Serial 5L:
The Horns Of Nimon


The Doctor and Romana discover a stricken space vessel transporting seven young people from the planet Aneth to Skonnos. The Time Lords are forced to help repair the ship, even though the Anethans are fated to be sacrificed to the bull-like Nimon, who has promised the Skonnans great prosperity. On Skonnos, however, the Doctor learns that the Nimon is actually a member of a race of intergalactic locusts, who ravage each world foolish enough to believe their lies.


For Season Seventeen, Doctor Who producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams had embarked on a strategy to recruit new writers to the programme, in order to keep the show fresh. Unfortunately, these plans gradually went awry as each storyline commissioned from a writer new to Doctor Who eventually proved unusable; these included “Valley Of The Lost” by former producer Philip Hinchcliffe, “Erinella” by former director Pennant Roberts, “Child Prodigy” by Alistair Beaton and Sarah Dunant, “The Doomsday Contract” by John Lloyd and Allan Prior, and “The Tearing Of The Veil” by Alan Drury. As a result, the only set of scripts available for Season Seventeen's fifth slot was The Horns Of Nimon (also referred to as simply “Horns Of Nimon”) by Anthony Read, which had been commissioned on March 23rd, 1979.

Read was Adams' predecessor as script editor on Doctor Who, and had long been interested in the integration of Greek myths into science-fiction. This approach had already inspired Bob Baker and Dave Martin's Underworld, based upon the legend of Jason and Argonauts, at the end of Season Fifteen. For The Horns Of Nimon, Read turned his attention to the story of the Minotaur, a popular myth related in Ovid's Heroides amongst other sources. The Minotaur was a half-man, half-bull monster who was imprisoned in the Labyrinth at Knossos in Crete, designed by the architect Daedalus. King Aegeus of Athens was compelled to offer seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls as tribute to King Minos of Crete, and these were sent into the Labyrinth to be slain by the Minotaur. Eventually, however, Aegeus' son Theseus volunteered to be part of the tribute, and he was able to slay the Minotaur with the help of Minos' daughter, Ariadne.

Anthony Read had long been interested in the integration of Greek myths into science-fiction

Read used many elements of the traditional Greek myth in crafting The Horns Of Nimon, and also adapted several names from it: the Minotaur became the Nimon, Theseus became Seth, Daedalus became Soldeed, Athens became Aneth, Knossos became Skonnos, and the Greek city-state of Corinth became Crinoth. The Labyrinth itself inspired the Power Complex; this was originally called the Complexity, while the Skonnans were initially referred to as Skonnians.

Unfortunately, Williams quickly grew unhappy with The Horns Of Nimon, as he felt that the underlying ideas were not particularly strong. With no other scripts available, Williams was forced to proceed with Read's serial, but he decided to position it in the season's fifth slot (on both the broadcast and production schedules) in the hope that it would quickly be forgotten once the finale, Shada, began transmission.

Williams also instructed that the scripts for The Horns Of Nimon be rewritten to remove any pre-filming, in order to save costs -- a restriction which had also been placed on the preceding serial, Nightmare Of Eden. Both Destiny Of The Daleks and City Of Death had been expensive productions to mount that year, and Williams was eager to save money for Shada. Fortunately, Read had already planned his storyline with Doctor Who's meagre budget and the spiralling inflation of 1979 in mind. As a result, no major changes had to be made to the scripts. In the event, only the model shot of the Power Complex's explosion was captured on film, at the Ealing Television Film Studios.

The director assigned to Serial 5L was Kenny McBain, whose work to date included The Omega Factor. The Horns Of Nimon would be McBain's only Doctor Who credit. He subsequently became a producer on programmes such as Grange Hill and Inspector Morse, and was Head of Drama at Tynes Tees Television. McBain died of Hodgkin's lymphoma on April 22nd, 1989. In the central role of Soldeed, McBain cast Graham Crowden. In 1974, Crowden had been strongly considered for the role of the Fourth Doctor before Tom Baker was selected for the part.

Graham Williams suggested production unit manager John Nathan-Turner as the new producer of Doctor Who

As The Horns Of Nimon neared production, decisions were being made about the future of Doctor Who. Having confirmed his intent to leave the show after Season Seventeen, Williams suggested production unit manager John Nathan-Turner as a suitable replacement. Over the past year and a half, Williams had become very appreciative of Nathan-Turner's efforts on Doctor Who, and had unsuccessfully attempted to promote him to the post of associate producer at the start of the year. Head of Drama Graeme McDonald, on the other hand, was wary of putting a novice producer in charge of Doctor Who. Instead, he favoured former production unit manager George Gallaccio, who had recently served as producer on the supernatural thriller The Omega Factor. Gallaccio, however, was keen to move away from science-fiction, and instead accepted the producer's post on a period drama called Mackenzie.

As a result, McDonald consented to Nathan-Turner's appointment as producer of Doctor Who. This marked the end of a long rise up through the BBC hierarchy for Nathan-Turner. He had originally worked as an actor before breaking into the BBC as a floor assistant. In that capacity, Nathan-Turner had worked on Doctor Who as far back as The Space Pirates in 1969. He had gradually moved up the ranks, and had served as Doctor Who's production unit manager since Season Fifteen. It was agreed that Nathan-Turner would take over the helm of Doctor Who from December.

