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
sci-fi concepts, specifically the "fusing" of the two ships due to a
botched materialization and the Continuous Event Transmitter, the
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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