Once again, I went into this serial knowing that it’s considered to be a particularly bad one, and on this occasion I have to say… yeah, fair enough. I don’t tend to be a fan of stories that are heavily based on myths and legends – it often feels like there’s an extra layer that I’m missing out on due to my lack of familiarity with the source material, but that’s okay if the story is entertaining in itself. This one isn’t.
I struggled to care about any of these characters – all the Skonnans are terrible people who deserve to have their planet destroyed, and the sacrificial Anethans are just a bunch of fannies, despite having a Blue Peter presenter amongst their ranks. Weakling scum indeed. Seth’s inevitable journey to mythical hero was never terribly convincing – even in the end, he only saved the day by default because he happened to be the one holding the weapon.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Soldeed, who gave the most eccentric performance we’ve had for a long time, possibly since Professor Zaroff. I don’t normally object to a spot of ham, but this was over the top to the point where it stopped being entertaining and became a distraction. Tom was dangerously close to pantomime at times too – there’s a fine line with The Doctor, but when he sarcastically hugged K-9 during Part One’s cliffhanger, it felt like he was taking the piss out of the show, which kind of makes it difficult to take seriously as a piece of drama.
Romana gets some good moments, and she’s actually more Doctorish than The Doctor at times – standing up to the co-pilot and to Soldeed, fixing the Skonnan ship, and her scenes on the other Nimon-fucked planet in the last episode. K-9 is barely in it, spending most of his time in bits on a table. This is the last serial to feature the rubbish version of his voice, thankfully, and I hope that John Leeson’s return brings him back to the centre of stories for his last hurrah – he’s felt like an afterthought for most of this season, when indeed he featured at all.
It’s about time I mentioned the eponymous Nimon, who were a failure on pretty much every level, despite being voiced by Hordriss from Knightmare. They’re the kind of crap monster that the general public assume were typical in old Who but actually weren’t – clearly just a bloke in a suit (and a badly made suit at that), with a big inanimate head that required the poor actors to bend over whenever they had to look at any props. They didn’t feel like a threat, and as such any scenes involving them tended to be dull.
There’s definitely some good stuff in there, generally around the middle. The labyrinth maze works well, and I was particularly impressed that they chose to do much of the rejigging of the sets “live” in continuous shots, rather than cutting away all the time. But it ended with an overlong and badly paced final episode, and then the plot resolved itself with a giant nuclear explosion… followed by a dialogue scene telling us what happened next. Brilliant. They neglected to point how exactly everyone got safely out of range of this nuclear explosion during the ten seconds between The Doctor warning them and the entire complex blowing up.
Amusing to read afterwards that Graham Williams deliberately put this script in the fifth slot, as he knew it was a bit shit, but thought that it would soon be forgotten about in the wake of the awesome finale: Shada. Whoops. As it is, this puts a hugely anti-climactic lid on a season that was much troubled and wildly inconsistent, but still brilliant entertainment up until now.
SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.8
- Seasons/Series watched: 17 of 35
- Stories watched: 108 of 263
- Individual episodes watched: 525 of 826
This brings the 1970s to a close, and the times they are a-changing. It’s goodbye to Graham Williams, and looking back on his three seasons as a whole, you can’t deny that his tenure represented an overall step down in quality compared to his predecessors Letts and Hinchcliffe. But then, he fought against all manner of production problems that were beyond his control, so I don’t think it reflects too badly on the man himself.
This is also the end of Douglas Adams’s brief run as script-editor, and I find myself slightly disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to my perhaps unreasonable expectations. I think it goes to show that being a good script editor requires a subtly different set of skills to a good writer, and Douglas was definitely more effective as the master of his own universe with Hitchhikers, away from the constraints of an established series and structure.
But before I dive head-first into the JNT era, an exciting temporal diversion. For the very first time, my rewatch of everything Doctor Who puts the emphasis on the “everything”, as I reach the first item on my list that isn’t a regular episode. I’ll be having a look at what we could have won by watching the 1992 edition of Shada. Not sure what to expect, other than possibly a weird flashback to the telesnap reconstruction days, but I’ll let you know in six days’ time…