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Classic Who: Nightmare of Eden

I'm rather behind with my Who write-ups, for fairly obvious reasons. I've been needing to watch quite a lot of Who recently, but haven't felt entirely up to writing about it, so that I currently have a back-log of five watched-but-unwritten stories, and have started on a sixth. I'm now starting on the catching-up process before it gets too completely ridiculous.

Fourth Doctor: Nightmare of Eden
I didn't really expect to see Doctor Who tackling the issue of Drugs - but here it is. Still, the strength of the format is that it can tackle almost any real-life issue through fantastical filters, and considering the time (late '79) and the production values (solid, but hardly high-powered) I thought they actually managed to pull it off pretty well. There were even some quite pointed motifs in it, like the Doctor getting arrested for having traces of 'Vraxoin' (the fictional drug at the centre of the story) in his pockets for quite innocent reasons, while the real smugglers were getting clean away.

I'm not very good at bothering to notice who writes Who stories. I've gradually picked up the habit for New Who, since it really does matter whether an episode is written by Steve Moffat or - oh, let's say - Matthew Graham. But I'm still slow to pick up on it for Classic Who. The name 'Bob Baker' has begun to haunt me a bit, though. I'd seen two of the stories he co-authored with Dave Martin before this one (The Claws of Axos and The Sontaran Experiment), and have seen another since (The Invisible Enemy - see next write-up). I've been distinctly underwhelmed by all three of those - but this one felt a lot stronger. The plot was quite intricate, with a lot of twists and turns as the true motivations of the different characters developed themselves, and I really liked both the 'Continuous Event Transmuter' storing portions of planets in all-too-real digital form, and the device of having the two ships materialised in the same space. Of course, the reason why this one was a bit better than my other Bob Baker experiences may well be the fact that the script editor was Douglas Adams. And, as with other Who I've been watching, there were definitely elements about the place that could be read as cross-fertilising H2G2 (which had actually started broadcasting the previous year) - such as when someone (can't remember who) yelled "Captain! This ship is a Disaster Area!"

Some of the design details were pretty cool, too. I liked the way the Continuous Event Transmuter scenes were stored on multi-faceted clear crystals, and wondered if the idea had been taken from the similar crystals used to play music in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). The strange trippy sequences as the Doctor tried to run between the two half-materialised ships were quite effective, and I also appreciated the names of the ships themselves - Hecate for the baddies' drug-running ship, and Empress for the actually quite Art Deco-looking cruise-liner. Romana's dress, however, was dreadful - drab, grey, shapeless, and desperately, desperately unflattering.

Final note of interest: various internal references combine to reveal that the story is set in c. 2116, and when at one point the Doctor is asked his date of birth, he says "Er, some time quite soon, I think. It's difficult to remember." Of course, he could just be playing with the Customs Officer who's asked him, he may genuinely be confused, and in any case the notion of simultaneity becomes a bit meaningless when talking about events on planets as distant from one another as Earth and Gallifrey (unless, of course, you have a machine which can dematerialise from one location and instantly rematerialise at any other point in the Universe...). But I've always wondered when, in Earth terms, the Doctor was born - and that looks like about the closest answer I'm ever going to get.

Meanwhile, the real reason why I had watched Nightmare to Eden was because I suspected that its monsters, the Mandrels, had scared me witless as a child. Even after seeing it, though, I wasn't quite 100% sure, so I took the opportunity to check with my Dad last weekend, and I've now realised that it wasn't true. I reminded Dad about the whole story - how he used to scare me by pretending to be a particular Who monster, and about the Madam Tussaud's exhibition where I'd refused to go past one. But I very carefully didn't say anything about my own theories - just let him say what he remembered about it. He confirmed that I must have been about three or four at the time, but said that the monster in question had had horns, and that he used to pretend to be it by waggling his fingers over his head, while lurching towards me. The lurching matched the Mandrels, but the horns didn't; and he also went on to say that he thought the monsters might have been called Trilithons.

So back I went to Wikipedia, armed with this new knowledge, and searched on forwards from Nightmare of Eden for further monster possibilities from around the same era. This time, my search took me all of about ten seconds, since the story broadcast right after Nightmare was The Horns of Nimon - and it was pretty obvious straight away that this time the monster really did fit the bill:

'Nimon' might not sound exactly like 'Trilithon', but hey - this was 28 years ago, and it does have three of the same letters. And in any case, once I had the right name to combine with "Madam Tussauds" in a Google search, I finally got the confirmation I needed from this post on a Digital Spy forum:
"I remember my parents taking me to the Dr Who exhibition at Madam Tussauds in the early 80's and in a dark corner a Nimon suddenly appeared and its horns lit up. You've never seen a child run so fast or heard one yell so loud."
Thank you, 'lucky74' (whoever you are). That's clearly the same exhibition, and pretty much exactly my reaction, too. According to my Dad, I had to be picked up and carried past it, because you could only continue on through the museum by going through a door that was right next to it.

So I no longer have a need to feel nostalgic about Nightmare of Eden, or about the Mandrels - although, if I watched Horns as a child, then I probably did watch Nightmare too, and may even have mixed the Mandrels and the Nimons up in my own memory. This is something of a relief, because the Mandrels do not exactly score terribly highly on the kudos list when it comes to Things You Were Scared Of As A Child. They are, quite frankly, cute - especially when they fall over and you can see the soft, leathery undersides of their big, flarey paws. I've yet to see The Horns of Nimon, of course, so I may have to revise my opinion about this. But the Nimon does seem like a much darker and more genuinely menacing figure. Plus the story has the added bonus of Classical Receptions! It's basically a retelling of the Minotaur myth, and it sounds from the Wikipedia write-up as though they've done some pretty cool things with it.

So, The Horns of Nimon goes to the top of my to-watch list. But ideally not before I've written up a few more of the stories I've already watched.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2008 08:37 am (UTC)
Horns of Nimon
It's interesting from the Classical receptions side (see Keen, forthcoming) - but it's very, very bad, the worst of the 1979 season, and the point at which I finally decided (for the first time) that Doctor Who was rubbish and I couldn't be bothered any more. But you will never be scared by the Nimon again, once you see their deadly 'can't actually look where they're firing' weapons.
Mar. 8th, 2008 10:05 am (UTC)
Re: Horns of Nimon
Ack - well, thanks for the warning. I'm actually far more likely to enjoy it if I go in expecting the worst, so you've probably made it a lot better for me just by saying that.
Mar. 8th, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
Yes, I think the Mandrels are proto-Teletubbies.

I was really frightened by City of Death as a child, and I still can't watch it. And I know someone who has the same reaction to Carnival of Monsters.
Mar. 8th, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)
Ah, to recover that childhood capacity for innocent imagination! I just looked up Carnival of Monsters on Wikipedia, not having seen it, and alas the monster in the picture looks laughable. Still - it's good to have that kind of reaction in the memory-banks, at least.
Mar. 9th, 2008 01:26 am (UTC)
Oh god no.... not the Nimon... I had the book and saw the TV. That one actually did scare me as a child too but I'm not sure it stands rewatching.
Mar. 9th, 2008 10:44 am (UTC)
Well, I have *koff* 'acquired' a copy of it now, so I shall get to see for myself before long. But this is the second warning I've had about it, so I am trying not to build my hopes up too much!
Mar. 10th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the icon. It's very me.

Actually, I seem to remember I was scared by the Nimon as a child. not so much as you were though.

You are right that the Mandrells are quite cute really but for some reason they were a favourite monster from my childhood.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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