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Beyond the Sofa

Vrax Entertainment!

Peter Adamson and Alistair Hughes take a fresh look at Nightmare of Eden

Alistair: After Peter began work on the glorious Nightmare of Eden illustration adorning the cover of this issue of TSV, Paul was quick to point out that at that stage, the issue didn't actually contain a review of this story!

Not to be defeated by a mere technicality, he suggested that Peter and I could review the story in ‘couch-potato style’, a la SFX magazine and, ahem, others. And so, with Paul's blessing, not to mention his borrowed videotape, we were in business and ready to give it our arms, our legs, our everything.

That is, we would watch the story, over a bottle of wine (as anaesthetic) and record our comments as we made them, later transcribed into what you are about to read here. Also present and pretending not to watch were Peter's long-suffering partner, Bridget, and their cat, Moses.

Sounds good so far, and after overcoming the following obstacles:
i) neither of us actually possessed a complete copy of the story;
ii) finding a night that both of us were available;
iii) complete failure to locate Peter's video remote and,
iv) a faulty dictaphone which would only work if repeatedly thumped
... we settled down to watch the story:



Much-loved title sequence fades and the passenger liner Empress wobbles onto the screen. Sadly, Doctor Who visual effects first foray into the concept of moving the camera (shakily) instead of the ship miniature is not greeted kindly.

Peter: “Hey - we can't laugh already!”

On the Empress' flight deck Secker [A: “He looks like a young Andrew Poulsen!”] lounges, smirking in his co-pilot's chair. We see the passengers as the announcement is made that the Empress is about to leave warp drive. Astonishingly, they're all dressed in silver ‘fitness suits’ and square shades, with absolutely nothing to see out the windows. Hopefully the in-flight entertainment was good.

P: “It's the anorak brigade!”

A: “A science fiction convention...!”

P: “Members of The Buggles. This is one of those stories where I think the costume department was given just a little too free rein over the look. The conclusion we're probably meant to draw here is that the future will be glam - it's in so many other episodes. Of course in that same year Alien came out, which was decidedly gritty and unglamourous in its costume design. Interesting contrast.“

The Empress comes out of warp and another ship, the Hecate, invades Captain Rigg's ‘space-space’ and gets jammed into the hull of the newly-materialised liner.

P: “Looks kind of like a paper dart wedged in there - doesn't it?”

The TARDIS materialises and our heroes emerge. Lalla Ward's deservedly maligned ‘maternity dress’ costume comes under our immediate fire. An unfortunate side effect of the wide, elbow-length sleeves becomes shockingly apparent when Romana clasps her hands behind her back.

Bridget: “Her arms have disappeared!”

A: “They have too! You'd think that a good director would have done something about that...”

The aggrieved captain of the Hecate, Dymond, appears, and more fun at the expense of the costume department is had. The sight of his scowling face protruding from what appears to be a giant baby's romper suit is too much for us:

A: “He looks like a Tellytubby!”

The Doctor observes Secker using some of his illegal drugs. Breaking into the man's locker, he identifies it as Vraxoin, a drug which has “brought whole worlds to their knees”.

P: “Of course they were originally going to call Vraxoin ‘Zip’.”

A: “Yes, that's right.”

P: “That idea soon became undone, however.”

A: “Oh please...”

P: “Apparently it was lacking teeth.”

P: At this point the show makes no bones about its position on drugs - which is fine, especially given that Vrax is made up, although the parallels are there to be seen. To its credit, this is the only moralising we'll hear until the last act - the audience presumably sees the evidence themselves without the commentary, which is good.”

Tryst and Della appear. We are prepared for Tryst's dreadful Germanic accent, which puts the ‘manic’ back into ‘Germanic’, but not the over-generous application of fake tan. Peter, however, has fixated on something else in the scene.

P: “Is that a stuffed Monkey up there?”

A: “No, that's Tom...”

