The Horns of Nimon

Written by:
Anthony Read
Directed by: Kenny McBain
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1979/80
Video Availability: Try

Different strokes for different folks. (Did I really write that a year or so ago? What a cliché!) The Horns of Nimon isn't a classic Tom Baker story in the sense of, say, Talons or The Deadly Assassin. But it was made for a drunken Saturday night, a first-class laugh-in. All stories have their roles, and Nimon's is party time.

It opens with a frankly rubbish model spaceship shot, and generic, cod-SF dialogue. However, this is one of the more misunderstood elements of The Horns of Nimon. The dialogue is intentionally (I think) cheesy. Malcolm Terris has so much fun shouting "weakling scum!" that even the scariest Shape from Sapphire & Steel (Bob Hornery) can't make an impact. Having said that, lots of the lines are sharper and wittier than you might remember, such as "Brilliant! I wish I'd thought of that." "Oh, you will, Doctor. You will." (Though I've since learned this is a crib from Oscar Wilde so it ain't that clever).

Tom, meanwhile, is on pure OTT form. This is far from the bullish, arrogant flippancy of seasons 15/16, but a half-drunk actor delighting in making a complete ass of himself. Giving K-9 mouth to mouth and yelping "it's uncanny!" I find him really quite amusing here. Yet blowing him off the screen is Graham Crowden as Soldeed. He doesn't crap over the programme like Richard Briers of Brian Blessed would later do, but carves out a self-aware parody of a typical SF megalomaniac. Trust me, it's genius.

There's a daft innocence to this one, where the Doctor and Romana can go from place to place talking to strangers. No being locked up, or genuine resentment. They just go around chatting to everyone. Didn't life use to be just like that when we were young? Fun, uncomplicated... just like the episode, in fact.
* * * ½

The Doctor presages his fifth persona here with some very silly scenes with him musing over cricket. Top silly moment though has to go to the damaged Tardis which pings and whizzes, much to Tom's nonchalant delight. One interesting thing about this story is how the traditional gender roles of the Doctor and his assistant are reversed, Romana taking the proactive role throughout. This is a bit of a duller episode than the first, though, with too many scenes on the ship when the action really needs to move on, and less jokes.

One of the weakest things about season 17 was the unenthusiastic extras - and Soldeed's chanting minions are as clueless as can be. You can also see why JN-T was initially so praised as the model effects on this one are appalling when compared to those of The Leisure Hive.
* * *

What struck me most about this one was the glare of the studio lights on the cameras and set. While this is a bit of a dull episode, the revelation of the changing maze being a giant circuit is positively inspired. The Doctor claiming to come up with an idea after Romana has already suggested it ("K-9?" "I've got it! K-9!") also predates The Black Adder by three or four years. And Tom breaks the fourth wall at the climax.
* * *

The one with "My dreeeams of CON-QUEST!" I see Nimon as less of a story, more of a send-up battle between Tom and Crowden. Everyone else are just minor players, downgraded (like Seth and Teka) so they don't get caught in the ham crossfire. I love loads of this episode, like the bits where Tom opens the shuttle to see those two Nimon making that "bleeeeergh! bleeeeeeergh!" noise, or "Well I hope you get it in the right order." What I like most of all though is the final shot where Lalla breaks out of character and into impromptu giggles.
* * * ½

An amusing comedy for lighter occasions, there's only one problem with The Horns of Nimon: It should be even dafter. By attempting a balancing act between serious Who story and Christmas panto knees-up, the jokey bits can seem a distraction, the serious bits a dull pause between gags. Sadly, this means that Nimon never quite achieves its full potential as an all-out laugh riot. It is still good enough, however, to get:
* * *