Five Hundred Eyes

Nightmare of Eden

"Rather less effective than it might have been, aside from some good space shots." This is how serial 5K has been described by DWM's 1986 Winter Special, and perhaps this is a view adopted by many of the fans who have seen this story. Nonetheless, it is arguable that in fact this particular adventure does make some considerable impact on the viewer, and indeed that Nightmare of Eden should be treated as a slightly different category from the rest of the controversial Season 17.

The storyline is probably the most thought provoking of the season. Various contemporary topics are dealt with in the script, which reflects the experience of the writer, Bob Baker. It is really in this serious area that the difference in style to the general approach of Season 17 can be found. The involvement with such topics as drugs gives the production a more adult image, although certain notably Williamsesque trademarks are still included.

It is most important to try to take the plot as seriously as possible in order to appreciate it to the full. The real point of the tale is to illustrate the very real dangers of drug abuse. The drug in this case is Vraxoin, upon which the Doctor comments : "I've seen whole planets, whole communities, destroyed by this ... (it induces) a warm complacency ... soon you're dead." Its effects are carefully handled by both the producer (and it must be remembered that Graham Williams directed much of this story after Alan Bromly had resigned) and the actors. Of course, the more overt possibilities on offer, such as unpleasant deaths caused by withdrawal symptoms, are avoided with an eye to the younger members of the audience; Secker dies from wounds inflicted by a Mandrel, but it is significant that specific mention of his drug-weakened condition is made when he dies, and Rigg is shot by Fisk. However, the initial euphoria and subsequent craving is well acted and written, and leaves the viewer with a definite feeling of revulsion. The idea is designed to catch the viewer's attention, and it does this very well. The sheer desperation of the withdrawal symptoms is well put across :

RIGG (To Romana) "I'll give you money ..."

(He fumbles for credit cards)

"Now how much ...? Or I'll kill you!"

This is an issue over which the Fourth Doctor does adopt an intensely moral stand. Although criticism can be directed at Tom Baker's flamboyant acting in some scenes, he does deal with the drug related scenes very well, and conveys a real sense of fury at the actions of the smugglers. This feeling is emphasised as the Doctor comments on "the profits of human suffering" and the projected profits of 9.1 million credits that the smugglers hope to make. His abrupt dismissal of Tryst at the close is quite powerful : "Go away, Tryst. Just go away." This is a scene that proves that Baker could still summon up the old powerful presence of the Doctor on screen. The character of Tryst is well conceived to back up this stance. Whilst Dymond is a fairly shallow character, Tryst is not. Lewis Flander puts in a good performance, even if his Germanic accent did appall Bob Baker! Tryst does not seem too suspicious at the start. Perhaps the audience is forewarned by the poor construction of the CET machine, and the Doctor's exposal of this. Certainly as the character develops, he gradually becomes more selfish and uncaring. For example, his treatment of Della is unpleasant. The author uses Tryst to suggest other possible miscreants : firstly Della and then the Doctor. This technique draws the viewer more deeply into considering Tryst's motives at this stage. The conclusion one draws is very much an individual one, and the question of whether this spreading of suspicion abstracts Tryst from suspicion himself is a contentious one. However, as the plot progresses Tryst falls more deeply into the suspicions of the audience. He uses anyone and anything to protect himself and his interests. His last attempt at self justification is self deceit : "Doctor, I didn't want to be involved. I needed funding for my research. You understand all this, you are a scientist." Ultimately, the Doctor and the audience are revolted by Tryst, and their attitude to the issue is finally settled. The entire issue is well handled here and does make the audience think seriously about the morals involved.

Other moral issues are also dealt with. The existence of zoos and their captive contents are criticised by means of Tryst's CET machine. Instead of cages, "the flora and fauna are actually in the crystal"; this parallel is directly made, and so the viewers' attention is drawn to it, and the Doctor's speeches on the subject encourage them to think about it. Tryst's excuse of "helping to preserve endangered species" is really a stereotype excuse. The Doctor's reply is more convincing: "In the same way as a jam maker preserves raspberries." By using contemporary imagery, the writer makes his point.

