Classic Series DVD Review
Starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, Katy Manning as Jo Grant
Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Director: Christopher Barry
I must be crazy. As I settled in to write my review of the Mutants (not to be confused with the original serial about the Daleks also called the Mutants), I wondered what other folks thought of the serial. As I’ve mentioned before, the Third Doctor’s era is definitely not my favorite. While there are some real gems in Pertwee’s time as the Doctor, there are several recurring things that I just don’t care for… And yet, I find myself at odds with the Mutants. While I quite enjoyed it, it seems nobody else does.
There’s a lot going for this serial, despite being a 6 parter (which are always hard to pull off) and it avoids some of the pratfalls that typically annoy me about the era. Sure the music is still pretty intolerable at times, but I found the score much more muted and almost non-existent at times. So let’s break it down, is this serial and the DVD worth checking out?
The Doctor receives a distress signal and then a strange box appears. Jo Grant (his assistant) wants to know what it is, but the Doctor says it’s a very specific package and he can’t open it. The package has been sent by the Time Lords and he must deliver it to a special point in time and hope he can find who it’s supposed to belong to, because only they can open it. Jo wants to come along, but the Doctor tells her it’s much too dangerous and he leaves. Of course Jo manages to stow away and we’re off to the future AND deep space.
As they head off to the space station in the sky, Skybase One (not to be confused with Skylab!) we see on nearby planet Solos, that humans are hunting down and presumably killing an old man who’s mutated. They treat him with no respect and seem to revel in his death. The old man is 90% human in appearance himself, but the humans who hunt him down are wearing breathing apparatus and we learn they’re from Skybase.
Space Limbaugh in the 24th ½ Century.
We’re then introduced to the Marshall (played by Paul Whitsun-Jones), who is spearheading this genocide campaign against the mutated people of Solos. As the Doctor and Jo bungle around the Skybase, we find out that this is an Earth spaceship and the people of Earth are trying to colonize Solos. Earth has been doing a series of environmental experiments to try and make the planet livable for Earth’s particular brand of humans, which coincidentally has coincided with these strange mutants showing up on the planet.
We also meet the regular Solonians who are just like regular humans, except they’re hundreds of years behind us (thousands if you’re counting the time period of Skybase) in development. They’re more like Earth of the middle ages, but thanks to us, they now know a lot more. As it turns out, there re two main tribes of Solonians, those who approve of the Earth’s intentions led by Varan and those who don’t led by Ky.
It’s all for nil anyway, as Earth is about to give the Solonians independence. Earth has invested too much time in trying to make Solos inhabitable and now that these mutants are showing up, the high council plans to give it up. Unfortunately the Marshall has other plans and stages an assassination of the Administrator who runs Skybase. This gives the Marshall the free reign to literally put the planet under “Marshall law”.
About this time the Doctor figures out that his box is supposed to go to Ky, and will only open for them. Unfortunately Ky and the rest of the Solonians have to flee the Skybase (via teleporter) because the Marshall has blamed the assassination on them. Meanwhile, the Doctor begins to realize that the Marshall is up to no good.
Jo Grant earns her money by being absolutely useless.
Jo sneaks to Solos with Ky, despite being told that the atmosphere will kill her. She contributes nothing to the serial other than constantly getting in the way. It could be worse of course, she could totally take over the whole show and drag it down (see also Amy Pond) but although she’s useless, she doesn’t ruin it. As Jo is saved by Ky, the Doctor meets Jaeger, a scientist who works with the Marshall to experiment on the atmosphere.
Eventually the Doctor is convinced that the experiments are the issue, but the Marshall doesn’t believe in science other than to further his agenda. Basically the Marshall is Rush Limbaugh in space. A cat and mouse game begins as the Doctor is forced to help the Marshall and his men (including two guys who work for the Marshall but don’t much like him, Stubbs & Cotton) and before long the Doctor is playing both sides. In fact everyone is playing both sides to an extent as the mystery unravels and trouble continues to brew.
Before long the mutants have become complete monsters, Jo Grant is kidnapped by both sides and with help from a long lost Earth scientist on Solos, the Doctor realizes that the Solonians are supposed to change into monsters. It’s part of a life cycle for the species, but because Earth has wrecked their civilization so much for so many years, not even the Solonians were aware of it.
Skybase actually has a great set.
It seems that the Time Lord’s mystery box contained some ancient documents that helped make the Doctor and Ky aware of this. It also reveals that this is not the final form of the Solonians, but rather a caterpillar-like state which comes before their ultimate state. The Marshall doesn’t care and wants to eradicate the entire planet and colonize it for Earth, no matter the cost.
Of course, this is Doctor Who. Eventually with help from Stubbs, Cotton, Ky and Varan, the Doctor is able to turn Jaeger’s experiments against him, outwit
Boss Limbaugh the Marshall and even turn Ky into his “butterfly” state. Saving the day once again and only having a few people die in the process.
