THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Mutants
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Mutants

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1977
ISBN 0 426 11690 9
First Edition Cover Jeff Cummins

Back cover blurb: A massive shape scuttles out of the darkness and strikes the earth Overlord down. It is a Mutant - a huge insectoid creature. It moves in a crouch, its back arched and scaly, with huge knobbly vertebrae. The controlling Overlord, the Marshal, has ordered all such Mutants killed instantly. What was happening to the people of Solos? Why are they gradually turning into Monsters? Hands that become claws, flesh that turns scale-like... When DOCTOR WHO meets the Marshal and Jaeger, he realizes that all is not as it appears to be. The Marshal has a sinister plan to gain control of this planet, and DOCTOR WHO must save Solos from this mad earthman, as well as save the Solonians themselves.


Reviews

It lacks Geoffrey Palmer... and Terrance Dicks' usual Pertwee magic by Tim Roll-Pickering 8/2/04

Bashing the Jon Pertwee years has become commonplace amongst many fans in the past decade or so, and there are few stories which get bashed more than The Mutants. There are many easy targets for the critics, whether the basic logic behind the Doctor's involvement (sent on a mission by the Time Lords to deliver a message when he has no idea who to give it to and the recipient is completely unable to decipher it), the dreary sets for Skybase and the poor location work or the deus ex machina resolution to the tale that is all to quick and convenient. There are some positive points, such as Geoffrey Palmer's brief role as the Administrator or the basic ideas behind the story parodying the then contemporary situation in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) but these are few and far between. The result is a story that has few defenders. The novelisation might be expected to be equally as dreary, but there are earlier books where Terrance Dicks has worked wonders despite adapting a very poor television story (Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos immediately springs to mind). Might someone approaching Doctor Who and the Mutants not unreasonably hope for a solid book? Given Dicks' usual devotion to the Pertwee novelisations from this period, as opposed to some of his Tom Baker novelisations which feel as though they were produced en mass, this would perhaps not be an unreasonable hope to make.

The cover is pretty good as well, even though the TARDIS and a Mutt never meet whilst the inside cover blurb of the first edition states that the cover features the "third DOCTOR WHO" - so the likeness must match those on the cover for Doctor Who and the Space War as being one of the most bizarre yet! However the book is unfortunately not up to the same standard.

To be fair to Terrance Dicks the source material he is working from isn't the best. The basic plotline of the Doctor being sent to deliver a message just simply doesn't work and it becomes all too clear that this is just a plot device aimed at taking the Doctor to Solos and then keeping him in the narrative. In almost any other era of the series the TARDIS' ability to travel through time and space as well as the Doctor's determination to stand up to injustice wherever he encounters it would have combined to ensure that the Doctor would remain until the conclusion of the tale. Such a basic flaw in the story is impossible to overcome and it would take a basic restructuring of the plot, something that neither Dicks nor many other novelisers would undertake, in order to bring any sense to the book. However Dicks also fails to bring the tale to life. Apart from the odd line enhancing Jaeger, showing how he was exposed as a plagarist and forced to flee Earth, very little is done to bring any of the characters to life and so the prose is featureless and flat. The result is a book that feels very much as though it has been churned out by a novelisation machine and is a sign that Dicks' weaknesses on some (and it must be stressed, only some) novelisations has spread to his adaptations of the Pertwee stories. The television story wasn't a great spectacle and this book isn't one either. 3/10


A Review by Jason A. Miller 23/7/11

Count The Mutants as one of those stories that I thought was going to be great, because I read the novelization first. When I finally saw the TV version, it came as a disappointment compared to the book: poor acting nearly across the board, and a heavy reliance on CSO effects that looked dated even in the late 1980s, let alone today.

I revisited the Terrance Dicks novelization in conjunction with the story's recent DVD release. Dicks on the DVD's audio commentary track explains that everything we took for granted about the story's politics (the overt political message, the parallels with other Pertwee stories set during the future Earth Empire) was not intended by the production team. But the pop-up production notes tell a different story: that the original script by Bob Baker & Dave Martin was nearly unworkable, and that most of the plot twists and set pieces were added by Dicks himself.

Stripped of bad acting and given an unlimited design budget, and in the hands of the writer who (accidentally or not) contributed much to the final script, The Mutants shines in print. The surface of Solos, the 30th-century Earth colony, looks a lot better on the page than it did on the screen (even with DVD remastering). Dicks tells us: "It was a planet of jungles. Hot, dense, steamy tropical jungles, filled with a thin, choking mist that drifted eerily between knotted tree-trunks, festooned with dangling vines." Christopher Barry, the director, probably wished, had he read this, that the film locations had been quite so evocative. I'm asuming that Dicks was either describing the original scripts (the ones the BBC didn't have the funds to fully realize), or just thinking wishfully. Also, whereas the linking transmat stations on the ground on Solos and in orbit on Skybase are identical on TV, in print the former station is more realistically a concrete hut, lacking the grandeur of the latter.

When the native Solonians begin to mutate, Dicks imbues them with symptoms farmore gruesomethan those portrayed on TV: "Sufferers sometimes went into a kind of berserk rage, killing everyone in their path." And this is written in a chapter entitled "Mutant On The Loose!", no less. When Varan (a Solonian native duped into working for the Earth imperialists) begins to go mutant himself, Dicks notes that he "desperately... fought to hold on to his own personality." This line gives Varan a dignity somewhat lacking from the onscreen performance of James Mellor.

While the chief baddie, The Marshal (the Earth-appointed provisional governor of Solos), is best remembered for Paul Whitsun-Jones' outsized blustery performance (and, after the fact, an eerie resemblance to a younger Rush Limbaugh), Dicks gives us needed backstory: "He had come to Solos many years ago as a lowly security guard. Step by step he had fought his way to the position of Marshal, with supreme power on Solos." The Doctor, wonderfully, mentally describes the Marshal as "A brute and a bully, with the temper of a rogue elephant." How awesome is this characterization?

Also, slyly, Jaeger (the Marshal's pet mad scientist, played on TV by Czech actor George Pravda) is said to have an accent "so thick as to be almost incomprehensible." Jaeger, too, gets much-needed backstory: "A nasty scandal over research results, stolen from a junior colleague, had led to Jaeger's fleeing Earth and entering the Marshal's service." When Jaeger, too dumb to realize the Doctor is turning his equipment into a bomb, gets temporarily knocked unconscious, the Marshal on TV calls it a booby-trap, but in the novelization, Dicks adds the witty riposte "And you were the booby!"

Dicks as usual gives the Doctor near-mythic qualifies. As companion Jo is rescued from yet another imprisonment, she observes: "How like the Doctor to pop up out of nowhere, just when everything seemed hopeless." However, a line reserved to describe the Doctor's charisma is here allocated to Stubbs, the Marshal's rebellious lieutenant; when he tells his former colleagues to lay down their arms, "Such was the authority in his voice that the guards obeyed." This may be the only time that Dicks gave that line to someone else.

The best way to sum up Doctor Who and the Mutants is by observing Dicks' handling of the cliffhanger to Episode Five. Jo, along with Professor Sondergaard and Cotton and Ky, is trapped in an airlock that'sabout to be flooded with deadly radiation. On TV, Cotton, a well-meaning character played by a woefully bad actor, exclaims (if one can exclaim woodenly) "We'll all be done for!" In the corresponding passage in the novelization, that line is excised. Freed from the constraints of an over-extended TV budget and lousy acting, Doctor Who and the Mutants is classic Pertwee. On TV, unfortunately, it's something far less.