One of the last mighty battlecruisers of the Skonnon Empire is being used to ferry a load of young slaves from the planet Aneth, until its already overworked engines are pushed past the breaking point, stalling the ship in space. By coincidence, the TARDIS is also at a dead stop in space nearby while the Doctor disassembles the time rotor for an overhaul. But a singularity in this area of space is drawing both ships together…toward their doom. Despite his reservations about repairing a slaver’s ship, the Doctor decides to err on the side of saving lives and repairs the ship – but as soon as he does, the surviving Skonnon co-pilot ditches the TARDIS and takes off with Romana still aboard. The Doctor and K9 find themselves in the path of a massive planetoid being pulled into the singularity, but the Doctor manages to bounce the TARDIS off of the planetoid. On Skonnos, a sycophantic leader named Soldeed begs a creature called the Nimon for more time, as Soldeed’s people continue to search for the missing slaver ship. Thanks to the Doctor’s repairs, the ship does make its way back to Skonnos, where the young slaves – and Romana – are to be handed over to the Nimon as a “tribute.” The Doctor manages to patch up the TARDIS and follow the ship to Skonnos, where he is promptly thrown into the complex of the Nimon. But the Doctor quickly discovers that there’s more than one Nimon – and the tributes of slaves and material from Skonnos are merely helping the Nimon’s own invasion plans.
written by Anthony Read
directed by Kenny McBain
music by Dudley Simpson
Guest Cast: Simon Gipps-Kent (Seth), Janet Ellis (Teka), Graham Crowden (Soldeed), Michael Osborne (Sorak), Malcolm Terris (Co-pilot), Bob Hornery (Pilot), Clifford Norgate (Nimon voices), John Bailey (Sezom), Robin Sherringham, Bob Appleby, Trevor St. John Hacker (Nimon)
Notes: The Nimon return to do battle with the Doctor in the Big Finish audio story Seasons Of Fear.
Broadcast from December 22, 1979 through January 12, 1980
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: There’s a lot of “received wisdom” floating around in Doctor Who fandom – certain stories are brilliant, and certain stories are crap, and other stories are even worse than that. The funny thing is, this wisdom ebbs and flows like the tides. Some stories once highly regarded are now considered crap (the 1996 TV movie seems to have suffered this fate, and I’ve never been quite sure exactly why). The Horns Of Nimon is one of those stories that seems to be perennially regarded as worse than crap. But if the character of the Doctor is about anything at all, he’s about not going with the status quo, so with that in mind, I thought I would watch The Horns Of Nimon afresh for the first time in what is probably 20 years, just to see if it’s really that bad. Fandom these days seems to regard Nimon as the nadir of Tom Baker’s era, a point at which the show had to make a major course correction (in the form of the radically different 18th season) to survive. Is it really that much of a low point?
One thing that the critics seem to latch onto is the sheer amount of silliness on display in Nimon‘s four episodes. Not only is this story the very height of Tom Baker’s flippancy toward anyone or anything that’s meant to pose a threat to him, defusing just about any dramatic tension that the story might be attempting to generate. It doesn’t help that, aside from the almost laughably unwieldly Nimon creatures, the chief “threat” in Nimon is Graham Crowden as Soldeed, a villain who’s so over-the-top that one would’ve been hard-pressed to take him seriously in a 1960s story.
However, there’s one thing to consider: this story’s timing. If you look at the broadcast dates, The Horns Of Nimon began airing just before Christmas and became the story that took Doctor Who into the 1980s. Keeping in mind the British tradition of the Christmas pantomime, should we even be attempting to take Nimon seriously? Any more seriously than, say, The Runaway Bride and its own over-the-top villain? Sure, the story is lightweight, but at this point, the show’s creators have since aknowledged that they were bowing to the whims of their star’s whimsical excesses. (Anyone who’s ever mourned the lack of Tom Baker in the Big Finish audio stories needs to rewatch Nimon, which hearkens from the height of Baker exercising his “star power” to change lines, stage directions and even whole story elements to his liking, and ask themselves if they’re up for more of that.)
Nimon also wasn’t intended to end the 17th season on the silly note that it did; it was meant to be followed by the slightly more dramatic Shada, a Douglas Adams six-parter which was never finished. At least until the eventual release of what Shada footage was shot, fans and critics built up Shada in their own minds, based on its mythical lost status and the pedigree of its author. Before his death, Adams stated that he didn’t think Shada would have turned out to be the lost classic that everyone assumed it to be – had it been completed and aired.
Perhaps what’s missing from The Horns Of Nimon isn’t so much the qualities of other classic Doctor Who stories; whats missing is context. The 17th season had many an egregiously humorous moment, and in that context, Nimon fits right in. It was also, whether designed that way or not, a holiday story, and at this point that wasn’t a time slot granted to “heavy” entertainment. In short, there isn’t a lot I can necessarily say in Nimon‘s defense…but in its proper context, I’m not sure the story’s earned quite the large number of brickbats that it seems to have drawn over the years.