I was six years old when I discovered Doctor Who. Like most six year olds who discover Doctor Who, my first thought after discovering there were MORE stories was to want to see every possible Dalek adventure. So when I saw that the Day of the Daleks VHS cover was plastered with Daleks, I simply had to see it! I recall being disappointed at the time at how little the titular Daleks featured in the adventure, but still really enjoying the adventure. 25 years on, it’s still a firm favourite with many reasons to enjoy this four part story.
We have reached the heady echelons of the top 50 in the countdown! Along the way we have already reviewed some superb stories, all worthy of challenging for the top 50. By now, we are getting into some of my best enjoyed stories, and kick off with a classic Jon Pertwee adventure. As regular readers will recall, Roger Delgado’s Master appeared in every story of Season 8 – a decision I am not entirely persuaded was the best, especially for The Claws of Axos and Colony in Space. So it was something of a relief to discover that Delgado did not make his return until the middle of Season 9 – and oh what a return!
After their last encounter in Season 8 finale The Daemons, the Master was sent to a high security prison. We find the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in prison, to discover that nearby oil rigs have been attacked by a presence unknown. Investing the disturbance, they discover that the Master has hoodwinked the Prison Warden into believing he can prevent an incursion by enemy agents. Meanwhile, the Master has made contact with the titular ‘Sea Devils’ – ocean based cousins of the Silurians from the eponymous episode who bear a distinct resemblance to sea-turtles in humanoid form. His plan is very simple – to escape his imprisonment, and in so doing to help the Sea Devils destroy humankind.
Compared to their later appearance in Warriors of the Deep, the Sea Devils make for a very effective foil – certainly untrustworthy and prepared to be vicious, but also (as with their Silurian cousins) displaying the distinct impression of being an intelligent and civilised race, no worse than humanity in their viciousness. Other guest characters put in a very respectable showing, not least Naval Captain Hart who plays the equivalent role of the Brigadier in this story. A special mention also goes to the submarine crew for their scenes spent kidnapped by the Sea Devils – but especially to the BBC effects’ crew, who mistakenly managed to recreate a British nuclear submarine propeller by sheer co-incidence, and had a call from British intelligence asking where they had received the information from!
But the reason this serial is so high, as with many of Pertwee’s stories, is the personal interaction between Pertwee and Delgado. Whether their sword fight in the episode 2 cliffhanger, or the moment when Pertwee cheerfully informs Delgado “It may interest you to know, that I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” (“You’ve done what?!“) – every moment they spend jousting on the screen is absolutely wonderful. Couple that to a genuinely good story, and you have vintage and enjoyable Doctor Who. Highly commended!
Readers of the last two episode reviews will notice a recurring theme – that they are six part adventures set during the Pertwee era that all involve some sort of adventure on another world. Today’s review continues that trend – recognising that there are quite a few of these adventures from Pertwee’s time as the Doctor that I find perfectly enjoyable, but aren’t necessarily standout classics in the same way that some of the later reviews are.
The Mutants sees the BBC producers dust off a mechanism last used in Colony in Space – the Timelords explicitly send the Doctor and Jo on a quest, in this instance to deliver a message that can only be opened by the person it is intended for, and they arrive on the planet Solos, which is seeking independence from the empire of Earth – witness again how the BBC didn’t shy from social commentary on real life events, in this instance the granting of independence to former British colonial territories. The Marshal of the planet is determined that the planet should not be returned, but rather should be terraformed, regardless of the cost to the native Solonians. He is equally determined to wipe out the titular Mutants (called Mutts) – a mutated race that have appeared on the planet.
The Doctor comes into contact with the person for whom the message is intended – a native Solonian named Ky, and discovers that the planet’s year lasts the equivalent of 2000 earth years, with seasonal changes occuring every 500 years. The Mutts are in fact mutated Solonians, and the mutation is a natural change that they go through, which has been disturbed by their colonisation by the Earth Empire. It therefore falls to the Doctor and Jo, aided by research scientist Sondergaard, to help Ky to reveal the villainous intent of the Marshal to the Earth authorities, and persuade them to allow Solos’ independence.
Quite a lot happens across the six episodes, which makes a ten minute review difficult! But it shows why I rather enjoyed discovering this era of the show’s history. Over six parts you grow to know and enjoy the characters and the subplots, and are absolutely delighted when the Marshall gets his final comeuppance. The story also illustrates that Pertwee didn’t need the Master present for a good story – it runs along at a goodly rate, carried by the momentum of continuous peril, discovery and reaction to adversity.
In fact, of the three Pertwee reviews I have just undertaken, I would say The Mutants is a better introduction to this kind of story compared to Frontier in Space or Colony in Space. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the DVD as to just how enjoyable the story was – while recognising that fans who felt six-episode stories dragged or hated the Pertwee era might struggle to enjoy it as much as I did!
I’ll be honest – when I bought the Peladon Tales boxset I didn’t have high hopes for either story. Where that was perhaps justified with the relatively lacklustre Monster of Peladon, this four-part adventure from Pertwee’s third season isn’t actually that bad. By now the production team had become the world experts in getting around the Doctor’s exile to Earth – simply sending him off on missions for the Timelords any time they wanted to hold an adventure elsewhere in time and space. This particular story begins with the Doctor believing he’s finally got the TARDIS working again, taking Jo Grant (who is meant to be enjoying a romantic evening with Captain Yates!) for a test flight. It is not until the final episode that the Doctor realises he’d been duped by the Timelords to solve the problem faced on Peladon. Thankfully for the viewers, by the start of Season 10 both the BBC and the Timelords decided to give the Doctor back his travelling privileges!
I have only the haziest memories of first catching glimpse of this serial – my dad was watching it on UK Gold, who very helpfully liked to insert ad breaks into the middle of 25 minute episodes. Being quite young I was greatly amused by the sight of what I thought then was a filing cabinet (now know was a massive computer) materialising into the middle of what I took to be Ancient Greece. Later researches of course revealed that the serial was none other than The Time Monster and I felt suitably intrigued.