Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

Part One

“Interfere? Of course we should interfere! Always do what you’re best at, that’s what I say.”

It seems very strange to see Bob Baker credited as the writer with nary a sign of Dave Martin. But we’re instantly thrust into a familiar environment: deep space, a spaceship and those vaguely dull corridors that were always used to represent the future in the late 70s. The silliness of the incidental moment at the start is worrying but the story gets off to a good start, with David “Irongron” Daker and an early Big Sci-Fi Idea as two ships are melded together following exactly the sort of hyperspace jump we were told was “theoretically absurd” in The Stones of Blood.

Interestingly, I came to The Creature from the Pit expecting to like a story I had fond memories of but came away feeling slightly disappointed. In contrast I’d always thought of Nightmare of Eden as too sensible by half for the season it’s in and dominated by an overly preachy and excessively foregrounded “just say no, kids” moral about drugs. But in truth, I didn’t really find that much to object to on that score. There’s still something not quite right in the depiction of Vraxoin though. If it induces apathy and then kills you as quickly as it seems to, why would anyone take it in the first place? It just doesn’t seem realistic for people to be that stupid- you can’t imagine anyone taking it and imagining they could just take it a few times and not get addicted, which is how drug addiction tends to start in the real world. It’s all just too simplistic and devoid of grey areas, as though people who take drugs in real life are just being suicidal and nihilistic. Having said that, though, this time round it didn’t seem to be there primarily just to provide a cheap patronising moral but mainly to provide the basis for a sci-fi crime caper, if not quite Doctor Who does The Sweeney. And that makes it a lot less of a problem.
There are lots of little things in this episode to give us a flavour of what this future (twenty years after 2096, so roughly 2116) is like- a galactic recession, a real sense of an interstellar economy, scientific research. Other cool things include the Miniscope- er, CET machine, Tryst’s accent and the Doctor’s response to Rigg questioning who he is: “Galactic went out of business twenty years ago.” “I wondered why I hadn’t been paid.” “That’s not good enough.” “That’s what I thought.”
All good so far.

Part Two

“Nothing’s inexplicable.”

“Then explain it!”

Rigg’s drink is spiked with Vraxoin… but it’s meant for Romana! There’s clearly a baddie amongst the guest characters. The murder mystery aspect of the plot is quite well-handled and there’s a lot of misdirection, although the limited number of suspects means it’s not that hard to guess at least who one of the villains is.
We get some rather oddly dressed passengers, a chase involving a mystery man,. Revelations concerning Stott and Della, and two comedy thick excise officers who promptly try to arrest the Doctor and Romana. Oh, for a piece of psychic paper… This is fast-moving and genuinely well-plotted stuff, with the witty dialogue on top of a proper serious story. It’s a formula that seems to be working a lot better than the previous story.

Part Three

“Well, it’s a perfectly ordinary electric dog.”

The Doctor and Romana have been forced to take refuge in the CET machine, in a section taken from the planet Eden. So naturally the Doctor decides “Let’s go east!” Nice touch, that. And we learn that the creatures from the Black Lagoon- er, Eden, are called Mandrels. And Stutt’s been hiding in the CET machine spending most of his time being a narcotics agent (ah!) generally not being dead. This is good plot stuff- such constructive use of a third episode is almost unheard of in Doctor Who.

Meanwhile, the passengers are being attacked by Mandrels. Rigg, high on Vraxoin, protests that “They’re only economy class. What’s all the fuss about?” while the excise men generally faff about being generally incompetent. There’s no real sense of threat even as the excise man threatens Romana with a gun, but that’s ok as they’re basically just there to provide the comic relief.

This episode’s big reveal is that Vraxoin is made from dead Mandrels. But, good, well-constructed story that it is, Nightmare of Eden has plenty of surprises to come…

Part Four

“My arms! My legs! My everything!”

The ships have been separated at last, and the Doctor has vanished from the Hecate. But he turns out to be aboard the Empress, where he discovers that Dymond is implicated in the Vraxoin smuggling. I didn’t see that coming. Tryst’s guilt was just a teeny bit more obvious, but I suspect from the blatant way he tries to manipulate the excise man that we’re supposed to have already worked out that he’s a baddie. His efforts are futile though- from the moment Stott reveals himself it’s the Doctor, up to now a fugitive, who’s instantly in charge.

There’s a neat ending with Tryst being hoist by his own petard, and a nice delivery of “Go away.” By Tom Baker. A very appropriate ending to a very skilfully plotted tale.

Surprisingly better than I remembered, then- much better plotted, wittier, and much less focused on preaching about drugs than I remembered. A solid 4/5.

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