In which the luxury space-liner Empress emerges from hyperspace above the planet of Azure - and collides with a smaller craft called the Hecate. The two vessels become fused together. A short time later, the TARDIS materialises on the liner, and the Doctor and Romana meet its Captain, Rigg. The Hecate pilot, a planetary surveyor named Dymond, travels over to the Empress.
Pretending to be salvage experts, the Doctor and Romana learn that the Empress navigator, Secker, had been acting very strangely just before the collision - in a totally complacent state. He simply didn't seem to care about what he was doing.
It is discovered that Secker had a supply of the drug Vraxoin hidden aboard the vessel. This is one of the most addictive substances in the galaxy, and whole societies have been destroyed by it. Secker wanders into the unstable zone where the two craft are merged and is soon found badly injured - his body mutilated by large claw marks. He dies soon after.
The Doctor has Rigg escort him to the Power Unit. The way is blocked by the unstable interface. When K9 cuts through a wall panel, they are confronted by a savage hairy beast. It is beaten back and K9 reseals the breach. One of the first class passengers is a biologist named Tryst. He has invented a machine - the Continuous Event Transmuter, or CET - which is able to capture small sections of a planet's surface on laser crystal. The flora and fauna contained within continue to thrive. The creatures which are roaming the Empress are Mandrels - denizens of the planet Eden, which was the last world visited by Tryst's expedition. The collision has allowed some of them to escape. Tryst's assistant, Della, informs the Doctor and Romana that they had lost a colleague on Eden - a man named Stott. He vanished, and is assumed to have been killed by Mandrels or the often hostile plant life of that planet. Throughout his investigations, the Doctor has seen one of the passengers following him and acting suspiciously.
Two Customs Officers arrive from Azure - Fisk and Costa. They discover that the Doctor has traces of Vraxoin on him. This was from his earlier discovery of Secker's supply - but Fisk assumes that he is the drug smuggler and orders his arrest. The Doctor and Romana flee into the Eden CET projection. Here they discover that Stott is not dead. He is really an undercover agent, investigating the Vraxoin smuggling. He had been shot at and left for dead on Eden. It is Stott who has been trailing the Doctor.
The Doctor goes to the Power Unit to separate the ships. A Mandrel is electrocuted when it attacks him, and the corpse reduces to a grey ash - raw Vraxoin. This is why scans for the drug have so far failed.
When the two vessels are finally separated, the Doctor finds himself on the Hecate. He discovers that Tryst and Dymond are in league with each other - they are the drug smugglers. They are going to transfer the Eden projection from the Empress to the Hecate by laser. The Doctor rids the liner of the marauding monsters by luring them back to the CET machine. He then rigs the machine so that the laser transfer reverses. Instead of Dymond and Tryst getting the Eden data and fleeing in the Hecate, they find themselves back on the Empress trapped within a projection - and Fisk and Costa can step in and arrest them.
This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker (his one and only solo contribution to the programme), and was broadcast between 24th November and 15th December, 1979.
It is ironic that this story features the word "Nightmare" so prominently in its title. There are so many things wrong with it - performances, costumes, FX. A pity, as the actual story as written is a good one, and it is rare to see Doctor Who tackle serious current issues like drug abuse.
The story is notorious for the sacking of its director during the second studio block. Alan Bromly had earlier done some good (but not great) work on The Time Warrior. Bromly was a bit old fashioned in his style and tended to work rather slowly - which soon got on the nerves of the show's star amongst others. Tensions mounted, tempers flared, and the atmosphere on set became somewhat toxic. Producer Graham Williams had to dismiss Bromly, then step in and complete the recording himself (uncredited). These events also had the effect of finally convincing Williams to quit at the end of the season.
There are some good actors in this - but their performances are terrible a lot of the time.Tom Baker is overindulged - allowed some woefully unfunny material. David Daker was superb as Irongron in Alan Bromly's first story, but has very little to work with here. As Captain Rigg, he's drugged part way through and so just acts drunk for the second half. Jennifer Lonsdale (Della) is wooden. Geoffrey Hinsliff had been great in Image of the Fendahl. Worst offender is Lewis Fiander as Tryst. He has this dreadfully unrealistic pantomimic Germanic accent. One can only assume that the director gave permission for this - so Bromly's sacking is certainly deserved if only for this. Better performances come from Geoffrey Bateman as Dymond, and Barry Andrews as Scott.
The models are shot on video. Williams was happy with the results, as they looked okay and this was far cheaper than separate filming. Designer Colin Mapson was not so pleased. The model effects do look cheap in comparison with earlier stories such as Frontier in Space.
Then there are the Mandrels - one of the daftest monsters to have appeared in the programme. An alright design, poorly realised. They just about work when seen in the gloom of the Eden projection, but fare worse in the over-lit liner corridors.
Episode endings are:
- The Doctor and Rigg remove the wall panel and a savage creature lunges out to attack them...
- Pursued by the Customs Officers, the Doctor and Romana leap into the Eden projection...
- As the two vessels separate, the Doctor suddenly fades away...
- All the CET projections will be returned to their correct places. Romana tells the Doctor that she knows of one animal that might feel at home in an electronic zoo...
Overall, best to stick to the novelisation...
Things you might like to know:
- If you have looked at the recent DWM poll, you'll see that having "Nightmare" in the title is tantamount to the kiss of death...
- Costa is played by Peter Craze. Brother of 1960's companion actor Michael, he first appeared in Doctor Who back in The Space Museum as one of the young Xerons.
- Space: 1999 fans would have recognised most of the other planets which Tryst has saved on his CET machine - as they are all clips from that programme.
- The drug was originally going to be nicknamed "Zip", but it was thought this sounded a bit too "hip".
- At one point Geoffrey Hinsliff calls Tryst "Fisk" - which is, of course, his own character's name.
- According to Colin Mapson, in the making of doc on the DVD for this story, cast and crew were given T-shirts printed with "I'm Relieved The Nightmare Is Over" when the story finally wrapped. Someone send one to Neil Gaiman...