DOCTOR WHO'S DRUG WAR: An Investigation into the themes of
"Nightmare of Eden"
20 May 2001
While often criticized as being a bit over the top in its
presentation, the _Doctor Who_ serial "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is a
very poignant tale that reflects the changed attitude towards
narcotics in the 1970s. It was during the wave of late 1960s
hippy counter culturalism, which embraced casual drug use as a
way to turn on, tune in, and drop out, that the legislation of
narcotics increased and social acceptance of the drug subculture
nearly disappeared. "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is a serial that
utilized the Doctor's character (especially that of the Bohemian
Fourth Doctor) differently than had been previously seen in the
series. In an era when most critics claimed that the show was
devolving into childish humor, this story takes the program into
decidedly adult territory. An in-depth investigation into the
drug related theme of the story and the use of the Doctor's
character related to this theme is what this article hopes to
The drug smuggling plot of "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is not hidden
and is the primary focus of the story's plot. Previously in the
series, only the story "THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG" featured
mentions of narcotics use in a non-medicinal fashion (and even
when actually shown on screen, was presented as a form of
anesthetic to prevent the intense pain that Chang suffered from
after being mauled by the oversized sewer rat). The use of opium
in the story is clearly a historical reference to Britain of the
1880s and is meant too enhance the historical setting of the
program. This is much different then when narcotics are
presented in "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN," where a drug's use for
recreational purposes is shown as dangerous and destructive and
the results of such use are at the forefront of the narrative.
It is never actually stated, in "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN," that
the drugs are being used for recreational purposes. But the
story is a case in which the viewer must apply their practical
"real world" knowledge to the story's situation. The viewer is
meant to understand the reason for the drug Vraxoin's use
(recreational use to feel high) without it ever being explained
within the context of the story. Clearly, the theme of drug use
is aimed not at the children's audience watching, but at the
teens and older viewers who are tuning in to the program; those
viewers who understand or are familiar with the reason that some
people desire or use drugs.
For the purpose of the narrative, the Doctor does explain
the effects of Vraxoin and how dangerous and addictive it is.
The Doctor has a discussion with K-9:
DOCTOR: Any idea what this is K-9?
K-9: A fungus. Source of the drug X-Y-P.
Dangerous. Addictive. Known as Vraxoin.
DOCTOR: Vraxoin! I've seen whole communities,
whole planets, destroyed by this. It induces
a kind of warm complacency, then a total
apathy, until it wears off that is. Then soon
Clearly, Vraxoin has specific physical effects, and is so
dangerous, that death is one of the results to someone who can't
keep their high. This level of toxicity can been seen in the
Doctor's exchange with Romana about the drug later in the same
DOCTOR: Someone aboard this ship is smuggling
ROMANA: Vraxoin! I thought that was stamped
out long ago. The only known source was
destroyed, wasn't it?
DOCTOR: That's right. They incinerated an
entire planet. Someone's found another
It seems that the danger of Vraxoin is so strong that the
authorities were willing to completely destroy its only known
In the story's original script, the drug Vraxoin had another
name. It was originally called "Xylophilin, referred to by K-9
in the script as, ' a fungus, source of the drug XYP; dangerous;
addictive, known colloquially as Zip.'" It seems that the
production team wanted to be sure not to glorify drugs by using a
sleek name. They also seem to have attempted to tie into the
"real world" issue of drug abuse by naming the drug 'vrax-oin,'
and thus akin to 'her-oin' one of the most dangerous drugs of the
time (and now).
Vraxoin we are told is a fungus, and thus appears to be very
similar in origin to the actual drug of psilocybin mushrooms.
These are mushrooms from a variety of genera of mushrooms
(Psilocybe, Panaeolus, and Conocybe), which can be distributed as
a dried mushroom or, like Vraxoin, as a "white powder of purified
crystalline compound." However, Vraxoin does not seem to have
the same hallucinatory effects that psilocybin mushrooms do. In
fact, Vraxoin seems closest in its symptoms to the effects of
alcohol. Twice in the story do characters mistake the effect of
Vraxoin for drunkenness. The first exchange has Romana
commenting on Rigg after he has unknowingly been drugged:
ROMANA: He's hit the bottle.
ROMANA: He doesn't care about anything
anymore. He just laughs and giggles the
whole time [with a] sick grin on his face.
DOCTOR: Well, that doesn't sound like
drunkenness to me.
