Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden Review

Another random period of time, another Doctor Who blu-ray boxset to review a story from! Yes Season 17 has been released just in time for Christmas and once again I went with the story I haven’t watched in the longest and this time its sadly because it’s not very good… like at all really. Still, I’ll review all Who TV stories eventually so I may as well get it done now! And if that isn’t a glowing reason to click to read more, I don’t know what is…

Synopsis:

The TARDIS arrives on the space liner Empress, which has become locked with a private ship, the Hecate, after colliding with it on emerging from hyperspace.

Someone on board the liner is smuggling the dangerously addictive drug vraxoin. To complicate matters, the interface between the two ships allows some monstrous Mandrels from the mud-swamps of Eden to escape from the scientist Tryst’s CET machine – which does not merely take recordings, but actually displaces whole planetary areas into its crystals.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

A fine example of the new Blu-ray transfer… and of Tom Baker’s expression during the filming of the story, probably…

As much as it’s handled with literally zero subtly the drug running subplot and “whodunnit” aspect was at least enjoyable thanks to the different story beats all happening at once. If you didn’t read the synopsis two crafts accidentally merge when one comes out of hyperspace on top of another, one being a space liner full of passengers and the other a smaller cargo ship. On the Empress (the space liner) is a scientist called Tryst (Lewis Fiander) who has been trying to catalogue and preserve every species in the galaxy by using a special machine called a “Continuous Event Transmuter”, a device that literally scoops up chunks of land / atmosphere / sky and everything on it and keeps it in a small crystal. So when The Doctor arrives and finds the ship’s navigator out of it on a drug called Vrax, something that should be impossible as the only source of it was destroyed, there are no ends of possibilities as to who is behind it. Someone attacks him, Tryst lost a crew member and doesn’t seem that bothered, the captain of the Hecate (the cargo ship) Dymond (Geoffrey Bateman) is eager to free his craft and leave, and weird lumbering creatures called Mandrels begin appearing and attacking the passengers and crew.

Several small plot points begin to merge, Tryst’s missing crew member Stott (Barry Andrews) ends up not only to be an investigator for the space corps but also hiding on the crystal chunk of the planet Eden, searching for where the drugs were hidden in the tiny machine and able to appear on the merged ships thanks to the odd atmosphere allowing the crystalised dimensions to “leak” on board. The Mandrels also come from the chunk of Eden and The Doctor finds out that when a Mandrel dies it decays into Vrax, so that’s where the new source of the drug is and that’s why Stott couldn’t find the hidden stash: the Mandrels were the stash. In the end it turns out Tryst was the smuggler and Dymond was the buyer, the ships merging being unintentional but Dymond was in the area ready to receive the Eden crystal on his ship anyway. The two nearly get away with it, but The Doctor and Romana reverse some things as they do and Tryst and Dymond are projected into the Empress rather than the Eden crystal projected to their ship. Tryst says he was only doing it because he stopped getting funded for his expeditions so he needed the money to preserve species that were going extinct, which was a good reason for someone to be a villain at least. Obviously The Doctor points out the human cost and Tryst says “at least they have a choice”, which is at least a little bit thought provoking… Maybe?

Either way, that part of the story I enjoyed this time round. Tryst for the record has the most over-the-top accent and mannerisms you’ll ever see to the point where I found it genuinely hilarious, but you milage may vary on that front.

The Bad:

A Mandrel attacks! …. *everyone just shrugs and walks away*

So in case you haven’t noticed, this story has a very heavy anti-drug message. So heavy that any attempt at subtly was dropped in favour of just bashing the viewers heads over with it and it can get pretty annoying. Don’t get me wrong, lovely message and I agree with it, but geez. When the Empress’ pilot and navigator are high on Vrax at different points in the story they act so over-board that it just makes the whole thing a comedy rather than a serious issue, so it even fails at several point in its own heavy-handed message!

In the latter half of the story some space police inspectors arrive and they go full-on moustache-twirling villain, all dressed in black and taking great pleasure in jumping to the first conclusion that will gain them a promotion. Now, again, I’m not saying that’s not a relevant caricature (especially nowadays…) but it’s done with so little subtly that instead of picking up on the message and potentially learning about it or being amused at the clever writing its just cringey. Much like Tryst’s accent, sometimes it’s so bad it made me smirk, but in this case more often than not I just felt the writer trying too hard to get his point across.

The Mandrels are right near the top of the “embarrassing rubber suit monster” list. They have no backstory, dialogue, animatronics, mouth moving bits or anything to cover up for the poor late 70s effects, so they’re just really obviously men in rubber suits lumbering around the place. I hate ragging on the effects of old TV series but there are effects from the Pertwee era or even Tom Baker stories in this very season that are far better so something is obviously amiss here. In fact the whole production was apparently something of a disaster on set and I think you can get a feel for that from Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, not that Romana gets to do practically anything during the story anyway. There is a scene in the last episode where The Doctor pied piper’s the Mandrels back into the Eden crystal and then runs from them off-screen Scooby Doo style, eventually screaming “Ooo my fingers, my arms, my legs! My everything! OhhhhhhH!” before reappearing with a torn coat and the whole thing came off like Tom Baker couldn’t be arsed and was intentionally over-doing it. Which by all accounts is probably exactly what happened…

The Continuity:

Tryst is confused at how someone could be acting worse than he is.

Not a lot. The CET machine scooping up parts of planets with creatures on them is very similar to the Miniscope seen in classic Third Doctor TV story “Carnival of Monsters”. Also apparently the Space Corps seen here previously appeared in nearly entirely lost and not very well regarded Second Doctor TV story “The Space Pirates”. It’s been a long, long time since the one time I sat through the long recon, so if it weren’t for a quick glance at the TARDIS wiki to check I would’ve missed that one… unsurprisingly! Let’s hope they animate that story one day and make the costumes match, or something.

Overall Thoughts:

Wow…. I’m just going leave this here with no context, frankly.

Nightmare of Eden is still a pretty poor story. Admittedly the whodunnit aspect and Tryst’s crazy accent kept me more entertained that I remembered being by the story in the past, but that doesn’t take away from the poorly written, heavy-handed nature of the story nor the poor effects and having a lead duo that clearly couldn’t be arsed. If you’re looking for a Fourth Doctor story to pop on your TV there are many, many better options, let’s put it that way…

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