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Recap / Doctor Who S17 E5 "The Horns of Nimon"

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The Horns of Nimon
Written by Anthony Read
Directed by Kenny McBain
Production code: 5L
Air dates: 22 December 1979 - 12 January 1980
Number of episodes: 4

"Lord Nimon! It is I, Soldeed!"
"Weakling scum!"

The one where a man rips his trousers.

Also, this is the one where a double whammy of no money and a looming production stoppage essentially sent the ship out to die.

The premise starts out as the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur...

in space

A group comprising three teenaged boys and four teenaged girls from the planet Aneth are being taken to the planet Skonnos as sacrifices to Nimon, a powerful alien with the appearance of a bull-headed man who lives in the centre of a vast labyrinth. Among them is the hero Seth (Simon Gipps-Kent), who is going to defeat Nimon once and for all.

Unfortunately for Aneth, Seth is only a Badass on Paper: the truth behind his reputation consists of a little bit of luck and a great deal of exaggeration on the part of his friend and fellow captive, Teka (Janet Ellis). Fortunately, the Doctor and Romana have come to help. They're up against the magnificently hammy co-pilot of the slave ship (Malcolm Terris), the even more fantastically hammy high priest Soldeed (Graham Crowden), and the tremendously hammy Nimon itself (Clifford Norgate). Romana gets captured and shoved into the labyrinth with the sacrifices, while the Doctor tries to find out what's going on and plan a rescue.

The Doctor meets Soldeed, who tells him that in return for the sacrifices, Nimon has promised to restore the Skonnon Empire to its former glory. Meanwhile, in the labyrinth, Romana and the sacrifices encounter Nimon, and begin to discover that there is much Soldeed hasn't been told, and that the Skonnon Empire's glory is very low on Nimon's true list of priorities. Instead, the Nimons are a planet-devouring race, and they've built a black hole teleporter that will transport the entire Nimon population to the Skonnon Empire's cities.

The co-pilot is killed by the Nimon, overacting so hard that his trousers visibly split. Graham Crowden makes up for the co-pilot's death by overacting for two. When he dies as well, K-9 saves the day.


