Colony in Space
Frontier in Space
|Dates||Apr. 8, 1972 -
May 13, 1972
With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning.
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Christopher Barry. Produced by Barry Letts.
|Synopsis: Pollution brings about unnatural mutations among the natives in an Earth colony, and the governor plans to purify the planet even at the cost of genocide.|
A Review by Robert Smith? 2/3/97
The Mutants is guilty of all the things that have dated so badly about the Pertwee era -- cheesy meglomaniacal villians, lots of padding, long moral speeches to Jo, a four episode plot stretched to six episodes, and a general lack of decent actors anywhere -- and yet, for some reason I love it!
There's something rather indescribable about The Mutants which makes it so very watchable. I'm really not quite sure what it is, since all the elements seem so appalling on paper. Perhaps it's the nostalgia for younger days (although I don't seem to find that in most Pertwee stories) or perhaps it's the hints at a grander backdrop (like Frontier in Space, there's a galaxy-spanning story going on in the background which is far more interesting and also hideously unfilmable). I'm not really sure what it is -- perhaps it's something you can only get from viewing the story?
A Review by Finn Clark 22/9/99
My journey through the canon of unloved stories continues. Before moving on to The Mutants, however, I'm going to talk about my Dad.
Doctor Who videos arrive in the post. In the wee small hours I stick the first of them in the machine, sit back to watch and... "What's that?" says Dad, awakening for the night like the daylight-shunning vampire he is.
"Er, it's a Doctor Who story called The Time
"Can I watch?"
"It's supposed to be pretty bad."
"I'll be working on stuff at the same time."
So we watch The Time Monster from start to finish. Dad likes it. I put on The Mutants. Dad likes that too. Now let it immediately be said that this man not only enjoyed Silver Nemesis but - and this is the clincher - married my Mum. Not everyone would go along with his judgement. But still one starts wondering if we fans are too quick to bash the unloved stories. Everyone mocks Doctor Who; we'd better do the same! Quick, where's Timelash?
As with The Time Monster, I found much to praise in The Mutants. The SF ideas are intriguing, the first four episodes are genuinely well paced and I even enjoyed its political side. The message is rammed to the hilt, yes, but it's aged far better than other once-topical issues covered in Doctor Who.
Consider this. The Mutants may not be perfect, but it could have been infinitely worse...
Take Ky, the man who couldn't shut up to save his life. The man's a single-issue fanatic. He hardly has a line in all six episodes that isn't a political speech. In the hands of most actors, this character would have you clawing your eyes out... but, amazingly, Garrick Hagon makes him sympathetic. Even when he's shouting down the Earth Administrator in episode one (an act of staggering stupidity), we're still on his side. Considering how much of the story rests on his shoulders, this must be counted as a triumph.
What else? Take the Mutts themselves. Yes, they look extremely silly (like microwaved Zarbi, in fact). Yes, the mutant entering the teleport booth in episode six is an all-time comedy classic. But in the caves, they look great. Shrouded in darkness and menacing our torch-wielding heroes, the Mutts are pretty damn effective. In fact, the cave scenes are terrific and if only the studio work could have lived up to the quality of the filmed sections, we might have had a little masterpiece on our hands.
Other aspects of the production are better than I'd been led to expect, too. The acting is generally okay. Rick James isn't great as Cotton, but he's not offensively bad either (except at the end of episode five). So that's a step up from The Time Monster, then.
And as for the script...
It has been said that six-parters should be two stories in one. The Mutants isn't, which is one of its two big problems. The first four episodes crack along very nicely, with some top-notch scientific detective work to keep the audience intrigued. This is hard SF, the genuine article. It's all good stuff.
But episode five arrives. Hey guys, you're writing a six-parter! Whoops. Bob Baker and Dave Martin struggle on determinedly, but alas to no effect. Their story has already shot its bolts and revealed its surprises. Suddenly we get the completely pointless complication of crystals on the surface of Solos, followed by the arrival of Earth investigators. Why? What does this add? Apart from Ky's transformation there is no significant story development after the climax of episode four; everything thereafter is running around, getting captured and escaping.
Oh, and the climactic resolution is crap too. A console blows up and Jaeger falls down. "You've ruined my dreams!" says the Marshal. Huh? Then Ky kills him.
"I think the Marshal should have suffered more at the end," said Dad, who may be a sadistic daylight-shunning vampire but he has a point.
This is a mere detail, however. In fact the Marshal is related to the second of the story's two big problems. This might take some time to explain...
The Mutants is about imperialism and apartheid. Solos is being crushed under Earth's jackboot. To all intents and purposes, this is fascism being portrayed here. All well and good. Now when we see things from the Solonian side of the fence, the power imbalances are painted vividly. Solonians are second-class citizens, regarded by their overlords as cattle to be exploited, gassed or murdered. When Ky tells us about the injustices of his people, we believe him utterly.
But we need the other side of the picture too. The colonial powers didn't oppress their victims for the sake of being nasty. It's all about greed and hatred, which need to be shown if you want to say anything more intelligent than "bad thing, bad thing".
On that score, The Mutants pathetically fails.
The Pertwee era wore its heart on its sleeve. "We're socially aware!" they cried. "Look at the injustices of the evil right-wing capitalist conspiracy!" But that's the easy way out. It's comfortable and unchallenging to say that bad things are done by wicked people. If you just pin the blame on evil black-hat baddies, at the end of the day you won't say anything of any depth.
The Mutants tries to have its cake and eat it. Cutting through the tissue-thin allegory, it states that the British Empire committed terrible crimes. True, though one-sided. But when it comes to explaining why, The Mutants dodges the question. With one exception, aren't those Earthmen a nice bunch? That nice Administrator wants to give Solos independence! Cotton and Stubbs wouldn't hurt a fly! Sondergaard's a sweetie and Jaeger's just a silly fellow, obeying orders. Could these fluffy duckies possibly be nasty horrid racists? Surely not! Look, Cotton's being played by a black man!
Clearly the Solonians are being exploited by the repression inherent in the system. Help, help, I'm being oppressed!
