The Nightmare Man was adapted by Robert Holmes (from the novel by David Wiltshire) and directed by Douglas Camfield. Since Holmes and Camfield were both experienced Doctor Who hands it’s tempting to view this as almost a Doctor Who story by proxy. Holmes had a love of classic horror tales, so there’s no doubt that Wiltshire’s story of a series of mysterious deaths on a remote Scottish island would have right up his street. Whilst there’s little blood or gore it does feel a touch more adult than his Doctor Who‘s, something which probably would have appealed to Holmes (he was always a writer who pushed against the boundaries – as Mary Whitehouse would attest to).
It’s slightly surprising that it’s shot on VT rather than film, especially since Camfield was a master with a film camera. Presumably this was budget-related, as there’s only a handful of video effects.
Within the first few minutes we’ve met the main players. Fiona Patterson (Ceila Imrie, sporting an impressive Scottish accent) runs the local shop whilst Michael Gaffikin (James Warwick) is an English dentist, in love with both the island and Fiona. Both run into a visitor, Colonel Howard (Jonathan Newth), who tells them that he’s planning to spend a few days exploring, whilst we also bump into Inspector Inskipp (Maurice Roëves).
But whilst all this seems normal enough, there’s something on the island which is far from normal. This strange entity is shot from their POV and instantly creates an unsettling atmosphere. When Michael finds a body on the golf course it appears the mysterious creature has claimed its first victim. Inskipp is matter of fact about this grisly discovery. “Aye, I do mean a body. We haven’t found all the pieces yet.” During the episode we’re drip-fed more facts about the murder and nothing we hear sounds very comforting. The body wasn’t dismembered with a knife – it was literally torn apart.
Camfield always cast his shows incredibly well and The Nightmare Man is no exception. Maurice Roëves makes an immediate impression as Inskipp and does something with what could be a cliche role – the tough copper. Although Camfield had a reputation for using a “rep” of actors it’s not really in evidence here, although Tony Sibbald (playing Dr Symonds) had appeared in his 1975 Doctor Who story Terror of the Zygons.
This does everything that an opening episode should. It sets up the mystery efficiently and finishes on a strong cliff-hanger (Dr Symonds attacked by the mysterious creature). Will the serial keep this quality up or will it end in an anti-climax? Time will tell.