There’s half a story here that has all the makings of a solid, if not explosive, effort. Instead we’re left with a bomb of a different sort.
Doctor Who: The Horns of NimonDistributor: Warner
Cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Graham Crowden
Release Date: 2010-07-06
If there's an easy way out of anything it’s by blowing stuff up. This can be achieved through the use of explosives of any sort, mental, emotional or good old fashioned TNT. Explosives have gotten people, real and imagined, out of jams throughout history. The point of this review, though, isn’t to ruin the ending of the story for potential viewers, but in this case you’re in luck. It’s already been ruined for you.
While making repairs to the TARDIS, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) find themselves drawn into the gravity of a newly formed black hole. They make their escape courtesy of a passing ship from the planet Skonnos, a once powerful planet that’s beholden to a mysterious and powerful creature known as the Nimon. The Skonnans are lead by Soldeed (Graham Crowden), a maniacal scientist. who is the only person to see the Nimon.
Soldeed arranges for prisoners from the nearby planet Aneth to be brought to Skonnos as tributes to the Nimon. In return, the Nimon promises Soldeed to restore the Skonnan Empire to its former glory. This has been going on for generations. When the Skonnans fulfill their end of the bargain, it’s revealed the Nimon is only the first wave of an invasion force that moves from planet to planet and devours people and natural resources before moving on to its next target.
There are things about this story to like, starting with both the Doctor and Romana. Baker is as playful and fun as ever, and his zany sense of humor is the highlight of many scenes. At times it seems he’s acting outside of the scene, simultaneously commenting on his lines as he delivers them. His interaction with Ward, to whom he was briefly married, is also fun. For her part, Ward plays Romana as tough and serious, a calming influence to the Doctor’s manic personality. Then, there’s Soldeed.
When he first appears, Soldeed is sick-looking, pale and gaunt, and his eyes dart around when he speaks as if every word is a lie. Soon, though, Crowden’s performance deteriorates to the point where it seems he’s on the edge of cracking up at every line, like he’s making fun of his character. When he enters the power station that’s home to the Nimon, Soldeed walks the halls with his staff in his hand and calls out, “Lord Niiii-mon!” like a little boy searching for his puppy instead of a frightened man appearing before a monster.
He’s supposed to be afraid, but he has a plan. Soldeed talks of playing the Nimon on a long string, of giving the creature what it wants only as a way of furthering the power of Skonnos and of himself in particular. After the Nimon gets all the tributes it requires he promises the Skonnans a new fleet of ships. Soldeed will presumably turn that power back on the Nimon, but his desperation for power blinds him to what’s really going on.
The Doctor and Romana work with a group of prisoners from Aneth, including Seth (Simon Gipps-Kent) and Teka (Janet Ellis), to repel the coming invasion of the Nimons. There’s so much tinkering with machinery and running around to try and thwart the threat of invasion it that it feels like the story can’t wrap up in four episodes, but it does.
As with Soldeed and the Nimon, the audience is kept on a long string, too. Keep in mind the story originally aired in four weekly installments, with each episode ending in a cliffhanger. Like any episode of Doctor Who these cliffhangers were quickly resolved at the beginning of the next episode, but they were designed to keep viewers invested in the story from week to week.
Even watching the episodes all together on DVD, one expects to have some sort of resolution to the threat of the Nimons. Instead, we’re treated to a big explosion that defeats the Nimon and it’s all over with the Doctor and Romana having a laugh on the TARDIS. There’s passing mention of the prisoners getting a spaceship to return to Aneth, but none of what the Skonnans will do in the aftermath of their former master’s destruction.
Much more enjoyable is the bonus feature “Who Peter-Partners in Time”. It explores the long relationship between Doctor Who and Blue Peter, the long-running BBC children’s television program. Fans of Doctor Who were treated to behind the scenes looks at the characters and creatures thanks to Blue Peter, and actors from the show were frequent guests.
Blue Peter is also responsible for the survival of some early Doctor Who video clips that were otherwise erased by the BBC, including first Doctor William Hartnell’s regeneration into the second, Patrick Troughton. The two shows were so intertwined that Janet Ellis, who played Teka in “The Horns of Nimon”, was later a presenter on the Blue Peter.
Another interesting feature is “Read the Writer”, about “The Horns of Nimon” writer Anthony Read. In it he discusses his inspiration from Greek mythology, as well the importance of humor in a story. He’s critical of the story, saying that once the actors start “hamming it up, you lose credibility.” Unfortunately, no one said that to poor Soldeed.
At its core, “The Horns of Nimon” is about taking the easy way and having it blow up in your face. Strangely, no one making the thing seemed to notice. There’s half a story here that has all the makings of a solid, if not explosive, effort. Instead we’re left with a bomb of a different sort.