“O horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!”
Tis true indeed – a Tom Baker story is in my bottom 100! But then we need not be surprised – with seven seasons under his belt it was inevitable that the curly haired long scarved one would have one or two episodes that were somewhat less impressive. What then has the Creature from the Pit done to deserve this accolade?
Well for one thing the story isn’t bad, but isn’t particularly good either. It suffers from being so unmemorable that one is left unenthused. Some later Baker stories are quite poor in terms of story, but they at least make an effort – The Armageddon Factor is generally a somewhat weak story, but it is painted in such a grand scheme that you almost forgive the lacklustre plotline. Of course, the story title is the big giveaway, being more in the nature of a “My-First-Monster-Book-For-Kids” – the titular Creature indeed living in a pit, and not being hugely scary.
And then of course we get to the performances. David Brierley does his best as the voice of K9, but he’s just not John Leeson. This was the first recorded appearance of Lalla Ward as the regenerated Romana (her debut story would in fact be Destiny of the Daleks) and it shows – unlike the more playful Romana who appeared previously in Destiny of the Daleks and City of Death, the Romana portrayed in this story is more akin to how Mary Tamm played the role – cold and aloof and commanding. Compared to how Ward more naturally played the role, it jarrs and does not sit easily.
Baker for his part had not yet completely lost interest in being the Doctor – unlike Season 18 where it was evident his mind was elsewhere. But nor does he command everything that goes before him as before – which implies that by this point he’s not lost interest, but certainly on his way to losing it. This episode is striking – as I said earlier, for the lack of spark that marks out a good Baker story. Perhaps it is because he hadn’t quite worked out the chemistry between himself and Ward (despite the fact Ward had been hired precisely because she and Baker got on well together) – perhaps it is due to the weakness of the story. Perhaps it is due to the astonishing overacting by the villain of the piece – it does need to be seen to be believed!
But on the whole, The Creature from the Pit absolutely delivers the very little it promises. It won’t leave you wowed, but it won’t have left much of an indelible mark either. Of all the stories script edited by Douglas Adams, it is the one that leaves you most disappointed.