Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden
In many respects, this serial doesn't have much going for it. It first aired at the end of 1979 during a particularly bad patch in the show's fortunes. It was the penultimate aired story in Tom Baker's sixth year as the Doctor in a season plagued by budget cuts and production difficulties. His dissatisfaction with this meant his behaviour on and off camera was thoroughly out of control and his on-set clashes with the director of this story led to the latter leaving before shooting was completed. The story immediately preceded The Horns of Nimon which is acknowledged as one of the nadirs of Classic Who. That in turn should have been followed by Douglas Adams' story Shada which was abandoned in the middle of filming due to an industrial dispute at the BBC. On the plus side Nightmare of Eden had a strong story and good script from Bob Baker concerning drug-smuggling on board the space liner Empress. It also managed to pull in an average of 9 million viewers per episode. On the minus side, the budget was especially parsimonious leading to some unacceptably shoddy production values and the director, Alan Bromly, was so far out of his comfort zone he left (or was asked to leave) during recording and the remaining footage directed by an uncredited Graham Williams.
Following a trans-dimensional collision between the liner Empress and freighter Hecate, the TARDIS responds to a distress call depositing the Doctor, Romana and K9 in the middle of the dispute between the two vessels' captains. Travelling as a passenger is the dodgy scientist Tryst and his assistant who are transporting an unstable virtual repository of bio-environments from around the galaxy (courtesy of library footage from Space 1999). It quickly becomes apparent that someone aboard the ships is smuggling the highly illegal narcotic vraxoin and the Doctor is determined to put a stop to it and apprehend the culprit. No points for guessing who that might be. For a family show this is pretty heady stuff but as with, say Grange Hill's 'Just Say No' campaign, it's highly reductive and based upon the oversimplified premise that Drugs Are Bad. But the intention has to be applauded and Tom is suitably passionate in his portrayal of the Doctor's disgust. It's a pity the rest of his portrayal lacked similar passion. Most of the time he appears bored and disengaged from proceedings and some of his line readings vary from perfunctory to downright bizarre. Which is not surprising when you learn he was at loggerheads with the director from the word go. However Tom going through the motions is still more entertaining than many other actors. But if you want a really bizarre performance you need look no further than Lewis Fiander's turn as Tryst. Although he was a respected actor he appears to be doing a free impersonation of Peter Sellars as Dr Strangelove with an accent that meanders around Europe. To balance this though David Daker turns in a very respectable solid performance as the captain of the Empress.
There are many people out there who regard this serial with some fondness. I can't say I share that. While watching this I kept thinking just how shoddy the whole enterprise was with poor pacing, bad editing, unconstrained actors, pointless running down overlit corridors, substandard visual effects and poorly-realised monsters. The mandrels just look silly and aren't helped by the costumes visibly bursting at the seams in more than one shot. It really does reinforce all the negative tropes of classic Who and the majority of the blame has to be laid at the director's door. Everything that appears on screen is principally his responsibility and I'm not surprised he got the heave-ho but by that time the damage was done. On the other hand, it could be pointed out that by the end of Tom's tenure the show was embracing its own clichés and perhaps even going meta by playing up to them. But watching Nightmare of Eden all I could see was an interesting well-scripted story let down by penny-pinching production values, disinterested direction, a bored leading man and a laughably camp villain.
The four 25-minute episodes and all extras are contained on a single disc. The picture quality is, as you would expect by now for a late Tom Baker story, excellent and the mono soundtrack is as good as you could want. There are the usual excellent dialogue subtitles and the exhaustively-detailed information titles.
On the commentary track we have Toby Hadoke expertly prompting a very chatty Lalla Ward and Bob Baker for all four episodes. They are joined for individual episodes by visual effects man Colin Mapson, make-up designer Joan Stribling and actor Peter Craze who played the excise man Costa. Everyone speaks frankly about the difficulties encountered during the production and Lalla Ward is quite charmingly defensive about Tom and his quirks. Strangely enough she neglects to mention she was his wife at one time.
Video extras consist of:
The Nightmare of TV Centre 13m 24s
Visual effects guys Colin Mapson and A J Mitchell are joined across time (from 2004) by Asst Floor Manager Val McCrimmon to reminisce about the immense frustrations of trying to realise the production with a penny-pinching budget and a disinterested out-of-his-depth director.
Going Solo 7m 45s
Bob Baker talks about his first solo script without his usual writing partner, Dave Martin.
The Doctor's Strange Love 15m 44s
In a new continuing strand, Simon Guerrier chairs a fan chat about the story with scriptwriter Joe Lidster and comedian Josie Long in the surroundings of the Sarah Jane Adventures attic set. Not everyone will like this but I thought it was amiable fun.
Ask Aspel 11m 3s
A frightfully posh and slightly prickly Lalla Ward fields viewers' written questions from Michael Aspel in this edition of his 1970s show for kids.
Coming Soon 2m
A trailer for the Ace Adventures set.
Photo Gallery 5m 50s
The usual collection of publicity and production stills.
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