The Nightmare Begins

This article is about the episode of Invader Zim. For the similarly-titled episode of Doctor Who, see The Daleks' Master Plan.
"The Nightmare Begins"
Invader Zim episode

Ms. Bitters introduces Zim to the class.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Steve Ressel
Written by Rob Hummel
Production code 01
Original air date March 30, 2001 (2001-03-30)
Episode chronology

"The Nightmare Begins" is the first episode of science fiction comedy series Invader Zim, originally aired on March 30, 2001.[1] This is also the first "full-length" episode of Invader Zim. Because of the absence of the opening title video, this is technically the longest episode of Invader Zim ever made. This is the first official episode to feature Richard Horvitz as Zim. In the pilot episode, he was first portrayed by Mark Hamill, and then Billy West. Shortly after the cancellation of The Angry Beavers, Horvitz was brought in as a potential voice of Zim, and was asked to record over certain lines for the pilot. Though neither his nor Hamill's cuts made to an official release, Horvitz remained the voice of Zim for the remainder of the series.


On the Irken-ruled planet Conventia, the beginning of a galactic conquest campaign known as Operation Impending Doom 2 is about to start. The Irkens want all the races of the universe to serve under their already vast Empire, so they plan send Irken Invaders to make the planets vulnerable so the Irken Armada can easily invade and conquer them. Zim arrives uninvited, and it is revealed that Zim singlehandedly ruined the original Operation Impending Doom by stealing a Frontline Battle Mech and unwittingly annihilating a portion of his home planet, Irk. Reluctant to have Zim involved with the new operation, the Almighty Tallest, the two leaders of the Irken Empire, send Zim away to a distant planet on the other side of the Galaxy, represented on their galactic map as a sticky note with a circle drawn onto it with a question mark in the circle. It turns out to be Earth, thus ending the assignment process. On Earth, a boy named Dib intercepts a signal and hears about the Irken invasion plan, though no one, these being his sister and father, takes any interest.

Invaders are receiving robot assistants called SIR (Standard-issue Information Retrieval) units. Not wanting to give away advanced technology to Zim, he is given a robot constructed of garbage named GIR. It is not known what, if anything, the G stands for.[2] GIR appears unintelligent and Zim comments on this, but the Almighty Tallest lie and convince him that "it's not stupid, it's advanced".[3] Zim and GIR head for Earth, and upon their arrival Zim picks disguises and constructs a base. The disguises scene involves cameos of the creator, Jhonen Vasquez, and the director, Steve Ressel. The next day Zim attends the local school as he believes he will learn about his enemy there. Dib is there and recognises Zim as an alien, but nobody else does. Dib makes an attempt to capture Zim but gives up when Zim gets to his base, as the front lawn is covered in laser firing lawn gnomes.


Origin of Invader Zim

Richard Steven Horvitz was the third and final casting choice for Zim.

Prior to airing of Invader Zim, Nickelodeon desired a series to suit its "eleven to fifteen year-old" demographic.[1] The network hired alternative comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez to create the series.[4] Several ideas were considered by both Vasquez and the network, including a children-suited version of Mork and Mindy, but were dropped by the creator, who believed such ideas did not suit his genre of writing.[4] Vasquez indicated that in the final version of the series, very little of his writing style was changed, other than restricting language and certain visuals that may not be suitable for children, including that of visuals deemed by the network as similar to the September 11 attacks[4][5] The biggest difference that he cites is the change from working alone to working with thousands of people at Nickelodeon, calling it an "absolute misery".[5] A pilot was originally pitched to the network in 1999,[4][6] which featured many similar elements from the series, including a mysterious portrait of a monkey hanging in Zim's house.[7]

Vasquez asked his friend, Mark Tortorici, to produce ideas for the theme music for Invader Zim. The two settled on a direction for the music and Tortorici and produced a final version of the theme. Vasquez's team selected Michael Tavera to compose music for the pilot episode. Vasquez said that he asked for several of the tracks that Tavera produced to be discarded and that ultimately the team had less than half of the number of tracks that they planned to submit. According to Vasquez, he and Tavera were not creatively "a great fit" for one another. Vasquez described the pilot music as having a "more 'children's television' sound", with a "much more traditional and not as surprising" theme as he wanted, but added that the music "worked for the pilot". Tortorici's theme song and Tavera's cover version did not appear in the pilot as there was no credit sequence. Vasquez said that members of the Invader Zim crew laughed at Tavera's version of the theme because it was "cheesy", adding that the reaction was not mean-spirited and that Tavera had received little information about the series before submitting the music. Tavera did not become a part of the regular Invader Zim crew, while Kevin Manthei created the series' music.[8]


On the commentary it is also said that the Tallest are redesigned after this episode, which can be seen by their new armour the next time they appear in the episode Germs. All the main characters are introduced in this episode, as are the prominent locations used in the series. Important plot points such as the conflict between Zim and Dib are presented. This conflict continues throughout the series with brief moments when they're forced to work together.[9] The episode ensures to emphasise how Dib is seen as different, with characters siding with Zim from the moment they've met him, whilst having hatred for Dib.[10]


"The Nightmare Begins" was well-received overall by television critics, and was included alongside various other Nicktoons in a Wal-Mart exclusive Nickelodeon release, Nickstravangaza! #2.[11] Mac McEntrie of DVD Verdict commented positively on the episode, praising the "Great Assigning", and "Doom song" scenes, as well as the creation of Zim's house.[12] In 2001, Kyle Menke won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for "The Nightmare Begins" for his storyboarding,[13] as did Steve Ressel, who won an Annie for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production for "The Nightmare Begins".[14] That same year, Steve Ressel, Jhonen Vasquez, and Mary Harrington won the World Animation Celebration award for Best Title Sequence.[15] In 2002, the sound crew was nominated for the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Television - Animation for "The Nightmare Begins".[16]


  1. 1 2 "Nickelodeon Cans INVADER ZIM". 18 January 2002. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  2. Zim: "What does the 'G' stand for?" GIR: "I don't know" (The Nightmare Begins)
  3. Zim: "Is it supposed to be stupid?" Tallest Purple: "It's not stupid, it's advanced" (The Nightmare Begins)
  4. 1 2 3 4 Tierney, Adam (2004-09-01). "An Interview with Jhonen Vasquez and Rikki Simons (page 1)". Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  5. 1 2 Shattuck, Kathryn (2001-03-25). "Fishbowl Fairies and an Alien in Exile". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
  6. Vasquez, Jhonen (2004). Invader Zim volume 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Pilot" (DVD). Media Blasters.
  7. Vasquez, Jhonen (2004). Invader Zim volume 1 DVD commentary for the episode "The Nightmare Begins" (DVD). Media Blasters.
  8. "Variations on a ZIM Theme. Mindspill April 28, 2009. Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  9. Dib: "Just this once, we work together. Mortal enemies working together for the common good!" (Bolognius Maximus)
  10. "Review of Invader Zim". 11 May 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-12.
  11. Lambert, David (2003-09-19). "Invader Zim's first appearance on a commercial DVD". Retrieved 2007-05-12.
  12. McEntire, Mac (August 22, 2005). "Invader Zim: Volume 1 - Doom Doom Doom Review". DVD Verdict review. Mac McEntrie. Retrieved 2005-05-07.
  13. Feitwell, Jill (2001-08-13). "Emmy voices its winners". Variety. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
  14. "29th Annual Annie Award Nominees and Winners". ASIFA-Hollywood. 2001. Archived from the original on 2012-05-25. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
  15. "Nickelodeon Awards". Retrieved 2008-10-28.
  16. "49th Golden Reel Awards Nominees Announced". 2002-02-28. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
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