The planet in the title is Desperus, and I think ‘Desperation’ might have been a better title for this episode. Not because it lacks incident – more because right from the off there’s a real sense of mounting hysteria right across the board.
The best thing about this episode is Kevin Stoney’s brilliant performance. Mavic Chen – a virtual anagram of Machiavellian – is brilliantly manipulative, pushing Zephon’s buttons, and winding the Daleks up with his emphasis on ‘eventually’. The way he flits about the sets, a corridor conversation here, a scribbled note there, is fabulous. And Stoney makes the most of the dialogue, relishing stuff like ‘the Embodiment Gris’ with a wry smile. It’s the first time the Daleks have been paired with a human ally – but from now on that’s the norm, probably because it works so well here.
Although Doctor Who has been serialised since the beginning, the last few episodes have really pushed the idea that this is a continuing adventure. Mission to the Unknown established the Dalek threat to invade the Solar System. Then the previous week had Steven stabbed and Katarina stumble on board the TARDIS. The Nightmare Begins follows on from both these events.
This episode has the best title ever. Sadly, it’s the greatest thing about it, because even Cotton’s script isn’t up to gracefully engineering the clumsy set of cast changes insisted on by a petulant producer. As a result, this is largely caught up in the mechanics of plot resolution rather than the character comedy of the last few weeks.
The histrionics within Priam’s family continue as Cressida and Paris go at each other, complete with some witty and biting puns – Paris accuses Cassandra of ‘galloping religious mania’ (because they worship horses), and Priam refers to Paris’s ‘flaccid façade’. In general, there are a lot of fairly risqué jokes here, including the Doctor worrying about the Trojan Horse’s fetlocks, making Odysseus ‘as worried as a Bacchanate at her first orgy’.
The humour of last week’s episode is sustained here – and importantly unlike most ‘comic’ Doctor Who, it is actually funny, rather than occasionally raising a smile every once in a while.
After the sparseness of Galaxy Four and then the ever-so-serious Dalek adventure last week, this comes as a double shock. The script is so dense, packed from the first scene with banter, rapid-fire dialogue, traded insults and gags – some laugh-out-loud (such as Achilles describing the Doctor as Zeus ‘in the guise of an old beggar’). It’s also probably the wordiest to date, which I don’t expect did much to endear it to Hartnell.