Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Nightmare of Eden written Bob Baker and directed Alan Bromley

This story in a nutshell: Ships in bottles, monster drugs, economy class passengers slaughtered horribly – all in a days work for the Doctor!

Teeth and Curls: Can you think of a better example of the fourth Doctor walking from the TARDIS and ingratiating himself in the situation with such confidence as he does in this story? That old adage of act as if you own the place doesn't even factor in, he owns the whole company that is here to make sure that the disaster in progress is being dealt with satisfactorily. With Romana and K.9 in tow it is one of those Doctor/companion combos (like the Doctor/Polly/Ben/Jamie and the Doctor/Sarah/Harry) that makes my heart sing before they even do anything. They seem to have such fun just being together, stepping into impossible situations and finding impossible solutions. Always interfere, it's what he does best. Tom Baker is simply sublime in the role at this point, go and watch the scene where he smooths his way in with Tryst before turning the tables and condemning the CET machine, his performance is so fluidic that he makes the subversion of tone an entirely organic process. K.9 isn’t just a mobile blowtorch you know, the Doctor admits he even beaten him at chess once (although the truth is that he loses far more often than he would care to say). The Doctor has seen planets ravaged by Vraxion in unseen adventures. Obviously post-watershed ones. He’s appalled at the idea that he might work for anybody and admits he is just having fun, which sums up the Doctor's mission statement at this point in the show perfectly. I always giggle when he goes rushing through economy class and is accosted by a complaining passenger. Does he offer advice or comfort? Nope, it's ‘have a jelly baby and don’t forget to brush your teeth!’ His date of birth is sometime around now. When Stot starts talking about love the Doctor coughs and changes the subject, embarrassed. A far cry from the Doctor of today who is just as likely to stick his tongue down your throat as save the day. There’s a great scene where Tom Baker confidently points out all the immense and advanced technology in the engine rooms of the Empress and he is so confident in his delivery we don’t even need to see it but just accept that it is there (when it is clearly a budgetary inventory to save on the sets). He really was an asset to the shows purse. How funny is it when he kicks the Mandrel like you would a football? I could just imagine Troughton having a right laugh playing the pied piper to the Mandrels and Tom Baker is just as comfortable, skipping about with his whistle. It is once he leaps into the Eden projection that there is rare moment of Doctor Who tipping over into French farce (without the sex, of course, although I can't actually confirm that because all you can hear is 'oohs' and 'ahhs' coming from the jungle). The Doctor coldly rebutting Tryst is a seminal moment, now all the hi-jinks and tearing ships apart is over the Doctor cannot bring himself to face a man who would waste lives to make money.

Lovely Lalla: What on Earth was JNT on when he suggested that Romana and K.9 should go and Tegan and Adric should fill that breach? Did he genuinely think that was a better option? I'm all for diverse opinions (they make the world go round) but this such an extreme contrast to my own that I cannot reconcile the two. There is a scene in Nightmare of Eden where the Doctor and Romana discuss the dangers of walking into unstable environments that manages to be informative and very funny, they are engaging characters that make exposition fun. Go and watch Adric and Tegan rowing in Four to Doomsday, it is hideous performances and grotesque characterisation all the way. It just doesn't compare. Romana comforting Dellah in the last episode feels very right, as does her technical wizardry to capture Tryst and Dymond. She’s not just the Doctor’s assistant, at times he is hers and that makes for a great relationship.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Just in the same way a jam maker preserves raspberries!’
‘It's totally inexplicable!’ ‘Nothing’s inexplicable!’ ‘Then explain it!’ ‘...it's inexplicable!’
‘The Empress has eaten your ship.’
‘Well they’re only economy class, what’s all the fuss about?’
‘The profits on human suffering…’

