How many Nimons have you seen today?
Poor Soldeed’s marbles have gone astray.
There are many flavours of Doctor Who,
And Tomfoolery fun should not be taboo.
When Doctor Who started getting released on VHS tapes, the first choices were those that were considered to be the potential best-sellers. Unlike the DVD range, which had an even spread of perceived quality and some of the big-hitters left until last, the VHS range continued on the path of the best first. So towards the end we had what was considered to be the dross of the classic series. The very last Tom Baker story on VHS was The Horns of Nimon.
If this is an indication of how this story is viewed, then it is grossly unfair, because it is one of the most fun stories of the classic series. As the Fourth Doctor era progressed there was more and more comedy, mainly because that was what Tom loved doing. And by this point he was having a lot of input. As soon as JNT took over as producer he moved away from all the comedy, perhaps too far in the other direction. Because why can’t Doctor Who be funny? It is very telling that when Doctor Who came back in 2005 it was absolutely packed with comedy, and has been so ever since. And that’s magnificent, because we have light and shade. We have the laughs, and we have the scares. That’s perfect Who for me. I really, really can’t stand sci-fi that takes itself too seriously – it is the dullest thing you can ever watch. So, barring the occasional mis-step over the line into silliness (and Horns of Nimon does make a few of those) this is a perfectly valid approach to Doctor Who, and some of the serious/tedious stuff that followed the next year was a much bigger mis-step.
Perhaps more than in any other story, Tom Baker is playing Tom Baker, and it is hard to see where the actor ends and the character begins. Nonetheless, he only occasionally crosses the line, and much of the humour he injects into his performance is very enjoyable. Graham Crowden is even more extreme in his portrayal of Soldeed, and seems to be having a wonderful time with the role. Soldeed is certainly a pantomime villain, but we must not forget that he is on the verge of madness; his final scene is delightful, when he at last looses all control of his sanity.
With Tom playing it for laughs, it is left to Romana to often drive the plot, in common with so much of this season. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The companion can quite rightly take the lead, and often does, and that works especially well when the companion is a Time Lord and therefore pretty much the Doctor’s equal. Lalla Ward puts in one of her best performances as Romana, showing the strength of the character when trapped on Crinoth, and brilliant when arguing furiously with the Co-Pilot.
The Nimon costumes are very effective and frightening for children, and the voice acting of Clifford Norgate is superb. The set design is not the best, but the model-work is impressive, and nasty CSO is kept to a minimum. It is all too easy to pick holes in this type of story, but it should be appreciated for what it is, not criticised for failing to fit into a particular Doctor Who pigeon hole that it never tried to fit in the first place. RP
(I can’t resist including a link to one of my favourite youtube videos, which celebrates the glorious silliness of The Horns of Nimon! Enjoy!)
The view from across the pond:
I have been waiting on my review of this episode because I wanted to say the right things. The Horns of Nimon is ridiculous, I can admit that absolutely. It has silly special effects – just wait until the TARDIS is used to hit a planetary mass! It misses some steps along the way. But Nimon has something going for it that carries it into utter brilliance: SOLDEED!!!
It has been said that the hero is only as good as his villain. Tom Baker is, as always, magnificent. As villains go, Soldeed is one of the best for sheer watch-ability. Pair them together and the show hits new heights. And that’s the thing: Doctor Who is not one kind of show. It can experiment. Because of its format, unlike any other show, it can go anywhere in time and space. It can be in New York in 1930 today for a deeply moving drama, and tomorrow go to an underwater base 20,000 years in the future and tell a ghost story. It can have burping garbage cans, and toys that terrify children. Comedy, an essential part of real life, is no stranger to the lands of Doctor Who, and that’s as it should be. Doctor Who can tell any kind of story and that’s probably why it will outlive all of us. There’s no limits and the show is based on change, so it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. It’s not always the right thing to do, but it can do it and it will likely survive it!
So when the delightfully mad Tom Baker meets the utter nutter that is Soldeed, there’s no telling how many laughs can be had!
It has to be said that for me, the greatest moment is toward the end of episode 2. The Doctor is telling Soldeed that someone is building a black hole on his doorstep. Soldeed takes what he says very seriously indeed and repeats it, mostly. “Digging a black hole?… On my doorstep!?” The look alone is one of total madness… he’s lost, barely registering the words. Where did he get “digging” from? Maybe he has people digging around his front garden from time to time? Graham Crowden is utterly marvelous as Soldeed. I would be thrilled to have another Soldeed grace our screens. We need a villain like that, even if we don’t get many of them, we are overdue for another. His eventual breakdown at the end of the story is equally hilarious. This man was the ultimate Doctor Who villain, not because he was great, but because he was utterly bonkers!
Lalla Ward’s Romana is really the only thing driving this story itself. She’s great, but she was always one of the stronger companions of the classic era. The group she joins up with is less impressive but it really doesn’t matter because, we still have Soldeed!! Wait, it’s not just Soldeed that brings the laughs. This is the story where one guard is killed by the locust-like nemesis, falls over dead… and splits his pants. Yes, right there on camera, the poor guys trousers split as he dies. What an ignominious death!
The Nimon menace is ok to look at but I think I made that costume in grade school using papier-mâché and a balloon, and that was long before I knew about the Nimon! But don’t go into Horns expecting it to be brilliant science fiction. Go into it hoping for an alright story with lots of laughs. And beware black holes… on your doorstep!
Long Live Soldeed!!! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Shada