Nightmare Of Eden

November - December 1979

Now that we've got the shiny new Star Trek out of the way (honestly, I loved it, I did) it's time for another helping of classic Who. Nightmare Of Eden, (or should that be Nightmare Of Edam owing to very high cheese factor in the story?) continues CRT's hobble through the Tom Baker stories. We're in the dying days of the Graham Williams produced stories and, boy, does it show.

D'you know...I rather enjoyed this. Best seen through the haze of a fine wine and a lack of pretension. It has its major faults but as a story it's very engaging and contains some good SF ideas. This is a Bob Baker solo effort and, forgive me Dave Martin, but this actually works better as a script than the offerings the duo usually provide. Two ships collide in space and the instability allows creatures to escape from zoologist Tryst's virtual reality zoo. They have a fine time making a meal of the passengers and crew. Meanwhile, the Doctor gets arrested for possession of Class A drugs and sets off in search of the smugglers.

We are well into the period where the programme has ceased to be about taking the audience to strange new places and where the abiding public perception of Doctor Who was, and still is to an extent, one based on stories such as this. Cheap, silly and colourful, bad sets, costumes and performances. And for a while, as an 'institution' of the television schedules of the time, this was acceptable but Nightmare went out during the post-Star Wars SF boom. Alien was on general release. It's that cheap a production it nicks some of the superior effects work done for Space:1999 for a sequence where Romana examines the CET machine. Standards in production were changing year by year and audience expectations were changing. The look of cinematic science fiction was forever changed and its legacy was very slow to trickle down into productions for television. That abiding memory that summed up the show to the casual viewer then was still common currency at least until 2005.

they sport fur trimmed flares

A shame really, as Nightmare is a jolly little yarn. It's just constrained within a rather pulpy, dreadful, bargain basement Flash Gordon sense of design which rather than heightening the reality of the visuals just ends up inducing the audience into gales of laughter. The scenes on the passenger liner are over-lit, denying the Mandrels any effectiveness when they're rambling down the umpteen corridors chasing after people, 1970s fashion sense dictating they sport fur trimmed flares. When they're in the shadowy jungle of Eden they're much more effective. Visual effects are OK and there's a real push here to integrate them into the storytelling and use them as a tool rather than a gimmick. Oddly enough, Douglas Adams very sneakily comments on this within the story. David Daker as Captain Rigg, high on vrax, sits and watches his passengers get torn to pieces by the daft looking Mandrels and is reduced to fits of laughter whist uttering 'They're only economy class. What's all the fuss about'. A distinctly odd moment - the script editor knocking away the few remaining props of the show's internal reality as he gets a cheap laugh.
Geoff Hinsliff pops up as the ineffectual police officer in a sparkly black hat

Beneath all the pulpiness, the comedy police and dull direction there is a commentary going on about exploitation of both alien and human through technology that echoes some of the similar themes in Creature From The Pit and City Of Death. Tryst and Dymond are most certainly proto-Thatcher's children, motivated only by greed whilst possessing a technical wonder like the CET machine. They achieve their 'high' by using the machine and the Mandrells to make addicts of all those around them. And there's the neat twist of having the monsters of the week not really the figurative beasts they seem to be but simply the drugs haul trapped in a virtual reality machine. Performances are really variable here and often seem to belong in an 'end of the pier' revue. Lewis Fiander chews the scenery with a terrible mid-European accent. Is he supposed to be German? Geoffrey Bateman seems to stand around in scenes for ages with nothing to do except chip in tersely whilst wearing a very camp silver space suit. And he turns out to be a villain! David Daker and Barry Jackson, playing Rigg and Stott respectively, are the epitome of restraint here especially when Geoff Hinsliff pops up as the ineffectual police officer in a sparkly black hat and takes us through several Keystone Kops routines - oh, how my sides ached...The Keystone Kops stuff is also picked up by composer Dudley Simpson who vamps away, in true silent movie manner, to some crassly edited bits of Tom Baker hurtling down a set of stairs whilst giving chase to a suspect.
hampered by shabby production values

And then we have Tom, who really behaves himself until the excruciating bit in the Eden projection when he's grabbed by the Mandrells (pardon the expression), mugging in voice over during a dreadful bit of foliage rustling with cries of ' arms, my legs, my...everything' and instantly any the credibility the story had is cruelly undermined. Again, a shame, as his reaction to Tryst's excuses for his smuggling activities is a very black look and the kind of reaction from Baker that is absolutely what it requires - 'go away' indeed. Lalla continues to be light but effective and is really starting to come into her own as Romana. Despite the cheapness of the production and the wildly changing quality in performances, there is an entertainingly good story in the middle of it all with clever ideas and plotting that's actually not dependent on the usual Baker and Martin method of chucking everything in and seeing what sticks. But it's hampered by shabby production values with a sense of 'oh that'll do' permeating these efforts. I agree it's easy to sneer from over here in 2009 but I was just as dismayed back in 1979 as I watched it then and to an extent I still wonder what was going on in the minds of the production team at the time.

NIGHTMARE OF EDEN (BBCV6610 VHS Cert U - deleted)

You can now purchase this story from iTunes

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5 Responses to “CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Nightmare Of Eden”
  1. As I think I commented some time back, Nightmare held a special scary place in my ole brain box.

    The idea of the Mandrells coming out of the screen genuinely terrified me and I can assure you the productions values did their job for this young man (I think was 6 at the time).

    Of course, coming back to it as an adult was hugely disappointing though it turned out, so expertly stated by your good self, that the tale is a lot of fun. The production is shockingly poor and perhaps the worst of the Who oeuvre (certainly of Baker's) but there are some good elements in there and it is immensely watchable.

    As you say, BVP.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It's really difficult for me to judge these classic stories. In 1979 I was still too young to remember them and so my own experience of this Tom Baker story is a recent one.

    Yes, the production values are a let down but, I have to say, there is something quite likeable about the whole thing. I'd probably never make a good critic lol. While a part of me laughs at the visual design and bright set pieces (bargain basement Flash Gordon - like it!!) there is a part of me that smiles just for the entertainment value of Nightmare of Eden.

    And I was entertained by the whole thing :)

  3. I love Nightmare of Eden. It's one of those things, like doing the dance from Save All Your Kisses For Me or watching The Black Hole or Pete's Dragon, that makes me instantly feel like a kid again. I don't really see the faults, I just see the heroic efforts to keep the show on the road and a really cool sci-fi plot. And K9 zapping monsters, which was all I wanted to see when I was eight.

  4. All interesting comments there about how the story represents your childhood. Now see, I was an angst ridden teenager when 'Nightmare' went out so my feelings were very hostile at the time. I'm sort of going in reverse about this period of the show. Hated it as it went out but now have a genuine soft spot for it. Graham Williams was a great producer operating under stressful conditions and it's the sheer amount of good ideas and a very Swiftian approach to the series that keeps it moving and endears it to me.

  5. I really don't think I could bear to watch 'Nightmare' now but the story does have a special place in my memory, if not my affections, because episode two was the first Dr Who episode - the first episode of anything, in fact - that I recorded onto home videotape when my family bought its first VHS recorder in 1979. Big ol' clunky Panasonic thing, I think, top loader with big chunky push-down buttons and a timer mechanism which would have baffled the finest minds at NASA. I recorded episode two of 'Nigthmare' and watched it, as if being able to do so was magic, every day until episode three and for months afterward. I still have the tape nestled away somewhere....ah, memories!

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