Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon – Written by Terrance Dicks & Read by Geoffrey Beevers & John Leeson (BBC Audio)

The Horns of Nimon, bless it, was never a great Doctor Who story.

On the one hand, it was a fairly lazy piece of construction by Anthony Read, borrowing hugely from Greek myth (as the show had also done in stories like Underworld), and barely anagramizing its sources – Crinoth for Corinth, Aneth for Athens, Skonnos for Knossos, and so on ad nauseum. Even of course the Nimon, the bull-headed aliens at the centre of a magical labyrinth, is a derivative of the Minotaur. 

Stealing wantonly from historical or classical sources had been fine for Doctor Who in the past, but there’s such an oddly appropriate energy-sapping tiredness to the way it’s done in The Horns of Nimon, it made people instantly to sigh in exhausted recognition of the source and then, mostly, disengage with it.

Add to that the fact that the notional heroes of the piece – the innocent Anethan youths being sacrificed to the Nimon – are endlessly wet, and the chief villain, Soldeed (Graham Crowden) makes up for their blankness with his own brand of eye-swivelling whimsical madness, and the whole thing begins to stink a bit.

There are some interesting science-fiction adjuncts to make the blatant thievery from the Greek myths work as science fiction – the reveal that there’s more than one Nimon, and that they’re actually a parasitic species, draining planets of every last scintilla of their energy before moving on, is interesting. The notion that the Nimon is essentially a Fascistic factotum, appealing to the basest instincts of some truly unpleasant, aggressive people, actually has quite a lot going for it, but it’s smothered in the mad irrelevance of the foregrounded plot elements and Graham Crowden’s increasingly doolally performance.

That performance, incidentally, is up there among the top five overacted roles in the whole history of Doctor Who, alongside Joseph Furst as Professor Zaroff in The Underwater Menace, Richard Briers as the possessed Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers, Christopher Bowen as Mordred in Battlefield and…one other – your mileage may vary.

As such, then, The Horns of Nimon has a lot to get over when it comes to its novelization and audiobook rendering.

And that being the case, it makes sense to give the novelization to a practiced and fairly unsentimental hand, like Terrance Dicks.

Dicks here delivers the story, adds just a little of his own trademark twinkle, and is not afraid to identify quite how dim and soppy the Anethans are, nor how mindlessly aggressive the Skonnans. In a sense, he lifts the script off the screen, gives a reasonably large stage-wink to the audience, going “This is all a bit pony, isn’t it?” but does his duty by the team that somehow thought it was a good enough story to film and broadcast. 

In particular, he delivers a Nimon that’s impressive enough to be at the core of the story. He doesn’t over-embellish the motivations of the creature, but he does make it feel innately cunning and threatening. 

That’s actually quite the feat, because while the headpieces of the beast on screen were impressive, and the actors who wore them had the grace of dancers, the actual horns of the Nimon looked very Blue Peter, very homemade and not a little silly.

When it comes to the audiobook, BBC Audio has made a fascinating choice, giving the story to Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers joined the cast of Doctor Who in The Keeper of Traken, the season after Nimon went out, giving us a Master tinged with hysteria and desperation, but also reined in with iron will and vengeance. He’s since become a stalwart of Big Finish productions, reprising his Master and dancing on that knife-edge of darkness and full-on hysteria.

Here, he gives a masterclass in how Soldeed could have been played, bringing up the darkness, the aggression, the cowardliness, and toning significantly down the airy-fairy brain-broken “Nothing can stop it now!” performance that has, ever since Crowden gave it, marked The Horns of Nimon out as a high spot of high camp in Doctor Who history.

So – does the combination of Terrance Dicks being workmanlike but occasionally twinkly and Geoffrey Beevers being calm but growly do enough to save The Horns of Nimon and rehabilitate it in the leagues of Doctor Who stories?

Well, yes – and, infuriatingly, also no.

If you go into the experience knowing that the TV version needs redeeming and rehabilitating, then there’s not quite enough here to lift it to an actively enjoyable place. Almost, but not quite.

But if you’re relatively new to Doctor Who stories, and perhaps have yet to see The Horns of Nimon on TV, then yes, the combination probably does enough to at least intrigue. It still exists in that weird liminal space where it works better the less you know about the Greek myths that inspired it, but if you don’t know your Greek myths, at least half the point of the story is missing. But if you’re coming to The Horns of Nimon entirely fresh, there’s enough here to make you watch the TV version – and then realise you were better off letting this version live unsullied in your mind.

Listening to The Horns of Nimon in 2024 though, it actually does gain a relevance it absolutely didn’t have at the time of the story’s original broadcast. Both Soldeed and the Skonnans, and as it turns out, the Nimons’ previous victim planet Crinoth, were post-imperial societies, hankering after their “golden” days – days when they could push around other planets, build empires, suck other worlds dry and big themselves up as a result. There is, the story suggests, an endless supply of such planets in the cosmos, ready to buy into any old nonsense for the reward of getting to push around less aggressive people.

In a sense, the Nimon are only doing to these planets what they in their time did to others. But more than that, the Nimon operate entirely by appealing to a backward-looking nostalgia and deploying what is patently laughable propaganda – in 2024, much more than in 1979, the irony of Soldeed and Co wanting to “Make Skonnos Great Again,” or “Claim Our Planet Back” is distinctly poignant.

It’s worth remembering that the Nimons use these aspirations to suck the planet dry to the point of extinction, and never at any point have any intention of delivering on their grand promise. They are parasites, aiming only to use the people who believe them and the planets they destroy to further their own cause. The planets themselves, their customs and hopes, are almost so insignificant as to be nameless as they gorge on all the energy and sacrifice into which they can sink their horns.


On reflection, perhaps a listen to The Horns of Nimon in 2024 is more timely than we first appreciated…Tony Fyler 

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