The second incident occurs in the following episode, when Landing
Officer Costa also thinks that Captain Rigg is drunk, and should
compose himself. The true effects of alcohol are described
"[People] feel pleasure and relaxation
during the first half hour or so, often
becoming talkative and socially outgoing,
but these feelings are usually replaced
with sedation (drowsiness) as the alcohol
is eliminated from the body, so drinkers
may become quiet and withdrawn later.
This pattern often motivates them to drink
more in order to keep the initial pleasant
Clearly, the only two cases of Vraxoin use that we see
exhibit the same symptoms as alcohol use (though the length of
time that the effects manifest may be different). When we see
Navigator Secker under the influence at the beginning of the
show, he is carefree and does not care about the incorrect
coordinates that are set for the Empress. He laughs and smiles,
and acts completely carefree. Only when his high seems to wear
off, does he stumble around, seem to sweat, and focus on his only
desire--to get away from the Doctor and get another dose of Vrax.
The lessened ability to move or speak effectively during use and
the withdrawal (hangover) afterward are clearly the same as with
When Rigg is accidentally drugged he too laughs constantly,
and jokes about his predicament that his ship, the Empress, is
lodged into the Hecate. When he finally comes down off his high,
Rigg attacks Romana demanding the drug with phrases as "You got
something for me. Something I need," "I must have something for
this terrible feeling," "I want something for this feeling. I'll
give you money. How much? How much?," and "Let me have some or
I'll kill you." Clearly, Vrax seems much more addictive than
alcohol as Rigg is willing to threaten Romana's life after only
presumably his first use of the narcotic.
Politically, it is interesting to note that the Doctor or
Romana do not comment on the dangers of drinking or the use of
the drug alcohol. Again, the viewer is expected to know that in
their "real world" alcohol use in not illegal and the story
"NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" features a fictional narcotic that is much
worse and addictive than alcohol. In our "real world," alcohol
is a more dangerous drug than many drugs, one such example being
the psychotrope LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). "Many deaths
each year are caused by alcohol overdose. There is little danger
of LSD overdose unless it is combined with or contaminated by
other drugs." This is a case where the political agenda of
the day, recognizing the dangers of and outlawing recreational
use narcotics, has influenced the production of _Doctor Who_ and
a case in which the Doctor's character tows the line of the
Often, the Doctor is seen as a character who is a member of
the counter culture. Original producer Verity Lambert has
described him as:
I saw the character of Doctor Who as
an anti-establishment character, and I
really do feel initially that's one of the
reasons why people were drawn towards [the
character], kids particularly. Because
they felt that, here was an adult who was
against the establishment as they were..."
While production teams changed, this element of the Doctor's
persona was maintained. The character of Doctor is a self
admitted exile from his own planet and is clearly at odds with
Time Lord society having twice been put on trial for not obeying
the laws which he finds to be errored. This characterization as
an alternative thinker is especially true of the Doctor's
Bohemian fourth incarnation, a favorite of 1970s university
Clearly, _Doctor Who_'s production team has previously used
the program to tackle social issues, but usually on the side
opposite the mainstream. One such example would be "THE GREEN
DEATH," when the subject of the chemical destruction of the
environment was featured as a problem the Doctor needed to
tackle. "THE GREEN DEATH" was filmed at time when environmental
concerns were not a part of mainstream culture. What makes
"NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" such an interesting case study is that the
Doctor's character does not take a view opposite the mainstream
thought of the day. Unlike the counter-culture drug pundits of
the 1970s such as Timothy Leary, the Doctor's character in the
series supports the regulation of the narcotic Vraxoin. However,
not without considering who truly makes the choice to use drugs.
Twice in "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" the issue of personal choice
when taking drugs is brought up. The first time, Della confronts
Tryst (and Dymond) about the dangers of the drug:
DELLA: Vrax is destroying people by the
TRYST: I had to continue my research.
Without me, many of those creatures would
have become extinct.
DELLA: I think a few million people becoming
extinct is rather more serious.
TRYST: Ah, but they had a choice. It was
their own fault if they became addicted.
DELLA: Ah, like Rigg I suppose. Did he have a
choice or was he tricked?
TRYST: Ah, yeah, that was unfortunate.
DYMOND: But necessary.
Clearly, Tryst blames the user for making the choice to use the
drug. When faced with the moral dilemma of the situation, his
argument clearly breaks down as it was either he or Dymond that
forced Rigg to take the drug involuntarily by slipping it into a
drink. Dymond also clearly takes the immoral viewpoint of a drug
pusher who admits that giving the drug to Rigg was "necessary."
