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!
The story itself is a thinly-veiled commentary on the negotiations by Ted Heath’s government to take the UK into the (then) European Economic Community – rather timely given the present government’s referendum on whether to remain in that community, and making one wonder if the BBC might have a thinly veiled reference in Nu Who! In the story, the planet of Peladon led by merry King Peladon are negotiating entrance to the Galactic Federation, with native naysayer High Priest Hepesh conniving in the background to try to prevent the planet successfully joining, pledging that continuing would bring the curse of the royal beast, Aggador.
The Doctor and Jo land in the middle of this mess, posing as the ambassadors from earth and suspecting (as would most of the viewing public) that returning foes the Ice Warriors are behind the attempts to derail the accession conference. It is one of the greatest twists in Doctor Who for the Ice Warriors to be revealed as on the Doctor’s side, having disavowed warfare and adopted peaceful diplomacy. The affair is happily resolved with the true foes exposed, and only the minimum of embarrassment caused by the delegate from Alpha Centuri, who aside of their extreme cowardice also bears an unfortunate resemblance to an area of human anatomy.
This is a decently paced four parter, and it is the combination of a fast pace and good depth that makes the serial surprisingly watchable. Patrick Troughton’s son David is superb as King Peladon, as is Geoffrey Toone as the Machiavellian Hepesh. Sadly however, there are just a few too many silly scenes and characters to make this a true classic – not least as Aggedor, the supposed titular ‘curse’ transpires to be a rather lovable furry creature! Could have been better – but certainly not as bad as it could have been!
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.
So when the Myths and Legends DVD boxset finally came down in price I was rather glad to have the opportunity to watch it – indeed of the three serials, I was hoping it would be the best. As evidenced by the fact we have not yet reached Underworld or The Horns of Nimon I was distinctly mistaken in my assumption.
I observed in my Survival review that it really didn’t merit the mantle of worst Master story. I stand by that purely in terms of the storyline – The Time Monster is almost laughable, and it was a travesty to pull an actor of such excellence as Roger Delgado to deliver such a lacklustre story. As with quite a few Pertwee six-part stories (The Sea Devils springs to mind as an obvious example) they seem to follow an odd narrative style of setting the final two episodes with different cast or setting – in this case, moving from a science laboratory in the other place (otherwise known as ‘Cambridge University’ to non-Oxonians) to Atlantis. Yes, as if blowing up Atlantis once in The Underwater Menace was not quite enough, the producers decide to finish it off properly!
At the end of the day, you do have to suspend disbelief and laugh at how silly it is – the Master exhibiting his strange vampire-like inability to choose an alias that isn’t based on his own name (Professor Thascalos – this being the Greek for ‘Master’); Sergeant Benton turned into a child, then reappearing fully-grown in a nappy; the dubious sets and acting of the scientists and Atlanteans alike; the rather unfortunate acronym of T.O.M.T.I.T. for the Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time (one imagines Mary Whitehouse choking on her tea when she heard that one) … well I guess all one can do is laugh. It’s certainly not possible to take the serial seriously!
Despite that, I did quite enjoy aspects of the serial. It’s not vintage Pertwee, or anywhere near his best material, but Pertwee and Delgado are such excellent actors that you can almost forgive the farcical material they are asked to work with. As with many of the serials I have ranked so far, one is more disappointed because of prior expectations, and the uneasy sense that with a bit effort it could have been so much better …