However, McDonald was still wary of Nathan-Turner's preparedness for such a demanding position -- especially since he himself was about to gain additional responsibilities as Head of a combined Drama Series and Serials department. This meant that he would not be able to spend as much time supervising individual programmes like Doctor Who as he had in the past. Consequently, McDonald turned to former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts. Since leaving Doctor Who in 1974, Letts had principally been working on classic serials such as Lorna Doone and Treasure Island, but had been keeping an informal eye on his old programme at McDonald's behest since the spring. Letts now agreed to formalise this arrangement, and accepted an appointment as Doctor Who's first-ever executive producer for Season Eighteen. This would be retroactively approved in mid-June 1980.

Douglas Adams was frustrated by the difficulty of recruiting suitable new writers to Doctor Who

At about the same time, Adams decided that he would not return for a sophomore year as Doctor Who's script editor. The production team's inability to recruit suitable new writers had been a source of frustration, and Adams had decided that he was happier doing his own writing rather than cultivating other people's scripts. Furthermore, five additional episodes of his radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy had now been commissioned, and this new assignment would leave no time for his duties on Doctor Who. Like Williams, Adams would officially step down around the end of November.

Meanwhile, recording for The Horns Of Nimon began with three days in BBC Television Centre Studio 3, from September 24th to 26th. The 24th involved taping on the sets for Soldeed's laboratory, the Skonnan council chamber and the entrance to the Power Complex. The other two days were devoted to material within the Power Complex itself: in the corridors and the Nimon's “larder” on the 25th and in the central chamber on the 26th. Model shooting was also undertaken on the last day of the block.

Unfortunately, this studio session was fraught with overlooked gaffes. Because events were being taped out of order, Soldeed's body was missing from the nuclear furnace area in several sequences. During his death scene, Malcolm Terris (playing the Co-pilot) split his trousers very visibly. Most infamously, Crowden mistook the recording of Soldeed's demise for a camera rehearsal, and began laughing hysterically. With time pressing -- and with McBain already concerned that Crowden was overacting in the part -- the director was forced to retain the shot.

The second studio session took place from October 7th to 9th in TC6. Time had run out on September 26th before all the model sequences could be recorded, and so these were the first order of business. The remainder of the 7th and much of the 8th then saw the completion of material on the Skonnan spaceship. Some of the Crinoth scenes -- namely those in the central chamber and at the transmat terminus -- were also taped on the 8th. Left for October 9th were the sequences in the “larder” and corridors on Crinoth, and in the TARDIS. Sadly, the TARDIS set was erected incorrectly, with the roundels protruding outward on one wall.

On October 9th the TARDIS set was erected incorrectly, with the roundels protruding outward on one wall

In post-production it was found that the final installment of The Horns Of Nimon badly overran its twenty-five minute timeslot. In the past, such a situation had been resolved by reediting the footage to either alter the cliffhanger of part three or else shift some scenes backwards into that episode. Indeed, the third installment of The Horns Of Nimon had proven to be quite short, resulting in an unusually lengthy reprise from part two. Nonetheless, it was found that all attempts to reedit The Horns Of Nimon to meet its time constraints badly affected the pacing of the last episode. Consequently, on November 16th, authorisation was requested to air this installment in a half-hour timeslot.

Unexpectedly, Williams' intent that The Horns Of Nimon be driven from viewers' memories by the spectacle of Shada did not work out as planned. Although production began on the season finale as scheduled, it was subsequently disrupted by the latest round of industrial action at the BBC -- a situation which had already affected the final serials of both Seasons Fifteen and Sixteen. As a result, Shada was abandoned, and the broadcast of The Horns Of Nimon part four on January 12th, 1980 brought Doctor Who's seventeenth season to a very abrupt close.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #247, 15th January 1997, “Archive: The Horns Of Nimon” by Andrew Pixley, Marvel Comics UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #9, 22nd December 2004, “One Step Beyond” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In·Vision #43, April 1993, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 22nd Dec 1979
Time 6.11pm
Duration 25'41"
Viewers (more) 6.0m (100th)
· BBC1 6.0m
Episode 2
Date 29th Dec 1979
Time 5.54pm
Duration 25'00"
Viewers (more) 8.8m (56th)
· BBC1 8.8m
Episode 3
Date 5th Jan 1980
Time 6.22pm
Duration 23'26"
Viewers (more) 9.8m (40th)
· BBC1 9.8m
Episode 4
Date 12th Jan 1980
Time 6.06pm
Duration 26'45"
Viewers (more) 10.4m (26th)
· BBC1 10.4m
Appreciation 67%

Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Lalla Ward
Voice of K·9
David Brierley
Graham Crowden
Michael Osborne
Bob Hornery
Malcolm Terris
Robin Sherringham
Bob Appleby
Trevor St John Hacker
Janet Ellis
Simon Gipps-Kent
Voice of the Nimons
Clifford Norgate
John Bailey

Written by
Anthony Read
Directed by
Kenny McBain
Produced by
Graham Williams

Incidental Music
Dudley Simpson
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Production Assistant
Henry Foster
Production Unit Manager
John Nathan-Turner
Director's Assistant
Elizabeth Sherry
Assistant Floor Manager
Rosemary Chapman
Studio Lighting
Nigel Wright
Studio Sound
John Hartshorn
Technical Manager
Derek Thompson
Senior Cameraman
Alec Wheal
Visual Effects Designer
Peter Pegrum
Electronic Effects
Dave Jervis
Vision Mixer
James Gould
Video-Tape Editor
Rod Waldron
Costume Designer
June Hudson
Make-up Artist
Christine Walmesley-Cotham
Script Editor
Douglas Adams
Graeme Story

Updated 23rd April 2010