|Peter Capaldi isn't going to face this lot any time soon|
'Nightmare of Eden' has all of this era's weaknesses and hardly any of its strengths.
This story was the first Bob Baker wrote without his usual writing partner, Dave Martin. I was never fond of his work when he was part of a duo, I'm even less fond of it now he's a solo artist. Like all of the scripts he has worked on, 'Nightmare of Eden' has some some interesting ideas that never really reach their full potential. Douglas Adams is still script-editor so there are still quite a lot of witty lines, but even they aren't enough to really make the story bearable.
At first it looks like whole thing is going to be a take on the Airport disaster movies that were popular in the 70s (and parodied to perfection in Airplane!) as the Doctor struggles to save two starships that have crashed into each other and become tangled together. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, there is no money in the budget to portray this convincingly on screen. That's not the story's only problem. Baker struggles to juggle the story's various plot threads. He just can't seem to decide if this should be about the Doctor and Romana saving the ships, chasing after drug smugglers or avoiding Mandrells.
Oh god, the Mandrells. I know I really shouldn't criticise Doctor Who for terrible monster effects. There have been so many over the years it has become expected at this point. But I have to make an exception in this case because the Mandrells are just so bad. The Doctor Who Appreciation Society really hit the nail on the head when it described them as "cute rejects from The Muppet Show".
There is also no sense of real peril. Despite nearly a thousand lives being at risk no one seems to be taking things seriously, least of all the leading man. It is well known fact that Baker was out of control by this point. If he didn't like a script he'd change it and didn't appreciate directors telling him what to do. According to everyone involved, it was an absolute nightmare to make. Things got so bad that director Alan Bromly quit after a vehement dispute with Baker, forcing producer Graham Williams to step in and direct the rest of the serial uncredited. The whole situation was so unpleasant that Williams decided to leave the series at the end of the season.
Notes and Quotes
--I liked that the ship had stairs. You very rarely see spaceships with stairs. Always bugged me that no Star Trek ship ever had stairs. What did Roddenberry have against stairs?
--The acting all round is terrible, but special mention has to go to the two cops, who are just irritating.
--The drug smuggling plot does makes a refreshing change from the aliens plotting to take over the universe. But if the producers wanted to deliver a serious message about the perils of drugs, they picked the wrong story to do it in. This story is just too silly to tackle such a serious topic.
Romana: (re: the Doctor) "Don't mind him, he just likes to irritate people."
Romana: "I don't think we should interfere."
The Doctor: "Interfere! Of course we should interfere. Always do what you're best at, that's what I say."
Tryst: "I am helping to conserve endangered species."
The Doctor: "By putting them in this machine?"
Tryst: "Oh yes."
The Doctor: "Ah yes, of course. Just in the same way a jam maker conserves raspberries."
Rigg: "First a collision, then a dead navigator and now a... monster roaming about my ship. Well it's totally inexplicable."
The Doctor: "Nothing's inexplicable."
Rigg: "Then explain it."
The Doctor: "It's inexplicable!"
One out of four staircases.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.