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06 May 2012 @ 08:54 am
The Randomizer: The Horns of Nimon  
Tom Baker again. I am beginning to suspect my random number generator is more pseudo than random.

I was tempted to start this review with some joke about going from the sublime to the ridiculous but I've actually always had a soft spot for The Horns of Nimon. I don't really know enough about the evolution of fandom opinion, or even current thought about the story, but my suspicion is that a lot of the dislike stems from a sense that "Doctor Who is Serious SF, dammit!" and one thing The Horns of Nimon is making no pretence to be is serious.

I'm not going to pretend that The Horns of Nimon is some undiscovered classic, but there is, frankly, a lot worse Doctor Who out there. It is, at least, never dull and mostly manages to be pretty entertaining. It even has a lot of fun with its retelling of the minotaur legend into which a fair bit of intelligence, thought and care has clearly gone.

However there is no denying that there is more than a nod towards pantomime in the story and that nod is far more up-front and in your face than is normal for the humour in Doctor Who. The co-pilot's endless repetition of "Weakling Scum!" never fails to make me giggle, and the TARDIS sproinging noises come and go so fast that they don't really bother me too much. Graham Crowther's enthusiastic performance as Soldeed is probably the weakest thing here, at least from the point of view of Doctor Who as semi-serious drama:

Actually, Norman Jones' Hieronymus from The Masque of Mandragora had a similar line in eye-rolling madness but somehow managed to keep it just enough in check that he didn't immediately remind you of a pantomime villain.

However, there's no denying that you can't even pretend Soldeed is a real person. He's a pantomime villain through and through and only the fourth wall is preventing him gurning at the audience and answering them back. It isn't easy to watch Soldeed and pretend in your child's heart that this really happened somewhere.

However I've grown out of the need to pretend that Doctor Who really happened somewhere and that aside, given the flexibility of the Who format, I don't object too strongly to the level and style of the humour on display in The Horns of Nimon

Meanwhile there is much to enjoy. There is the retelling of the minotaur legend in an SF setting which I actually really like and think is pretty clever. It's also mostly a good story for the second Romana who is one of my favourite Who companions despite the fact that Lalla Ward's acting is far more theatrical in style than is really suited for television (full of heavily emphasised gestures and expressions and a tendency to speak always as if her voice needs to reach the back of a crowded auditorium). I think it is particularly telling that when she gets accidentally sent off to Chronos on her own, the audience is not particularly worried for her safety - there is no doubt she is just as capable of taking care of herself as the Doctor is and that is very rare, even with modern day companions. It is one of the things that always struck me about the handling of Ace in some of the early New Adventures books. The Doctor could send her off to do things for him, and there was no sense that she would be safer, or that the major resolution of that thread would be reuniting with the Doctor himself.

Teka, on the other hand, is a strangely frustrating character. It is difficult to tell (from the combination of scripting and acting) whether she was intended merely to be the caricature of a pathetic and clinging woman or whether we are supposed to pick up on a note of determined manipulation underneath it all. At the end, the Doctor seems to acknowledge that Teka is going to secure a place in legend for the unfortunate Seth and it isn't too hard to imagine her becoming a ruthless matriarch. It doesn't help that all the Anethians, including poor old Seth, are all somewhat wet so Teka's apparently mindless confidence in Seth's abilities actually gives her the appearance of more backbone than the rest of them. As an aside, I was frequently distracted by the fact that Meriadoc Brandybuck appeared to be lurking in the midst of this helpless group of sacrificial victims.

At the end of the day, as long as you are not expecting something that is taking itself particularly seriously, there is nothing particularly terrible about The Horns of Nimon. It's the kind of Who story it is easy to laugh at, but it's clearly inviting you to laugh at it and if you can't see that then you are sort of missing the point. At the same time it has a good enough story to hold the interest for the 100 minutes or so it takes to play out. I remain somewhat mystified by the vilification it meets with in some quarters.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/67812.html.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 09:28 am (UTC)
I have never in my life considered Dr Who serious science fiction (or even science fiction at all - I reckon it comes under the 'science fantasy' heading) and, indeed, have muttered that for years the BBC didn't do any real science fiction, let alone serious science fiction, because "We'v> e got Dr Who for the science fiction fans, and that should satisfy them."

I loathe "The Horns of Nimon". I loathed it when I first saw it and I loathe it now. It has no imagination and a totally derivative plot. (It doesn't help that I hate both Tom Baker's Doctor and don't particularly like Lalla Ward's version of Romana.) I hate the whole "actors not taking it seriously so not to alarm the kiddies" ethos of this particular period. I think the whole thing is cheap and nasty and don't want it in the house.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 6th, 2012 09:52 am (UTC)
Hmm... I think Crowther, at least, is being serious about his silliness. I'd much prefer this to actors who simply can't be bothered. I saw Joan Sims in an episode of The Mysterious Planet recently and that is far far worse: she exudes total contempt for the whole enterprise and is surrounded by extras who clearly regret having got out of bed that morning. I'm not sure the plot is that derivative - it isn't slavishly following the minotaur legend at all - and while it would be hard to argue that any of the ideas themselves are particularly original (military society on the brink of collapse following a war, parasitic aliens, wormhole based travel, etc. etc.) that is true of the vast swathe of Doctor Who.
Susan: oneandriverlil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
Which is why I am not really a Who fan...
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - louisedennis on May 7th, 2012 08:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
reggietatereggietate on May 6th, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who's is practically its own genre, I think. Personally I like the term 'telefantasy', which seems to have fallen out of favour nowadays.

