Friday, 13 April 2012

KOOL TV REVIEW: 'DOCTOR WHO - NIGHTMARE OF EDEN' DVD


Caught in a time\space collision, the Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 face the monster Mandrels in DOCTOR WHO: Nightmare of Eden. Images: 2entertain/BBC.



DOCTOR WHO: NIGHTMARE OF EDEN

Starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, and Lalla Ward as Romana

Released on DVD by 2entertain/ BBC CONSUMER PRODUCTS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


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

The Doctor


It’s anchors aweigh for the intergalactic cruise liner Empress on its regular space journeying.  But this time, unfortunately, and in the worst H.M.S. Titanic tradition, their trip doesn’t quite go according to plan. Swap an iceberg for an unusual and highly dangerous Hyperspace collision with another craft and you have a tense and volatile situation that only our Time Lord hero, the Doctor (in the guise of iconic Jelly Baby munching Tom Baker), can solve within the confines of the classic 1979 adventure of catastrophe, drugs and big clawed monsters now available on DVD: Nightmare of Eden


Away from writing partner Dave Martin, Bob Baker’s first (and last) solo WHO script is original and has lots of good ideas and moments of drama/sci-fi capable of being achieved on a relatively low budget (and this story, due to intensive 1979 budget cuts at the BBC, really suffers from it in places), and is certainly lively enough to keep the general audiences and the shows all-important families viewers entertained. It may not have any gothic horror atmosphere, and sorely needs the studio lighting turned down in places, but the overall story of Nightmareis well structured and moves at a strong pace across its four parts that’s easy to follow and not too full of technobabble, alongside some notable cliffhangers to parts two and three. I have very good memories of watching this on Saturday nights of the time, even in the post high-tech film world established by movies like STAR WARS.

The Doctor investigates the dark jungles of Eden.

With the subplot idea of intergalactic drug peddlers and their hidden shipment of the lethal Vraxoin, WHO is subtly stepping into late seventies SWEENEY territory here, if developed for a younger audience, and without the fisticuffs, car chases, and kipper ties (though this WHO story’s futuristic fashions are almost as bad!), in a brave move championed by the series script editor, Douglas Adams. Cleverly linked to the main concept of the time/space cross collision, the drugs angle is not overly done but it’s subtle moral messages clearly make the Doctor a fine champion and crusader against both it's deadly addictions and it's evil dealers. The other classic monster on the loose arc comes from a further intriguing idea, similar to a sci-fi concept explored in the Pertwee era’s popular Carnival of Monsters, with creatures who have a biological connection to Vraxoin, the aggressive animalistic Mandrels, being accidentally unleashed from a time/space imbalanced CET (Continual Event Transmuter) machine, which keeps sections of diverse planetary environments in crystalline form. (And also well utilising high quality film stock outtake footage of intriguing alien worlds from the first and best year of SPACE: 1999!)

On-set, Lalla Ward cannot escape Lewis Fiander's appalling German accent!

For a season in which he’s been more larger than life than ever before, thanks to the equally big ideas and humour cultivated by Adams, superstar Tom Baker continues to show a lot of his trademark wit, playful charm and acting invention, but, apart from one really over the top moment in its finale (you’ll know what it is when you see it!), on the whole he’s a lot more serious in this tale than he has been for a few episodes (perhaps affected by some of the behind the scenes pressures going on at the same time-more on that later), alongside his Time Lady companion/posh totty, the always alluring classy sophisticate Lalla Ward as Romana, and David Brierley as their faithful robot dog, and children’s favourite: the computer mind and always ready for action, blaster nozzled K-9 MK II, who’s as brill as ever, this time voiced by David Brierley (always sounding a bit more relaxed and less hyper urgent than his predecessor, John Leeson. As if the robot pooch had been taking a chill-out pill throughout this season!).

In amongst the chaos of the undesirable ship fusions and the accidental unleashing of those green-eyed monsters contained within the CET machine, several of this story’s main guest stars make notable second returns to the series, notably David Daker as the beleaguered ship captain, Rigg, and CORONATION STREET star-to-be Geoffrey Hinsliff, as an overzealous Excise Policeman alongside on-screen partner Peter Craze, the duo coming across asbumbling and annoying intergalactic versions of the Keystone Cops, who also look like they've wandered onto the set from a seventies disco dancing championship.

The Doctor confers with Professor Tryst (Lewis Fiander).

The seasons use of well-known actors as scientists/baddies also continues with the casting of Lewis Fiander- a solid actor who can hold his own in a performance with Tom Baker-no mean feat, that!- who makes the unfortunate and highly controversial choice to act his part with a God-awful German mad scientist accent and wearing the most hideously camp square sunglasses. The early portrayal of Tryst clearly shows him as a bumbling type, which Fiander plays on, but then he completely overdoes it in the most clich├ęd way, ultimately ruining what could have been a good character. The actor doesn't spoil the show overall, but whoever made the creative decision to let him go ahead with his portrayal and visual look should either have been reined in more severely prior to the studio filming, or at the very least taken out and shot!

