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This is part of the Doctor Who: Myths and Legends box-set



Feature


Things were about to change for Doctor Who—as the show was nearing the end of its seventeenth season. The Doctor was about to meet a powerful force that not even he could thwart—industrial action. This season should have ended with a six-part story, Shada, written by Douglas Adams, but even with location footage and a few studio scenes in the can, the story was never completed, so The Horns of Nimon unexpectedly became the closer to season seventeen.

Quick Romana, the annulment!
Season seventeen of Doctor Who was not one of the strongest in the show’s run—it could be argued that the only genuinely good story in this season was City of Death (which achieved the highest viewing figures in the show’s history), and the cancellation of Shada meant that the ’79-’80 season was going out on a bit of a duff note…

The planet Skonnos was the heart of a once-great empire—the inhabitants desire to see their power restored. Skonnos has been targeted by the Nimon, a race of parasitic beings, who swarm from planet to planet, draining them of their resources. The nefarious Soldeed is in league with one of the Nimon, who has descended on Skonnos as part of an advance guard and exists on the planet in a labyrinth. The Nimon promises Soldeed power, in exchange for a steady supply of hymetusite crystals and young sacrifices from the planet Aneth. Little does Soldeed know that the Nimon in no way intend to help the Skonnons rebuild their empire—they just want to drain the planet and then simply move on to another one.
 
There are incidents that happen along the way—Romana gets captured, the Doctor meets a group of young, rebellious people who will inevitably rise up against those who oppress them, the Doctor will say ‘hello’ in a cheery manner to his main adversary and K-9 will be put out of action for much of the story (although there is no location filming in this story, so he would have had little problem traversing across the smooth studio floor).

The freighter's cargo heading for Thailand...
If it seems as though we’re badmouthing The Horns of Nimon for no good reason, you’d be wrong—there are plenty of good reasons to bitch about this story. The concept of the Minotaur in Doctor Who had already been done (check out the Pertwee story in this Myths and Legends set, The Time Monster) and for those of you slow on the uptake, the name Nimon is derived from Minotaur. The Nimon itself is pretty pathetic (see below for a detailed description); the production values are fairly poor even for the period and there just seems to be a tired atmosphere pervading the story.

The show could have seriously done without the Goon Show sound effects that are trotted out during one of the scenes in episode two when the Doctor is attempting to repair the TARDIS. It would be interesting to find out just who came up with the idea to use them, as it serves to make the story even more of a joke than it already is.

The Horns of Nimon is a disaster is many ways, not least of which is a villain so over the top, that he makes Joseph Furst’s Professor Zaroff from The Underwater Menace look like a study in subtle self-restraint. Actor Graham Crowden was apparently offered the role of the Fourth Doctor, but turned it down because he didn’t want to be stuck in a three-year contract—wise move for Who fans, naturally, as it allowed Tom Baker to stick his not inconsiderably-sized shoes in the door. One has to wonder that if Lalla Ward had the ability to travel through time like her character, would she have gone back and persuaded Crowden to take the role, thereby altering the future and avoiding the whole ‘getting married to Tom Baker’ thing? Crowden’s performance is cringe-inducing, playing every single syllable of every single word of every single line in a grand manner that makes him more suited to performing in an amphitheatre, rather than a relatively small television studio. The fact that he bears more than a passing resemblance to Jonathan Price’s intentionally camp portrayal of the Master in the Comic Relief spoof, The Curse of the Fatal Death just adds to the hilarity.

"Don't ask, don't tell".
Douglas Adams’ dabs are all over the script, as it’s almost certain that he polished the thing, but you know what they say about polish and faecal matter. There are certain humorous quips and exchanges in this story that are very much in keeping with Adams’ irreverent sense of humour—the best one coming when Romana is informed that the Nimon resides in the power complex, to which she replies ‘that fits…’—great stuff.

The Nimon is a pretty pathetic-looking adversary—it’s not threatening, it just looks silly—a lumbering bull-headed creature, that can’t move its neck, so to look around it has to turn its whole body. It almost stumbles along, as the actor is clearly wearing six-inch platforms to increase the height of the thing, and the result is that at times it walks like it has (bull) shat itself and other times it has a swaggering gait reminiscent of George the Bear from the old Hoffmeister commercials (‘if you want bad acting, follow the bull’). There is an extended scene in episode three when the Doctor, Romana and several Anethans are trying to hide from the Nimon, taking cover behind several pieces of computer equipment; the awkward way the Nimon moves allows the hiding characters enough time to change positions whilst the Nimon’s back is turned—the resulting scene plays like a pantomime where the heroes are hiding from the slow, lumbering giant, although if someone shouted ‘he’s behind you’ to the Nimon, his response would be (in his silly, overly-synthesised voice) ‘give me a minute to turn around, will you?’

"Torro? Sounds like a load of bull!"
There an amusing moment when one of the Nimon is staggering around and goes to fall over very slowly, eventually toppling over behind a piece of set that has a poorly-concealed crash-mat behind it. You can’t really blame them, as the combination of the large platform boots and the large headgear would make for a lethal combination if any improperly-planned falls occurred.

Tom Baker’s boredom was certainly showing by this point and he is in his typical season nineteen OTT mode, being terribly dark, quite and serious one moment, then being almost embarrassingly shouty and overwrought the next, to being overly jokey and undermining the drama. He still had more than a few flashes of the Doctor that fans new and loved, but there is still something visibly bugging him, although he doesn’t look as visibly tired of the whole thing as he did in his final season.