There's one exception to the above - the Marshal. Fair enough; I could live with this. After all we're talking about Doctor Who, not the Socialist Review. No doubt everyone reading this thinks I'm reading far too much into a simple piece of tea-time television.
But try watching the Skybase scenes before saying that.
They're shit! They're dull as ditchwater! This is partly due to the Blue Peter lighting and cardboard sets, but mostly because the world portrayed therein is one-dimensional and uninvolving. Consider the Marshal. He should have been a terrifying figure, the Fuhrer of an entire world whose smallest command could mean life or death. Bollocks. He's a pompous fat guy who shouts a lot. No one treats him with noticeable deference. One can only assume that his subordinates do as he says because they haven't anything better to do.
For the first few episodes, he's little more than a petty civil servant, puffed up with self-importance. He doesn't come across as interesting. He doesn't command; he bickers.
To be fair, this changes in the later episodes. When the Doctor first calls the Marshal mad, one doesn't take the accusation very seriously. Big mistake. Gradually his monomania grows. He demands the impossible, incapable of taking on board inconvenient truths. When the Doctor argues that the Mutts aren't evil, he completely loses it and starts ranting in front of his inquisitors.
This mental disintegration is one of the few redeeming features of episodes five and six. By the time the Marshal's final scene comes around, he's fondling a little globe of Solos and barely capable of any verbal interaction more complicated than shouting orders. It's wonderfully done... but it's symptomatic of the script's failure to portray fascism from the inside that, in the end, they could only say that their villain was crazy.
Hmmm. Now I've got that out of my system, I suppose I'd better mention some of the little details to be found in The Mutants. There are quite a few of them, perhaps unintentional but fun nonetheless.
No Mutants were harmed in the making of this film by Mike Jenkins 7/3/02
Well, this is a review for The Mutants (the Pertwee story, of course). Let me get this out of the way first. My favorite story of the era is Carnival of Monsters. My second favorite is Claws of Axos and this is my third. That's right you heard me. Bob Baker and Dave Martin are unrecognized geniuses. This story does indeed show facism from both sides. Facists don't have good intentions. They crave power and when they obtain it it makes them all the more dangerous than beforehand. The sympathetic natives and the forgotten noble Mutants are portrayed very well. This is some of the greatest Pertwee Jo interplay I've ever heard (sorry) and I own every existing Doctor Who story ever made! While some of the humans may be less threatening then others, they are all power hungry in some way shape or form. People's lives are in danger and all the professor cares about is his stupid equipment. Cotton's nice enough but he's not part of the ruling elite he's just a middleman.
As for the story itself, it's an absolute classic. One of the few Pertwee stories that maintains it's six episode length and the best story of Pertwee's third year (I regret nothing), The Marshal is the epitome of evil facism, first appearing to be calm and cool but then when the situation does not go his way, shows his true colors. It's a classic theme carried off almost to perfection here. The story is a perfect blend of horror, humour, drama and hard SF. It's no mistake that this story is as underated as it is.
Many Who fans do not enjoy Bob/Dave scripts (myself not included) because they think that because stories blend humour with drama they do not know what they are trying to achieve (an example of this would be The Armageddon Factor which is for the most part underrated) but of course this is a broad generalization. Stories that are purely dramatic without any humour lose their flare and detract into the kind of overly gritty dreary mush you find in a lot of Pertwee adventures such as Frontier in Space, Anything from season seven, Death to the Daleks, and the like. This story hangs on to whimsical influences making it one of the most enjoyable Pertwee tales and a welcome foray away from the predictable but good earthbound Pertwee story that came before it, The Sea Devils.
Strong analogies but what about the story? by Tim Roll-Pickering 3/3/03
The frustration with the limitations of the Earth exile format are clear throughout Season 9. There is only one story which is set entirely on present day(ish) Earth, and that story does not feature UNIT at all. The rest of the season is taken up either by stories in which the present is interacting with another time period or with the Doctor being dispatched on yet more missions by the Time Lords. However The Mutants demonstrates all too clearly the restrictions of such a scenario, whilst also raising questions about the effectiveness of the Time Lords. The Doctor is simply sent a container he has to deliver, with no information whatsoever about the situation he will be stepping into or who he is seeking. Then when the container is finally opened, the information contained within it turns out to be written in an ancient language that hardly anyone can now decipher. If the Time Lords had wanted to ensure that Ky received the information so much, surely it would have been easier for them to contact him direcly or manipulate him and Sondergaard into discovering the truth? This story completely shows up the whole "on a mission" basis for taking the Doctor away from Earth to be ill conceived and not thought through properly.
The situation the Doctor and Jo are dispatched to is a poorly disguised parody of the situation in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where the British realised that they could no longer afford their Empire and attempted to give independence to their colonies but found the local colonial elites fiercely resisting attempts to give independence to the indigenous population and took this resistance to the point of openly defying Britain and seeking to establish an independent settler regime, sparking off racial tensions which still dominate the headlines to this day. Indeed from a modern perspective it is hard not to see parrallels between Ky's dispatching of the Marshall and current Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's current campaign against the white population of the country. There are some discrepancies though, most obviously Ky's insistance on "independence" when in the 1960s the African leaders were emphatic that they wanted "No Independence Before Majority African Rule". Although the rebellion itself took place back in 1965, in 1972 the situation still repeatedly hit the headlines and so from a contemporary perspective the story has not "missed the boat". Furthermore the story offers a strong anti-racist message through the revelation that the Solonians are transforming into a wonderful lifeform and that their differences do not make them wrong.
