DVD Review: Doctor Who, "Nightmare of Eden"
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Distributor: BBC Warner
· Graham Williams
· Tom Baker
· Lalla Ward
· Lewis Fiander
· Geoffrey Bateman
by Dennis Russo
Published: May 28, 2012
For a Doctor Who fan such as myself, Doctor Who: "Nightmare of Eden" was no viewing paradise. With a series that has been around as long as this one has, you are going to have a variance from how the show looked back then, to how it looks now, and with so many episodes, not every one is going to be excellent.
"Nightmare of Eden" unfortunately suffers from the worst end of each of the scales.
"Nightmare of Eden" was originally a 4-part story that aired in 1979 from November 24 to December 15 -- roughly 32 years removed from its current incarnation. All four parts are shown together here as one complete episode.
The Doctor(Tom Baker) and his companion, Romana (Lalla Ward) answer a distress call from 2 vessels that have collided. Once on board they find a crew member mauled, and the answers lie with zoologist Professor Tryst (Lewis Fiander) and his unstable CET (Continuous Event Transmuter) machine. The machine is sort of like an inter-dimensional zoo that projects a 3 dimensional image on the screen that allows you to go physically into it (and for things to come out). As the plot develops we learn that the real story behind it all deals with drugs, drug addiction and drug smuggling. The creatures we find out that mauled the crewman are called Mandrels, and interestingly they are also the source of the drug.
The special effects for this show appeared cheap. Not just cheap compared to today's effects -- that's a given -- but cheap even when compared to other episodes, and not just from the Tom Baker era. I can understand not wanting to sink huge amounts of money into set creation and special effects when they are only going to be used for a few episodes; I know that weekly television shows have a limited budget they must adhere to; but the effects here were quite laughable at times. The space ships looked like kids toys shot with a home video camera, and the control room panels and ship interiors looked like painted cardboard with L.E.D. lights stuck in them. Couple this with what I have to say is just poor acting from the supporting cast (look for the scene where someone gets shot with a ray gun in the upper torso and watch them grab their stomach!) and it was a recipe for disaster.
The picture quality is very good and the color is very sharp -- almost too sharp. This episode would have definitely fared better visually from old fashioned analog tape. Even the Doctor's trusty robot companion, K-9 -- yes that's K-9 as in "canine" a talking robot dog that appears to be a cross between R2D2 and C3PO and is voiced by (David Brierley) -- had a distinctly "Built in the garage out of cardboard and old kitchen appliance parts" look about it.
As I mentioned, this DVD is a compilation if you will of a 4-part episode brought together in one disc; however the DVD treats each part as a separate episode so you have beginning and ending credits for each episode. Not a terrible thing, but with each subsequent episode after the first you have to sit through that last couple of minutes of the previous episode (done originaly I'm sure to refresh your memory from the previous week's episode and bring you up to speed). This is all well and good if it had been a week since I saw the last episode, but it was literaly just a closing and opening credits away.
I also found the story line quite corny. It was almost too explicitly anti-drugs. Don't get me wrong, it's not that drugs are corny or drug addiction and smuggling isn't a very serious subject. It just did not seem complicated enough for a Doctor Who story; it was too simplistic. The drug is referred to by a couple of names but one that leads me to describe this episode as corny is the referring to it as a fungus called "XYP" (a rip-off of PCP?) That, coupled with with actors trying to convey being high with all the conviction of the actors in "Reefer Madness" was just too laughable for me.
Tom Baker was, as he always is, the saving grace for any Doctor Who episode, and he is a joy to watch. Just his presence in the scenes lends an air of believability to even an episode so poorly conceived as this. I don't know if it was that this episode was the perfect storm of things that could be bad, but I noticed for the first time that even he tripped over some of his lines. Oh well, a famous artist once said something to the effect of "all that flows from my brush is not gold." This episode bears the truth in that saying.
I will say this, that even though I could not get into this episode because of the issues I have mentioned, the DVD does have some extras on it (listed below) that make it well worthwhile to own. The extras go a long way to agree with and justify my overall assessment of the episode. It appears that this episode had a lot of things going against it at the start, from budget constraints to director issues. Many of set crew, special effects people and even the story's writer complain about the various production issues and the atmosphere on the set during filming of the episode.
Another very good extra, and one I quite enjoyed, was the "Info Text" option (similar to "VH1's "Pop-Up Video") This option provides scene production notes as the episode plays. These tidbits of information on what happened during the filming are quite enjoyable, but I would caution that you should watch the episode first before tuning this feature on. some of the scene information is quite lengthy and apart from blocking out a good portion of the scene, by the time you get done reading it, you've missed most of the dialog. So don't turn it on to watch with the episode first, but definitely watch the episode again with it on; it is well worth it. I hope this feature is a staple on other DVD editions of Doctor Who episodes
I rate this episode a "C-" on its own merit, but because of the Special Features included on the DVD, I will give it an overall C+
The Nightmare of television Centre
The Doctor's Strange Love
Ask Aspel-Interview with Lalla Ward (Romana)
Info Text On/Off