(Later scenes prove Peter to be quite correct. For whatever reason, Tryst and Della do indeed keep a stuffed monkey on top of their gym locker!) Rigg, meanwhile, discovers that the Doctor is not who he claimed to be, and sits back with thoughtful self-satisfaction in his chair, turning our discussion inevitably back to the subject of costumes.

P: “Now I'd wear THAT!”

A: “And a damn fine figure you'd cut, too!”

P: “Well, it's the pick of the costumes, so far...”

Meanwhile, Dymond is continuing to gripe about the damage to his ship. It's at this point that Bridge decides this particular actor also appears on The Lakes as ‘the murderous school teacher’.

Presently, Secker meets a horrible end in the misty interface between the two ships, but his long, drawn-out scream finishes on an unexpected note.

P: “It went backwards!”

A: “Oh no - he's been killed in reverse!”

A brief discussion ensues over whether we liked or were irritated by K9, especially given his current voicing by David Brierley. The answer is yes to both, before the distinctively-patterned Empress lift doors distract Alistair.

A: “Hey - my parents have got wallpaper like that! Not that colour, exactly, but that kind of pattern!”

P: “Very slimming... stripes and chevrons are obviously ‘in’; I hadn't realised there was so much Art Deco influence throughout the '70s shows. It's almost a bit much by this stage.”

Romana stands transfixed in front of the Eden projection, waiting for something to happen - she waits an awfully long time, we think.

A: “Oh - this is the moth scene.”

(A shimmering electronic effect wobbles out of the projection, touches Romana's neck, then gets switched off.)

P: “Was that a moth?!”

A: “Well, it was in the novelisation. This is how they realise that things can come out of the image...”

Coarse and unnecessary remarks are made as Romana collapses in a rather unbecoming way (what was the director doing that time - or did he just have it in for poor Lalla Ward?)

The episode ends with our first view of exactly what has left the Eden projection (apart from electronic moths, that is), as the Doctor, K9 and Rigg open a section of wall and a Mandrel suddenly and unexpectedly bursts through, flailing limply through the opening.

A: “Now THAT was a scary episode ending!”



We make a great deal out of spotting the hands holding the pre-cut piece of wall which K9 cuts, and then re-welds. Rigg later scans the ship in a nifty scene involving a total ship-length monitor.

P: “Presumably Customs and Excise are a thing of the past then...?”

Eventually, in what is the beginning of a tragic series of events, Rigg knocks back the drugged drink intended for Della. Unfortunately, we waste no time in pointing out that the resulting beverage looks exactly like...


P: “At least it's not the usual BBC job - green cordial in a day-glo perspex beaker.”

Meanwhile, Tryst is becoming excited in the defence of his CET machine. Unfortunately this has the effect of making him sound a little like Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau...

P: “Ah ahm wanted ohn thu feunn!!! Don't you find it unfortunate that Tryst's fantastic machine, a window to another world, almost spells ‘set’?”

Stott appears in due course, dressed as a passenger.

P: “It's Gary Glitter!”

A: “C'mon Come on... C'mon Come on...”

Pursuing Stott, the Doctor descends a stairwell.

A: “Stairwells in spaceships have always struck me as odd...”

(Tom unwisely jumps down two steps, which move noticeably under his weight.)

A: “Hey - did you see them move, just then?”

A passenger appears to echo Bridge's sentiments to all in earshot.

“How much longer?” she complains.

Meanwhile, back on the flight deck, Rigg is starting to show the effects of his unintentional Vraxoin hit, rambling and giggling in a most peculiar fashion.

P: “They're laying this on a bit thick, aren't they? Still, David Daker isn't too over the top; he was great in The Time Warrior, and he's my pick here, especially up against some dreadfully bland acting from Jennifer Lonsdale. His claim that he'll be executed for dereliction of duty is a bit of a worry. The future can't be all glam and sparkles after all.”