  • '70s Hair: Two of the female Anethans have hairstyles that wouldn't have looked out of place in a story set on Earth in the (then) present.
  • All There in the Manual: The pilot and co-pilot are named Sekkoth and Sardor respectively in the novelisation.
  • Apocalypse How: Crinoth has already experienced what seems to be a Class 5 or 6 when we first see it. It subsequently becomes a Class X when the Nimon blow up the planet to give them energy for their teleportation system.
  • Artistic Licence - Space: According to the Doctor, an object that is only 96.4 km across weighing 220 million tonnes is not an asteroid, but a planet (in fact the opposite is true). The line is clearly a joke about the size of the asteroid though.
  • Asshole Victim: The co-pilot; he attempted to sacrifice children to the Nimon, but was murdered by the Nimon instead.
  • The Atoner: Sezom, the Nimons' contact on their previous targeted planet, who blames himself for the death of his race and tries to help Romana get back to Skonnos and stop the Nimon expanding further.
  • Bad Liar: The co-pilot proves to be this, firstly when he utterly fails to convince Soldeed that he was responsible for repairing his ship (not least because he can't even pronounce the name of the material he supposedly used in the repairs), and secondly when he tries to tell the Nimon he's escorting the sacrifices, only to start stuttering in a way that makes it clear he's lying through his teeth.
  • Badass on Paper: Seth. He never wanted to be a hero, and now is less worried about what happens to himself than about letting down the people, especially Teka, who are counting on him.
  • Big Bad: The Nimon.
  • Big Bad Wannabe:
    • Soldeed looks and talks, basically, like Ming the Merciless, and thinks the Nimon will enable him to become an interstellar conqueror. He's also supposed to be a great scientist, but all his powers and abilities come from the Nimon. This throws him for a loop when a real scientist (the Doctor) turns up.
    • Likewise Skonnos is bluffing Aneth into handing over prisoners based on their reputation as a badass intergalactic empire, when all they've got is a single spaceship that barely works.
  • Bottle Episode: Sets recycled from various other BBC productions and from previous stories, a bit of slowmo with some borrowed equipment from the sports department, some CSO, some fireworks, some teenage extras. The focus is on a small cast of ridiculously campy villains and a lot of Ham and Cheeseinvoked. This was to save money for the next serial, "Shada", but...
  • Bull Seeing Red: The Doctor does a bullfighting routine with his coat to distract Nimon.
  • Call-Back: When the Doctor gives Romana the task of examining the Nimon travel capsule, the first thing she does is borrow his teaspoon.
  • Camp: One of the series' most glorious examples.
  • Composite Character: Soldeed is an amalgamation of King Minos and Daedalus, being both the ruler of the Skonnons and the creator of the Complex which houses the Nimon.
  • Decomposite Character: Romana and Teka, who both take on aspects of Ariadne's role in the original legend, though neither is Soldeed's daughter and there are no balls of twine in this story, just the Doctor's star stickers and these are quickly rendered useless by the constantly moving walls. Teka is Seth's Implied Love Interest, or at least appears to have a crush on him. However, it is Romana who provides Seth with the help he needs to defeat the Nimon.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Romana notes through word play that the head guys have a "power complex".
  • Depending on the Writer: Romana tends to be written more like Mary Tamm's version, coming across more bossy and short-tempered than Lalla Ward usually played her, especially whenever she's dealing with Soldeed. This is likely the result of the episode being written by Anthony Read, who co-created Romana as script editor of the previous season.
  • Dirty Coward: The co-pilot from part one and two. He tries to pin the blame for his mistake on Romana but Soldeed saw through his lies and sent him to be killed by the Nimon. When the co-pilot tries to save himself by telling Nimon he "brought" the sacrifices to him, the Nimon can tell that he's a liar and a coward and kills him first.
  • End of an Era: Due to the cancellation of "Shada", this marked the end of several eras:
    • It was producer Graham Williams' last story, as well as the final script to be edited by Douglas Adams.
    • The final story in which David Brierly voiced K9; original voice actor John Leeson would invokedreturn the following season.
    • The final use of the original 1963 arrangement of the "Doctor Who Theme", from the 1967 remix by Delia Derbyshire, as well as the last use of the diamond-shaped series logo and "tunnel" opening sequence by Bernard Lodge, which had been in place (with some modifications) since The Time Warrior. The opening credits image of Tom Baker, now close to six years old, is also retired.
    • The last story to be scored by composer Dudley Simpson.
    • The final appearance of Tom Baker wearing his "original" trademark scarf and coat before they were replaced in the next story by their burgundy counterparts.
  • Energy Weapon: Uniquely, the Nimons fire lasers out of their horns.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Soldeed is infamously campy. So much so that his confrontation with Romana has a dance remix. "MY DREAMS OF CON-QUEST!"