Bob Baker seems to bear some grudge against the Custom and Excise service, as this is heavily satirised. The names of the officers involved are con- nected to this satire : Costa = Costa del Sol; Fisk = frisk. They even have one track minds - promotion and suc- cess dominates them totally, even to the extent of asking for "name and date of birth" before they even suspected the Doctor of drug smuggling! Their behav- iour leads to a general attack upon bureaucracy by the Doctor : "Idiots! They're worse than idiots. They're just bureaucrats who don't exist ... (They) wrap them up round and round with red tape until they can't move." The curious intensity of this remark is offset by the immediate capture of the Doctor by a rather less-than-convincing plant and his remark of "Romana, I can't move." This tends to be a fairly common way of lightening a comment in the Williams era. The viewer is left to decide whether the comment is serious. It can be argued that they are indeed serious and should be taken as such. The excise men are also lumbered with a stereotyped view of the men they hunt: when questioned about orders to shoot the Doctor, Fisk replies: "He's a criminal, isn't he? What else do you do with criminals?" Later Tryst plays up to this side of Fisk and Costa: "He's only a criminal." The custom officers also have their motives questioned - "almost certain promotion" will arise from the chaos on board The Empress, and they intend to use the statistics of "12 dead, 29 injured" to further their entirely selfish ambitions. The excuse of "I didn't make the rules, I just enforce them" doesn't wash here. The custom men are portrayed as incompetent, selfish, blundering oafs: in the end the Doctor proves to be better at their job than they are, and they seem to crack under the strain. The script takes an overtly cynical view of this issue, but at least it makes a point and encourages consideration.

It is for these reasons that I rather like Nightmare of Eden. The author wants to make serious points and does so. It is this fact that makes the story the second best only to City of Death, and in Williams' Top Six. However, it is not perfect, and its faults do need to be mentioned if one is going to draw a reasoned conclusion, as opposed to the inane dismissal of the tale in John Peel's "Classic Files Magazine" on Season 17.

The production suffers in parts from the typically whimsical aura that pervaded this era. There is a fair amount of attempted humour that is not funny. Examples of this are when words like "possible", "impossible", "explain" and "inexplicable" are played upon. This sort of humour culminates in the closing scenes :

DOCTOR "I'm going inside now. I may be rather a long time."

(Enters projection, and disappears behind a bush)

"Oh, oh, ah, oh, ah, oh, my fingers, my arms, my everything!"

This scene is patently ridiculous, and does nothing to improve the image that this era has won.

The sets are rather gritty, but they look too wooden. When the Doctor chases Stott downthe stairs, the stairs shake under the pressure! The VFX (Visual Effects) are strange: they range from the atrocious - the space shots (did the DWM writer really see the same copy I did?) - to the excellent - the CET projection and the matter interfaces are very well realised. (Personally, I thought the space model work was very well done, even if it was on video - David.) The costumes are rather plain, although a sense of surrealism is created when the Doctor asks after his quarry in an area of people dressed identically: "I'm looking for a man dressed just like you."

The characters on the whole are underdeveloped. David Daker does well in a limited role, and perhaps his character typifies the somewhat cardboard nature of the characterisation in the story (Tryst is the exception). And finally, the Mandrels. They are unfortunately completely unbelievable, so why they are paraded on Wogan and at Longleat is beyond me. Suffice to say that they look better in the gloomy and realistic set of Eden itself. (Actually, the Mandrel at Longleat is possibly the best exhibit in the exhibition, for just this reason - David.)

Nightmare of Eden is recommended. It may not be a classic piece of Doctor Who, but it is a good example of how an author uses the genre to make a point. Furthermore, the production qualities are not as bad as they were. The adventure is enjoyable in its own right, and so it must be concluded that the DWM comment is hard to justify and that Nightmare of Eden is well worth a watch.

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