Shortly afterwards, we get one of our first proper looks at a Mandrel as it lurches out of the mist, green eyes glowing...

A: “Now that's effective!”

P: “Yeah. You could go either way with this - the monster works because it contrasts against the hard, custardy corridors of the spaceship, or it's dreadfully out of place and undermined by the lighting and cleanliness. It's the Alien thing again, but it could seriously challenge Andrew Cartmel's assertion that “billiard table lighting” is an eighties domain.”

A: “Actually, I was referring to the way the those glowing eyes are accentuated by the mist, which also turns the Mandrel's body into a dimly seen, and therefore more potentially frightening, shape.”

Fisk and Costa, the remarkably camp and fetish-uniformed drug policemen appear, and our attack on the costume department returns with renewed vigour.

P: “And just when you think it can't get any worse...”

A: “Macho, macho man...”

Bridget realises we've been recording. Peter explains that's why we have been speaking so-not-quite-naturally, and Alistair assures her that no-one will ever hear its contents... which is, at least technically, true.

The Village People police pursue the Doctor and Romana down the Empress' corridors.

P: “It's the same corridor every time! (to the policemen onscreen) “Just wait there and they'll be back in a moment!”

Eventually the Doctor and Romana enter the CET and the episode ends.

B: (obviously feeling time hanging heavy) “How many episodes is THAT, then?”

P: “We're halfway there!”




The Doctor and Romana are wandering through the Eden projection.

A: “Are those really pot plants?”

P: “Mmmm! Do you know I used the same tactic doing this issue's cover? There's a little piece of our lounge in that projection.”

A: “Alan Bromly must have been so annoyed to be given this...”

The Doctor is attacked by a carnivorous plant, which reminds Peter of a not dissimilar scene from This is Spinal Tap. Our reminiscences are cut short as Tom, in danger of being lightly massaged to death by the plant's waving petals, bites himself free. Astonishingly, he catches some of the resulting spurt of green goo right in the face!

P, B & A: “Eeeeeeeeeeeewwww-www!”

A: “No wonder he was difficult to work with on this one!”

Another of our outbursts ensues as the Doctor and Romana hide from a Mandrel, (which stares right at them before moving on), and, astonishingly, Tom appears to absent-mindedly grope his future wife.

A: “Hey, hey, HEY!!”

As the Mandrel recedes, it unfortunately reveals a strange quirk of its costume design.


A: “Don't get excited, Peter...”

P: “It's bum fluff!!”

Back on the Empress, Stott saves Della from a rampaging Mandrel with his ray-gun. At this point Peter reveals that the resourceful expedition survivor isn't Gary Glitter after all:

P: “It's Tarrant from Blake's 7!”

Unfortunately, Stott's revelation that he'd donned a passenger's costume so he could “walk about unnoticed” provokes our most disbelieving laughter yet.

It's a pivotal scene for Al: Rigg, convulsed with Vrax-induced laughter, is watching rampaging Mandrels slaughtering the Empress' passengers.

A: “I remember talking at school about how horrible this scene was!”

We suddenly produce our own burst of uncontrollable laughter as a Mandrel then appears to attempt energetic cross-breeding with a hapless passenger, whose quite alarming reaction appears to be to mime putting on invisible lipstick using the camera as a mirror.

A: “I can see what Rigg is laughing at!”

P: “He's probably been repeatedly rewinding this bit!”

K9 stuns a Mandrel, which falls comically to the ground. No sooner have we stopped laughing when Lalla Ward appears to relieve some of the frustration she must feel with this serial by kicking the poor fallen creature with enough force to make the operator's eyes water.

Fisk, in his partially spangly costume, is threatening Dymond with a fine.

B: “You couldn't really be intimidated by someone who looks like that, could you?”

A: “No, you couldn't really.”

P: (Impersonating Fisk) “Now look here - I'm glitterier than you!”

A: “So you'd better back down...”