Unfortunately the story is let down considerably by its length and execution. It has been given a six part slot but any budget increase that might be presumed to come to a longer story is not obvious, with many of the Skybase sets looking cheap and failing to give the impression of a spacestation, whilst on Solos the location work is dreary and rarely inspires. The acting is generally unimpressive with both Paul Whitsun-Jones (the Marshall) and Garrick Hagon (Ky) failing to bring the depth that these pivotal roles require, whilst George Pravda (Jaegar) gives a performance that is almost a send up at times. The best performances come from Rick James (Cotton) and Geoffrey Palmer (the Administrator) though as the latter is killed in the first episode this does not bode well for the rest of the story. Both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning give competent performances but this is not one of their best stories. On the writing side the story becomes too much of a runaround at times as characters pursue one another whilst waiting for the next major part of the plot to come along, whilst the way in which characters are trusted and shift their alleigances all too readily does not make for the best consistency. The direction is also not the best, with a sense of tiredness being evident throughout the production. The result is a story that has been conceived around some extremely strong concepts but which has become overlong tedium by the time it hits the screen. This is not one of the better Pertwee stories. 4/10
"Grrr... argh!" by Joe Ford 9/6/03
Oh dear lord. I haven't watched this story in so long, last time I did I clawed my eyes out and stored them in a pickle jar so I would never have to endure such a travesty of television ever again. Unfortunately BBC Worldwide chose to release the story during my anti-TV Doctor Who phase and being the fanatical completist that I am I HAD to buy it just so there wasn't a big annoying gap in my collection. What is it about this show that we actually spend our hard earned cash on merchandise we know is going to be crap? I despair at myself sometimes I really do...
Anyway, the fact of it is the first two episodes of The Mutants are BAAAAAD. So bad in fact that would sit quite comfortably in season twenty and I can't think of higher criticism. It's not just that the sets are ill conceived, claustrophobic and cheap looking (because they are) or that Jon Pertwee wanders about without a care in the world (because he does) or that the guests stars are hamming it up, pretending that they actually understand what the word acting means (because they do). No it is the very essence of these two episodes, the unimaginative scripts that think up a tired explanation to get the Doctor away from the Earth, that set up a astonishingly dull political backdrop and add a group of Viking wanabees that stick out like a sore thumb. Add to this horrible mess Paul Whitsun-Jones who plays the tyrannical Marshall with such OTT insanity that halfway through episode two I was considering gassing myself in the garage.
I mean honestly, if any non fan wanted an excuse to tear Doctor Who to shreds just let him watch any five minutes of the first two episodes. We would have no defence.
However hitting the third episode without much confidence I was awe-struck at how dramatically things improve. As soon as we reach Solos and start hanging about in the caves a genuinely interesting SF story springs from the main plot and my interest was piqued again. It could be that the excellent photography in the caves wore down my defences but the middle two episodes sail by quite nicely with some gorgeous shots of Jim Acheson's hideous mutants and a pretty good chase scene in the latest quarry surface.
The scenes with Ky and Jo are quite nice, primarily because the guy who plays Ky can act (which in this story is a blessed relief) but he's also quite nice looking too which is a bonus. Katy Manning imbues Jo with her usual righteous dippiness and they have quite an engaging interplay. Even Mr Pertwee, so good elsewhere in the season, improves as he works with Sondergard to discover the secret of the mutants.
Unfortunately we have to return to the Skybase (Skybase? I ask you!) and that chubby vat of donut batter the Marshall and his overdone theatrics. The last two episodes are mostly harmless with the usual threats, escapes, captures, Jon Pertwee rubbing his chin so much he starts to wear it down and Ky being attacked by 80's disco lights to transform him into some kind of floating angel. The scenes where he flies through the corridors of Skybase and attack the guards are so funny I almost wet myself with laughter. The story ends so abruptly too with no real wrap up. The Marshall is dead, the end. Oh okay, that was worth hanging around for six episodes for then. Mind you at that point you want to see Whitsun-Jones dead so much any cheap victory will do.
And let's forget on the way that we meet up with the wonderful Rick James as the extremely memorable Cotton! What an actor! He-has-this-wonderful-way-of-speaking-in-Dalek-like-monotones-syllables... that makes any scene with him an instant joy! And let's not forget that tear jerking moment when his friend Stubbs (a genuinely well acted character no less!) dies and all he says in a very unemotional fashion is "Mate?" ...priceless!
The Mutants isn't as bad as its reputation (well I mean is anything ever? Even Timelash manages to be more than the murky pile of crap people make it out to be... nope the only Doctor Who era that lives up to its bad rep is the Daviso... but I digress...) I actually had quite a lot of fun watching this (even the crap bits). But in the end despite its horrible first episodes it is still so desperately average in every way, there isn't anything here Doctor Who hasn't done somewhere else a million times better (or subtler, or funnier, or scarier, or flashier... you get the picture).
Not quite the worst Jon Pertwee story ever (erm Colony in Space gets that title) but its still pretty dire.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 14/9/03
The Mutants is very much your middle of the road Pertwee story, neither too bad or particularly impressive either for that matter. It is refreshing in that it isn`t set on Earth and doesn`t feature UNIT, but really this is all that sets it apart from the majority of Pertwee tales. It still features a megalomaniacal villain in the Marshall, cardboard sets in the skybase and atrocious acting (notably from Rick James as Cotton.) Even so it is still watchable, yes the plot is padded, but the cave sequences add a certain atmosphere and the titular Mutants are impressive visually. In short it best viewed once, left for a certain length of time and then revisited, as it doesn`t withstand repeated viewing.
A Review by Brian May 15/10/03
The Mutants is not considered to be one of the best Doctor Who stories, a fact I have always found quite strange. From my very first viewing, I always thought of it as a quality, engaging adventure - watching it again after its release on VHS only reinforces this opinion.
It is certainly one of my favourite stories of the Jon Pertwee era. Its detractors highlight only a few points against it: some dreadful acting; too didactic; being a dull, padded six parter. On the acting front, Rick James's performance as Cotton is universally derided. I certainly agree with this. It is simply awful - everything the actor says seems to be recited - and badly at that - from a cue-card. The fact that his dialogue triggers the ending for an already dull cliff-hanger to episode five does not help. George Pravda (Jaeger) is not that bad an actor, but his accent - I assume that's the actor's real accent? - is too thick and often incomprehensible. As with the above actors, he gets overexcited at times - although his sin is too many fluffed lines (enough to make old Bill Hartnell proud!) His performance in The Deadly Assassin is much better - his sardonic, deadpan Castellan Spandrell is more suited to Pravda's skills as a less emotive actor. Jaeger is an interesting character - he often criticises the Marshal, but never completely disobeys him and is therefore not blameless, leading the Doctor to admonish him for using the "just obeying orders" excuse. No offence to George Pravda, but I think another actor may have done Jaeger more justice.