Lalla Ward is still trying desperately to fill the shoes of her predecessor, Mary Tamm. Baker and Tamm worked wonderfully well together during the Key To Time season, sparking off each other in a way reminiscent of John Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers, but with Baker and Ward, it just seemed a little forced, being more like John Steed and Tara King. Ward gives what is probably her strongest performance in this story, showing a nice line of steely determination as she resolves to get herself of a sticky situation without the help of the Doctor. As with every story in this season, Ward is given a different outfit each time—the English hunting outfit is entirely appropriate and more than likely a deliberate choice due the nature of the story. Ward’s performance is so strong here, that it would have been fun to see her in her own spin-off show as Romana.

"Stop mugging, Master."
Future Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis isn’t bad as plucky young Teka—it wouldn’t surprise me if Ellis helped to make some of the sets with some toilet rolls, coat hangers and sticky-backed plastic. Ellis was gorgeous in her prime (she’s still quite alluring these days) and she tries to give her character a sense of inner strength and determination, to show that Teka isn’t chicken (sorry—couldn’t resist that one).
 
It has been quite some time since we last watched an episode of Doctor Who that had David Brierley providing the voice of K-9, and we had quite forgotten just how irritating his K-9 voice really is. The K-9 in this season sounds like the kind of nasally, pedantic nerd that used to constantly get beaten up at school and every time he speaks, it is the equivalent of dragging a razorblade down a blackboard very slowly. If 2|Entertain are going to do something special with the footage from Shada, then by all means bring in John Leeson to provide the voice of K-9.

The Horns of Nimon offers much unintentional hilarity, but the best moment comes as one of the characters is lying dead on the ground, and a large rip in the seat of his trousers is clearly visible—in death there is no true grace…

Ah, always looking like a shampoo advert.

Video


The original tapes of this story exist, so the results are lovely to look at, with the whole thing appearing as crisp and as fresh as when it was originally transmitted over three decades ago (though with the added clarity that DVD allows, it probably looks better than the original broadcast). The reds of Romana’s hunting jacket never looked so vivid!

Audio


The final score from Terence Dudley sounds just fine on this release. Dialogue is also pleasingly clear.
 

Extras


Audio Commentary: Actors Lalla Ward, Graham Crowden and Janet Ellis join writer Anthony Read for this fun track. Ward and Ellis make a fun couple as they light-heartedly poke fun at aspects of the production in an insightful manner—Ward reveals how much she hated working with the noisy TARDIS set, but preferred it to working with certain actors, giving away his initials, which just happen to be the same as a certain virulent disease. Read is pleasant and informative, but proving that three’s company, four’s a Crowden is the actor playing the chief villain, when he strolls into the recording booth a few minutes into episode one. Crowden is the very model of the ‘luvvie’ and though he is not as free and easy as the others in terms of talking, when he does so, he talks about himself. Perhaps it would have been better just to give Crowden his own interview, as Ward and Ellis are so good together that Crowden’s presence hinders things.

They're so horny, it's a good job they're wearing loin-cloths.
Who Peter—Partners in Time: This is almost certainly the highlight of the Myths and Legends set—a twenty-nine minute look at how the classic Doctor Who series and Blue Peter intertwined over the decades. Hosted by BP presenter Gethin Jones, this is a wonderfully nostalgic look back at how two phenomenally popular BBC shows came together and it features contributions from numerous Blue Peter presenters and is also heavy on vintage clips from the perennially popular children’s show (we’re referring to Blue Peter again…). Though a number of Blue Peter excerpts have been included on other Who DVDs, it’s nice to see some of the edited highlights here, presented in a sort of clip-show format that makes the whole thing more palatable to less eager viewers. This is the first part of a two-part series, the second of which concentrates on the wilderness years and New-Who. Oh, a special mention should made to the graphics on the credits, which features a time vortex in the shape of the Blue Peter logo…

Read the Writer: A short feature on the man who penned The Horns of Nimon, Anthony Read, who looks back on his story and what problems were faced during production. Read comes across as a nice guy and he touches upon problems faced by Douglas Adams and the fact that a couple of members of the cast were overacting in this story (which it hilariously inter-cuts with the two actors concerned). This is nice stuff, but it could have been longer, as Read really seems to be a likeable chap with some interesting stories to tell.

Peter Howell Music Demos: This is very interesting stuff, as it plays clips from The Horns of Nimon with some of Howell’s Radiophonic Workshop demos over the top. There are some people who aren’t great fans of the 80s synthesiser music that was so prevalent during that decade, but it works surprisingly well on the clips presented here.

The gun really looks like is was made with double-sided tape and a squeezy bottle.
Production Notes: As ever, when this option is selected, you are bombarded with more information about the production that you could possibly need or comfortably digest in one sitting—lovely, comprehensive stuff.

Photo Gallery: A series of still images are presented for your enjoyment, accompanied as always by Dick Mills’ special sounds from the story.

PDF Material: The Radio Times listings and the original studio floor plans are presented for your delectation when you pop this disc into a PC.
 
Coming Soon: A short trailer for the Tom Baker story The Creature From the Pit is here to whet your appetites.

Deddlydum, deddly dum...

Overall


We began watching Doctor Who when season seventeen started and we stayed with the show until the bitter end ten years later. There was some fun in watching a story that we hadn’t revisited for many years, but this appeal was pure nostalgia and little else.

The Horns of Nimon is a televisual train-wreck—the specifics have been mentioned above, but there will be some out there who find the prospect of watching one of the naffest Doctor Who stories appealing.


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