Check out this hilarious clip, showcasing just what was wrong with the Doctor Who story "The Horns Of Nimon." The new DVDs for "Nimon" and four other not-so-classic stories offer a blunt dissection of what went wrong.
So if you asked Doctor Who fans to name their favorite stories, I doubt "Underworld," "The Horns Of Nimon," "The Space Museum," "The Chase" or "The Time Monster" would be on the list. But those five stories are out on DVD as of a couple weeks ago, and they're not all bad. There are a few reasons to pick up the DVDs besides just being a Doctor Who completist.
For one thing, those stories do have their charms. "The Space Museum" has one of the best first episodes in the original series' history, with a clever, suspenseful use of time travel. The Doctor and his companions glimpse their own futures: immobilized and turned into exhibits in a nasty museum. Then they're flung back in time a few hours, and they have to struggle to change their fates. The other three episodes of the story slide downhill quickly but still have some good moments.
"The Chase," which came right after "The Space Museum" in 1965 and is bundled with it in a three-DVD set, is a totally pointless Dalek story. For everyone who complains about "Victory Of The Daleks" and other gratuitous Dalek tales nowadays, just remember it could be worse. In "The Chase," the Daleks build a time machine and decide to chase the Doctor and his pals around the universe. And... that's it. The Daleks pursue the Doctor through a variety of situations, that range from silly to flimsy, with the most ridiculous being a fake haunted house featuring Frankenstein and Dracula robots. It all culminates in the introduction of the Mechanoids, who were supposed to be the Daleks' new rivals but were never seen again outside of a tie-in comic. On the other hand, some of the set pieces are cute, and the final battle with the Mechanoids has a certain verve. It's a fun but forgettable adventure.
The other three stories were bundled together in a box set of stories dealing with Greek mythology in England. Here in the US, though, I think they're only available separately. In either case, watching all three stories back to back leaves you with a distinct impression that Doctor Who should have just left Greek mythology alone. (If only the 1967 story "The Underwater Menace" still existed in its entirety — then we could have had two terrible Atlantis stories, instead of just one.)
So "The Time Monster," from 1972, is sort of the encapsulation of everything that went wrong with the Jon Pertwee era. The original Master, in one of his final appearances, has appeared so often that he's finally devolved into a kind of cardboard stereotype villain. The Brigadier and the men of U.N.I.T. skate on the edge of being pure comic relief. There's lots of Buddhist philosophy, mixed in with New Age nonsense about finding Atlantis. And yet, it's got some of my favorite moments of any Who story, especially when the Doctor and his companion Jo are locked in a cell, apparently defeated, and the Doctor lays some philosophy on her. And its trippy exploration of what would happen if you put two TARDISes inside each other is surprisingly fun, and lays the groundwork for later stories like "Logopolis."
Then there are the two Tom Baker stories, "Underworld" and "The Horns Of Nimon." For much of the Tom Baker era, writers like Robert Holmes would take classic stories like The Manchurian Candidate or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and give them a new, science-fictional spin. But writer Anthony Read (who script-edited "Underworld" and wrote "Nimon") took this approach much too literally and applied it to Greek myths. So you have Greek myths represented wholesale, with characters like Orpheus having their names changed to Orfe. And inevitably, the Doctor turns to the camera and winks about the fact that old myths are repeating themselves. It's mostly pretty dreadful.
"Underworld" is also notable for being a failed experiment — the show couldn't afford to build proper sets, so they decided to use greenscreen to insert Tom Baker and the other actors into tiny model sets. It's sort of like Avatar, except it doesn't work at all, and looks totally preposterous.
So why would you want to buy these five stories on DVD? For one thing, they're pretty amusing — from the weird Divine eyebrows sported by the Xerons in "Space Museum" to the leotard-wearing fish people in "The Chase" to pretty much everything in "Horns Of Nimon," these stories are made to be snorted at. And the Master's attempts to seduce Ingrid Pitt in "The Time Monster" are classic melodrama cheese. But there are also flashes of briliance in all these stories, and "The Space Museum" and "The Time Monster" lay the essential groundwork for Steven Moffat's "wibbly wobbly timey whimey" approach to the series.
And the DVD extras mostly encourage you not to take these particular outings that seriously. I have to say, these are some of my favorite DVD extras for any of the Doctor Who releases — mostly because they don't overdo it. "The Time Monster" is able to fit on a single DVD because the extras are kept pretty light for a change, which is a wise choice, really. Both "Horns Of Nimon" and "The Chase" avoid the lengthy, often boring and self-congratulatory making-of documentaries, in favor of having one person associated with the story explain why it was such a failure. In the case of "Nimon," it's writer Anthony Read, as seen above. In the case of "Chase," it's director Richard Martin, who looks pretty horrified by his own handiwork. For "The Space Museum," we get present-day writer Rob Shearman, looking back at the story and mostly mocking the hell out of it.
Other great extras include music demos, showing how Peter Howell re-scored a section of "Horns of Nimon" with electronic music as a demonstration for the musical approach that took over in the following year. Also on the "Nimon" DVD, there's a cute documentary about all the weird crafts projects the children's show Blue Peter has done with Doctor Who over the years. "The Chase" has a couple of nice Dalek documentaries, one about their appearances and one about their merchandising. "Underworld" includes some very rare footage of those infamous greenscreen sequences being shot.
All in all, if you want to explore just how it is that some installments of classic Doctor Who failed so badly to live up to their potential — with the makers of those episodes lamenting their failures right alongside you — then these new DVDs present a perfect opportunity.