Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
02 Sep 2003Nightmare of Eden, by Douglas Westwood
02 Sep 2003Nightmare of Eden, by Shaun Lyon
02 Sep 2003Nightmare of Eden, by Ross Goulding
31 Dec 2003Nightmare of Eden, by Paul Clarke
14 Dec 2006Nightmare of Eden, by Robert Tymec

What should or could have been a promising story was let down by a combination of things. After the okayish Destiny of the Daleks and the brilliant City of Death, I felt let down somewhat by the revelation that the Creature in Of The Pit was actually a good-natured monster - I like monsters to be monsters. And then there was the Nightmare of Eden.

What most let it down was the downright comic way the mandrels were dealt with in part 4, reduced to shaggy dogs following a tin whistle. The humour in the show had by now really reached a ridiculous level, and I felt that sending up the mandrels was really sending up the show itself. The mandrels themselves looked quite cool, I thought. Okay, they had flares but also wonderful green glowing eyes and corrugated shells for mouths, and at least their claws looked quite fierce. The problem was making the audience laugh at what had been up till that point a serious sci-fi show, by demeaning not only the monsters but the Doctor himself. 'My arms my legs, my everything,' indeed! Tom Baker's character had sunk to previously un plummeted depths with the sheer over the topness of his performance in the cet machine and his hamming it up was cringe-inducing. Oh, Doctor! I like a little humour and odd quip, sure, but this pudding was so over -egged it was more egg then pudding. In fact, I once heard that Tom Baker once wanted the cybermen to do Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers type dancing and to use that idea in a show. Is it possible to even imagine anyone taking dr who seriously after that, and I wonder how much of the mandrel's swan song was his idea.

The two customs men, Fisk and Costa, were made a bit more ludicrous than they should have been. Captain Rigg was excellent throughout but after he was shot down like a dog in part 3, crazed on vraxoin, nobody seemed to care about him afterwards. He was a good man who met a thoroughly undeserved end and all Romana felt was relief once he'd been shot. I dunno. Someone should have cared!

The Doctor's famous contempt scene towards Trist at the end didn't work - okay he was a drug dealer but he thought he was a goody, protecting endangered animals and suchlike, and he didn't even shoot anyone! Well, apart from Stott and can anyone blame him for that? I just felt that other foes that the fourth doctor had dealt with were far more deserving of the rough edge of his tongue, and as for his gall in using such (for the doctor) shocking contempt so soon after his clowning around scene, just beggared belief.These two very different aspects of the doctor should not even have been in the same story, let alone the same episode. I know drugs are evil, man, and the doctor is a role model, but still.

So basically, what started out as a very promising story in my opinion fell a little flat. Take out a little contempt, and a great deal of Michael Barrymore-type showing off from the Doctor and do something else with the mandrels and it would all have been better. But it would not have been the Nightmare of Eden.

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God help me, and please don't run in the other direction when I tell you this, I'm the world's biggest fan of Nightmare of Eden. Unabashedly, unapologetically so. It's my favorite Doctor Who story, and when I say that to people who know me, even the ones who have known this fact for a long time, they usually turn their noses and scoff and shake their heads. How on earth could I love such a story that features monsters with flairs? One with such a hammy acting job with a terrible accent? Or, here's the big one, a story that features the immortal line, "Oh, my arms, my legs, my everything!"

It's rather difficult to explain, until you look at the facts. Nightmare of Eden is a quintessential science fiction story -- high concept (the CET machine), a morality play (the dangers of drug abuse), set in familiar trappings (in this case, on a space cruise liner), with plenty of action and adventure and subterfuge, not to mention comedy and drama in equal measures. There is some wonderful work by Tom Baker and Lalla Ward here, perhaps some of the best work they ever offered in Doctor Who. Case in point: the Doctor's justification to Captain Rigg (the delightful David Daker), in which he argues that he does indeed work for Galactic Salvage and Casualty despite their going out of business many years before -- "I wondered why I hadn't been paid." Compare that to the wonderful sequence at the end where the Doctor tells Tryst (Lewis Fiander, and yes, I agree his accent's more than a bit over the top) to get out of his sight; you can tell how truly pissed off the Doctor is at that moment, how sad and angry and bitter and furious and despondent the whole thing has made him feel. Lalla Ward equally exercises her acting chops with some terrific one liners -- I absolutely adore the "I'll need a screwdriver" line... contrary to some opinions that it's simply bad writing, I feel it's a tremendous send-up of Doctor Who writers who so often used the deus ex machina (the sonic screwdriver, K-9, the Time Lords) to get our heroes out of trouble. But far more often, Romana looks like she feels equally interested and bored, sometimes at the same time. "Oh, don't mind him, he just likes to irritate people"; has there ever been a more fundamentally truthful word out of the mouth of a Doctor Who companion? I think not.