On the plus side, there are some top-notch performances. Firstly, Garrick Hagon as Ky. Then there's Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Marshal. He has been accused of hamming up the character, but I believe the opposite is true. This performance is a brilliant one, and quite chilling. Whitsun-Jones's Marshal is larger than life, but that's because the character is so arrogant and used to having his own way. Far from being a hammy villain, the Marshal is one of the most despicable enemies the Doctor has encountered. He is not a pantomime villain with some crazy plan; he is not some alien race determined to conquer, destroy or survive. He is a disgusting, tyrannical, racist despot, who desires to rule over his small empire, whatever the cost. This hateful character is brought to life brilliantly - the decision to use an overweight actor is a good one. The Marshal's physical repulsiveness reflects how he has lived off the fat of the Solonians' toil - there are no "appearances can be deceiving" lessons here. The Marshal is worse than any monster.
The other consistent performances are Christopher Coll as Stubbs - a wonderfully loyal ally - it's a real pity he dies. Geoffrey Palmer, excellent in anything he does, is no different here as the Administrator, and it's unfortunate he doesn't appear for very long. Katy Manning shines in The Mutants, especially in the lengthy scenes in which Jo is separated from the Doctor. Jo Grant has always suffered as the companion in the shadow of the patronising, father figure of Jon Pertwee's Doctor - she is always better when allowed to branch out on her own, with ample opportunities here. Jon Pertwee is also at his strongest as the Doctor. Pertwee is best as the passionate crusader against injustice, and the plight of the Solonians is perhaps the greatest example of an oppressed people in his era - perhaps in the whole of Doctor Who. I don't think I've seen Pertwee any better than when he retorts to Jaeger with "Genocide as a side-effect! You ought to write a paper on that!" - and when he confronts the Marshal and Jaeger at the Investigator's tribunal.
The accusations of didacticism - how well founded are they? The Mutants is a very message oriented story - we have a polluted and exhausted Earth, the pollution of the atmosphere of Solos by the Marshal's experiments. Racism and colonialism are the other issues at hand, with a none too subtle reference to apartheid in the segregated transmat booths. But never do I find an overbearing moralism. As a tale with something to say, it's no different to other Pertwee adventures, for example Inferno, The Green Death or Invasion of the Dinosaurs, all environmentally conscious stories - and in some of these, the Doctor makes some speeches which definitely lack subtlety. I don't find that in The Mutants. Any speeches the Doctor makes here are simply an angry reaction to the awful deeds of the Marshal.
A plodding, padded six parter? Almost. True, The Mutants, like all the Pertwee era's six episode stories, is a bit slow. Some of the scenes with the Doctor and Jaeger in the laboratory drag on a bit. But, in my opinion, the pacing is better than in stories like The Sea-Devils or Planet of the Spiders, which are overbearingly ponderous.
There are many other factors that make The Mutants such a great story. Its production values are high. The models of Skybase and Hyperion are excellent (alas, the latter travelling through space is not so wonderful, looking like a flying, wobbling sonic screwdriver!). The direction is accomplished. The usual locations of quarry and caves are utilised well - one of my favourite scenes is Jo fleeing from the Mutants down the tunnel - the slowing down of the film and the music is quite foreboding, emphasising her running into the unknown. Tristram Cary's score is extremely appropriate - it lends a genuine sci-fi atmosphere to the futuristic story. There are a few irritating bits - the stabbing synthesiser whenever an action scene occurs, but these are minor compared to the music as a whole.
The Mutants themselves are also a triumph - one of the best designed monsters I have seen in the show - so good they are reused in future stories (cameos in Frontier in Space and The Brain of Morbius). In terms of dialogue, there are no classic lines or anything like that, but I love the Doctor and Jaeger's continual attempts to undermine each other ("It IS Doctor, isn't it?") It is also free of excessive tecnhobabble - particle reversal, the weather experiments and the need to isolate the transmat do make some sense.
The cliffhangers are not that great - I already mentioned the dreadful one for episode five, but I always remember enjoying the climax to part four - and still do, I confess - apart from that naff bit with Varan floating in space, of course!
The Mutants is a fine story, not without some faults - as is the case with most Doctor Who stories. A few imperfections seem to have been picked out and magnified in an attempt to discredit it. But for all these negative aspects, the positive factors far outweigh them. 8/10
"No-one lives on the ground" by Jason A. Miller 23/11/03
After its reboot in 1970 with Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who -- with Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks at the helm -- settled into a very successful Earth-bound formula, mixing together James Bond, a post-colonial social conscience, and bona-fide alien races that weren't monsters. A year later, with a permanent arch-nemesis in the form of the Master, Doctor Who could be relied on for one great story after another, every four to six weeks. The Mutants, however, is without UNIT, and without Roger Delgado's Master, and thus is regrettably one of the weaker entries in Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor.
It didn't have to be that way. The Mutants was directed by Christopher Barry, and the incidental music was composed by Tristram Cary. This team worked an another Doctor Who story also once known as The Mutants -- The Daleks -- in 1963, and that was the story which put DW on the map. This time, though, their work is less successful. Barry's direction takes a wrong turn as the story stops short for literally minutes at a time, with location footage and CSO blue-screen sequences that do nothing but put the audience the sleep. The music, so eerily discordant in The Daleks, here does little more than annoy.
The story's heart is in the right place, as comedy writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin play it straight. Their story is set in the 30th century, in the decline of Earth's empire. Solos, a struggling colony, has made no advances in 500 years, and its population is still segregated, banned from Skybase but for the use of separate transfer portals. Jon Pertwee's Doctor was always at his best when indignant, and here he has a pretty hammy villain to point his finger and lecture at.
There are no monsters in this story -- no alien monsters, anyway. The Solonian mutants (costume-designed by Doctor Who's Academy Award winner, James Acheson), lurch and screech a lot, but they never kill. They're benign creatures. The villain (fittingly, for such a progressive story) looks eerily like Rush Limbaugh, and, with his plan to gut Solos of its native atmosphere, while strip-mining the planet of its fuel, plays like a caricature of the Bush/Cheney administration. Paul Whitsun-Jones, as the Marshal, is one of Doctor Who's least credible villains, but because of that, he's also one of the most quotable.
