I don’t know how much this is drab because it’s meant to represent the faded remains of a fallen empire, and how much because it’s the budget one so they can afford Shada. But it’s the drabbest the show’s looked since The Armageddon Factor – another story rooted in Greek myth, set in the fall-out of planetary war. Even the TARDIS looks more ramshackle than it has for ages. At least the Anethans in their gold tunics and Romana in her stylish hunting gear provide a strong contrast to the dull, grey sets and the grim, overcast skies of Skonnos.
This is mostly scene-setting, and works fine, although without much of the wit I’ve come to expect from Season 17. There are a couple of good lines: ‘The Nimon waits for no man’ raised a smile, and ‘Have you noticed how people’s intellectual curiosity declines sharply the moment they start waving guns about?’. ‘Skonnos rising from its own ashes with wings of fire’ is a nicely grandiose mission statement for a military dictatorship lost in civil war. It’s a motif that’s picked up in the Skonnos sets, which are ashy grey except for the entrance to the Nimon’s lair, which is fiery red. This is budget, but it’s not completely without a sense of scale.
Tom and Lalla (and to a lesser extent so far, Graham Crowden) are having to do a lot of heavy lifting to make this more than a trudge through exposition though. In Tom’s case that involves lots of bits of business: giving K9 mouth-to-mouth; pretending his finger’s been burnt; offering round jelly babies then snatching one he fancies back; trying to pinch Romana’s home-made sonic screwdriver. I imagine these are the kind of moments that were like red rag to the DWAS bull, but the episode without them would be pretty unbearable. The cliffhanger recalls Underworld as rocks converge on the TARDIS caught in a gravity field, and it’s not a good sign when you’re bringing Underworld to mind.
Next episode: The Horns of Nimon – Part Two