Often maligned for its cheesy monsters and poor special
effects, the 1970 Doctor Who story Nightmare
of Eden makes its way to DVD
courtesy of the BBC. This Tom Baker
story isn't nearly as bad as some fans make it out to be.
While the creatures and processed shots are
far from perfect, they're not all that horrible (for Doctor
Who) and the story is has a lot going for it including a fun
mystery, some great bureaucratic foils, and a tight story that moves at
clip. Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy fame)
was story editor at this time, so Tom Baker has some humorous lines
relishes delivering, but if you don't mind a little bit of over-the-top
thrown in for the children watching (and they were the target audience)
works more often than it doesn't this is a pretty solid episode.
The Doctor and Romana land on the large luxury space ship Empress
soon after it gets into an
accident with another vessel, a small cargo vessel, The
Hectate. Instead of
crashing into each other however, The
Hectate has managed to partially materialize inside the Empress,
causing a region of special
instability. The Doctor is pretty sure
he can separate the two crafts if he can get to the power center on Empress, but that's blocked by the other
partially materialized ship.
While attempting to come up with a Plan B, The Doctor is
introduced to a scientist on board the ship, Professor Tryst (who comes
complete with a laughable German (?) accent).
He's been traveling around the galaxy cataloging and preserving
of all the various life forms in a machine he's created, the Continual
Transmuter, or CET for short. This device
is able to take a section of a planet and record the entire ecosystem,
forms and all, on a crystal. Researchers
can then access the different planets and study the creatures in their
environment whenever they want. Though
The Doctor seems impressed, Romana claims the machine is a faulty
best and points out some significant flaws in the design.
There are more problems that just separating the ships
however. The navigator on Empress starts
acting strangely and walks into one of the special instabilities where
attacked by a savage beast, a Mandrel, and killed.
What's worse is that he was on Vraxoin, a
deadly and very addictive drug that is so horrible; it's wiped out
planets. The only source of the drug was
eradicated, and that was supposed to be the end of it, but it seems
someone has discovered another source and is set on distributing it.
There are a few things that don't work well in this story,
but a lot that does. On the bad side are
the special effects. Yes, they're lousy
and some of the people that created them claim that the reason the
shots appear so lame and the space ships look like the models that they
because these parts were recorded on video tape to save money instead
film. While I agree that they would have
looked significantly better on film, and the models are well made and
I don't think shooting on film would have improved things significantly. Let's admit it: the
SFX from this era of Doctor Who always
look pretty cheesy.
The Mandrel costumes are also a source of embarrassment for Doctor
Who fans. They're stiff and garish and
it's hard for
the actors to appear menacing in them, especially when they can't
their arms. Of course, that general
critique applies to a large percentage of classic Doctor Who creatures
the Nimon in the next episode, The Horns
of Nimon. The Mandrel at least look
like someone went to some effort. The
Nimon is a guy in a black spandex suit with a paper-mache mask plopped
head. But I digress...).
This isn't horrifically bad, and they even
appear somewhat menacing when viewed in the darker light of the Eden set. Unfortunately, they're often brightly lit, as
were most of the Doctor Who sets at
this time, which just makes them look even more ludicrous than they
Aside from that, this adventure isn't that bad. The
story is filled with ideas and subplots
but never gets convoluted or too messy, which is a trick that they
always been able to pull off. In
addition to the problem with the ships and the drug smuggling, The
to worry about where the Mandrels are coming from, what the source of
Vraxoin actually is, who the mysterious man who shot him is and what he
and on top of all of that he has to avoid the officious police officers
want to arrest him, kill him, and them blame all of the problems on
prisoner so they can get promotions.
It's a full script for only four episodes and these competing
manage to come together quite nicely.
Tom Baker is very good in this adventure. He
get to ham it up a bit but never goes over
the top (okay, he does once...) and a lot of the lines are pretty funny. I especially enjoyed how they get themselves
into this mess in the first place. When
they first land, Romana opines that they shouldn't interfere with
on. The Doctor replies "Interfere? Of
course we should interfere! Always do what you're best at, that's what
Now come on" and they're off.
The one complaint I do have, and it's a minor one, is that
the CET Machine is basically the same as the Miniscope from Carnival
of Monsters. In that episode The
Doctor (Jon Pertwee) railed
against the inhumanity of trapping creatures in the machine and even
far as to recount how he was responsible for getting the Time Lords to
them. Here he just gives a *tisk tisk*
to Tryst and doesn't seem to worry about it.
The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very
good. It is nice and clear with no hiss
or background noise to take away from the story. Being
a mono track, there's really not much
more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration
Team and it looks good. The
colors are solid though out and the level
of detail is decent. The image is sharp,
with a lot of definition so Who fans are sure to be pleased.
As always, this Doctor
Who DVD has some decent extras. First
off is a commentary track with actors Lalla Ward and Peter Craze,
Baker, effects designer Colin Mapson and make-up designer Joan
Stribling. It's all moderated by Toby
Hadoke. The group seems to have a good
about this episode, and they spend a fair amount of time criticizing
the special effects were handled (referring to the Mandrels as "Abba
and relate some interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
It is well worth listening to.
The video extras start off with The Nightmare of Television
Centre (13 min.) a short look behind
the scenes of what went wrong with the production.
Apparently everything especially with director
Alan Bromly who had such a contentious time with the cast and crew that
walked off the set and quit in the middle of a shooting day (he
retired soon afterwards). Producer
Graham Williams took over the direction duties but was uncredited. There's no love lost for the special effects
(shot on tape rather than film as had been the norm up to that point)
harsh lighting in most of the scene which makes the Mandrels look even
than they normally would. It sounded
like a thoroughly unpleasant experience.
Going Solo (7
min.) has writer Bob Baker discussing his script, the only Doctor Who
wrote without his writing partner Dave Martin, and The Doctor's Strange
(15 minutes) is another featurette involving fans Simon Gurrier, Josie
and Joe Lidster. I've grown to enjoy
these segments, though this is only the second one I've seen. Yes, they're geeky fans reminiscing about an
episode, but these are the type of people you'd like to sit down and
show with. They don't revere every
aspect and are very willing to laugh at the silly bits.
(I especially enjoyed Josie's impersonation
of Tryst.) They also make some pithy
observations about the adventure. It's a
nice bit that could have come off as really stupid.
The main bonus items are wrapped up with a
nice segment from the kids's show Ask Aspel in which Lala Ward answers
questions put to her by the children who watch the show.
I enjoyed it, and didn't realize that Lala
was the daughter of a Viscount and entitled to be addressed officially
In addition there is an 'info-text' option for each
story. This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of
them. This pop-up text options allows
viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various
incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the
supporting actors. It's well worth
watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it
extras are wrapped up with a photo gallery and
the usual Radio Times listings.
Not nearly as bad as some remember it, Nightmare of Eden
is a solid, decent Doctor Who adventure despite the
cheesy monsters. It's not the greatest
serial, but it's
certainly better than its reputation. Go
ahead and check it out. It comes Recommended.