The plot, if you haven't ever seen the story (in which case, you're really missing a treat) is quite complex for a Doctor Who story: a luxury cruise liner is sidelined when it collides with a cargo vessel. While the Doctor and Romana help to separate the ships, the Doctor uncovers a sinister link between a possible drug smuggling ring and a brilliant professor's newest project: the Continuous Event Transmuter, a device that studies and catalogues alien life by storing hologrammatic images on crystal recordings. However, it appears that the C.E.T. does far more than that, and may be responsible when hideous monsters start attacking the passengers and crew. Can the Doctor and Romana stop the bloodshed, find the man who keeps peering out at them from the projection, and stop the drug trade all at the same time? It's a lovely story about morality -- not only the dangers of drug addiction but also the rights of life, however savage and misunderstood, to continue its own existence. Even if they evolve into hideous bug-eyed beasts with flairs. Oh, my arms, my legs, my trousers...

Sure, there are lots of corridors -- all of them yellow. Yes, the passengers of the Empress seem to be wearing coveralls and goggles for no apparent reason, and all seem to be confined to one cramped room. (Maybe they're steerage, and the first class passengers are all having a brandy? Who knows?) Yes, it does seem that the Doctor embarks on his mission to separate the ships... four... different... times. It ultimately doesn't matter, because if you can get past some of the more dodgy aspects of its production (and let's face it, if you care about cheap yellow corridors, what the hell are you doing being a Doctor Who fan?), you can see this story for what it is: high adventure, filled with twists and turns. Even after you think you've got everything sorted, along comes this guy looking out at you through the C.E.T. projection. And we think he's bad, until we find out he's not. And his girlfriend's aboard. And... well, the bad guys turn out to be the good guys, and the good guy we like at the beginning isn't so good anymore. What is amazing is that at the end of the story, we honestly feel that while Tryst is a bad guy, HE doesn't feel he's done anything wrong. And so we're presented with a final morality issue, Tryst sacrificing human scruples (in this case, addiction to vraxoin) for the sake of preserving the Mandrels. 

Nightmare of Eden has just the right amount of comedy and pathos to make it a winner. I don't know why it's so misunderstood; maybe it's the flair monsters, the yellow walls, or the over-the-top Tryst performance. It does, however, boast a superb screenplay, some nifty acting on the part of regulars and guest actors alike, and holds up after repeated viewings. And I love it to pieces.

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I bet there must be at least a few people reading this wondering what I'm doing reviewing a release that's over four years old. Well, I can give you two for starters: One, nobody else has bothered to review it; Two, I think it's an absolute gem, and I feel duty-bound to tell everyone else what a good adventure this is.

To enjoy Nightmare of Eden, the viewer needs to get rid of a few preconceptions- Firstly, pretend it's not a Season 17 story. Secondly, it does require a kind eye. If you like your Doctor Who to be glossy and place style over substance, then nothing I will say here will convince you that it's anything but cheap pap. But, if it's the little things like a good, engaging plot that you want, then this is for you.

Bob Baker, along with his long-time writing partner Dave Martin, wrote numerous stories for Doctor Who throughout the 1970's, some of which had the most zany plots ever to grace the show. So anyone expecting an outlandish adventure will be pleasantly surprised to find that Eden has it's plot pretty much rooted to the ground- well, as rooted as a story set on a spaceship can be, anyway. The story centres on a collision between a hyperspace collision between a passenger spaceliner and a privateer vessel, which leaves the two ships stranded in orbit around the planet Azure, with the passengers' lives in peril. Posing as Galactic Salvage and Insurance, the Doctor and Romana answer the distress call, and attempt to separate the two ships, only to discover that the passenger ship is infested with a deadly race of creatures, the Mandrells. As if that wasn't enough, one of the Mandrell's victims is found to be taking the deadly drug Vraxoin- thought to have been stamped out long ago. Naturally, as the Doctor tries to identify who has discovered a new source of the drug, he finds himself under suspicion from the authorities.

