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17x4. Nightmare of Eden
Writer: Bob Baker
Director: Alan Bromly
Script Editor: Douglas Adams
Producer: Graham Williams

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives right when a materialization accident causes two spaceships - a large passenger craft called the Empress and a smaller cargo ship - to become fused. The Doctor and Romana quickly become caught in a web of intrigue involving the pilot of the cargo ship, members of the Empress crew, the smuggling of the dangerous narcotic Vraxoin, and some monsters called Mandrels who are on the loose thanks to a sophisticated but unstable piece of technology.

Review: From what I can tell,
"Nightmare of Eden" seems to be the subject of considerable "Is it too silly?" debate among fans; for me, that's almost beside the point, because more than anything it strikes me as a first-rate example of old-fashioned "What's going to happen next?" storytelling. What I particularly like is that the script creates tension and fast pacing not through arbitrary plot twists or action scences, but by simply assembling a cast of characters with different goals and approaches and then letting things play out. Between the Doctor and Romana, the smugglers, the law enforcement personnel, an undercover narcotics agent, the Empress crew, and, for that matter, the Mandrels, there are five or six distinct agendas at work here, and the narrative develops in a way that's unpredictable but logical and easy to follow.

"Nightmare of Eden" also boasts a couple of inventive sci-fi concepts, specifically the "fusing" of the two ships due to a botched materialization and the Continuous Event Transmitter, the scientist Tryst's invention that extracts portions of planets and stores them on laser crystals while their ecosystems and indigenous life forms (the Mandrels among them) continue to develop. While I may be looking a little too closely for traces of Douglas Adams' influence, I couldn't help but wonder if he had a hand in the possible ecological theme here, and there is also some satire of status-consciousness gone berserk in the form of the police officer who hopes for a dangerous situation with high casualties because of the recognition it might bring him, or the drugged-out captain of the Empress who muses that the lives of the "economy class" passengers would not be a great loss. The anti-drug theme is present, of course, but it doesn't become too heavy-handed or take over the narrative, and there's a nicely understated moment at the end when the Tryst argues to the Doctor that he had to smuggle drugs to fund his research (hoping to appeal to their shared background as scientists), and the Doctor simply dismisses him with a cold "Go away."

None of this is to say that "Nightmare" doesn't have its flaws, such as the infamous moment when the policeman Fisk calls Tryst "Fisk," and there are probably a few instances of excessive silliness. On the other hand, I don't really understand the complaints about the design of the Mandrels (no, they're not very impressive, but it's Doctor Who - what were people expecting, the H.R. Giger Alien?), and in general, I tend to make a distinction between a story that contains a lot of jokes and a story that turns itself into a joke. "Nightmare" falls appropriately and successfully within the former category in my book.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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