Saturday, 12 September 2009

Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon

Part One

“Weakling scum!”

We start with space, and a ship flying through it. It’s only by doing this marathon that I’ve realised just how many stories start in this way in the immediate aftermath of Star Wars!

It’s good to see Anthony Read back with a script of his own after his successful term as script editor, and interesting to see another tale based on Greek mythology after the failed experiment of Underworld. The ship is from the planet “Skonnos” (heh!) and its cargo is a shipment of people bearing tribute from “Aneth” (heh!). Most importantly, one of them is the lovely Janet Ellis. Mmmm.

Things go wrong on the ship after an ill-advised bit of tinkering from its captain, a character whose name I unaccountably failed to catch although he’s actually a fairly significant character. Oops. This is of course mirrored by a similar decision with similar results in the TARDIS. This time I remember the character’s name: the Doctor.

We’re introduced to the society on Skonnos and to its leader Soldeed, played splendidly by Graham Crowden, the link between his people and the Nimon. The Nimon promises that, once the sacrifices have all been made, he’ll give them the means to create a new Skonnon Empire just like they had in the good old days.

Most of the rest of this episode is taken up with problems on the ship, where the Doctor and Romana have to stop the gradual creation of a black hole. It’s all just padding really, and aside from introducing our heroes to the wet drips from Aneth it contributes little to the plot. But it’s all good fun, with great lines (“You just hold the gun steady. Don’t tax your mind” and, of course, “Lord Nimon! Lord Niiiimoooon! It is I, Soldeed!”) and great little comedy character moments such as the Doctor trying to exchange his sonic screwdriver with Romana’s. A great start.

Part Two

“He lives in a power complex.”

“That fits.”

I love the reaction to Soldeed this time around as he emerges from the portal to the Nimon’s lair with his usual guff about the Nimon speaking of many things, including the “great journey of life”. When challenged what it means he blurts out that “It’s a metaphor.” “For what?” comes the reply. Not only is this very funny, but it foreshadows the story’s eventual resolution.

As funny as all this is, it’s also very well-plotted, and although the character’s aren’t particularly well-rounded (not a criticism- this is a comedy) they’re well-written. I like Seth’s situation, forced to live up to a lie he told about being some kind of great hero who’s going to destroy the Nimon to avoid disappointing Teka. And the way the Nimon instantly sees through Captain Wotsisname’s bluster is well done.

But the dialogue is fantastic, self-referentially commenting on its own tropes in the scene where the Doctor lands the TARDIS on Skonnos. This isn’t that similar to City of Death, but like that story it’s an out-and-out comedy, and although it’s not quite as good it’s still bloody brilliant.

Part Three

“You meddling fool! You shall die!”

Romana’s great in this story, pretty much a second Doctor. But it’s the Doctor who gets to be silly- the scene with the red rag just had to happen in a story based around a bull! 

It’s nice how the horns referred to in the title are actually the antennae of the Nimon’s transmitter. This has something to do with creating a black hole so to enable instantaneous travel to another part of the cosmos. By now it’s clear the Nimon has an agenda of his own, yet Soldeed still thinks he’s in control, and there’s even a nicely placed scene where he gets to gloat on how simple the Nimon is to give the Skonnons something for nothing in the way that they’re apparently doing. But we get to see some other Nimon, and we’re told what the “great journey of life” actually is; the Minotaur’s chain of migration from planet to planet via the manipulation of countless Soldeeds.

Part Four

“Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed.”

“Well, I hope you get it in the right order.”

We get to meet one of the aforementioned previous Soldeeds on a planet called “Crinoth”. Ha! I wonder what the planets before that were called? Sprata? Elphid? Alympio? Thibes? I’ll stop now…

We get a slightly implausible “Kill him… but not yet” moment as the Nimon capture the Doctor, but that’s ok in a story like this which basically (well, perhaps I’m overstating just a little, but…) existed to do in 1979 what TV Tropes is doing today. It’s a great ending, revealing that beneath the glorious silliness the plotting has in fact been magnificent. Seth finally gets to be a hero and Soldeed gets what is indisputably the finest death scene in all of recorded history. An absolute triumph.

Wonderful, a very high 5/5 and an entry into my personal top ten at number six. As for the season as a whole… well, I’ve never personally felt any pressing need to have an opinion on whether Shada is “canon” or not, so I’ll be including two scores for Season Seventeen, one with Shada and one without. The one I personally think of as being the “official” one will depend on whether I feel there’s enough footage in existence to judge Shada properly (I haven’t seen it yet). As for these five stories though, they score 3.8/5, a surprisingly low score for a season I’d always casually regarded as one of my favourites.

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