The Mandrels are out of their CET enclosure!

Regarding monsters of another kind, the story gives us the one and only appearance of the under-rated Mandrels. They may not have the pedigree of such classic creatures like the iconic Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti and Sontarans, but I’m rather fond of them here. They didn’t live up to early press reports of the time stating that they’d be the series most scariest monsters yet, but the Mandrels work well enough and certainly the majority of the actors inside the costumes give it their all on-set, with some relatively good locomotion about them. In scenes with darker lighting and smoke they look quite effective, too, though their hairy headed, fish scaled bodies would have looked so much better had they been set to film (as would the story itself). They’re certainly superior to the villains of Tom Baker’s next tale: The Horns of Nimon.

The series characters may have been undergoing stress and strains with the story’s time collisions and monster rampages, but behind the scenes, tempers were fraying to boiling point, too, as Alan Bromly’s second and final directorial work on the series in the seventies ends on an abysmal note. An experienced, older director not used to the way WHO was then being made, and not willing to take advice from the series experienced production veterans, or from star Baker, director and lead mightily clashed heads to the point where Bromly quit/ was fired from the production, with producer Graham Williams and the effects crew, already under duress, racing against the clock to finish it off. A shame all this happened, really, as a lot of Bromly’s work, though basic, looks competently handled, with some nice angles here and there. On-screen it all zips along relatively smoothly.

A Mandrel gets a bit too up close and personal with the Doctor!

As for the rest of the behind the scenes ingredients rounding things out, Roger Cann’s set designs are basic but colourful, though Rupert Jarvis’s costumes look pretty ropey and cheap, especially with regards to the Space liner crew and the aforementioned Excise Police, which spoils things a bit (even Lalla Ward’s specially chosen costume, normally highly memorable, is a disappointment-the only one of the season where she doesn’t look gorgeous in it!). To compensate, the majority of the electronic effects, despite a few misaligned lasers here and there (presumably due to time pressures), from then BBC electronics expert A. J. Mitchell, are pretty good, alongside some competent video model work, whilst series regular composer Dudley Simpson enlivens the murder/mystery runabout moments with a jaunty score that nicely mixes his small orchestra with selected synthesizer work.

Bonus features-wise is a largely uncomplimentary selection of material, which sadly drags things down a bit. With the majority of the story’s cast either unavailable or unwilling to participate, it’s left to Lalla Ward, writer Baker and the main special effects team (a disappointed Colin Mapson, and A.J. Mitchell) to compensate. Their frank contributions across the audio commentary and the main featurette documentary (minus Ward), along with Assistant Floor Manager Val McCrimmon, are good but dispiriting. Ultimately, the documentary titled The Nightmare of Television Centre, leaves a sour taste in the mouth after viewing. Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV_JYhPL2xo

The Doctor and Romana inside the Nightmare of Eden.

More well-known for his creative and now iconic work on the WALLACE AND GROMIT animations, writer Bob Baker recalls his first solo story work-its ultimate shortcomings and successes in its on-screen realisation- Going Solo a short but interesting featurette, where he also recounts briefly about working with Douglas Adams.

The Doctor’s Strange Love featurette has three influential fans discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the adventure. To be honest, I can’t say that I was bothered about this one, especially as it soon deteriorates into a slagging piece.

Amidst all the behind the scenes chaos of taping, Tom Baker and a Mandrel get ready for the next scene.

A welcome plus on the nostalgia front, though, is an edited version of the popular late seventies/early eighties children’s interview/clip request show ASK ASPEL, where the comfortable and safe pair of hands interviewee Michael Aspel talks to his special guest, Lalla Ward, on a range of subjects, including WHO (pertinent to then Season 17) and her career as an actress (though she doesn't look happy with the DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET clip shown!) and artist. This bonus is great to see- I remember watching it at the time, and, for me personally, is the main redeeming bonus feature of the disc. There's also info text, PDFs, a colourful photo gallery (with lots of unseen pictures), and a lively Graffiti-walled trailer for the ACE ADVENTURES DVD set complete it all.

In watching Nightmare of Eden, don’t be put off by the overall fan negativity shown towards some of the cheaper looking aspects of the story, nor the frustrating annoyance of Fiander, as this is a very entertaining and colourful Classic DOCTOR WHO adventure-a fine and satisfying representative of the show’s latter seventies Tom Baker era, where, despite the lack of horror, its inventive ideas and humour reside triumphantly.

KOOL TV RATING (primarily for the story than the special features): 3.5 out of 5

With thanks to BBC CONSUMER PRODUCTS for their help in the compilation of this review.

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