Nightmare of Eden ★★★

Stimulating ideas, barrel-scraping antics and the Mandrels – Doctor Who's least frightening monster...

176

Season 17 – Story 107

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“Would you please listen? Vraxoin is the biggest killer drug in existence and it’s on this ship!” – the Doctor

Storyline
In space above Azure c2116 interstellar cruise liner the Empress comes out of warp drive and collides with a private vessel, Hecate. As the Doctor, Romana and K•9 strive to separate the ships, complications arise with passenger Tryst and his CET machine. An “electric zoo”, it has gathered samples of habitats from numerous alien worlds, but unstable interfaces caused by the collision allow savage Mandrel creatures from planet Eden to escape and run amok on the Empress. The Doctor also discovers that someone on board is smuggling a fatally addictive drug called vraxoin…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 24 November 1979
Part 2 – Saturday 1 December 1979
Part 3 – Saturday 8 December 1979
Part 4 – Saturday 15 December 1979

Production
Studio recording: August 1979 in TC6

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Romana – Lalla Ward
Voice of K•9 – David Brierley
Tryst – Lewis Fiander
Captain Rigg – David Daker
Dymond – Geoffrey Bateman
Della – Jennifer Lonsdale
Secker – Stephen Jenn
Stott – Barry Andrews
Waterguard Fisk – Geoffrey Hinsliff
Landing Officer Costa – Peter Craze
Crewmen – Richard Barnes, Sebastian Stride, Eden Phillips
Passengers – Annette Peters, Lionel Sansby, Peter Roberts, Maggie Petersen

Crew
Writer – Bob Baker
Designer – Roger Cann
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Script editor – Douglas Adams
Producer – Graham Williams
Director – Alan Bromly (& Graham Williams uncredited)

RT Review by Mark Braxton
In a “transitional” season 17, whose charms always eluded me and continue to do so, Nightmare of Eden is something of a flawed diamond. In story terms it bursts with stimulating, even courageous ideas, and this from Bob Baker, a writer going solo for Doctor Who after many years’ successful association with Dave Martin.

What makes it work is the coupling of a mind-bending sci-fi paradox (a collision that hasn’t physically happened yet) with a perennial problem that is very much of our world and our time (the easy acquisition of an addictive drug that kills).

Bob Baker’s ability to vary approaches and treatments is invigorating. The playfulness of the opening, with the Doctor viewing the collision as a car-prang insurance wrangle (“I’d say it was knock for knock”), is in stark contrast with the grave tone of the climax (“Vrax is destroying people by the millions!”). And the CET (Continuous Event Transmuter) is a pleasing contrivance, putting one in mind not only of Irwin Allen’s pulp series The Time Tunnel but also the disastrous Miniscope device from Carnival of Monsters.

That the production lets the story down is nothing new to classic Who, and something it would be flint-hearted to criticise in overmuch detail. After all, the spaceship and jungle sets are perfectly decent, for the most part. I particularly like the outsized Venus flytrap that attacks the Doctor on Eden.

But the flare-legged, knuckle-dragging Mandrels have to be the least frightening monster the show ever produced. No wonder David Daker’s manic laughter sounds so convincing when the creatures half-heartedly set about the passengers on board the Empress.

And considering the effort that goes into the Nightmare of Eden effects, some surprising “borrowing” goes on. Of the four planet-scapes projected by the CET, three were created for Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 – not just one, as many reviews point out. For those who are interested they are, in order, the jungle-like planet Retha from The Full Circle, the sphere-covered Piri from Guardian of Piri and windswept Terra Nova from Matter of Life and Death.

Of the guest cast, the indomitable David Daker stands out, just as he did as Irongron in 1973-4’s The Time Warrior. Actors like Daker impress me no end. He’s never the star, but he lends lusty support to any project he signs up for. He makes Rigg’s rapid descent into drug-addled hysteria credible, but is written out with casual alacrity.

The remaining bit-parters aren’t in the same league. Lewis Fiander’s atrocious accent wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Allo ‘Allo! A comedic rival for Hugh Laurie’s Mad Prince Ludwig in Blackadder II, it’s maddeningly distracting. Maybe in the upheaval of Graham Williams taking over directing duties from Alan Bromly, it was one of those errors of judgement that crept through.

Another misstep is the galactic excise men Fisk and Costa – poorly characterised in any case – dressed in ridiculous sparkly black stripagram-style slacks.

Tom Baker is on robust form, although some of his horseplay should have been tamed in an adventure that’s otherwise refreshingly serious. His off-screen mangling by Mandrel and Pied Piper-esque luring of the shambling beasties are barrel-scrapingly poor.

Overall, this sobering, sideways take on Paradise Lost deserves respect, in conception and narrative if not always in the finished product.

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[Available on BBC DVD]