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Nimon have deep, booming voices.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Apparently a Nimon racial characteristic. Not only do some of the Nimon fail to see Romana and Sezom hiding behind a translucent wall, two of them fail to notice the Doctor open their travel capsule, look in on them, slam the door, and bounce them back to their start point. Even by the standards of Classic Who villains, that's pretty bad.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The Nimon's speech, according to Soldeed.
  • Flat Joy: While Soldeed's speeches about the coming of the Second Skonnon Empire are delightfully hammy, the response from his audience (of maybe a dozen Skonnon) has the enthusiasm of a pep rally for a school that knows they blew their chances at a playoff slot a month ago.
  • God Guise: The Nimon's modus operandi when it comes to their invasion plans.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat:
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sezom ultimately gives his life to hold the Nimon back so that Romana can escape his dying planet.
  • Human Sacrifice: The cargo are human sacrifices, in the same manner as the Athenians in the legend of Theseus.
  • Hypnosis-Proof Dogs: The Doctor et al. are in a Minotaur-like maze where the walls keep moving about, but the Doctor's dog-shaped Robot Buddy K9 just goes right through the wall to freedom because he can't see it.
  • Inside a Computer System: The Labyrinth is actually a giant computer, while the Mobile Maze aspect is the computer's circuits moving.
  • Inspiration Nod: The line "I'm glad I reminded them to paint their ship white; last time anything like this happened, completely forgot, caused quite a hoo-ha," is another reference to the Theseus legend, specifically when Theseus forgot to paint his flag white, causing his father Aegeus (who had an agreement with Theseus to paint his flag white if he came back alive) to jump off the palace in despair.
  • The Klutz: Every time the Doctor tries doing anything in this story, he ends up mildly hurting himself through his clumsiness - electrocuting himself on the TARDIS console, trapping his fingers slightly in machinery, injuring himself punching something...
  • Large Ham: Graham Crowden as Soldeed pretty much defines this. See also: Tom Baker, as ever, and Lalla Ward, to an extent.
  • Last of His Kind: Sezom. The first Nimon pretends to be this (as a way of tricking people into helping him - if there's only one, then they can eventually pull a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on it), but it later turns out to be a Blatant Lie.
  • Life Drain: How the Nimon feed. It leaves people, and entire planets, as desiccated husks.
  • Meaningful Name: Most of the characters have names that reflect the original: The Nimon, of course, is the Minotaur; Soldeed is very loosely "Daedalus" backwards; Seth is Theseus backwards and with the Greek suffix dropped, and his home planet of Aneth is Athens; and the planets Skonnos and Crinoth are the other Greek city states Knossos (centre of the Minoan civilisation) and Corinth.
  • Mickey Mousing: When the Doctor starts decorating the labyrinth with the star stickers, Dudley Simpson breaks out the glockenspiel. Later in the story he quickly flashes a grin at someone in mid-flow which is underscored by a glockenspiel chord in the music as well.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The actors in the Nimon costumes are really going for it. Oh, and no jokes about "giant cows."
  • Mobile Maze: The alien Nimon demand sacrifices from the Skonnon Empire to provide for them. They use victims from the planet Aneth, who find that the walls seal behind them. It turns out the labyrinth is actually a giant computer and the changing walls are the circuits making connection. The entrance is actually a hologram of a wall.
  • Mood Whiplash: Despite the nasty implications of what the Nimons do to their victims, the story is generally quite soft and comical for the most part... until the final episode, where Romana is accidentally teleported to the burnt-out, almost totally depopulated planet Crinoth, the previous victims of the Nimon. After that, the story's mood becomes surprisingly grim and apocalyptic. At least until Soldeed's death scene, when it whiplashes straight back to being ridiculously over-the-top.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The TARDIS encounters one in the first episode which turns out to be a side-effect of the black hole travel system.
  • No Body Left Behind: Soldeed's corpse inexplicably disappears from where it fell shortly before the labyrinth explodes.
  • Noodle Incident: At one point, Seth confesses to Romana that he's "not even a prince", just a young runaway who was found by someone (presumably the servants of Aneth's king) and "made up some story" to avoid being sent back where he came from. This story must have involved him claiming to be the king's long lost son (or the son of another king?), but we never learn why he ran away, nor why he was so desperate not to be sent home that he concocted such a tale.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: There's a flub where the Doctor starts addressing K9 in his higher-pitched and more Northern natural voice for a few words, before catching himself and restarting the line in his usual acting-voice.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Black holes used as conduits for interstellar travel. (Though the expanded universe pointed out, only Nimons have done that.)
