Dr. Who: Nightmare of Eden (DVD)

“It’s inexplicable.”

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the TARDIS materialized on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, so the Doctor could share an adventure with Captain James T. Kirk? Who am I kidding, of course you’ve wondered that. We all have. Such a thing never happened on screen, but, fortunately, we do have Nightmare of Eden, in which ’70s Doctor Who riffs on ’60s Star Trek.

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden, featuring the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker, Dungeons And Dragons) originally aired in four parts from Nov. 24 to Dec. 15, 1979, the fourth episode of the 17th season. It was later edited into a two-hour format for rebroadcast. It is the show’s 107th episode.

It’s the future. A spaceship drops out of warp unexpectedly, fusing itself to a second ship. The Doctor (Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward, The Dutchess of Duke Street), a pair of time travelers, arrive to investigate. They find several mysteries afoot, such as a machine containing miniature environments taken from distant planets, an illegal drug smuggling operation, and monstrous creatures lurking in the shadows.

Where do I get off, comparing this episode to classic Star Trek? Let’s see. We’ve got a massive starship run by guys in jumpsuit uniforms, we’ve got far out tech bolstered by hysterically bad special effects, and we have heavy-handed social commentary, as the plot has to do with the harmful effects of illegal drugs. But it’s not a full-on Trek pastiche, because plenty of Doctor Who’s trademark quirkiness can be found as well. The ship is not a naval/exploration vessel like the Enterprise, but an interstellar cruise ship, so we get occasional glimpses of bored tourists casually flipping through magazines as they wait for the ship to dock. The monsters are goofy-looking rubber-suited beasties in the finest Doctor Who tradition, yet I must admit it was something of a shock when they made their first appearance.

As with most of these classic Doctor Who episodes, the low budget might be howlingly laughable, but the enthusiasm and earnestness of the actors is so strong it makes up for the lack of production value. Baker was a few years into his run at this point, as he has the character down to a science. We see a lot of the Doctor’s playful side, as he couldn’t be happier to be in the middle of a crisis, mischievously messing with everyone on board the ship as he saves the day. Then, near the end of the episode, we see his serious side—his staunch view of right and wrong. It’s a powerful moment, in which Baker goes “dark” as the villain of the week gets what comes to him. While guys like David Tennant and Matt Smith get a lot of praise for balancing the Doctor’s playful and serious halves, this episode has Baker showing them how it’s done.

Although she has a few moments of smart-girl awesomeness, Romana’s role in this one could pretty much be any of the Doctor’s companions. She wanders off and gets in trouble, she asks a lot of questions for exposition’s sake, and she even faints at one point. This one’s not a Romana showcase. K-9 is along for the ride, though his voice is performed by David Brierley instead of the usual John Leeson. Brierley does what he can, but mostly he just makes the audience miss Leeson. The guest stars do good work with what they’re given, especially Lewis Fiander as a vaguely European mad scientist.

The picture and audio are about as good as they can be, considering the source material. Colors are bright and clean, and the sound is crisp and clear. Extras begin with an easygoing commentary with actors Lalla Ward and Peter Craze, along with the writer and effects experts. A text commentary goes deeper behind the scenes, referencing the episode’s original production notes. “The Nightmare of Television Centre” featurette reveals that the episode was a troubled production, spilling the beans about all the tech problems and the personality conflicts during filming. In “Going Solo” writer Bob Baker talks about crafting the script, the only one he wrote on his own, without his writing partner Dave Martin. In “The Doctor’s Strange Love” three fans discuss their enjoyment of the episode, while poking gentle fun at some of its goofier aspects. From there, we get a vintage interview with Lalla Ward from the children’s show Ask Aspel. It’s a nice enough chat, but, man, if this is what children’s television was like in England back in the day, no wonder so many English kids turned to Doctor Who. The bonus features are rounded out with a photo gallery and the original radio times listing on PDF.

Finally, about Romana, the oh-so-reliable Wikipedia states, “some fans have assumed a romantic relationship with the Doctor.” See, it’s not just me who thinks that.

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden is a fun romp, one that should hit all the pleasure points for fans of the fourth Doctor. Add another standout collection of bonus features, and you’ve got a must-buy for Whovians everywhere.

The Verdict

Affirmative, master.

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