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Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

(BBC; US DVD: 8 May 2012)

The Doctor Just Says "No"

An entire species can’t forget a paradise of beauty and innocence overnight, and Heaven is little consolation given that one has to die to get there. Still, there’s a desire among humans to regain Eden, either literally or metaphorically, whichever comes first. Debate over how to achieve this impossible task might yield any number of paths back to the Garden, but it’s a sure bet someone will toss out the idea of drugs as a possible gateway.


Drugs of various forms have opened the minds of people for centuries, from ancient oracles to John Lennon. Even Mad Men’s Roger Sterling found enlightenment, a kind of personal Eden, courtesy of LSD, and if a childish, repressed ad man of the old guard can find it, why not the rest of us?


Perhaps we should consult a doctor or, better yet, the Doctor (Tom Baker). He knows a thing or two about drugs, specifically Vraxoin, a drug so potent, so addictive, it’s wiped out entire civilizations. “It induces a kind of warm complacency, then a total apathy. Until it wears off, that is,” the Doctor tells Romana (Lalla Ward).


They’ve arrived aboard the cruise ship Empress just as its collided with the partially materialized trade ship Hectate. These facts are relayed via dialogue because the clunky models and lighting effects which open the story failed to effectively convey this information. Now the Doctor and Romana are tasked not only with separating the two ships, but also finding a drug smuggler and contending with monsters called Mandrells which look like the offspring of Critters and H.R.  Pufnstuf.


The various plot threads in “Nightmare of Eden” lend themselves to plenty of puns, but somehow it all comes together. The opening is marred by confusion, and the villain of the piece, Professor Tryst (Lewis Fiander) suffers from a comical accent, but there are also wonderful psychedelic sequences and a dizzying chase which makes the most of the show’s shoestring budget.


“Nightmare of Eden”’s anti-drug message pops up from time to time, but thankfully, it never devolves into a shot of the Doctor sitting on a stool and addressing the viewers at home. It’s surprising to see such a topical issue addressed explicitly rather than through some strangely costumed metaphor, but with so much going on there’s not much time to reflect on it before something draws the Doctor’s attention away.


The muddy plot is bolstered by particularly strong performances by Baker and Ward. Romana is cool and confident, and the Doctor appears as if he’s been on a bit of a Vraxoin bender himself.


The bonus feature “The Nightmare of Television Centre” tells the story of how everything that could’ve gone wrong on this story did, including the director being fired and the budget being slashed from its already austere level. The best of the bonus materials is a playful and insightful dissection of the story called “The Doctor’s Strange Love”, in which comedian Josie Long and writers Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier discuss what works and what doesn’t in the show. There are lots of cracks about the botched effects, as well as many jokes at the expense of Tryst’s accent.


Grating voice and all, Tryst is essential to the plot(s). He carries with him a machine called the CET (Continual Event Transmuter), which contains real life pieces of alien habitats for species to live in so Tryst can study their evolution in their native habitats. One of these planet pieces he carries is from a place called Eden. Its name is mentioned almost as an afterthought, but it’s the key to the drug smuggling and the destruction of the Mandrells.


The Doctor and Romana find themselves returning to Eden more than once in the story, and getting there is as simple as step through a screen and into the other world. The rest of us should be so lucky.

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Jeremy Estes lives in Nashville, Tennessee.


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