P: “I wear the glittery things around here!!!”

A Mandrel attacks the Doctor. To his credit, he sounds genuinely anguished as it accidentally electrocutes itself. Al marvels at the special effect used to indicate the creature's breaking down into Vraxoin. It is actually quite believable for the moment.

P: “This is quite satisfying for me, because before I saw this story, knowing the plot, I couldn't imagine a creature turning into a drug at all. And of course it isn't as if it occurs in the real world until you consider perhaps equations with purported aphrodisiacs from endangered species...”

Fisk and Costa are scheming to gain an easy promotion by framing the Doctor and Romana as the drug smugglers. Fisk's line: “We'll be the golden boys of the day” might have passed unridiculed were it not for his costume.

Rigg is menacing Romana in a genuinely menacing way, until Fisk shoots him down. To facilitate the electronic effect, everyone has to freeze in position for several seconds.

P: “Just hold it right there... (ZAP!) Thank you!”

The stunning end to Episode Three occurs when the Doctor is caught while crossing between ships (Romana causes them to ‘rewarp’). Momentarily, he flickers out of existence...


A: “Don't worry, Bridge, this is the final episode!”

Dymond is repeatedly mispronouncing the name of his own ship. We know it's a famous mistake, but can't help correcting him...

P & A: “Hecat-EE!”

Della reappears.

P: “She's been gone for a whole episode!”

A: “She's probably been quietening those poor kids down.”

(This is a reference to a newspaper report at the time, which claimed the children of a cast member were so terrified by the Mandrels during a visit to the set that they had to be carried out crying.)

As Tryst and Dymond plot together, we are propelled into helpless laughter once more at the even worse costume which “the teacher from The Lakes” has donned, obviously in response to his earlier out-spangling by Fisk.

A: “This is a GEM!”

P: “I'll show HIM who's glitteriest!!!”

At this point Al realises that the dictaphone may not have caught anything of our ‘critique’ so far, so resorts to thumping it rhythmically to keep the heads turning. In hindsight, the dictaphone's actions were likely a cry for help.

A: “See if you guys can be particularly funny for the remainder of this story...”

P: (indicating Moses, stretched luxuriated halfway across the living room floor) “That cat just blew off.”

A shuttle travels from the Empress to the Hecate. It's actually a pretty fair shot.

A: “Look at this. This is an effects shot! This is when I decided Doctor Who had really made it, and I didn't need to be embarrassed by its effects at school any longer!”

(Everyone dutifully watches the effects shot.)

P: “You know, say what you like about their quality, I think there's a certain nice continuity in what I remember of the Season 17 model shots that you don't necessarily get in other seasons. Mind you, I'm comparing this with memories of Creature from the Pit and the nineties retro-FX of Shada. City of Death's probably the exception.”

A: “As I keep saying, Season 17's model effects impressed the hell out of me at the time, and many still do. Almost every story that year seemed to have an ambitious sequence involving at least one impressive miniature, from the burrowing Movellan craft through to the exploding Nimon complex. A legacy of Star Wars and the late seventies sci-fi film boom, maybe?”

P: “Actually, continuity might not have been the word I was searching for so much as consistency! Probably the use of Quantel helps this along?”

A: “Yeah. In City of Death's case, it seems that what appeared on screen (the Jagaroth ship abortive take-off) for once completely achieved the ambition of the writer and designer... So why do you suppose they released this one on video...?”

P: [Ironically] “Because everyone knows that Season 17 is a brilliant Wildean romp...”

Another Mandrel attacks. It appears to stop just in front of the camera, and wave at it enthusiastically.

P: “Look Mum - I'm on TV!!”

A: “Stop it! You're upsetting my children!”

Della realises that the smugglers are Tryst and Dymond.

A & P: “Who's Tristram Dymond?”

P: (despairingly) “There's too many characters!”

Poor Della is shot brutally in the neck, but gamely clutches her stomach and sinks to the ground!