The Baker/Martin script is pretty weak (apart from the Doctor's diatribes). In fact, the Marshal is best remembered for something he never really said -- a line of dialogue only present in the novelization by Terrance Dicks. "It was a booby-trap, Jaeger, and you were the booby." Jaeger is the Marshal's mad scientist, a morally ambiguous bad guy woodenly dragged through the story by George Pravda's heavily Czech accent. Speaking of accents, the variable-voiced John Hollis (Professor Sondergaard) plays two accents in the story, none of them his own. And, in a story about segregation, one of the main characters is a black man, significantly named Cotton. Unfortunately, Cotton is played by the worst actor of the lot, and the only noteworthy cliffhanger in The Mutants is brought to life (so to speak) by Rick James' disastrous line reading: "We'll all be done for!"
One aspect of this story still doesn't make sense. The Doctor arrives on Solos on a mission for the Time Lords. He's supposed to deliver ancient tablets to Solonian terrorist/freedom-fighter Ky. So, how did the Time Lords get the tablets? Just what is their interest in the mutations on Solos? At the end of the story, Ky evolves into a higher power, which we learn is the birthright of all Solonians. But we never learn why this affects the Time Lords. Many Doctor Who TV stories were later sequelized in print or on audio. However, no-one has yet displayed enough interest in The Mutants to follow up on this loose thread. I'm not exactly waiting to find out.
You Never Forget Your First Time by Andrew Wixon 21/3/04
There was once a time when there was only ever one Doctor. And for me that time was... well, pre-1980. I was born during Pertwee's final season and so the only face I'd even seen the Doctor wear was that of Tom Baker. I couldn't understand what my parents were on about, saying that Worzel Gummidge 'used to be Doctor Who' - the two of them didn't even look remotely similar.
And then, 1980. More specifically, a Saturday in 1980, and a church jumble sale. And on a table covered with tatty second-hand books I found a couple bearing the name of the show I liked so much. Not the big, solid annuals I already possessed a couple of, with their bright pictures and odd games. These were small softbacks, with no pictures, written by some man called Terrance Dicks who I'd never heard of (but who, not much more than a decade later, I would sit close to in a hotel bar, marvelling at the words made flesh). They were Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion and Doctor Who and the Mutants.
The descriptions of the Doctor in both books puzzled me. I didn't recognise either of them. But I persevered, deciding the writer must be mistaken, and... well, look, I was six, okay, hefty background and full descriptions of things really slowed a book down (or so I thought). So Auton Invasion, one of the greatest novelisations ever written, got put to one side as I got stuck into The Mutants.
It was the first proper book I'd ever read (well, maybe it was preceded by Five Go To Smuggler's Top, but which one do you think I've hung onto for nearly twenty-five years?). DW literature has made stellar advances since then, and the Virgin and BBC books have legions of passionate admirers... but are the actual books themselves pored over, re-read, and just treasured the way the Target books were in the pre-video era? I can't imagine it somehow. For us these were the missing adventures, available only in this form. I remember ploughing through The Mutants (probably, it must be said, on the second or third attempt), lying on a sun lounger, taking several summer's afternoons to do it. The sun wheeled overhead and my skin prickled as tiny insects walked across it, but the book captured my imagination. The evil Marshal and Jaeger, the clever Doctor and his brave friends. I was so upset when Stubbs died.
I never thought I'd ever actually see the story.
And, you may be thinking (if you're still here - I appreciate there's been a bit of a detour down Fond Remembrance Boulevard, but context is important on this occasion), what a disappointment it must have been for me when I did.
Well, no, not really. I've yet to read a positive review of The Mutants anywhere, and I suppose that nostalgia must blind me somewhat to its very real faults, but I still think this is a good and imaginative story. Chief amongst those flaws must be a crashing lack of subtlety and taste. From the bleepy-bloopy music to the CSO in the caves (the crystal chamber looks basically like someone's just vomited over the camera lens) to large chunks of the script, there's a near total lack of restraint and finesse.
Neither should we forget the occasional lapses in the special effects. Actually these are mostly pretty good (a bit of a minority view I admit) and the effects work on glowing-Ky in the final episode seems to me to be unfairly pilloried. The only bit which really lets the side down is the laughably awful realisation of episode four's cliffhanger, a scene which most modern American sci-fi shows would struggle to do well. Also, much fuss has recently been made about the deeply silly method by which the Doctor is inserted into the story. The Time Lord plan (here's a box, we're not telling you who it's for, but go and deliver it anyway - even though the recipient won't have a damn clue what to do with it when it arrives) is admittedly rather peculiar, but no more so than the one adopted by the heroes of another well-known SF franchise (let's all go one at a time into Jabba's palace and let ourselves get captured), which draws a lot less stick.
But come on, guys, it's not like this is The Time Monster or Planet of the Daleks we're talking about here. This is a complex and multi-layered script, ambitiously tackling some big SF ideas as well as political metaphors (even if it is occasionally unsure as to whether those metaphors refer to the British Empire or the Nazis). There's always something interesting going on - Stubbs' death is still quite sad (and to be honest I'd rather have seen the back of Cotton, whose performance was clearly an influence on that of Dean Learner in the classic 80s drama Darkplace), and the moment when Varan realises he's started to mutate is still oddly powerful. The director was clearly trying to do something significant in the casting, too - quite apart from Rick James, there's another coloured guard on Skybase, and an asian amongst the Investigator's staff. Coupled with the diverse accents also on display (Stubbs' is northern, Sondergaard's South African, Jaeger's is from God-knows-where) it's clear some attempt at depicting a multicultural Earth Empire was made - and all anyone remembers is that Rick James isn't a very good actor.
That's The Mutants all over, really: good ideas and ambitious concepts, let down by the production values and some iffy performances. This isn't the greatest script ever written, screwed up by lousy realisation - like I say, it does have holes in it. But The Mutants certainly isn't the disaster it's widely reckoned to be.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 2/2/05
A brief prologue about The Mutants. I fist read about this story in a sci-fi magazine back in the 80's when the only Doctors I had seen to date were Tom Baker and Peter Davison. Anyhoo, this article raved about how special The Mutants was and what a brilliant Doctor Jon Pertwee was, and so on and so on....
