Nightmare of Eden

Nightmare of Eden is one of those stories that despite boasting an imaginative and well-written set of scripts - with a good plot, some interesting ideas, crisp dialogue and a surprisingly adult drug-related theme - ultimately does not work due to the sheer quantity of production deficiencies stacked against it.

Admittedly, like every other story, it does have its admirers. 'Nightmare of Eden stands out as one of the best Baker stories of all time and certainly my favourite from last season,' wrote Richard Walter in Matrix Issue 5, dated February 1980. 'There were all the ingredients of a first class adventure - suspense, intrigue and lots of action. Also, perhaps surprisingly, the humour had been toned down and most was in fact relevant to the situation.'

In general, however, even those who have praised the story have done so in full awareness of its flaws - Paul Trainer, for example, declared in Ark in Space No. 2 in 1980: 'Maybe it's the freak in me, but I found this an extremely enjoyable story' - and most commentators have been more in sympathy with the views expressed by John Peel in TARDIS Volume 5 Number 1 in 1980:

'A very discerning critic (in the Daily Telegraph...) summed it all up for me: "I have never met anyone who does not believe that this old series would not be better with a more conventional Doctor Who treating it with all the concentrated seriousness of William Hartnell." Too true, mate. "A very dud adventure." Well, I don't know anyone who would disagree with that.

'There seems to be a very strange idea that flits currently about the Doctor Who office that the show is for kids and can therefore be treated as casually as anyone pleases, since kids will watch any old rubbish. Who needs good actors, sensible plots or anything beyond a very obvious joke every two minutes or so to keep the brats happy?'

There are two major problem areas in the production: the Mandrels and Tryst. To take the Mandrels first, the original intention of writer Bob Baker - making his first solo contribution to the series - was that these should be mud monsters dripping with slime, but on screen they appear simply as hairy, growling beasties with overlong arms and glowing green headlamp eyes. It is hard for the viewer to feel any fear of them, as even when they attack people they do so with a kind of casual approach that renders the whole thing ludicrous. Even in the dark environment of Eden they fail to impress.

'The monsters, according to the Sun, were "terrifying",' noted Peel. 'I can't think why. The build up in [Part One] so obviously had to have something stick [its] illuminated eyes through a wall that it was really quite boring. And all they did was growl a bit and hit people with their claws. They looked rather like... Yeti coming home from a poodle parlour...'

The problem with Tryst is his incredible Germanic accent, which sounds totally put-on and fake and renders the character - one of the main players in the drama - a figure of fun rather than, as he should be, a serious threat. Just as laughable, if not more so, are the rather less significant Fisk and Costa who strut around being officious in a manner that is far too extreme to be realistic.

The only effective guest characters in the story are Stott and Rigg, but the fine performances of Barry Andrews and David Daker in these roles are buried under the weight of tatty visuals and hammy acting elsewhere.

'Nightmare of Eden was ripe with faults,' complained Trainer, 'which irritated... because they [occurred] in the most important places - viz the "Oooh my everything!" scene at what should have been the climax of the story... That most famed incident... was not only irritating but [also] out of character with other parts of the story, such as the Doctor's condemnation of the vraxoin smugglers. Indeed, after the somewhat camp tone of The Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden was refreshing because of its tense, dramatic feel, which added to the excitement of it. It was the sort of Flash Gordon (or should that be updated to Star Wars?) excitement that I found prevalent throughout the whole season.'

Tom Baker's overplaying of certain scenes - in particular the infamous sequence, referred to by Trainer, in which the Doctor plays the Pied Piper and lures the Mandrels into the Eden projection only to be set upon by them before emerging unscathed but with his clothes ripped to shreds - tends seriously to undermine any dramatic impact that the story might otherwise have. The Mandrel sequence is a classic piece of pantomime shtick, something that Doctor Who had never needed to resort to in the past and that, in a way, foreshadowed the approach that it would sometimes be accused of taking in the future.