Chapter 61. Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon (1980)

Synopsis: Romana and the Doctor land aboard a stricken ship heading for Skonnos with a group of terrified Anethans. The youngsters are intended as tributes to the fearsome Nimon. As soon as the Doctor has repaired the ship, its captain absconds, leaving the Doctor stranded. By the time the TARDIS gets him to Skonnos, Romana has discovered that the Nimon, a bull-headed alien, is just the first arrival, a spearhead for a race of parasites that intend to lay waste to Skonnos…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Ship of Sacrifice
  • 2. The Skonnons
  • 3. Sardor in Command
  • 4. Asteroid
  • 5. The Nimon
  • 6. The Maze
  • 7. Sardor’s Bluff
  • 8. K9 in Trouble
  • 9. The Journey of the Nimon
  • 10. Journey to Crinoth
  • 11. Time Bomb
  • 12. The Legend

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Anthony Read’s scripts from 1979. This followed Nightmare of Eden on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: A brilliant prologue sketches the events of the rise and fall of the First Skonnan Empire in which we’re told ‘No enemy had ever defeated the Skonnans. They destroyed themselves.’ In-fighting led to civil war and the collapse of a once-proud race – and then came the Nimon, a god-like being who promised the restoration of the Empire in return for tributes, which the Skonnans, led by Soldeed, acquired on the peaceful neighbouring planet of Aneth. The ship we see in the first proper scene is the last surviving vessel of the former empire.

The Captain is here named Sekkoth and his co-pilot, Sardor, is younger, ‘plump-faced and overweight’. Sardor was too young to have fought in the wars, which accounts for his being ‘even more fiercely militaristic than his superior.’ The Doctor is curious as to why Romana has decided to dress like a fox-hunter. When Romana flees the Nimon’s chamber with Seth and Teka, it’s left to an unnamed Anethan girl to explain the plot so far to the Nimon. After the Complex is destroyed, we’re told what happened next: The Doctor takes Sorak aside and persuades him to enter into a peace treaty with the people of Aneth and lay the blame for previous enmity on the Nimon.

Cover: Steve Kyte’s first of three covers for the range, with the Doctor looking over his shoulder at a blue Nimon.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks often said that his favourite novels were the ones where the scripts were already good, so he had little to do, or the ones that were bad, where he got to fix them. Few fans would say Horns of Nimon is their favourite story, but the opening prologue suggests Terrance approached this with determination and a willingness to polish as he progressed. We might lose some of Tom Baker’s onscreen excesses here, but Terrance also takes things much more seriously than anyone in the TV version seems to have done: The opening prologue is as portentous as any other scene-setting chapter we’ve had, as a civilisation rises and falls; the comic trouser-splitting co-pilot is given a zealous determination that makes his ultimate demise a relief; Teka tells Romana that her fellow sacrifices are ‘too frightened even to talk’, which explains why only two of them are given any dialogue (genius!); Soldeed’s rise to power is shown to be a fluke and he clings to power knowing he’s ill-equipped to rule – something that Sorak seems to recognise and hopes to exploit; and of course, it’s the dreaded Nimon who Terrance really beefs up with customary relish – just have a look at this:

It was a fearsome, extraordinary creature, not unlike the great buffalo of Earth. Presumably on the Nimon’s planet some similar creature had developed intelligence and become the dominant life form. The Nimon was like a great black bull that had learned to talk and walk upon its hind legs like a man. The massive head merged directly into the enormous torso, with no suggestion of a neck. Great golden eyes blazed with a fierce intelligence and two amber-coloured horns jutted from the broad flat forehead. The creature wore only a wide jewelled belt and a kind of metallic kilt. 

The most terrifying thing about the Nimon was that it was never still. It was as if so much energy was packed into the enormous body that it throbbed with continual power, pacing restlessly to and fro like a great caged beast. Even when it was not speaking it gave off a constant series of low, rumbling growls. 

That is how to polish a cow-pat, even making the bizarre choreography something to fear. Right in the middle of his infamous ‘script-to-page’ period, Terrance gives us a surprising little gem.

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