Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Horns of Nimon - "K9, sometimes I think I'm wasted just rushing around the universe saving planets from destruction. With a talent like mine, I might have been a great slow bowler."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Horns of Nimon - Details

Season 17, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #108) | Previous - Next | Index

The Nimon (via Doctor Who on tumblr)
This is an unjustly maligned story. It's not one of the greats; but; it is nowhere near as bad as some would have you believe. I rather enjoyed it.

It helps if you're inclined to like the old series Doctor Who style of dealing with skeptical themes, where the the consequences of being greedy, power-hungry, and deliberately credulous with regard to the intentions of those who are superficially aligned with you (but have something you want and only ask for some small tribute in return) play out at a societal, as opposed to a personal, level. That mode of storytelling usually features a high priest of sorts who has monopolized access to the creature with greater technology and is using his positional authority to sell a bill of goods to those under him in the social order. The high priest is out to amass power and has fooled himself into thinking he's got the edge on the god figure who wields the powers he wants by dint of his own deviousness, but has failed to account for how devious his god is in turn.

The Nimon are species of space-faring parasites who send one of their own ahead to act as a power broker deity on some planet to get a foothold on it so they can transport there en masse once they've exhausted the resources on the planet they last successfully duped into serving them. It's a clever idea and effectively skewers the mindset of those who can be conned into serving their interests making use of religiosity of their fellow citizens.

The issue with using the planetary level is, on Doctor Who's budget, you end up with a ham in robes making bombastic speeches to a group of old blokes playing the political leaders of the planet who, in this case, appear to be a bunch of extras rounded up off the streets with the promise of a hot meal, scrubbed up, put in ridiculous costumes, then instructed to repeat the last word of every sentence shouted at them with their fists in the air. Some good chuckles to be had watching the individuals in those scenes who seem to be looking around distractedly until they realize it's their turn to repeat some gibberish alien name, then go back to looking like they're not exactly sure where they are or if they're really going to get a bowl of soup for this.

Lalla Ward as Romana is wonderful here, showing again that they could've spun her off into her own show basically doing what the Doctor does, and Tom Baker is his usual charismatic self. Sure the production values let the show down a bit, the CSO curtain effect everybody passes through to get into the Nimons' labyrinth is a mess, and the view from space that is supposed to remind the Doctor of a printed circuit board looks nothing like a printed circuit board, so it's confusing if we're supposed to think that's the complex or if the maze bit is underground out of sight? We expect this sort of thing though and don't let it detract too much from experience. (Having that other guy voice K9 instead of John Leeson was, for me, more of a distraction.) The actor who plays Soldeed, the high priest figure of this story, may have taken the been a little over the top, but the Nimon are at least interesting looking. It helps here to imagine the gaps in the costume are meant to suggest that the top bit may be a clever helmet they are wearing that hints at their true appearance by it's size and shape, but is concealing something even more frightful underneath.

The new series puts a slow bowler's spin on this story and gives us a Minotaur (a cousin species of the Nimons, we are told) who also oversees a complex where the corridors can be manipulated and folks are brought in to be fed upon. In the new series it's handled at a much more personal level and the role of religiosity is narrowed down to a question of personal faith, depoliticizing the story and making it less of a polemic. "The Horns of Nimon" and "The God Complex" are great examples of how the show has changed from Classic series to New, while retaining its core essence. The new series is better television: it looks better, sounds better, has better dialogue and characterization, and is all around more on par with the quality of other television being produced in its era, but the roots of what the new show is, and why it bothers connecting the Minotaur of the modern era to the Nimon of the classic, are on display.

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