All the interconnected threads of the story fit together nicely. In the 1970's, I imagine there can't have been too many mainstream shows in Britain that would have been prepared to tackle the issue of drugs, as much a current affairs hot potato then as it ever was, head-on like this. So, it's the show's credit that the drug-smuggling plot is so well handled. This is no small part down David Daker; whose performance as the drug addicted Captain Rigg is chilling. If it had been Robert Holmes writing the story, we'd be applauding it, and it also proves Season 17 wasn't just about witty one-liners. Of particular note are two scenes in episode Three: the first sees Rigg laughing as he watches, via the ship's the monitors, the Mandrells on a murdering rampage. When questioned, he quips; 'What does it matter, they're only economy class?!' The second sees him beg a shocked Romana, 'I need something for this feeling,' as the effects of his addiction take hold. Daker's delivery is superb, and thoroughly convincing.

It's a pity, then, that he doesn't get better support from the rest of the guest cast. Barry Andrews puts in a good turn as the undercover agent Stott, but is given little to do except shoot at Mandrells, and explain the odd plot development. The two actors in more central roles are a bit more disappointing- particularly Lewis Fiander as the scientist Tryst, whose European accent is atrocious- it even varies between German, French and Italian as the story goes on! (On that note, why is it that Doctor Who could never have a mad scientist speaking in an English accent?) Whilst Geoffrey Bateman as Dymond shows less life than the scenery. Speaking of which…

Oh the spaceship sets look awfully cheap. There are probably worse examples knocking around, but that doesn't mean that these sets are good. Which is a shame, as the forest scenery is, for the second story in succession, actually rather good. It's not quite up there with the one they managed for 'Creature from the Pit' but it's a good effort nonetheless, and a rare positive for the design team in a serial where the production values have hit the floor. The Mandrells are supposed to induce shock when they make their appearance at the end of Episode One- instead; you're more likely to piss yourself laughing! And the costumes are terrible too, but more of that later.

So again, it's down to Tom and Lalla to bring some credibility to the story. So much of their success as a team was down to their terrific on-screen chemistry, so it's nice to watch a story that gives them the opportunity to show off as individuals. This story finds Tom Baker, in one of his more jovial moods, which won't be to everyone's liking. Of all the stories of Season 17, this is probably the one that got the least input from Douglas Adams. There's humour there alright, but to my mind it doesn't posses the trademark subtleness and intelligence of Adams, making me believe that Tom himself made a few amendments to his dialogue in an attempt to wring a bit more humour from the script. As this probably implies, it threatens to get very silly at times. If his 'Pied Piper' trick isn't taking things too far, then the infamous 'My arms, my legs, my everything!' line certainly is. That said, it's difficult to criticise Tom too much- his mere presence seems to transcend every scene he's in, and at least he's curbed his once-worrying tendency to overact when the situation least needed him to. Lalla Ward comes out with real credit, though she's helped by a storyline that doesn't involve her having to follow the Doctor's every move. It's just a pity that the awful costume she's wearing makes her look pregnant. Why on earth couldn't they have just given her the great 'Doctor' costume she wore for Destiny of the Daleks? This is a relatively minor quibble as by now, Lalla has well and truly hit her stride, and has made the role of Romana her own.

So there you have it. How much enjoyment you get from this story depends very much on what put in, so to speak. The production as a whole has some very obvious flaws, and I can't pretend otherwise. How you react to this will basically depend on whether you see your glass as half-empty or half-full. The fact is that Nightmare of Eden could have been, perhaps should have been, a lot better than it is, certainly from a production point of view. But then again, it could have been a whole lot worse, and if you're prepared to look past some of the negatives, or at least accept them, and go into the story looking to be entertained, then you will be. Fans of Tom's more madcap adventures will love this, and it's worth a watch, if only for it's plot. Give it a whirl.

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When I reviewed 'The Creature From the Pit', I noted that after 'City of Death' the air of general silliness starts to extend beyond the Doctor to other characters. Whilst this was largely successful in that story, by 'Nightmare of Eden' it seriously undermines a potential serious plot that should, Doctor aside, have been played straight. It is doubly unfortunate that having co-scripted some of my least favourite Doctor Who stories of the series entire run, Baker delivers a potentially interesting script that suffers at the hands of the production team, but sadly that is what happens.

Firstly, I'd like to get a discussion of Vraxoin out of the way. Having elected to lecture the audience on the dangers of drugs, Baker faces the constraints of a four-part Doctor Who story, originally broadcast in a Saturday teatime slot. This presents a problem; on the one hand, there isn't really time to create an intelligent discourse on drug abuse, and on the other, there are limits to what could be depicted in a series with an audience containing a large number of children. Consequently, the writers resort to a simple "drugs are bad, m'kay?" message with Vraxoin their fictional stand in for real narcotics. And therein lies the problem. Drugs are fun. Addictive and destructive as they often are, most people who use drugs do not start taking them with the actual intention of committing suicide, they take them for recreational purposes. Vraxoin however, does not seem like fun; after a brief and seemingly pleasant high, it immediately causes such massive withdrawal pains that another dose is immediately required, and this is implied to lead very rapidly to death. As drugs go, it doesn't sound very marketable. Given the restrictions of the series format, I doubt Baker had few other options open to them in getting their message across, but frankly I'd much rather that they had just told another story instead of venturing into the territory of unconvincing bullshit. 

