When two spaceships are dimensionally fused, Team TARDIS must battle monsters that turn into cocaine when electrocuted
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The Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K-9 plop onto allegedly luxurious space cruiser, Empress, just as it has coincidentally materialised in the same space as the more diminutive spaceship belonging to Dymond, a spaceman of questionable morals and origin. Equally adventitious is the sudden appearance of Vraxoin, the rarest and most dangerous recreational drug known in the universe, aboard the Empress and the subsequent OD’ing of its copilot.
The coincidinks don’t end there! Also aboard the ship are parody scientist, Tryst, and his assistant, Della, who are carrying with them a device not dissimilar to the miniscope in Carnival of Monsters, and all of a sudden monsters are roaming the hallways, straight-up beating the passengers to death and causing all sorts of mayhem. And to top it off, there’s a chap lurking about inside the miniscope and when the space Customs and Excise officers arrive they definitely want to arrest someone, and they’d really like it if it were our protagonists!
Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s the comparison shot from Star Trek: Swing Shift mentioned in this review… Just sayin’ ;-)
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Solid fun, but not all that brilliant. I love this for the late 70s eye candy aspect of it, and wish I could live in whatever disco future they envisioned. This story is mostly notable for being the only Classic Who story I know of that revolves around drug smuggling, by way of the inventively named vraxoin (they may as well have called it space dope).
It also features the bell-bottomed Mandrels, who don’t scare so much as stomp and annoy. I do think the Doctor and Romana have good chemistry in this story, and we see Tom Baker moving into his second golden era – this one slicker, more modern, and more adult than the first. But still, it’s plagued by being slightly crap. Three point seven.
Apparently, this story is not the most popular amongst fans or cast and crew alike, however I’m going to set my stall out early and say I FREAKING LOVE IT! It’s in my top 10 of favourite episodes.
The serial was beset with production problems culminating in the resignation/sacking of the director Alan Bromly. According to the DVD extra The Nightmare of Television Centre, the crew all came I on the final day with t-shirts saying “I’m relieved the nightmare is over”
A space crash, intergalactic drug smugglers, some overly officious customs men and an interstellar cruise liner are the basis of this fun story.
The Doctor and Romana II are on fine form and again they have some brilliant scenes and dialogue together, and Tom gets some brilliant one liners in. The line at the very end where he tells Tryst to “Go away!” is absolutely damning and is totally the Doctor. Romana also gets to go off solo quite a bit and I really like her interactions with Della. She also gets to show off her knowledge is nearly as good as the Doctor himself. While we are talking about Romana, what on earth is Romana wearing?? Was the budget so tight that they had to put her in an old tablecloth? This is the least glamourous Romana ever looks in her whole run on the show.
The script Is very good with a good story written by Bob Baker around the evils of drugs and drug smuggling. There are some wonderful models especially the Empress and Hecate, sadly the actual special effects somewhat spoil this and don’t quite work. According to the DVD commentary this is due to the effects being shot in video rather than film and despite Graham Williams praise for the results, effects thereafter went back to being shot on film.
The jungle of Eden is brilliantly realised and is on a par of that we saw in Planet of Evil. K9 gets lots to do in this story and is not in pieces for a change!
Some of the images of planets on the CET were seen in Space: 1999
The supporting cast is fantastic I’ve no problems with Lewis Fianders cod Germanic accent as I feel it makes his character a little more distinct. Jennifer Lonsdale is great as Della and it’s great that a secondary character gets so much screen time. Peter Craze and Geoffrey Hinsliff are fun as the very inept and overly officious customs officers. Stephen Jenn’s portrayal of Secker as he succumbs to the Vraxoin is excellently done. David Daker ( who was last seen in The Time Warrior as Irongron ) is also great as Captain Rigg. Sadly the minor characters of the crew and passengers aren’t so well done. The death scenes of the crew and passengers are at best laughable and utterly unconvincing!
And here we must finally address the elephant or rather the Mandrel in the room – huge cuddly disco yetis with flares! OMG they are terrible! They are like rejects from the Muppets. This is what happens when you let the costume department design monsters instead of the special effects department. They are one of the worst realised monsters in the Whoniverse.
