Doctor Who #523: Nightmare of Eden Part 4

"The profits on human suffering."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.15 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Tryst and Dymond are exposed as drug smugglers and caught by the CET machine.

REVIEW: There is one great, even powerful, moment at the end of Nightmare of Eden, and that's when the Doctor coldly dismisses Tryst the drug peddler from his presence. Deadly serious, understated, refusing to even look at the man much less listen to his pleas and excuses, the Doctor tells him twice to "go away". Wow. Even when outraged (say, in The Pirate Planet), the Doctor's at least engaged the villain in conversation, either to be insolent or to try and change their minds. He's finally found a crime that is beyond contempt, and not surprisingly, it's a "real world" problem. It's all very well to fool around with would-be world conquerors and genocidal aliens - the kids at home are unlikely to commit such acts - but there is no way Doctor Who will validate the drug trade with amusing Doctorish banter. There's even a hint of maturity in the Doctor's acceptance of Tryst's point that drug users have a choice, one that has an impact on the rest of us. But if it was all leading to this moment, why then is the rest of the serial so UNLIKE it?

That's my problem with Nightmare of Eden, essentially. That quiet "go away" would be a lot more satisfying if Tryst had been anything but a caricature with a bad accent. But this is a world littered with unbelievable cartoons, the worst being  inept border guard Fisk who'll buy any frame-up so long as explain away inconsistencies on whether anyone can really understand the criminal mind. Even the Doctor is a cartoon of himself (not uncommon at this point in the series), suddenly giving his dog whistle magical Hamlin properties that draw the Mandrels back into their projection (where was this ability when they were attacking earlier?), and then going "My arms! My legs! My everything!" as they apparently mangle him (no, just his costume). If no one takes it seriously, how can we take that final moment and the issues it addresses any more seriously?

And it's not just the actors. The direction is paltry. Anywhere the episode needs tension, you'll find dead air instead. The camera will watch K9 sit still for several seconds before he starts to move. Lines of sight make every hidden character clearly visible to the person they're trying to evade. Everyone shot with a laser falls in the lamest way, like they've just been overcome with fatigue. There are four Mandrels about the ship, which is three more than we've ever seen together, so basically three wasted suits. And the effects can't quite keep up with the demands of the climax. It's too bad too because the Doctor's solution, though predicated on the science I've bitterly complained about over the last few reviews, is clever in the context of what has been established (unlike the Piper of Hamlin trick). The scene is just limp. Maybe a more vocal reaction from the drug smugglers in that moment? I don't know, it's not my job to "fix" Nightmare of Eden.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization explains the twinkly light that bit Romana in Part 1 was an Eden insect, and replaces the whole "my arms, my legs, my everything!" by a tense moment of silence.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - So badly put together, you have to look hard to see its moments of brilliance. One of these, the Doctor's reaction to Tryst being taken away, pretty much saves the whole episode.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Can I recommend a serial for a single moment when the rest of it is badly written, directed and acted? Indeed, when the two middle episodes are an exercise in pointlessness? I'm going to say no.

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