Rainbows mean everything is A-okay.
The costumes and sets are all quite nice. The Mutants themselves look very good for low budget sci-fi. They remind me of the Meganulon from the 1956 Rodan film. The Skybase set feels really rather expansive as we see everything from offices to fuel chambers. It’s all very bright white and definitely feels futuristic. It’s like Apple designed it or something. The Solos on location shots are kept to mostly caves and foggy fields, which gives it a nice feel as a primitive society plagued by pollution.
The acting is pretty good throughout, with the Marshall playing a realistic jerk, Stubbs and Cotton as two poor dopes who hate doing his bidding, Varan as a dumb, but proud warrior and Ky as an enthusiastic young rebel. Everyone has a distinct role and motives. Jaeger is a fun character as well, because although he’s the Marshall’s “mad” scientist of sorts, he shows a real devotion to science itself and you can feel his struggle as he’s desperate to learn many of the Doctor’s secrets.
Another nice thing is Jon Pertwee’s portrayal here. A lot of times, Jon didn’t do much in the terms of science or pathos, but both are clearly on display here. His work here feels very much like the modern Doctors, as he tries to understand things, figures stuff out using his incredible intellect and yet, works to be compassionate to all parties.
This is a 6 part serial, so it does drag at points. However I must say, of the Third Doctor’s serials, this one never seems to drag as much as others. The only other complaint would likely be that Jo is needless in this adventure, other than to serve as a weakness for the Doctor. Of course, even that makes sense to an extent, because without her, the Doctor could have solved this problem in half the time. She’s needed here to be a weakness… But that certainly doesn’t make her a compelling character.
The Classic Doctor Who DVD releases usually contain a fair amount of bonus features and this one is no exception with this being a double disc set. Unfortunately, most of the features aren’t very good. The main feature to me is the “Making of” which is pretty adequate overall as it goes through some of the history of the project and what worked on it.
I’m just here to get paid.
Christopher Barry says it was good, but not his best work. Others point out that this work still stands up today for a variety of reasons. This is definitely true as you could apply the themes here to racism, genocide and even global climate change to an extent.
Doctor Who is racist… No it’s not… The World is racist.
Next up is the painfully long “Race Against Time”, which is supposed to be a look at race and Doctor Who. This abomination of a documentary, which runs close to 45 minutes, is narrated by Noel Clarke (Mickey) and touches on everything dealing with race in Doctor Who. It sounds like a good idea in premise, because heck this even focuses in a bit on Cotton (who was the only black character in this particular serial) but goes back and forth between proclaiming that the show wasn’t racist and then that it was.
Ultimately I don’t think they make much of a case at all that the show is racist. It’s just a giant waste of time and the fact that it’s twice as long as the “Making Of” feature really pissed me off. There’s just no damning evidence anywhere that the show is racist and they say as much. Instead of focusing perhaps on how the show largely ignored race (and thus was a pioneer in many respects) they have three or four experts who are just dying to find something, anything that proves the show is racist. Eventually they decide that Who wasn’t racist, but that the entire planet is racist… Or some such nonsense. It’s pointless and stupid. For the record, Cotton is shown as being competent and courageous and even ends up becoming the man who runs Skybase once the Marshall is defeated.
Perhaps the only thing even remotely interesting is a 50 second clip of Patrick Troughton from an ‘Pebble Mill’ interview in 1973 suggesting that he once thought about playing the Second Doctor in “black face” as an Arab type character. Of course, everyone dismisses that as a joke (which it seemed to be) but the full interview with the Second Doctor would have made a much, much better special feature.
I bet what I have to say would be interesting, if I just would stop giggling.
The final lengthy feature is with James Acheson, a designer on the show during the era. James is now famous in Hollywood for his work, but unfortunately he’s either tipsy here or just annoying in real life as his interview is mostly him giggling. He goes through his entire run of Who, explaining his motivations and telling some stories about what he did… But he’s giggling the whole time. Like a little school girl. He can hardly get out a sentence without giggling.
I’m so funny… To myself.
I honestly cannot express to you how much he giggles. The only time he gets any words out is when he’s choking back a giggle. Even then, once he says whatever, he giggles for another minute. This is like a 15-20 minute feature… So it gets old really fast.
Finally we have a tiny segment from Blue Peter, that’s pointless and lasts about a minute. Then you have your usual assortments of photo gallerys, plus production, design and publicity stills.
Bonus features: 4/10
Total score: 8/10
This is actually a quite good episode. Even if you’re not a fan of the Third Doctor, you’re likely to enjoy this one. Yes it’s long and yes it has its faults, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you like Doctor Who. The DVD also has lots of features, but unfortunately they’re not very good. I didn’t listen to the commentary track, but those are usually pretty fun and they have a “pop up video” style setting as well. The rest of the bonus stuff is nice to have, but most of it made me want to punch myself in the face after having watched it.
Basically, just get this one for the episodes themselves and not the overbearing bonus features.