Category: Complete Review

Doctor Who episode 521: Nightmare of Eden – Part Four (15/12/1979)

When I was in short trousers, Season 17 was meant to be the nadir of the show: too silly and packed with dreaded “undergraduate humour” until the blessed JNT came along and swept away the shoddy, slapstick stories that ‘insulted the audience’ (according to Eric Saward) and returned the show to its glory days (overlooking the fact JNT was practically co-producing Season 17). The reappraisal that’s been going on since the mid-1990s means most fans won’t come to Season 17 with this preconception (and probably won’t even be aware that it used to be a thing), but as it was received wisdom at an early age, I always view Season 17 episodes with the knowledge that this used to be hated.

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Doctor Who episode 520: Nightmare of Eden – Part Three (8/12/1979)

Again, it’s not exactly moving at top speed, but there’s a steady sense of progress and development, with a couple of great surprises. The first is when Stott is revealed to be neither dead nor villainous. Previous episodes have clued us in that this is another Agatha Christie in Space thriller, and any Christie fan will know never to believe someone is dead when there’s no body. It’s also very Christie-ish to reveal that, far from being the drug smuggler behind this all, in fact Stott is a major in the Space Corps investigating a new source of vrax on the planet Eden.

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Doctor Who episode 519: Nightmare of Eden – Part Two (1/12/1979)

This one could do with a little bit more incident, but the story is moving along. The major difference from Baker’s collaborations with Martin is the lack of an obvious catchphrase, and the relatively disciplined number of ideas. The three distinct plot strands – the drug smuggling, the Continuous Event Transmuter and the hyperspace collision – are clearly connected, with a mysterious stranger running through all of them hotly pursued by the Doctor.

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Doctor Who episode 518: Nightmare of Eden – Part One (24/11/1979)

Bob Baker is the BAFTA-winning co-writer of Wallace & Gromit: an accolade that might be hard to square with The Sontaran Experiment or The Armageddon Factor, but absolutely makes sense watching Nightmare of Eden. I really like this: it has a seriousness about what it does, but not necessarily the way it does it. The anti-drug message is plainly set out: XYP, aka vraxoin, can lay waste to civilisations. Its teeth-grindingly irritating effects are established in the first scene, as Secker, made idiotic by vraxoin, giggles as he risks the lives of everyone aboard his spaceship. Never have I been happier to see someone meet a grisly end. It might unfair to suggest the show hasn’t worn its social conscience on its sleeve quite so plainly since the Pertwee years, but…

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Doctor Who episode 517: The Creature from the Pit – Part Four (17/11/1979)

It’s been pointed out elsewhere that the problem with this episode is that Adrasta is croaked about five minutes in, and the rest is an extended epilogue. I see that this isn’t structurally very elegant, but I quite like the novelty of watching a new order rise on Chloris. Normally, the Doctor defeats the baddie and leaves; in this, he sticks about to help clear away the remnants of Adrasta’s tyranny. The un-named Huntsman is a surprising choice to be new world leader, but in a post-Game of Thrones world anything seems plausible.

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Doctor Who episode 516: The Creature from the Pit – Part Three (10/11/1979)

I enjoyed how this is basically a pastiche of the classic Star Trek episode Devil in the Dark right down to the Doctor attempting to communicate telepathically, Spock-style, the monster carving a message in the rock, and the discovery of bits of shell. It’s almost shameless. Where it differs is in the incidental characters, which are a lot more colourful (/borderline anti-semitic) than any in Star Trek. And the fact that (as far as I recall) Spock doesn’t attempt fellatio on the Horta.

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Doctor Who episode 515: The Creature from the Pit – Part Two (3/11/1979)

‘Don’t interrupt dear,’ says Lady Adrasta with brilliant condescension. Later, she gives Romana a slap. After City of Death, this feels like a conscious effort to put Romana up against villainous women to confound their expectations. Romana’s usefulness as a character is obvious, as she gets to do all the clever stuff freeing the Doctor up to plunge into the pit to discover the creature (although her escape attempt is a bit rubbish). With Leela, you’d have to either do this the other way round, or have greater reliance on K9’s intelligence. K9 himself is the one made a bit redundant by all this: he’s become the brawn; the Leela with a Janis thorn; the tin dog in this thruple. He wasn’t really missed in the last two stories and is almost entirely reduced to being a prop/dog-shaped gun in this episode.

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Doctor Who episode 514: The Creature from the Pit – Part One (27/10/1979)

This one ends with my favourite cliffhanger yet. The tyrannical Lady Adrasta, ruler of the planet Chloris, has had one of her hapless minions hurled into ‘the pit’, which conceals some horrible, unseen monster, as a warning to the Doctor of what happens to those who disappoint her. Romana arrives with K9 to rescue the Doctor, but K9 is overcome by Adrasta’s wolf-weeds, and the Doctor gives Romana a sad pat on the arm before suddenly and unexpectedly leaping into the pit. Not only is this about a hundred times more shocking and interesting than the Doctor being thrown down the pit, or being dragged in, but it’s the kind of twist I really enjoy (the audience isn’t just left wondering how he’ll get out of it, but why he got into it in the first place).

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Doctor Who episode 513: City of Death – Part Four (20/10/1979)

Having worked out what Scaroth is up to, this final episode sees the Doctor comprehensively dismantle both the Count’s carefully-constructed façade, and Scaroth’s 400 million year plan to alter the course of time. Tom Baker plays this like Poirot brilliantly foiling the villain: the tomfoolery is largely put aside and instead the Doctor shows off his keen insight and wisdom as he unpicks the Countess’ ‘discretion and charm’ and in a few moments playing on her doubts about her husband to the point where she’s ready to pull a gun on the Count. Then, for desserts, he confronts Scaroth himself.

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Doctor Who episode 512: City of Death – Part Three (13/10/1979)

Again, this is mostly exposition rather than action. Again, when the exposition is done this wittily and this well, it barely matters (although I still wonder what the eight-year-olds in the audience made of it). If any of the main performances were sub-par, this wouldn’t work as well. But Julian Glover is excellent, doing his best Olivier Richard III as he confronts the Doctor in 1505; being the perfect host to Romana in 1979. Like Kevin Stoney’s classic villains, Scaroth is willing to play along with the jokes providing he’s getting what he wants, but kills without hesitation when the joke wears thin. Tancredi’s, ‘You can write, can’t you?’ and Scarlioni’s twinkling smile as the Professor is aged to death are brilliantly horrid.

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