31 Dec 2003The Horns of Nimon, by Paul Clarke
23 Apr 2007The Horns of Nimon, by Bob Brodman

'The Horns of Nimon' seems to be condemned by a large number of fans as one of Doctor Who's nadirs. Notorious for its immense silliness, it is often described as "pantomimesque", critics arguing that it has daft monsters, very cheap looking sets, a villain who is so far over the top he can see the other side, and Tom Baker at his most unrestrained and manic. They are quite correct in all of these things, but it is precisely for these reasons that I adore 'The Horns of Nimon'. 

Under the guiding hand of Douglas Adams, Season Seventeen is rife with silliness, due to the combination of intentional comedy and Tom Baker getting increasingly uncontrollable. Adams used to remark that comedy in Doctor Who should not be an excuse for wheeling out silly walks, but in the case of 'The Horns of Nimon', he was clearly pissing into the wind. But whereas in 'Nightmare of Eden', the comedy and silliness could be intrusive and undermined the otherwise quite serious premise, here the comedy and silliness become more important than the plot. And even if they weren't, the plot involves alien Minotaurs sucking planets dry, a far less weighty storyline than one that revolves around drug dealing. Thus, from the very beginning of Episode One, 'The Horns of Nimon' revels in wit and farce; there are hugely entertaining scenes in the TARDIS with the Doctor, Romana and K9 bickering affectionately, and Baker is at his funniest, whether he is trying unsuccessfully to win over the Co-Pilot with his characteristic flippancy, pinning a rosette on K9 in what he briefly thinks are his final moments, or trying to repair the TARDIS. The Discontinuity Guide lists the "various silly 'boing!' noises" as a goof, but I feel this is missing the point; whilst reeling from these very sounds (which do indeed include "boing!" as well as a car-horn), only a viewer with a heart of stone (or, admittedly, a more sophisticated sense of humour than myself) could fail to be amused by Baker's thoughtful and extremely deadpan "That's very odd". Most of the Doctor's clowning around falls flat in the retelling, but the sight of him giving mouth-to-mouth respiration to K9 sums up Adams' tenure for me, and because of the overall feeling of the story, it amuses, whereas K9' laryngitis in 'Destiny of the Daleks' just irritated me. Later, we have Baker competing with Graham Crowden for most manic performance as he finds his gravitic anomaliser in Soldeed's lab, followed by him Hiding in Plain sight in true pantomime fashion, as he is chased by Sorak's men. Worthy of final note are his pained cry of "Ooh, my gravitic anomaliser!" and his response to the Nimon's "Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed", which is of course "Well, I hope you get it in the right order!"

I've noted that earlier in the season, most of the humour is confined to the Doctor in 'City of Death', but starts to extend to other characters in both 'The Creature From the Pit' and 'Nightmare of Eden'. In 'The Horns of Nimon', the humour extends to virtually everyone, and is generally handled very well. I continue to find that David Brierley's performance as K9 is more suited to witty dialogue than John Leeson's is, probably just because he sounds haughtier, and his frequently rather prim response to the Doctor in this story demonstrate this very well. Lalla Ward also gets some great lines, and as usual plays her role perfectly straight, which is what she does best; aside from providing a nice counterpoint to Baker's eccentricity, it means that when she does get funny lines, they are more disarming ("He lives in the Power Complex" "That fits!"). It also allows writer (and former script editor) Anthony Read to convey some drama in a story filled with more than its fair share of clowning around, as Romana travels to the doomed planet Crinoth and encounters Sezom. But it isn't even just the regulars who get all the funny bits here…

Malcolm Terris's performance as the Co-Pilot deserves a mention, and since he's so often overlooked, I'm going to take this opportunity to sing his praises. He gets one funny line, which is "Weakling scum!", but he uses it several times, since the Co-Pilot bellows it every time he sees the Anethans. It's utterly daft, but he delivers it with such contempt that is both amusing and convincing. Indeed, Terris manages to make the Co-Pilot seems spectacularly pissed off throughout, as he vents his anger and frustration on the Doctor and Romana in early episodes. Later, on Skonnos, Soldeed overshadows the character before he meets his end in the Power Complex, but Terris really does convey a sense of impotent terror as his character is forced into the Nimon's lair. Michael Osbourne's Sorak is also worth a mention; he doesn't get any particularly memorable lines, and he plays his role fairly straight, but it's worth watching out for the way he looks at Crowden, which not surprisingly suggests that Sorak thinks he's working for a nutter. I'd also like to point out John Bailey's performance as Sezom, but only so that I can note that he last appeared in the series as Victoria Waterfield's late lamented father Edward in 'The Evil of the Daleks'. Sadly, I can't commend either of the main Anethans; Simon Gipps-Kent's Seth is adequate but dull, and Janet Ellis, who plays Teka, is a woman whose work in any medium irritates me to such a degree that it makes me want to smash my television with a hammer and send it to the head of BBC. She's probably a lovely woman, and I have nothing against her personally, I just find her irrationally annoying on television.