This can be read two ways: first, as an expression of the
situation at hand (Rigg or Romana needed to be taken out of the
picture to make the smuggler's job easier), or second as a
reading that to addict people is necessary to create a demand for
the product they are smuggling (drug smugglers need people to
want their product so that they can make profit).
The second time the theme of the user is tackled is by the
Doctor himself in the story's denouement. The Doctor revisits
STOTT: What about the Mandrels and the
DOCTOR: The Mandrels have a perfect right
to exist. In one way Tryst was right, humans
do have some kind of choice. Lets just hope
that no one else discovers the secret.
This is clearly a case of the Doctor revisiting the theme of
choice regarding drug use. But in the Doctor's context, it is
implied that each person had the freedom to make their own
decision regarding the use of a drug. This seems to be more in
line with the counter-culture stance that we might have expected
from the Doctor as an anti-establishment character. As a
scientist and as an educated character, the Doctor clearly would
never advocate or use non-medicinal (recreational) drugs, due to
the fact that he understands the dangers that narcotics possess.
We see this by his own attitude towards drugs in the story, plus
his line that "he hopes no one ever discovers the secret" that
the Mandrels can be turned into Vraxoin. However, the text,
influenced by the prevailing politics of the day (and today),
rarely give the Doctor the chance to moralize and philosophize
beyond the popular political line. The idea that a person can
make their own choice to take drugs or not gives the power to the
individual to decide whether or not harm can come to themselves.
This is very much a counter-culture idea, and it should not be
surprising that the production team waits until the end of the
story for the character of the Doctor to question the status quo.
After all, the production team can claim to have given the public
90 minutes of anti-drug message, before the Doctor questions the
idea of a user's choice.
"NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" has come under a great deal of critical
attack. One critic claimed that the story "continues the
inexorable downward slide of the seventeenth season" and that
"the whole story lacks any real conviction." Another writer
described the story as "this immensely clever story is also
intensely silly." Too often, "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is judged
on the performances of the actors and often called over the top.
One such actor, Lewis Fiander as Professor Tryst, plays his part
with a German accent. Many critics have addressed Fiander's
choice to do so as being a weak point in the story. One wrote
"Fiander plays Tryst with an accent even worse than Professor
Marius in 'The Invisible Enemy'." However, there can be a
hidden reading to Tryst speaking with a German accent. If one
chooses to read Tryst as the person who has "rediscovered" the
drug Vraxoin, then a parallel can be drawn to German scientist
Albert Niemann, who first purified the drug Cocaine, and started
a "new era" for the use of the drug.
Also under attack has been Tom Baker's comedic portrayal of
the Doctor. His being attacked by Mandrels in the CET projection
near the end of the final episode, we hear him cry out in pain
"My fingers! My arms! My legs! My everything!" While this
is often seen as one of the over the top moments of the story,
the scene can be read as the Doctor's reaction to the effects of
Vraxoin. After all, the Mandrel monsters *are* the drug Vraxoin
With the Mandrels actually made of Vraxoin, it can be
clearly read that narcotics are the greatest and most dangerous
monster in the story. Navigator Secker, already a Vraxoin user,
dies at the claws of a Mandrel (his face bears claw marks).
Stott, a major in the intelligence section of Space Corps, is
also marked with a Mandrel claw scar on his face due to his
duties in tracking down drug smugglers. It is a second layer to
the text, telling the viewer (especially the younger ones) that
drugs are literally monsters. The idea that the Mandrels
themselves are made of Vraxoin is a novel way to strengthen the
story's primary theme. One could even argue that the
contemporary reporting of the serial added to this interpretation
when the newspaper _The Sun_ reported that the Mandrels were
unduly terrifying and incorrectly reported that no photos of them
were taken in the studio. It would hardly be considered odd
if the press were to report that the most unduly terrifying
modern ill was drugs.
There are other approaches to the story that reveal a more
well layered text than many critics consider. A re-reading of
the character's names can reveal the drug plot's hidden subtext.
If one reads Secker as "sucker" we realize that he, as an addict,
is the sort of person who has been duped into believing that the
drug Vraxoin is good and perhaps liberating to his mind or
emotions; Tryst can be read as "Tryst", the sort of one-time
undertaking that the scientist takes into the world of crime to
try to find a source of funding for his research; and Dymond
which can be read as "Diamond" the type of person who continually
smuggles drugs for a large payoff driven by the promise of
Another strong element of the story is that there is more
than one interpretation to who is involved in the smuggling ring.