P: “It was a gut reaction...”

The Hecate swoops overhead and goes into warp drive.

A: “Ooooh look - effects shot! There's not much wrong with that!”

P: (sounding doubtful) “Not really...”

Five or six Mandrels are being ‘herded’ up a corridor by Empress guards.

A: “I remember being so impressed that there were that many costumes in one shot!”

P: “Yes, there's usually only three or four main monsters! That's why there are never more than three monsters ever in one Erato comic strip panel. No-one ever asks why that is, but that's why.”

A: “You can keep yer Star Wars...”

B: (despairingly)”I don't know what's supposed to be happening!!”

At this point it becomes clear to us all, simultaneously, that one of the Mandrels is considerably shorter than his mates.

B: “Awww look at the little wee one!”

A: “He's just a Mandrette...”

P: (adopts Harry Enfield alien voice)”A wee baby!”

A: “They HAVE got furry bums!”

The Mandrels follow Tom into the Eden projection. Everyone (except Bridge and the cat) goes very quiet - we know what's coming... odd bits of straw and grass are idly tossed onto the set as the immortal words are spoken. Tom: (with little conviction) “My fingers...my arms ...my legs... my everything... ahhhhhh!”

B: “What are the swamp monsters supposed to be doing to him?”

P: “They're ‘bushwhacking’ him!”

A: “He was asking for it...”

P: “That just had to be a bona fide Baker ad lib. What was he thinking?”


Much jargon ensues, as Tristram Dymond is captured!

A: “We haven't really had enough jargon yet, have we?”

All is almost redeemed by the Doctor and Tryst's last scene together. It's the other famous scene from the story, where Baker's Doctor “coldly rebuffs” [Discontinuity Guide] Tryst, as the smuggler attempts to defend his actions.

P: “It's nicely played, from Tom's part; but it just doesn't linger - more of an afterthought, and considering what's just gone on in the CET scene, it's a bit much to expect to be able to turn things around. It doesn't help that Tryst's still being played at 110 miles per minute either.”

A: “Well, it's lingered with me for almost twenty years, since I first saw this story.”

P: “The Mandrels lingered for me - but that'll always be the case.”

K9 is made the brunt of a cruel jibe by Romana, and the credits roll.

Summing up

A: “I hope I haven't given the impression that I hate this story, because I don't. It has a kind of ‘tacky grandeur’ with several interesting ideas.I would just hate to think that, as it's now a video release, this story might be someone's first taste of Doctor Who!”

P: “You know, I don't think I know of too many other series with a following that would so freely adopt a term like ‘tacky grandeur’. Perhaps that shows the lengths to which we fans will sometimes go to redeem an otherwise confused and sometimes quite childish story. The Discontinuity Guide calls Nightmare of Eden “a mature story”. I'm not quite sure which parts the authors were referring to, as some scenes and some dialogue aspects strike me as being very dumbed down, and it's odd to see some uncharacteristic actions from Romana - the jumping to and fro over the Mandrel, the kicking of the corpse. Not so much Emma Peel in action as - I dunno - a young girl play-acting monsters? I strongly suspect Season 17 lovers would claim that's just the intention - but to what end?”

A: “That play-acting feeling became even more pronounced in the next story, with the Doctor and Romana hiding from the Nimon in full view, and so on. Perhaps The Discontinuity Guide's authors assumed that addressing drugs and addiction automatically equals maturity?”

P: “Well, there's something to be said for Tryst and the Doctor's final encounter, to be sure. It's just a shame that everything up 'til that scene, from both characters, has some glaring moments of self-indulgence and hyperbole. It undermines the drama seriously.”

A: “I would hesitate to say everything up to that scene, but that is the overall impression given. Perhaps we needed more wine?”

P: “You talked me into it.”

This item appeared in TSV 58 (September 1999).

Index nodes: Beyond the Sofa, Nightmare of Eden