed. Sadly, the fact that both are played by planks of wood does deaden any Shakespearean sorrow that might otherwise be invoked.

I once happened to stumble across a French film title in a book, something like D'Alore or similar. Part of the dialogue, in the national language, was along the lines of "My arms, my legs, my everything…" suggesting that Tom's utterance of said dialogue is actually a witty intertextual reference. Guess what? I looked for the book in the library again and couldn't find it, or the film on the IMDb. Did I dream the whole thing? As for the sequence, well, I can't deny it is a little bit too silly, and the story would perhaps have been better off without moments like it. K-9's "put your leads on" is also unfortunate obvious humour, and this is the second story in the season where Tom uses his dog whistle to defeat an enemy.

The Doctor using the CET to capture the villains might seem contrived, though shows Bob Baker was still thinking it through even down to the fourth episode. What does disappoint is the inexplicable resurrection of Della after being killed, an unnecessary happy ending. Though Tom's moral at the end, is, like his "go away", suitably understated.
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A vastly underrated story, the problems I have with this one are more with its muddled tone than any production carping. What Nightmare Of Eden attempts to do is make the most serious social commentary in the entire history of the series, and be the funniest ever story - both at the same time. It's sometimes an uneasy mix, but most of the time it works extremely well - for me, at any rate.
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