So, when my local public TV channels got the run of Pertwee stories, I had my eye out for this one. And after watching it in omnibus form, I was, well, disappointed. The only thing that stuck in my mind was that Old Big Nose kept tucking and untucking his pants into his boots....
Flash forward to now. After a long break from Who, where I was immersing myself into the film catalogues of Guy Maddin, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike, it was time for something conventional.... even old-fashioned.
And into the VCR went The Mutants.
It's from the minds of Bob Baker and Dave Martin, two veteran contributors during the run of 70's Who. The Mutants does cover some familiar Baker and Martin ground: lots of ideas, fun with radiation, loud villains, and dialogue that runs from the brilliant to the wretched.
It, like many of the Pertwee era stories has a strong moral message behind it -- racism, anti-colonialism. The story itself has a couple of nice twists and turns, although it does lose steam by the final episodes. And I have to mention the daft resolution of the part 4's cliffhanger, just because it is really that bad.
Anyhoo, on the acting front, Jon Pertwee nicely underplays the Doc in this story. Jon was always able to pull of the scientific investigator role of the Doctor with ease, and there are lots of moments for him to shine on that front. It's one of Katy Manning's better stories; it helps a lot that Baker and Martin give Jo a couple of moments to shine -- the escape scene in part five comes to mind. The real surprise, for me was Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Marshal. He doesn't go over the top as I once thought, and therefore manages to maintain some credibility, even when the Marshal goes comepletely insane by part six. The other main characters aren't all that bad, with the exception of Varan, played wretchedly by James Mellor.
Christopher Barry gets a thumbs up for decent direction, especially during the filmed segmment. Both the fog-shrouded outside and the caves look sharp, and give the feel of a real alien world.
Um, although it's really a minor deal, I do have to wonder what the costume department was thinking by letting Katy Manning wear that ghastly paisley trouser suit thing, and then there's the Earth Investigator and his buddies in part six, who look like the "dickhead" squad. Oh, My!
Overall, I thought The Mutants was a good story, better acted that what I remembered and far more interesting than its reputation.
"Genocide as a side effect, you ought to write a paper about that professor.." by Steve Cassidy 17/11/05
What do you really want from Doctor Who?
What do you watch it for? What makes it unique against other TV programmes. Why does the drama draw you back again and again?
I think we know the answer..
It's the story, isn't it?
It's the fact that its stories are utterly different from anything else. It's the fact that it is about big ideas, it's about reaching out and letting your imagination soar. It's about ideas not possible in any other programmes, it's about pushing the envelope as far as it can go. It's about entertainment - yes, but it's also about stretching the programme makers and the audience. Taking them on a journey that no other programme can take them.
I will go out on a limb here... The Mutants has a terrific story.
There are ideas here which chill you to the bone. This is a disturbing story with adult themes - occupation, survival, oppression, metamorphosis, corruption, megalomania and worse of all - ethnic cleansing. Who is at its best when it is handling adult topics, disguising them in a children's programme. There is a very hard edge to this adventure. In places it is very disturbing. The imagery is apocalyptic - death occurs on a massive scale. The manipulation and destruction of an indigenous race is painful to watch. The egos and raging megalomania on show here are drawn from recent history. The blustering colonial dictator here is grounded in real fact from a history that in 1972 was still unravelling.
And everybody here can guess the theme here - the twilight years of the empire. In 1972 the old colonels who had spent their lives in Rangoon, Kingston or Nairobi had headed home to their retirement bungalows in Surrey or Gloucestershire and muttering their often reactionary views to local and national newspapers. The newspapers were still full of the last blast of empire. There was more to come, most of the Caribbean and Africa had got its independence in the sixties but in the seventies we had the ticking bomb of Rhodesia. The similarity of Ian Smith hurling his abuse from that troubled colony and the Marshall's racism and intransigence is uncanny. And of course if they wanted an example of segregation and dictatorship the apartheid of South Africa was still very much alive. The signs on the de-mats of "overlords" and "Solonians" mirrors the "blacks" and "whites" signs on the Cape Town beaches which were there into well into the nineties..
And then there is the theme of cultural oppression. The five hundred year theme may mirror the plight of the pre-Colombian Indians and the obliteration of their culture. The Solonian culture so destroyed that they don't even know the biology of their own race and how it is designed to mould to the planet's future. And the butterfly symbolism at the end is perfect for this adventure. A culture and people going through a metamorphosis to rule themselves and emerge in beautiful splendour at the end. There's so much symbolism in The Mutants. The Marshall's communication device is reminiscent of a colonial flywhisk or military baton, the hunting of the mutant in the opening scene mirrors the ethnic cleansing which took place in Tasmania in the 19th century, and Stubbs and Cotton are just simple tommies on the edge of empire trying to keep it together as it all goes to wrack and ruin around them.
Ah, yes - Rick James. Oh dear Mr Letts - you dropped a clanger there. Barry Letts as producer has a superb record in casting - Tom Baker, Lis Sladen etc. But someone should have quietly tapped Mr James on the shoulder, paid him off for the work he had already done, and gone to central casting to get a replacement. Why was he allowed to proceed with the role? He can act with his eyes, such as the scene where Stubbs is killed but the rest is just painful. I think a lot of the problem is the accent. His African accent sounds cumbersome and stilted. Was there a shortage of decent black actors in Britain in 1972? Was Mr Letts making a point about colonialism by having an African actor in the production? Whatever the answer it clearly doesn't work and he comes close to ruining every scene he is in. And unfortunately he is in a lot of them.