This cast rundown naturally enough brings me to Graham Crowden as Soldeed. It's astonishing really that he ever got away with it; it's even more astonishing that he's bloody great. Soldeed is probably the most over the top villain in the entire series, as Crowden rolls his eyes, grins madly, laughs manically in a way that nobody in real life ever would, and generally sends the entire story up. Whereas Lewis Fiander just infuriated me in 'Nightmare of Eden', Crowden just entertains me, whether walking through the Power Complex calling out "Lord Niiimon!", or getting a ridiculously overblown death scene during which he cries out "You fools! You're all doomed! Doomed! Bwa-hah-ha!" Soldeed in fact is arguably the most pantomimesque factor in the entire story and easily the most memorable. Clearly getting the measure of both actor and character, costume designer June Hudson gives him an elaborate affair that boasts a bejeweled collar and a big cloak, although it does rather pale into insignificance next to Sorak's, which needs to be seen to be believed. These elaborate costumes contrast with the rather under-dressed sets, which except for the Nimon's control centre and Soldeed's laboratory, are all rather stark. This should be to the story's detriment, but somehow it contributes to the overall pantomime feel. Perhaps pantomime is the wrong word; the story has the look and feel of a stage production, probably due to its relatively low budget. And if anyone needs convincing of this, go and see a stage performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream and then compare and contrast Bottom's ass head with those used for the Nimons…

I haven't discussed the Nimons yet, but I actually rather like them. After Erato and the Mandrels they seem perfectly at home in Season Seventeen, although they do still look daft, with their big and unconvincing heads, atop the bodies of lanky actors in platform shoes and velvet body stockings. Their rumbling voices are actually quite good, and the fact that they are so much taller than the characters around them allows them to look at least a little imposing. But what the execution lacks, the concept makes up for; the Nimons may be cheap Minotaur rip-offs, but they are nevertheless a race that can suck entire planets dry like intergalactic locusts, whose technology impresses both the Doctor and Romana, and that are capable of engineering and controlling black holes. All in all, that's not bad going. And they are nasty; in such a humorous story, the fact that the Nimons are not used as a source of entertainment but are presented as a menace gives them some impact amongst the frivolous proceedings. 

I'm not going to pretend that 'The Horns of Nimon' is amongst Doctor Who's greatest stories, but it is hugely enjoyable. So many issues that would really annoy me in other stories just don't bother me here because the whole damn thing is just so entertaining. For example, Skonnos is a hugely unconvincing alien world, populated by a handful of extras in a few drab sets. You can mention the civil war if you want, but when the Doctor views the Power Complex from above in Episode Two, there's nothing around it but barren rock! Is it worth the Nimons' effort to invade? Does it seem like an ideal source of food and resources? Really? Well, I don't care, because the story makes me grin so much. As the last broadcast story of Season Seventeen, it isn't perhaps the best swansong that Graham Williams and Douglas Adams could have hoped for, but it does have an end-of-year celebratory feel and it does make me laugh. And besides, it was never meant to be the season finale…

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The plot is that the Doctor and Romana land on a cargo ship carrying human sacrifices to the minotaur-like Nimon. The Nimon promise whatever the leaders of a world want but con them to consume those worlds. The leader (Soldeed) is played as an over the top leader who only desires military conquest. The victims are not well acted not are their characters well developed. Originally aired during the holiday season 1979-1980 there are a number of laughs and it plays like a pantomime. I hadn't seen this story since the late 80’s and I remember that when I had seen it for the first time it was not one of my favorite stories. 

However I watched this recently with my 8 year old daughter. She was riveted for all four episodes and especially enjoyed K9.

The Nimon costume was a huge bull-like head with yellow horns. The face is not animated in any way so it is not clear if we see the face or if this is a helmet. The body was covered with black nylon and 6-inch platform shoes to suggest a hoof-like foot. These monsters seemed intelligent but they had slow-moving stiff bodies and roared so much (for no apparent reason) that they always warned our heroes before they are about to turn a corner in the labyrinth. I think that they looked hilarious, but my daughter accepted them as proper monsters although she said that they were “weird”. As a species the Nimon just don’t work for me. There is no biological explanation other than comparing them to locusts. However we don’t observe anything resembling a swarm and it’s hard to see anything locust-like in a labyrinth-dwelling minotaur. It is hard to understand how they would be an interplanetary threat. An entire species whose ecology is predicated on the successful con of one space traveling individual doesn’t make sense. It works as a dramatic devise but it seems like nonsense to me.

The plot was not particularly imaginative since human sacrifice, elaborate cons to set up an invasion, and megalomaniac leaders are common Doctor Who plot devises, but the story was sufficiently interesting and paced to carry a four part story. For me it is one of the weaker examples of Doctor Who but a fun camp romp. From the perspective of an 8 year old it works. In her words the story was “cool”.

** out of 4

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