  • Pantomime: This serial was originally broadcast over Christmas; it's a Whole-Plot Reference to a legend but full of ridiculous characters who break the familiar plot; it features over-the-top and hammy performances from some actually very good actors cracking themselves upinvoked; Romana is the hero in this one and dressed in sexy historical male clothing in the manner of the Principal Boy; it's made on the cheap but with some really fabulous Stuff Blowing Up; the Doctor is mostly relegated to comedy pieces and slapstick sequences done either solo or playing against K-9 and the TARDIS (props) in the manner of the solo skits done in panto by famous guest stars; Soldeed's "Lord Niiimon, Lord Niiiiiimon!" catchphrase has a similar delivery to the panto "he's behind you!" routine; an actual "he's behind you!"-style routine happens in the story in the sequence when the Doctor is evading the Nimon in the control room... Doctor Who fans love to criticise poor stories by calling them 'pantomime' but this one may actually be intentionally a panto.
  • Pinball Protagonist: The Doctor spends most of the story fighting the Negative Space Wedgie while stuck in the TARDIS while Romana does the stuff the Doctor would normally do. He does help create a device for affecting the gravity problems but it's clearly shown Romana could have done it just as easily on her own and would have done it without his help. He is present while the Anethans get out of the labyrinth but K-9 is the one who actually does all of the work, and the Doctor even argues with K-9's solution and is proven wrong. Even getting Romana and K-9 there in the first place can't be attributed to him, since they all got pulled down there by the gravity device. The only things he does that affect the plot are getting K-9 back from Soldeed and discovering the Nimons' ship. This was likely an intentional attempt to control Tom Baker's level of involvement, as he'd been getting very controlling and unstable at the time.
  • Planet Looters: Nimon.
  • Power Crystal: putting a special crystal into the ceremonial staff the Nimon give to their spokespeople turns it into an energy weapon that can stun the Nimon.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Nimon have black fur/skin with bright red eyes.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The Doctor quotes Hamlet in saying, "Oh my prophetic soul".
  • Significant Anagram: Most of the character and place names are derived from their mythological counterparts.
  • Smug Snake: Soldeed, full stop.
  • Space Pirates: The Doctor and Romana are accused.
  • Spotting the Thread: Soldeed quickly sees through the co-pilot's claim to have repaired his ship when he can't even pronounce the name of the mineral he claims to have used in the repairs, and then can't explain exactly how he carried out the repairs.
  • Technology Uplift: The Nimon claim they're going to provide advanced technology to the Skonnos, but in actuality the Nimon are going to denude the planet of everything.
  • Too Good to Be True: Soldeed is asked if the Nimon's promise of a massive tech uplift in exchange for a labyrinth and seven sacrifices a year is this. Soldeed brushes these concerns off, saying that for all the Nimon's technical knowledge, he is more clever and shall dispose of the Nimon when it has handed over its technological secrets, but it is later revealed that he should have listened.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...
  • Underestimating Badassery: The Nimon do a low-key version of this for Sezom; having retained the staff he used as their representative, the Nimon never anticipated that Sezom would be able to modify the staff so that he could at least stun the Nimon with it where it previously had no effect on them.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: The Nimons use black holes to power their technology and as wormholes to travel the universe.
  • Vestigial Empire: Skonnos. They were once great, but they blasted themselves into irrelevancy in a civil war. The Nimon gains their aid by promising to help them rebuild their tech base to the point where they can start a new empire.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Soldeed does not take the realization that he's been had well.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: lampshaded:
    ROMANA: Don't you think that's a bit dangerous?
    DOCTOR: No, I don't. What could possibly go
    (Lurch. The Doctor falls.)
    DOCTOR: Ow! Wrong. You know, I've simply got to stop saying that. Every single time I say what could possibly go wrong, something goes
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Shortly after entering the Complex, Romana and the young Anethans come across the Nimon's larder, where those sent to Skonnos in previous years are kept in suspended animation until it is their turn to have their life forces drained. However, though only one of the Anethans already in the larder is seen to die (killed by a stray beam from the Nimon's horns) the Doctor and Romana only emerge from the Complex with Seth, Teka and the others who were in the last consignment of sacrifices.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. And the Doctor was apparently involved in the original version of the tale at some point in his lives, given a comment he makes during the ending (and the fact that he had the original ball of string from that legend in storage, which Romana found during "Creature From the Pit").
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Teka.
  • The X of Y
  • You Have Failed Me: Soldeed does this to the co-pilot after deducing that his idiocy nearly resulted in the loss of the tribute from Aneth. The co-pilot tries to weasel out of it by telling the Nimon he's merely been sent to escort the sacrifices, but the Nimon immediately sees through it and kills him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The people who aid the Nimon always think that they can pull this, as there's only one of them. Then several million of them show up and reverse the trope.
  • You Rebel Scum!: Parodied with the co-pilot who addresses his prisoners as "weakling scum" every time he speaks to them.

"You meddlesome hussy!!"