When an interstellar cruise ship emerges from hyperspace at the exact same coordinates as a trade ship, the two become fused, creating an unstable zone between ships and a multitude of problems for the crew of both ships. Arriving just in time to solve said problems are the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), his companion Romana (Lalla Ward) and their little pal K-9. But when a crewmember is injured by a mysterious animal and the Doctor discovers a stash of rare drugs, things go from bad to worse in this, the fourth serial of the 17th season of the long running British science fiction series.
Originally airing from November 24 - December 15, 1979, Nightmare of Eden is notable for being the final Doctor Who serial written by Bob Baker. Educated fans will recognize Baker's name from the many Doctor Who stories he wrote with collaborator Dave Martin. Being a fan of the rather uneducated variety, I discovered this fact by watching the many extras included on the DVD. As always, the BBC has gone out of their way to include a great number of goodies on the DVD release, including audio commentary, a Making Of, photo gallery, and several vignettes detailing the behind-the-scenes magic that went into the creation of this, the 107th Doctor Who story. But I'm getting ahead of myself: talking about the extras before I talk about the story is a bit like putting the cart before the horse, no?
Nightmare of Eden is also notable for being one of the few Doctor Who stories with a pretty strong moral. It's quite clear throughout this story that the Doctor has no use for illegal drugs, nor any respect for those who traffic in them. It's kind of odd, considering the fact that Tom Baker's incarnation of the Doctor seems like the type of fellow who might've ingested a few illicit substances himself, and the story suffers from its heavy-handed approach and rather simple, if somewhat accurate and fairly humorous, depiction of drug abuse.
Speaking of humor, the whole thing has a very uneven and occasionally jarring style. It varies from being a deadly serious warning about the dangers of addiction to an almost Vaudevillian slapstick complete with goofy music, a Scooby-Doo-esque chase through the halls of the ship and a couple of "Who's on First?" style jokes. Factor in K-9, a wildly overacting zoologist with the most stereotypical faux-German accent I've ever heard, and the incredibly silly looking Mandrels, and Nightmare of Eden winds up feeling a bit like you've stepped into an alternate reality where CSI: Pigs in Space is a popular television series and this week's episode guest stars the Doctor.
One has to wonder if the appearance of the Mandrels in any way influenced the direction of the show. Apparently, these six-feet tall, bipedal creatures are supposed to be terrifying and vicious, but there must've been a miscommunication in the creature shop because it seems that the crews of these two fused ships are being hunted by a pack of monsters resembling Sweetums from the Muppet Show. Typically, I've found the stories and acting in Doctor Who to vastly outweigh the production values and as such, I am able to suspend my disbelief. Not so with the Mandrels. They're just... they're outright laughable is what they are, and it's impossible to take them seriously. It doesn't completely overshadow the rest of the show, but it comes close.
All that said, there's plenty that I liked about Nightmare of Eden. While a few of the performances, including The Doctor's, seem a bit phoned in, there's a moment at the end when The Doctor comes face to face with the drug dealer and Tom Baker is just amazing as he gives him what for. It's maybe a five-second scene, but in that short time, Baker shows a subtlety and restraint that I wouldn't have expected from him. And though the story itself is a bit uneven, that certainly doesn't mean that it isn't fun. There are two distinct types of humor running throughout: the intentional and the unintentional. Both are quite satisfying in their own way.
Having only viewed a handful of Doctor Who serials, I am admittedly a newcomer when it comes to this series. Still, I am confident in my assessment that Nightmare of Eden is not among the finer storylines the program has produced. I wouldn't steer you away from it completely, but I would recommend that you sample a few other items at the buffet before digging into this one. By no means does it leave a bad taste in one's mouth, but if sampled too early, might make one want to avoid the main course.