Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon review, Doctor Who: Underworld review
Starring
Tom Baker, Lalla Ward,
Graham Crowden
Director
Kenny McBain
Starring
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
Director
Norman Stewart
Doctor Who: The Horns
of Nimon / Underworld

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

()

F

ollowing producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s nearly perfect era of “Doctor Who” was never going to be an easy task for anyone, but it fell upon Graham Williams to take the job. His three years on the series are pretty uneven, but that’s not to say that he didn’t occasionally produce a gem here and there. Here are two stories from his era that together are a pretty good representation of its highs and lows. Both were released in the U.K., along with “The Time Monster,” in a box set called “Myths and Legends.” The set was named as such because the three stories have ties to classic myths, but really it was just a mildly clever way of boxing up three stories that consumers would have little interest in buying individually. Here in the States, the box has been nixed, so we’re allowed to pick and choose as we like.

In “The Horns of Nimon,” the TARDIS crashes into a space freighter carrying some precious cargo to the planet Skonnos. Apparently, the Skonnon Empire has seen better days, and so one of its leaders, Soldeed (Graham Crowden), has struck a deal with a strange, horned creature called the Nimon, who resides in a labyrinthine power complex within the planet. In exchange for teenagers from the nearby planet Aneth, the Nimon has promised Soldeed that it will help him restore Skonnos to its former glory. And what self-aggrandizing despot wouldn’t go for a deal like that? The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (voiced by David Brierly for Season 17 only) discover the Nimon isn’t being entirely up front with Soldeed, and intends to take over the whole of the planet when the time is right. Naturally, the two Time Lords can’t allow that to happen.

“Nimon” has taken quite the beating over the years, presumably by fans that have never seen it, or at least not seen it in so long that they’ve forgotten that it adds up to more than just silly Minotaur costumes. Having not seen the story myself for quite some time, I was surprised to discover that it’s actually pretty entertaining, and not at all deserving of its turkey status. Given how much of the Williams era is frequently played for laughs, in this one, Baker – a few nice quips aside – plays it straight (not that it’s often a big problem when he doesn’t), and the story moves along at a really nice pace, unveiling one level of the story after another. The moment that really elevates it is when Romana takes a trip to Crinoth, the last planet to have a similar deal with the Nimon, and she finds a deserted world, save for one man – the Crinothian equivalent of Soldeed. His deal with the Nimon resulted in the extinction of his race, and so a chilling future for Skonnos is painted before our eyes.

Sure, the story has some low points – mostly in the look of Minotaur-like Nimon creatures, who aren’t terribly convincing – but hey, what would old “Doctor Who” be without tacky monsters? (Actually, you’ll find the answer to that shortly.) Numerous costume decisions are ridiculous, particularly the Skonnon guards, who look as if they’re ready to flame out on “Project Runway.” Graham Crowden’s performance as Soldeed has also been the butt of many a jab, and there’s no question that this guy is hamming it up like a Christmas dinner. He looks as if he thinks he’s starring in a silent movie, and about to pull a muscle with every move. Yet he takes it so far over the top that it becomes a thing of beauty (perhaps Baker felt he couldn’t top what Crowden was doing, and chose to hang back?), and I about fell out of my chair when he verbally attacks Romana by calling her a “meddlesome hussy.” Classic. All in all, though, a story with more positives than negatives and one that’s just a great deal of fun to watch and in need of some fan reevaluation.

On the flip side of “Nimon” is “Underworld,” a riff on “Jason and the Argonauts” which no doubt sounds really cool, but ultimately doesn’t add up to much. On the edge of the universe, the TARDIS materializes onboard the spaceship R1C. The crew, led by Jackson (James Maxwell), are Minyans, who have the power to regenerate themselves over and over and over. They’re on a quest to find the long lost Minyan race banks, which are located on a ship called the P7E, that left Minyos centuries before. In order to save their species, Jackson has… wait a minute. If I’m bored writing about this, then surely you must be bored reading it. When all is said and done, the Doctor and Leela (Louise Jameson) help Jackson recover the data banks and send him on his merry way. There, you don’t really need to know anything else except that jeez-louise (pun intended) this thing is interminably dull. It’s so boring that I got halfway through Episode Two before I realized that not only did I not know what was going on, but I didn’t care, either. So what did I do? I went back and started watching it from the start, thinking maybe I’d missed something. Nope, still the TV equivalent of watching the grass grow.

Like “Nimon,” “Underworld” has a bad reputation, only in this case it’s deserved. It just simply never gels, and it’s nearly impossible to feel for any of the characters, including the Doctor and Leela, which is just fatal to this series. Even if a “Who” story isn’t up to snuff, you always rely on the Doctor and his companions’ reactions to the situation to keep it moving forward. That just doesn’t happen here, and they’re as boring as everyone else onscreen. Much has been made of the extensive use of CSO (green screen) in the story, and while it didn’t bother me at first, as the story droned on, it started to lend an obvious flatness to the proceedings that dragged the story even deeper down. Further, the story has no interesting villain, and, unusually for the series, it has no tacky monster, which in this case would only have been a plus. By sheer coincidence, the same day this story is hitting DVD, a Blu-ray of “Jason and the Argonauts” is being released. Skip this one, and buy the Harryhausen flick instead. You’ll be far more entertained if you do.

Special Features: Neither disc is overflowing with extras, but in addition to the usual photo galleries, PDF materials, and production notes options, there are a few on each. “Nimon” has a fun commentary track with Ward, Crowden (who talks extensively about being offered the role of the 4th Doctor, but passing on the job), writer Anthony Read, and Janet Ellis, who plays Teka. “Who Peter – Partners in Time” is a look back at the connections between “Who” and “Blue Peter” over the years. “Read the Writer” is a brief interview with Read. The “Peter Howell Music Demos” are kind of neat. They show a few scenes of Nimon scored with synth music that Howell had put together as an audition tape. He would go on to score the series starting the following season.

“Underworld” features a commentary track with Baker, Jameson and co-writer Bob Baker that’s every bit as boring as the story itself. “Into the Unknown” is a making of featurette, and there’s also 17 minutes worth of crappy on-set video for that rare viewer who might actually be a fan of the story.

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