Most viewers easily figure out that the smuggling ring is made up
of Tryst and Dymond, who at the end of the story transfer Eden's
CET projection via Enchuka laser to Dymond's ship, the Hacate.
At the end of the story, the Doctor helps capture them. However,
the plot can be read with the inclusion of a third conspirator.
The collision between the Empress and the Hecate may not have
been an accident. Clearly at the end of the story, Tryst wishes
to leave with Dymond, and this does not seem to be a change in
their plans. In order for the ships to collide, thus allowing
the transfer of the Eden projection and the pick up of Tryst, the
Empress needed to be off course. Why would Secker, the
navigator, have been using the narcotic Vrax, when it had
previously been stamped out? It can be read that Secker, the
Empress's navigator would have been involved in the drug
smuggling plot so that he would both be able to pilot the craft
to the proper location for the exchange, and also so that he
would have access to the previously "stamped out" drug Vraxoin.
In the story, Stott says, "Secker must have found it [the Vrax].
He may have even been involved himself." However, most
critics fail to include the dead navigator as a potential member
of the smuggling ring itself.
Thus the reading of Secker's name as "sucker" can be re-read
a second time as the drug smuggler who gets addicted to the
substance that he himself is smuggling. This reading can also
explain how the Vrax did not appear on the ship's scan when it
left Station 9, as the tubes of Vrax that Secker possessed did
not seem to be shielded in any way. Rigg tells the Doctor in
PART TWO, "None of my passengers could have brought it on board
the ship." Perhaps it was Secker who was responsible for the
"NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" slips other adult themes into its plot
to accompany the drug theme. The implied idea of sex before
marriage enters the story when Della confesses to Romana that she
and Stott were "more" than just friends. The concepts of
personal choice and individual freedoms, that one could say
accompanies the theme of the choice to use drugs, is subtly
expanded on. Stott, not a drug user or influenced by another
person, actually tells the Doctor and Romana that after being
trapped in the Eden projection for 183 days that "There were a
few times I felt like blowing my brains out." This idea of
suicide (or euthanasia ?) is a very adult concept, and surely not
aimed at the children viewers. The Doctor and Romana fail to
comment on Stott's statement, which seems to indicate that they
understand, or perhaps even support, his position on taking his
own life under such circumstances. Due to the "heavy" topic of
drugs that are focused on, the production team had the chance to
slip in a number of very adult and progressive ideas under the
radar of the average viewer.
As the story draws to its conclusion, we see the Doctor
comment on the money that could be made from the drug sales as
the price on human suffering. The Doctor does not judge the
drug itself (by proof of the fact that he does not destroy the
Mandrels and hopes their secret is kept), nor in the story does
he ever judge the users. However, his line towards the pushers
and traffickers of drugs is clear. The Doctor's words to Tryst
as the scientist tries to defend his actions sum up the Doctor's
attitude towards drugs: "Go away." The Doctor has no
tolerance for those who deal in human suffering.
"NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is a story that often contains more
layers to its text than critics and viewers first notice. The
plot may seem, to some, childish or simple, and the acting over
the top. However, the serial contains a great amount of adult
material that requires a person to have reached a certain
developmental level and acquired some "real world" knowledge
before they understand all of what is being discussed in the
plot. As for the Doctor's character, it seems that his usual
anti-establishment viewpoint takes the side of the mainstream
attitude towards drugs in this story, and only upon closer
investigation is it revealed that there are very adult or
progressive attitudes touched on that might be outside the status
quo of thinking. "NIGHTMARE OF EDEN" is a serial that deserves
more than just a quick consideration of its themes. One may
just find their beliefs challenged if they take a good close look
and that makes for good television.
(c) Copyright Zepo, 2001.
AUTHOR SIDE BAR
It is interesting to note that science fiction has heavily
influenced drug culture. Here is a list of slang terms used for
narcotics that have, or may have, a science fiction or genre
origin, as well as a terms that might be seen as _Doctor Who_
"Alien Sex Fiend" - very strong powdered PCP mixed with heroin
"Bart Simpsons" - LSD
"Beam Me Up, Scottie" - crack dipped in PCP
"Bennie" - amphetamine
"Bernice" - cocaine
"Black Pearl" - heroin
"Carrie" - cocaine
"Casper the Ghost" - crack
"Doctor" - MDMA
"ET" - alpha-ethyltyptamine
"Fantasia" - dimethyltryptamine
"Ghost Busting" - smoking cocaine; searching for white particles
in the belief that they are crack.