I'd certainly regard Quatermass and Survivors as science fiction (and wasn't Doomwatch a Beeb series?). Or do they come under speculative/dystopian/apocalyptic fiction?

Nimon isn't great, but if yo take it more as a pantomine, it's not so bad. Just not up to the usual Who standard. I must admit, I prefer earlier Tom Baker, though.
Susanlil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what 'telefantasy' is supposed to mean. For it to have any real meaning you'd have to be convinced that the medium is, in fact, the message, which I am not.

Also, I was referring to the period just after Dr Who was introduced, when the BBC, which had been making wonderful real science fiction, like the three Quatermass serials, the two Andromeda serials, 1984 - all of which were produced before Who was even commissioned - stopped dead and only produced Who for several years.

The BBC did buy in Star Trek as a summer replacement for Who but treated it as badly as they did Buffy (Indeed, I remember actually having a letter published in Radio Times pointing out that (first and second seasons of) Trek were actually SF, unlike Who.)

Survivors is dated 1975-1977 and has more plot and logic holes than a fishing net. Doomwatch had only two seasons worth watching) 1970-1972 but those two seasons are both hard SF and pure gold.

There was the excellent Counterstrike but that was really a techno-thriller, and the BBC hated it so much they wiped it at once even though at least one episode wasn't shown because of strike.
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inamac on May 6th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 08:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lil_shepherd on May 6th, 2012 08:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - parrot_knight on May 6th, 2012 10:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - parrot_knight on May 6th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - daniel_saunders on May 6th, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - reggietate on May 6th, 2012 08:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
lonemagpielonemagpie on May 6th, 2012 10:26 am (UTC)
Nimon's *hilarious* - and meant to be. It's at the height (or depth, depending on your POV) of the Williams/Adams era, and was meant to be a sort of Christmas comedy episode (I won't say panto, as that's a rather different genre, and has entirely different connotations where Dr Who is concerned).

If Shada had been finished, and Nimon hadn't thus ended up as the season finale, this story would probably be just semi-forgotten, rather than unfairly reviled.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 6th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
Being perceived as Williams' swan-song certainly doesn't do Nimon any favours but I do think fans are more inclined to forgive the dull than the silly and I suspect most of the viewing public are the other way around.
daniel_saunders: Eleventh Doctordaniel_saunders on May 6th, 2012 12:46 pm (UTC)
I really like season seventeen, but I do consider Nimon to be the weak link, although it's not bad. I think Graham Crowden's performance would have been better if he had started fairly sane and descended into madness over four episodes, instead of being bonkers throughout. The death-laugh is in character, though, and I don't have a problem with it.

Regarding wet Anethans, I think there's a sense in which the story is a spoof of the first Star Wars film, with Seth being a send up of Luke Skywalker and Teka of Princess Leia - not for the first or last time, Doctor Who makes the action heroes a bit pathetic and leaves the Wise Old Man (and his Wiser, Younger Assistant and their Wise Dog) as the real hero, rather than just the hero's mentor. But I do think it's sweet that the Doctor lets Seth take the credit so Seth can impress Teka!

I have also often found Lalla Ward's performance theatrical. I think I actually prefer Mary Tamm's Romana, fan heresy though it is to say so.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 6th, 2012 01:51 pm (UTC)
I find it hard to view it as a spoof of Star Wars or at least if it is, it is one with a limited grasp of its source material and is therefore misses its targets by some way. Since around season 2 or 3 when Doctor Who lost the pretence of being an ensemble show, it has always tended to place the Doctor front and centre as the means by which the plot is resolved. As a result, is unusual in television in nearly always fore-fronting the mentor figure in preference to the more normal action-hero characters.

I think Tamm is the better actress, but I dislike the way her character was so often set up to be "Wrong" and to demonstrate that she was inadequate in comparison to the Doctor. The retooling of the character as someone far better aligned to the Doctor's way of doing things was, I think, a vast improvement and made the relationship far more a partnership of equals something the show has otherwise almost always been very wary of showing us.
(no subject) - daniel_saunders on May 6th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - parrot_knight on May 6th, 2012 10:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - louisedennis on May 7th, 2012 08:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
reggietatereggietate on May 6th, 2012 05:42 pm (UTC)
There are worse things to be than enjoyably silly, and at least with Who you could generally expect something completely different next time round.

You're probably right about it being better received if it wasn't the season finale.
wellinghallwellinghall on May 8th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
Do you randomise separately for Doctor and for story, or just randomise once for story? If the former, it's no surprise that Tom Baker comes up a lot.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 8th, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC)
Randomise for story, but even so we should only be getting Tom about one in every four or five, not three out of every four.
wellinghallwellinghall on May 8th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
Okay, three out of four is a lot. I suspect bias on the part of your random number generator.
Pollyjane_somebody on May 20th, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
Ignoring the interesting discussion on television SF played out in the rest of the comments, I was amused by El, on seeing the first picture in this review, asking why there was a picture of a man with a lobster on his head. :-)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 21st, 2012 09:48 am (UTC)
If only that were the sum total of the story's visual infelicities. The Nimon themselves are lumbered with massive platform shoes, I think in an attempt to make them tower imposingly over the rest of the cast. The camera man wisely tries not to show these whenever possible but they are sometimes visible and do look ridiculous.