Regardless of this, Baker could potentially have made an interesting exploration of why people turn to drugs and why people like Tryst deal in drugs, especially from the point of view of the twenty-first century, when an increasing number of students are apparently resorting to drug dealing and prostitution to subsidize their income. In all fairness to him, he makes the effort, but Tryst's weak arguments about his need to fund his work and the ability of customers to make their own choices are utterly undermined by Lewis Fiander's ghastly portrayal of the character. Given the role of the story's principle villain and would-be ruthless drug dealer, Fiander elects to portray the character as a shambling buffoon with a ludicrous accent. His rationale for this escapes me and it may just be that he's a really bad actor, but his absurd performance robs the character of any sense of motivation whatsoever, as he descends into clichéd eccentric scientist mode. To add insult to injury, Fiander seems to think his performance is amusing, but it is merely painful. Geoffrey Bateman's performance as Dymond is somewhat better, played deadly straight and full of nervousness and anger, but still fairly unmemorable. 

Inappropriate silliness abounds. After his excellent performance as Jack Tyler in 'Image of the Fendahl', Geoffrey Hinsliff goes and spoils himself as Waterguard Fisk, another terrible performance and another wasted opportunity; as an official representative of a so-called pleasure planet the government of which seems to bandy about the death penalty very easily, Fisk could have been used to make interesting (or at least, vaguely convincing) points about fascism and police corruption. Instead, like Tryst, he's portrayed as a cretin, who utters such cringe worthy lines as "criminals are like that" and struts about in a horribly over-the-top fashion. I would mention Costa, but he's only present to give Fisk someone to spout expository dialogue at and does nothing else of note. 

Annoyingly, despite my reservations about the way the drug plotline is handled, the plot of 'Nightmare of Eden' is reasonably engaging and pretty much watertight, as the Doctor and Romana seek to separate the ships, return the Mandrels to the CET machine, and absolve themselves of blame for drug running. But the entire production is so crass that it becomes disappointingly pedestrian, and for the avid fan in the video and DVD age, the fact that the CET machine is little more than a bargain basement Miniscope robs the story of what might otherwise have been an interesting gimmick. The jungle set of Eden looks very artificial, which after the luscious jungle of 'The Creature From the Pit' is especially obvious, and most of the other sets are just bog-standard corridors. The model work is passable, but forgettable in a season boasting the Jagaroth and Movellan ships, and the costumes of the crewmembers on board the Empress are laughable. The fact that the incidental music made so little impression on me that I can't remember if it was good or not is not a particularly good sign either, although at least it isn't intrusive. The Mandrels are not as bad in my opinion as some fans seem to think, although their overly long arms look woeful. I do however like the fact that their big heads, huge glowing eyes, and strange mouths seem like a laudable attempt to avoid the usual humanoid in a suit look, and it does make them look alien. 

There are however some worthy aspects to 'Nightmare of Eden'; David Daker (previously Irongron in the marvellous 'The Time Warrior') is very good as Captain Rigg and portrays Rigg's drug-addled state later in the story quite well (certainly better than Stephen Jenn does as Secker). Barry Andrews is quite good as Stott, slightly compensating for Fisk and Costa. The direction is competent enough, and I like the fact that it seems to be poking fun at the series' limitations, as Tom Baker chases Barry Andrews through the same set three times in a row in Episode Two. Dymond's space suit, and the fact that he uses a shuttle craft to travel between ships is a nice reminder that the story is set in space, which the cheap cop-out of a transmat would have lacked (I am not, incidentally, suggesting that a transmat is automatically a cop-out, just that I feel it would have been in this instance). 

