The Friday Docback Polishes 'The Horns of Nimon'!! DOCTOR WHO Story #108, 'Underwater Menace' Episode 2, HornOrSilk Reviews Big Finish's 'The Dalek Contract,' And More!!
...with quick look at The Horns of Nimon, a Tom Baker-era DOCTOR WHO adventure originally transmitted December 1979-January 1980. This one’s from a time when much was ‘right’ with the show, probably thanks in no small part to script editing by HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE’s Douglas Adams, and Horns proves no exception. More on Horns of Nimon shortly, but first...
UNDERWATER MENACE PART 2 (Troughton, Story #32)
Long presumed to be ‘missing’ due to BBC’s standard house cleaning practices back in the day, this one was recently announced as recovered - but has yet to be released on DVD. Somehow, you can see the whole thing HERE (not a reconstruction).
DOCBACKER HORNORSILK REVIEWS The Dalek Contract BIG FINISH AUDIO
Fourth Doctor Adventures 2.06 The Dalek Contract
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Having received my newest shipment of Big Finish audios, it’s time to review the newest Tom Baker Doctor Who story.
It still feels strange to be able to talk about a new Tom Baker Doctor Who adventure. I remember how long Tom said no to Big Finish, making it seem like he would never be one of “their” Doctors. And there was a sense to it: Tom had done far more than any other actor, so it was good to let the rest “catch up.” But, if you look to all the audios they have done, they have more than “caught up” with Tom, and it makes sense, in a way, for Tom to change his mind and say yes to audios. This fact alone makes me hope that one day Big Finish might be able to arrange a deal with Cardiff to allow them to do stories based upon “New Who” Doctors (or, at least David Tennant, who I believe would do them, based upon the fact he did Big Finish before he was the Doctor).
Getting to the story at hand, it’s the first of a two-part story, and in many ways, it feels quite low-key. The Conglomerate CEO Cuthbert (David Warner) is behind an experiment in the Proxima star system, causing Proxima Major to undergo massive changes, making it a hostile place to live for its inhabitants. The Conglomerate offers its own “reparations” to the people it hurt, but, they are far less than necessary, making Proxima Major’s citizens have decline the offer. This means the people of Proxima Major are now struggling against and fighting the Conglomerate. In order to deal with the rebels, as Cuthbert sees them, as well as to be free to continue his experiment, Cuthbert has “hired” the Daleks to fight the people of Proxima Major for him. What exactly is in it for the Daleks? What is Cuthbert’s masterplan? We do not find the answers to these questions in this part of the tale, but it is expected we will next month as the story ends.
Now, I have said this is a low-key story. David Warner’s Cuthbert is there, but he is kept low-key, more to the side of the action taking place in this audio. Even the Daleks, though there, are kept more to the side, and kept very low key (for Daleks). The main concern with this part of the tale is the story of the rebels, their plight and internal conflicts. The Daleks and Cuthbert are in the sideline, every so often a problem for the rebels, but not doing enough to be at the center of the story itself. Hopefully this will change and the next cd will be a stellar “season” finale, highlighting Cuthbert and the Daleks. The little we get of them, however, reminds me somewhat of Frontier in Space, and the kind of “relationship” the cliffhanger ending with the Daleks made the viewer think existed between the Master and the Daleks. This time around, I expect that relationship will be built properly (and explode so that Cuthbert will have to work with the Doctor before the end of the story). But rather this is the case, and what will happen, only time will tell.
There is one thing which is special with this story. K9 is brought face to face with the Daleks. There are some good lines between K9 and the Daleks, and serve as the highlight of the cd. There are not many such lines, to be sure, but enough, and being in audio form, it is easier to imagine what is going on, instead of having to rely upon 70s Who to mess it up. K9 and the Daleks both know K9 is “inferior” to the Daleks but can still cause them problems. There are also a few good lines between Romana and the Daleks, as they question her and find out she is an associate of the Doctor, but the ones between K9 and the Daleks I think are the best.
Tom Baker and Mary Tamm both do good here, though, they don’t give us anything exceptional, because, in part, what they have been given to recite wasn’t exceptional. The opening sequence between the Doctor and Romana felt like padding, though it seeks to explain why the Doctor is not using the randomizer in this story. Things pick up a bit once they get to Proxima, but, it is quite clear, this is a slow burn, hopefully preparing for a solid ending. All in all, this story it feels like it is a long set-up for next month, with all the weaknesses of such a set-up.