The production is fine for the Pertwee era. There is the dated use of CSO but how on earth - without bankrupting the BBC - were they going to envisage the colourful radiation cave as it was on paper without using Chromakey? The spaceship is fine and there is good use of miniatures. But I especially like the work they did with Solos. We all know it was filmed outside/inside Chislehurst caves, and you can see the pink and green lighting that those of us who have been there remember about the place, but it is outside in the Solonian wilderness where things become eerie. The writers had the idea of the planet's atmosphere becoming poisonous during daylight hours. To envisage this there is copious use of dry ice but it is filmed in English marshes/woods during deep winter. A natural miasmic atmosphere seems to hug the ground. And combined with the inhuman breathing apparatus of the guards the numerous hunts in the Solonian wilderness have a menacing quality. Solos really does seem like a planet on the edge of the universe...
The actors, as discussed before, are a mixed bunch. La Pertwee is nothing less then exceptional as usual. There are a couple of line fluffs but on the whole he conveys the horror of the situation he is in exceptionally well. Even when a gun is put to his head and he is forced to work with Jaeger on the machine that is to transform Solos his acting shows his abhorrence of the situation that he is forced to participate in. Also, maybe due to the fact that he can roam the universe once again, he isn't so crotchety in The Mutants, and the bond with Jo Grant is getting better and better. His entire motivation in episodes two and three are to make sure she is safe, and the relationship he developes with Sondergaard is a joy to behold. When the two scientists are brainstorming over the Time Lord tablets there is a wonderful rapport between the two. John Hollis and Jon Pertwee work well together in these scenes.
Katy Manning and her alter ego Jo Grant don't really make an impression in this story. There is abit of trying to fool the Marshall in episode six but she isn't as memorable as she was in the previous stories Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils. The Doctor and the supporting cast steal this one. Top of the class is Paul Whitsun-Jones as the despotic marshall. First of all his look is striking - the fact that he is on the portly side and only just fits into his uniform makes him a little bit laughable. There is something of the Hermann Goering about him, the posturing, the belligerence - the dangerous belief in his own "righteousness". For he is the most dangerous thing - a man who loves power and will do anything to hang on to it. Long term power has made him wily and he knows how to play the system, even when everybody is stacked against and pointing out that he can't win he bulldozes on knowing that his enemies must crack eventually. Sheer force of personality has done him well in the past - it will do now. One of the best lines in the adventure is when the Doctor states "Marshall, you are quite mad..." The Marshall simply responds "Only if I lose..."
In the simplistic role of Ky Garrick Hagon does very well. His outbursts at the start are well acted and you believe the character. There is an energy in Hagon's performance that works in this adventure. Of course one of the most memorable images is John Hollis as Sondergaard. Nordic sounding name given to a nordic sounding actor. Mr Hollis passed on recently after a lifetime in the fantasy genre. He was the last Blofeld in the James Bond flick "For Your Eyes Only" and a generation remembers him as the mute administrator of Cloud City in "The Empire Strikes Back". Here he is an academic "turned native" in a very warm and memorable role. The bald severe look of John Hollis makes him stand out of the crowd and is perfect for science fiction.
So there we have it. The Mutants gets a bashing from some quarters stating it is boring and the production design isn't impressive. There are justifications to those arguments. And to be frank, Tristam Carey's kazoo-like music is intrusive and the SFX quite often don't pass muster. But it moves along at a brisk pace with lots of twists and turns. And best of all it provides monsters for the kids. The "mutts" that inhabit the dark, dank tunnels of Solos are the stuff of nightmares. For once the costumes are convincing, and there are some real "body horror" moments. My favourite is when Varan is talking to an infected old man, he turns to the camera and we see the insectoid horny ridge poking out of his back.
There is a bleak hard feel to this one. The seventies preoccupation with the apocalypse seems to saturate the film where human beings are twisted in a bleak alien environment. The contempt for the natural world so evident in the Marshall and Jaegar in a tale of one man despoiling an entire planet so he can stay in power. And running all the way through is the theme of colonialism, of exploitatation of others. The theme taken from history is the destruction of those who were there before, the destruction of those whose land is useful to others.
And as we have seen with Robert Mugabe's treatment of white farmers in Zimbabwe and Milosovic's ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the theme of The Mutants is still very relevant today.
Possibly the Worst Pertwee Story by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 7/4/07
The Mutants. Possibly the most boring Doctor Who story ever. Together with its twin, The Time Monster, they represent an awful twelve episodes of pain and suffering. On the part of the viewer. Pain and suffering the like of which can only be surpassed by Delta and the Bannermen. Which begs the question: is it worse to be bored or irritated? The Mutants and The Time Monster watched back to back will service both requirements. And I am constantly annoyed by fans saying things like "well, all the elements of it are rubbish but it's actually quite good despite all of that". No. No no no no no. It isn't good. Not by a very long stretch of the imagination. It's shit. Plain and simple. Can we please all get that through our heads once and for all. It's an embarassment to the Pertwee era. If only we could surgically remove The Mutants and The Time Monster from the end of Season Nine and banish them from all time and space forever more, I for one would certainly sleep more soundly at night.
The kind of bile that Mike Morris summons up in his review for To The Slaughter represents exactly the same kind of feelings I have for The Mutants. Of all the stories which come in for a great deal of flack, so many of them are many magnitudes better than this. The Invisible Enemy, The Invasion of Time, The Horns of Nimon, The Twin Dilemma... Even they are better than this glistening column of shite. Let's briefly take a closer look shall we? The Invisible Enemy is rubbish, I will concede that one. But at least you can laugh at its failings. The Invasion of Time may be rubbishly acted and very cheap looking but it does have two very good guest characters and Tom Baker going wonderfully off the wall. The Horns of Nimon is... Well everyone in this is having far too much fun for it to be possible to truly dislike it. And The Twin Dilemma is consistently entertaining, for all its faults.