Finally, there are the regulars. As usual, Tom Baker clowns around as the Doctor, whilst Lalla Ward plays things relatively straight, and K9 makes sounds haughty from the sidelines. Also as usual, this generally works fine, but whilst the Doctor's lines about Galactic Salvage Insurance in Episode One are rather funny, his notorious "Oh, my fingers! My arms! My legs! My everything!" in Episode Four merely emphasizes the fact that the story has descended into farce. This is a shame, since Baker proves adept at conveying the Doctor's contempt for Tryst's activities and his attempts to justify them, as exemplified by his quiet "Go away" as Tryst is arrested at the end. K9 and Romana both get plenty to do too, and it occurred to me whilst watching this story that K9's tendency to soliloquize is a perfect vehicle for plot exposition without it sounding forced. Overall however, 'Nightmare of Eden' is a failure, a potentially decent story let down by lacklustre production, some bad lines, and some inappropriate acting. Which is perhaps ironic, given that the following story combines pantomime slapstick, a silly monster, farcical dialogue and a villain who is perhaps more over the top than any other villain in Doctor Who's entire run, and still manages to be enormously entertaining…

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Of all the stories of the notorious Season 17, this is the one I tend to re-watch the most. 

That's right, I even like it better than "City Of Death" (or, at least, seem to if you judge things by my viewing habits alone!). "City of Death" is great, don't get me wrong. But "Nightmare of Eden" is just a lot more fun. 

Okay, bad stuff out of the way right off the bat: Yes, I see all the same problems as everyone else does. Tryst's accent is simply awful and really does ruin what could have been a really great character. The "goofy mad scientist" personae has been used over and over in the series. Sometimes to its advantage (Proffessor Kettlewell in "Robot") and sometimes to its detriment (Proffessor Zaroff in "Underwater Menace"). So it's always a crapshoot for the production team to try to figure out how campy the character should get. Here, they made a bad call. 

Yes, I also see that the whole story looks massively cheap. But,well, which story from the classic series doesn't look cheap? Particularly as we move closer and closer to the end of the season. They're always running out of money with the later stories and this is just to be expected. As a fan, I learnt to understand these things and look past the budget problems. It's for this same reason that the "tinsel time corridor" in "Timelash" never bothered me much either! 

Finally, there's the comedy element. Didn't really irratate me, to be honest. In fact, most of Tom Baker's more OTT stuff never really grated on me. Most of the time, I enjoy it, actually. So many stories that would have really fallen flat, I felt, were enhanced by his re-writes and adlibs. To me, it seems as though he recognised when a script needed a little "extra push" of humour and would add it in to spice up some of the more dull scenes. Bearing all this in mind, this actually means that the much-maligned "Oh my arms! My legs! My everything!" moment was something I actually enjoyed! 

So, there you have it, most of the popular objections to this story don't really bother me. Which means that all the really good stuff about this story shines through all the more brilliantly. 

Firstly, we have a gorgeously tight plot. Possibly one of the tightest the show has ever had. Everything moves at a very nice pace with characters and situations weaving in and out of each other at all the right moments. It really is, in my opinion, a very excellently-plotted script. And this aspect alone of the script makes for some great watching.

Add to it, though, some very fun ideas. Many of which the show hasn't actually come up with before (which is something of a rarity by this point in the series). Yes, true enough, the CET machine is a re-hash of the mini-scope. But we've never really done a Doctor Who "drug smuggling storyline" before. And the whole concept of two ships that have collided but not actually blown each other up makes for some really imaginative storytelling. The sequences where they wander through the unstable zones are very fun and some of them even look quite visually impressive. Most memorable was the moment where Doctor falls to the ground and finds himself at the feet of a Mandrell. Very nice and stylised. 

Aside from Tryst, our supporting cast actually looks pretty good, for the most part. The two police officers from Azure are just there to poke fun at bureaucracy, as far as I'm concerned and they play the roles with the proper level of preposterousness (is that a word?!). The captain of the ship (didn't even recognise him as Irongron until another reviewer mentioned it) is, of course, the strongest of all the supporting cast and turns in some great performances both before and after he's high. Coupled with the performance is, of course, some great dialogue. Not just the "They're only economny class" but I love his whole little speech about "ships eating each other" too. 

The rest of the cast, although coming perilously close to "wooden" in some places, still turn in fairly strong performances. They're, essentially, the "straight men" to all the comedy so they're really just doing what they should be. Which means that, although we have some silly moments in this story, we also have some moments where it's taking itself quite seriously. And the drama is there in equal measures if you're willing to look for it. Which is more than can be said for some of the other stories of this season. 

So, final verdict. I find myself agreeing greatly with some of the other reviewers on this page. "Nightmare Of Eden" is a very underrated story. A plot so tight you can bounce quarters off of it and some really fun and original ideas at work. So what if the set wobbles a bit and the passengers are all wearing overalls and glasses?! If this kind of silliness affects your ability to enjoy the show, then why, in God's name, are you watching Doctor Who? Flip over to Star Trek - their mundane storylines have great sets and costumes!

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