There are a few more beefs :-
What is the white blob thing that comes out of the Eden projection and stuns Romana? It’s not a laser bolt as it’s not a constant trajectory – it’s never explained?
Dymond types up the profit/loss for their criminal endeavour – why? What suddenly changes to cause him to look at it rather than a rather clumsy plot device to allow the Doctor to discover their plan
When the Doctor hides on Dymonds shuttle how is he not seen? It’s not exactly hard to see him! Although I do like that he uses his method of not breathing as we last saw in Terror of the Zygons (without the howl though this time)
The scene where the Doctor rounds up the Mandrels with a dog whistle is very lazy.
The customs officer’s uniforms are very glittery!
Despite these beefs as I stated at the start, I still love this serial and it’s one I will rewatch quite frequently. I award this story 4.1 economy class passengers out of 5
Wildly imaginative and intelligent but also cheap looking and farcical, The Nightmare of Eden will conflict its audience depending on what you are looking for from Doctor Who. I love it – Bob Baker’s only solo script for the series is a belter, loaded with great ideas, funny lines and held together with a very strong message. The drug-dealing angle gives the comedy some gravity and the performances, whilst sometimes veering over the top, keep the energy levels high.
Ward and Baker are at the top of their game, especially the latter who aside from one moment of pantomime is giving a commendably serious performance that drives home the drama of the message. Any story that can juggle spongy predators, computerized zoos, miniature landscapes you can step into, ships making love, inebriated authority figures, slapstick bureaucrats and a love story gets my vote. Of all of classic Who, this is one of the most entertaining examples: 4.0
This isn’t the most amazing story, but it’s a great representation of what the show can be. If you don’t like it, I’m not going to convince you otherwise, but you’ll likewise never convince me it’s a failure.
I give it extra points because it hits many of the marks I love about the show as a whole. It’s a mostly serious semi-hardcore scifi romp through an exotic location exploring complex themes with good characters and a positive outlook. It’s a base under siege but then again, it’s not.
I know the Mandrels are an unconvincing budget monster, but I actually like them. I want the plushy. What fails them is the sometimes goofy portrayal by the actors within them, but that’s more on the director’s shoulders, and he did good elsewhere so let’s forgive him. K-9 is great this week, but the doctor is rather dismissive of Romana here, something I never noticed during my many previous viewings.
I love how the Doctor mentions a scientist we’ve never met, yet he fails to mention the Carnival of Monsters machine, which is almost the same concept. Honestly, is making it a requirement that all writers watch every previous episode too much to ask for? This is one thing I can praise new-Who for. At least many modern writers know the old show. Could this tech be similar to Gallifreyan art?
It’s not phenomenal, but it’s solid, and much of why I like Who. (Full forward, then full reverse, then apathy 3.8)
Remember, kids, don’t do drugs! That seems to be the overwhelming takeaway message from Nightmare of Eden (and Doctor Who operates on a minuscule budget, but I think we were aware of this).
The Mandrels are cute and adorable rather than terrifying – I’d be more likely to scratch them behind the ears than run away screaming. The mechanism for smuggling Vraxoin is ingenious though – not only is it hidden inside the CET machine, but presumably it won’t show up on scanners until the Mandrels are killed. The excise officers are clearly intended as the comic relief, as they are far too inept to actually catch smugglers.
There are occasional great lines, of which I think my favourite is “they’re only economy class!”, when the Mandrels start attacking passengers. The Doctor’s response to being told that his ’employer’ went out of business years ago – “I wondered why I hadn’t been paid” – is another one.
The major downside to this story for me is that I think Tom Baker gets a bit silly at times, particularly when he gets into a ‘fight’ with a plant, and also when he is chased by Mandrels inside the CET machine at the end of the story.
Overall, this is another story which has a good plot, but is let down by special effects and over the top acting, 3/5
Summary: Highly entertaining, never dull, well acted, with neat twists and good fun (especially for such dark subject matter).
Rating: 3.8/5 very delayed and very grumpy passengers who thought that their trip couldn’t get any worse – until they were mauled to death by space bears.