What makes it even more of a shame is that at its heart, The Mutants is based on an interesting concept, the Solonian life cycle. It's tragic that it gets buried under a landslide of what, at best, can be called mediocrity and what, at worst, can be called bullshit. We start with three of the main characters, Stubbs, Cotton and the Marshal, an unholy triumvirate who between them, scale new heights of irksomeness. The Marshal is supposed to be regarded as a serious threat, an extremely dangerous man with a dangerously unstable nature. However thanks to the script and Paul Whitsun-Jones' rendering of it, he comes across as a ranting, incompetent fatty. Who looks staggeringly ridiculous whenever he tries to run. Stubbs is the probably the least offensive of the three. He comes across as a genial, salt-of-the-earth-type chap. And by the skin of his teeth, he manages to stay just the right side of what I can only term as "murderable". That's not to say he doesn't have his moments. Cotton. Oh dear God, Cotton. Is he even attempting to act? I draw your attention to episode five's cliffhanger. Well, I draw your attention to absolutely everything he ever says but particulary episode five's cliffhanger. "We'll all be done for!" Well, we can but hope. Unfortunately however, they aren't all done for. But that's not the point. The point is that he invests those five words with absolutely no emotional impact. He may as well be simply reading the script. Perhaps he was. We just don't know. Even the usually incendiary Jon Pertwee isn't immune. He fluffs his dialogue and says the same line twice in episode one. His worst moment however, is when he informs the Marshal that he is "quite mad". The way in which he delivers this line is so lame that it leads me to the conclusion that by this point Jon Pertwee was as bored with the script as I was and was deliberately taking the piss. Although to be fair, the Marshal's reply to this is halfway to being quotable.
On the positive side, I think Pertwee is wearing a new cloak with a nice purple lining. The Skybase model is pathetic and the sets aren't much better either. Bland, in a word. Jo is of variable quality. Sometimes she's OK but I'm afraid she's already started her downward spiral into the next story. Varan is hopeless. I can't even be bothered to find him annoying. Ky is an idiot. He takes every available oppurtunity to start ranting. In fact, he's even worse than the Marshal. Someone cut his head off. Oh go on, please. Well then at least nail his mouth shut and render him unconscious. The constant politicking is tiring and the serious themes are difficult to care about due to the sheer awfulness of the rest of it.
One of the very worst aspects of this story is the music. Come on Tristram, you're better than this. It's tuneless and, even worse than that, it's intrusive. The cave scenes do provide a welcome change from Skybase and I've always had a bit of a soft spot for George Pravda but even these can't do anything to save this excerable, worthless tower of cack. Steer well clear.
A Review by John Pretty 22/7/10
I don't pretend to be a seasoned reviewer, or a student of fine prose, or even a Doctor Who anorak. I'm just a fan of the Letts-Hinchcliffe era, which was essentially 'mine'.
I detest the way Tom Baker took the piss in the Williams era and I never fail to be amazed at the people that say they like it. And I never will fail to be amazed. Frankly, I think it's the Douglas Adams effect. Adams could write a pile of crap and millions of his adoring fans would dribble in cringeworthy admiration. Hold on, he did! Remember City of Death anyone?
Which brings me to the subject of this review. One of my favourite stories, The Mutants.
Did I swear? Did say something wrong? Should I now consider myself an outcast?
Well I'm sorry guys, but The Mutants was always a favorite book and it's a favorite story too. I really cannot understand the negative press this story gets. I take it the reviewers are fans of Doctor Who? The story never gets boring and the idea of the mutations that turn out to be natural changes but speeded up by Jaeger's meddling is a great one. Ky's metamorphosis in episode six is the most beautiful of all the scenes I've ever seen in the series.
The effects never look poor or badly done; compare those awful Axons of the previous season and the equally poor T Rex of season 11. For that matter, the Mutants are better put together than the overrated Sea Devils and - dare I say it - Bok. The metamorphosis of Ky looks spectacular in colour. Pity many would not have seen it in colour the first time around.
The Marshal is a bit of a turkey. I think the late Whitsun-Jones was simply too fat to be totally convincing, but nevertheless you just love to hate him and his megalomania. A nice change from the usual camp and after a while somewhat tedious paranioa of Delgado's Master.
The acting of Rick James was wooden to say the least, but like all adults viewing Doctor Who, you have to overlook it and look at the wider picture. This is a good story.
Frankly, I never got bored watching this. It clips along at a frantic pace throughout and if it was padded then I really didn't notice it particularly. The Mutants is the most unfairly criticised story of the Pertwee era.
I am currently watching all of Pertwee's stories back-to-back so I have the benefit of being able to judge fairly. Season 9 has three of the best of the Pertwee era: Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon and The Mutants. With just Season 10 go (I watched season 11 first), Season 9 is the best and by some way with perhaps a couple of exceptions, most notably the massively overrated bore The Sea Devils.
A Review by John Elliott 6/3/11
This was one of the very last stories to be released on VHS in 2001, and was released on DVD in January 2011. I would agree with other reviewers that, along with the following Time Monster, this was one of the weakest adventures of the Pertwee era.
Despite confident and mature performances in previous classic stories, with The Mutants, Pertwee's acting seemed oddly stilted. The error of the repeat lines in his very first scene did nothing to help the story's credibility, and his portrayal thereon seemed subdued.
Tristam Cary's discordant incidental music had an oddly offputting quality, compared to the usual excellent melodic scores by Dudley Simpson. Possibly this contributed to my growing feeling that the adventure was 'below par'.
The switch from the Earth Empire base to the Solonian caves, with action toggling between two enclosed set areas, made for a constrained, static story. The split between video and film did not help the flow of story narrative.
The production values, however, anticipated later mid-1970's stories, with the futuristic sets. Both creature and costume design were very creative and eye catching.
Perhaps my biggest complaint was the poor storyline concerning the Solonian mutation and the concept of the four 500-year cycles. How the successive adaptive changes operated past the initial mutation to insects was never properly explained, and therefore Ky's transformation into the 'ultimate' lifeform made little sense. Did the species then metamorphose back to humanoid appearance, once the four-stage cycle was complete?
The inconsistencies in the plot details were overridden by the deus ex machina of Ky's transformed Super Ego destroying the genocidal Marshall. This finally gave the story some credence, although very late in its development.
The idea of the thaesium crystal and the fuel from the spaceship being one and the same chemical seemed another forced plot device, as was the tiresome storyline about tinkering with the Solonian planetary atmosphere.
I would rate The Mutants as one of my least favourite of Pertwee's tenure, despite the glossy technical design. I would recommend the previous season's Colony in Space as being far superior, having a more developed story concept with a deeper Christian subtext.
Even the Time Monster held up as a better Pertwee story, despite being saddled with noticeable stylistic gaffes.