I give this one 7/10. It’s not bad. But I still desired something a bit more. While I have to wait until next month to make a final comment on this season, so far it feels David Warner’s talents have been wasted. If you want to hear him in something which highlights him more, listen to his Scarifyer audios
THE HORNS OF NIMON
Directed with crisp flourish by Kenny McBain (CORONATION STREET), The Horns of Nimon never achieves ‘best of the best’ status - but emerges as an often brilliant case study in how to approach potentially cliched material with both intelligence and affection.
For example: Graham Crowden, as ambitious but tragically misguided empire leader Soldeed, puts on his best Jonathan Pryce in a role which Pryce himself would’ve been imminently suited for.
Crowden is inarguably over the top at times, and his approach to the character might’ve seemed woefully misguided given any other circumstance. But here, under McBain’s direction, there’s a decided wink and a nudge quality to the proceedings - as if McBain and Company are very plainly aware of this story’s Saturday afternoon serial trappings, and are creating an savvy homage to their sometimes decided lack of subtlety. The result is sometimes exciting, but also (intentionally) amusing and almost satirical. Horns is a lot of fun to watch, even cooky at times. But boy dis they seem to have fun making it.
The same treatment is afforded the titular Nimon (performed by Robin Sherringham and voiced by Clifford Norgate). Even a cursory look at the Nimon costumes and the movement of the actors within them will instantly bring one to the conclusion that there’s no way to take these antagonists seriously. McBain and editor _____ compensate for this by infusing Horns with a sense of energy and propulsion which pulls the audience past the inescapable shortcomings of HoN’s production values. In other words, when Horns doesn't come together because of budget or poorly realized costume work, it is still pointedly devoted to telling its story in the most assertive and ‘turthful’ way possible. There’s an earnestness at work in Horns which rises above its shakier elements. It’s fine and committed storytelling, despite some of its muddled complexion.
Which is to circuitously say, I suppose, that TONE is major part of what hold Horns of Nimon together - and given that tone sunk a number of vintage DOCTOR WHO stories whose scripts were completely fine but whose vibe and execution was tediously inadequate, this is nothing to be taken lightly. Nor is it an easy thing to achieve. The deftness of Horns’ approach could teach many other shows a lesson even today. A stern focus on HOW a story is conveyed can often evolve a story to leap beyond its inherent pitfalls.
I’ve yet to be completely ‘sold’ on Lalla Ward’s turn as Romana (whose character is hilariously called a ‘meddlesome hussy’ here, by the way) - the conceptualization of her roles has felt rather inconsistent to me thus far in my WHO explorations - and not always terribly interesting. In Horns, however, Ward is sexy, smart, and ass-kicking - and seems thoroughly invested in a role which was very nicely developed for her this time around. Malcolm Terris as ‘Co-Pilot’ is the only performer who DOESN’T quite seem to plug into the aforementioned vibe properly...
...he’s basically a loud jackass throughout, steadfastly performing his part for abrasive result rather than looking to integrate more organically.
STAR TREK and STAR WARS both get a lovely shout-out when T. Baker’s Doctor ponders,“How is it that everywhere I go in the universe, there’s always people like you pointing guns or phasers or blasters?” , and Anthony Read’s script...despite the Saturday serial trappings I reference above...remains intelligent throughout. Despite grinning, cackling badguys and marauding wormhole-building man-bulls, Read’s teleplay remains agreeably fascinated by the details and workings of this story’s universe, referencing event horizons, singularities, and establishing bad-ass forcefields to bridge the TARDIS to a disabled space vessel.
The Doctor spends a considerable amount of screentime attempting to awkwardly and sometimes dangerously jerry rig the TARDIS into operational order - a recurring gag which also nicely portends the ‘madman in a box’ mentality which would most notably characters current Doctor Matt Smith’s tenure. There’s an almost cinematic ‘macro’ quality running through Horns of Nimon, an attention to detail which shapes a fully-realized immediate story, and tantalizingly portends a segment of the WHOverse about which one might yearn to learn more.
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