Watching the DVD of the 1979 Doctor Who tale “Nightmare of Eden” has proven something of an interesting experience. The story (number 107 for the series) features the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and has everything I consider hallmarks of the classic series. There are sparse sets, bad costumes, hokey dialogue, and terrible special effects. The featurettes included with the disc though indicate that all these thing—particularly the sets, costumes, and effects—are subpar for the show and that those working on it felt them to be something of an embarrassment.
To me though, that’s always been a part of the charm of the series – you kind of expect to see zippers on monster costumes and lots of less than fully dressed sets. The new series sports incredibly high production values, but I’ve never thought of tat as a mark against the older one, the original show just has a different aesthetic. And, even if this story doesn’t feature quite as good production values as some of the others, to me it all sort of fits with what Doctor Who was.
Clearly though those who worked on this story saw things differently and were actually upset about much that took place with it. And, hearing that after watching the tale made me regretful that I actually enjoyed “Nightmare of Eden.” I still do enjoy it, but I almost feel bad about it now.
The tale told here is perfectly serviceable, particularly for Who. It features two spaceships which have a hyperspace collision. Naturally, The Doctor, Romana (Lalla Ward), and K-9 show up to try and sort things out only to realize that something far more nefarious is at play. In point of fact, the nefarious bits here deal with a creepy (and clearly evil) Doctor Tryst (Lewis Fiander).
Allegedly a zoologist, Tryst has been taking bits of planets and putting them into a machine so that he can check them out and see what’s going on. Oh yes, and there are some evil monsters called Mandrels that he’s managed to grab as well. Plus there’s a terribly horrible drug going around, the kind that people become addicted to and which destroys entire populations. And, as you may have surmised, all these things are tied together and only the Doctor can unravel what is taking place.
Is it preposterous? Absolutely. Does it give the Doctor a chance to pontificate in general? Definitely. Does it give the Doctor an opportunity to tell people just why they’re wrong and how they’re being stupid and evil? Certainly. Does K-9 get to shoot bad guys? Repeatedly. See? It’s pretty much everything you would expect from a classic episode of Doctor Who.
Except, as we’re told in the bonus features, it wasn’t supposed to be that way. There was a bad director, the budget for the story wasn’t as high as was needed, the models were shot on video rather than film causing them to look horribly fake, the sets weren’t as fully realized as people wanted. The litany of complaints is long and, one assumes, not untrue.
Perhaps, while the issues and differences between this tale and other Doctor tales of the same era were extremely apparent at the time of production (or those working on the production), as time has passed they are less so. One can’t argue about the production values themselves, just about where it fits into the overall Whoniverse look and feel. It may not be the best Tom Baker episode ever, it may be from a season that wasn’t the greatest, and the effects may not be as good from other stories of the same era, but it is extremely watchable and enjoyable. Make no mistake, it is this last thing that counts more than the others and which cause me to recommend it as a Who story.
In terms of special features there is the aforementioned behind the scenes piece, titled “The Nightmare of TV Centre,” which has members of the production team and (via a previously recorded interview) an assistant floor manager talking about all the problems plaguing the production of “Nightmare of Eden.” Another piece has fans of the show talking about what they love and hate about the story. This one is somewhat less interesting and being filmed on the set of The Sarah Jane Adventures gives it an odd feel. There is also a featurette with the writer for the serial, Bob Baker, discussing how it, his first solo script for the series, came about. The next bonus feature has Lalla Ward answering questions on British show Ask Aspel, which is moderately interesting as it gives a glimpse into who she might actually be. Publicity galleries and listings for the original airing are also present as well as a commentary track.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “Nightmare of Eden” is the greatest Doctor Who story or even the greatest Tom Baker Doctor Who story. But, even with poor effects, costumes, and sets it really is a fun two hour trip into the Whoniverse.