"Godfather" - marijuana cigarette laced with cocaine; cigar
filled with marijuana or other type of drug.
"Goodfellas" - fentanyl
"Gungun" - marajuana
"Hardware" - isobutyl nitrate
"He-Man" - fentanyl
"Interplanetary Mission" - traveling from one crack house to
another in search of crack.
"King Kong Pills" - depressant
"Klingons" - crack addicts
"Kryptonite" - crack
"Leathal Weapon" - PCP
"Little Green Friends" - marijuana
"Mighty Joe Young" - depressant
"Mortal Combat" - high-potency heroin
"Outerlimits" - crack and LSD
"Oz" - inhalant; 1 ounce of marijuana or other drug
"Peter Pan" - PCP
"Pink Panther" - LSD
"Rambo" - heroin
"Rocky III" - crack
"Scottie" - cocaine
"Scotty" - cocaine; crack; the high from crack
"Spoc" - police officers (cops spelled backwards)
"Tango & Cash" - fentanyl
"Thing" - heroin; cocaine; main drug interest at the moment
"Top Gun" - crack
"Uncle Fester" - glass pipe
"Wizard of Oz" - 1 ounce of marijuana
"Yellow Submarine" - marijuana
"Zip" - Cocaine
1) "Turn on, tune in, drop out" was Timothy Leary's motto
encouraging students to engage in higher self-realization through
drug use (especially LSD) in the 1960s and 1970s. "It was after
[the Harvard Firing and Liddy Raids] that he came up with the
expression 'turn on' (activate you neural and genetic equipment)
'tune in' (interact harmoniously with the world around you) 'drop
out' (suggesting an active and selective graceful process of
detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments).
Unfortunately, the press took it to mean 'get stoned and abandon
all constructive activity."
From the Official Timothy Leary Web site located at:
http://www.leary.com/Biography/Cheerleader/cheerleader.html on 20
2) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, (Beverly Hills, CA: CBS/Fox
Video, 1999; Orignal Content 1979), video cassette, PART ONE.
4) "Script Editing," _In-Vision: Nightmare Of Eden_, Issue #42
(March 1993), (Borehamwoods (Hertz, UK): Cyber Mark Services,
1993), 4. It is interesting to note that "Zip" is now a slang
word for cocaine--see author's sidebar (Footnote #28).
5) Kuhn, Cynthia (PhD); Swartzwelder, Scott (PhD); and Wilson,
Wilkie (PhD), _Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and
Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy_, (New York: W. W. Norton,
6) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, video cassette, PART TWO.
7) Ibid, PART THREE.
8) Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson, _Buzzed: The Straight Facts
About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy_,
9) _Facts About Drugs: Alcohol_, (Milwaukee (WI): Milwaukee
Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 1989), pamphlet.
10) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, video cassette, PART THREE.
11) Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson, _Buzzed: The Straight Facts
About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy_,
12) Verity Lambert interviewed in: _Doctor Who: More than 30
Years in the TARDIS_, (Beverly Hills, CA: CBS/Fox, 1995), video
13) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, video cassette, PART FOUR.
16) Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; and Walker, Stephen James,
_Doctor Who-The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor_, (London: Doctor Who
(Virgin), 1992), 125.
17) Muir, John Kenneth, _A Critical History of Doctor Who on
Television_, (Jefferson (NC): McFarland, 1999), 288.
18) Howe, Stammers, Walker, _Doctor Who-The Handbook: The Fourth
19) Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson, _Buzzed: The Straight Facts
About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy_,
20) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, video cassette, PART FOUR.
21) Howe, David J., _Doctor Who: A Book of Monsters_, (London:
BBC Books, 1997), 54.
22) _Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden_, video cassette, PART THREE.
23) Ibid, PART TWO.
24) Ibid, PART ONE.
25) Ibid, PART THREE.
26) Ibid, PART FOUR.
28) The following list of slang terms can be found in: Kuhn,
Swartzwelder, and Wilson, _Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the
Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy_, 275-304.
It's interesting to note that Jar Jar Bink's race (or at least a
close derivative) is a slang word for marajuana. It could
explain some of George Lucas's choices.
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Last Updated June 6, 2001