The Good Stuff: The two ships sticking into each other is a marvellous way to drag the audience into a new story and something that has never been tried before on the show. For somebody who was not fluent in technical wizadry, Alan Bromley manages to co-erce some decent visuals out the special effects team. I like all the stuff that is done with CO, particularly the interfaces. Drug dealing and Doctor Who are not the most natural of bedfellows but it is all part of Douglas Adams plan to do something fresh and interesting with the series, even a little dangerous. Tom Baker never shies away from the horror of what Vraxion represents and that means that there are deliciously dark moments scattered about this pantomime adventure. I don't for one second think that Bob Baker looked over his shoulder and saw what Robert Holmes was doing with the Scope in Carnival of Monsters and chose to nab the idea. He is a writer with a head fizzing with delirious notions and far too original to borrow anybody else's. Despite the similarities between the CET Machine and the Scope, it is still an awesomely imaginative prospect. Miniature environments on crystals that can be transmitted into reality and the unstable energies of the ships merging allows characters to walk in and out of them. The kids must have lapped it up. I know I did. I don’t know what to make of Tryst’s accent, it’s clearly comically exaggerated but after a few scenes I got used to it and worse, I started to enjoy it. To this day I can be heard quoting 'Are you claiming superior knawwludge?' when Simon tries to trump me with trivia. When Romana studies the CET machine and we see all those trippy alien worlds, it is an summary of the joyous exploration of the universe that Williams brought to the show. He wasn't popping back to Earth every five minutes but truly exploring what was out there. I love the face peering out from the Eden projection, a genuinely spooky moment. Seka’s wounds are pretty nasty for an era that shied away from this kind of thing. The first episode is an intoxicating brew of ideas and excitement; drug dealing, an electronic zoo, spaceships colliding, mysterious gunmen, intriguing injuries and even a monster reveal. You can't say it doesn't have something for everybody (except perhaps a director). The hand that is unseen by Rigg tipping Vraxion into his water is either brilliantly subtle or laughably over the top. I can't decide. This story has a great Dudley Simpson score; I especially like the piano jig as the Doctor chases Stot down the stairs but he's on bubbly form throughout. It's hard to reconcile the spaced out Rigg with Irongron the Barron from The Time Warrior but that is a testament to David Daker's talent as an actor. His turn as the narcotized Captain of the Empress makes me howl with laughter (‘Lets talk about life…’) and his eventual comedown is pretty frightening for the timeslot, especially the violence towards Romana. I know the Mandrels come in for a lot of flack and it is true that you might want to own a miniaturised version to put on your bed at night but I think the heads are pretty good and it is only when they are in a long shot that they look super cuddly. Within the darkened Eden jungle they are a much scarier prospect. The end of episode two is unusual in that it isn’t a moment of peril but rather the promise of more excitement to come. When I first watched this story I was genuinely surprised by Dymond and Tryst’s…well tryst. Follow that up with the audacious surprise that the Mandrels are the source of the Vraxion and you have a great third episode that is hemorrhaging surprises. I didn’t have a clue what was going on at the end of episode three when the Doctor is crushed down into a singularity of oblivion (or something) but I was so excited that I really didn't care. Tryst’s casual and dismissive attitude towards the effects of his smuggling is very well written. The Doctor’s scheme to nab Tryst and Dymond in the CET machine is a priceless finishing touch to a very clever story.

The Bad Stuff: The opening scenes are outrageously camp with the Dudley jangling away to the Empress dancing through space and featuring sparkly dressed Captains and blinged up passengers. Like The Invisible Enemy, there is another sequence where K.9 blasts a wall that has clearly been set up for him to do so. The Mandrel reveal would be far effective if its great spongy head didn’t get caught in the hole. A reshoot would have taken care of that. Mind you, you can probably say that about all of this Eden's aesthetic problems. Dymond dost complain too much to be an innocent. I had him pegged from the start, especially the way he always knows where his best angle is (ala Eckersley from Monster of Peladon). Everything is just about on the right side of lunacy until the Excise Men show up and then its overdone bureaucracy and farcical performances all the way. If only someone could have told them to turn it down just a tad then their presence would be quite welcome. Was episode three underunning because the reprise is the length of a bible. The passengers being savaged by the Mandrels is absolutely hilarious, as Rigg notes, but I don't think that is supposed to be the idea. They just about get away with it though by pointing it out within the story and thanks to Rigg's terrific lines. The Mandrel jammed between the machinery is even funnier and I wanted to hop into the story and give him a hand. A guard actually does a pirouette before falling unconscious. 

Result: Wildly imaginative and intelligent but also cheap looking and farcical, The Nightmare of Eden will conflict its audience depending on what you are looking for from Doctor Who. I love it - Bob Baker’s only solo script for the series is a belter, loaded with great ideas, funny lines and held together with a very strong message. The drug-dealing angle gives the comedy some gravity and the performances, whilst sometimes veering over the top, keep the energy levels high. Sometimes you think that the director must have walked out during the shooting of the story and then you discover that he did and it is astonishing that this quirk slice of Doctor Who turned out as good as it does. Ward and Baker are at the top of their game, especially the latter who aside from one moment of pantomime is giving a commendably serious performance that drives home the drama of the message. Any story that can juggle spongy predators, computerized zoos, miniature landscapes you can step into, ships making love, inebriated authority figures, slapstick bureaucrats and a love story gets my vote. Of all of classic Who, this is one of the most entertaining examples: 8/10

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