Zeta Major
Planet of Evil

Episodes 4 Is the monster from this planet, or is it the planet itself?
Story No# 81
Production Code 4H
Season 13
Dates Sept. 27, 1975 -
Oct. 18, 1975

With Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen.
Written by Louis Marks. Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by David Maloney. Produced by Philip Hinchclife.

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah land on a planet that seems to be alive, and are accused of murdering several scientists and soldiers.


A Review by Kevin McCorry 26/4/97

Planet of Evil tends to be the most overlooked story of the Gothic-horror-styled, second Tom Baker season, and this is most unfair. Its solemn and horrific events accord with those of other episodes in that season, and Tom Baker is hauntingly riveting in his performance. The Doctor knows what is causing the horrible, rapid-aging deaths, makes his grim conclusions to the incredulous Morestrans (the most compelling of whom is Space: 1999's Prentis Hancock as the impetuous leader, Salamar), and dispassionately but determinedly acts to stop the mayhem on the Morestran ship and neutralize the threat of annihilation on other worlds due to cataclysmic contact with anti-matter.

The aesthetic appeal of the story extends even beyond the eerie musical score, the disturbing fluttering flora on the planet denoting movement of invisible forces, and the convincing and frightening ape-like make-up of Frederick Jaeger as Sorenson. The concept of anti-matter being a Hell-like, monstrous realm, entered into via a pit (!) on a planet, and its elements capable of transforming anyone infected by them into a Hyde-like devil, are all exquisitely proposed and enacted in this underrated Doctor Who story. The Doctor is able to use his influence, which extends even into the inferno of symbolic Hell, to redeem the Morestrans from the evil in their midst and to permit them to escape the planet and avoid total annihilation for their folly. And also as an echo of his advice to the Brigadier against reliance of fossil fuel in the preceding story, Terror of the Zygons, the Doctor suggests to Sorenson an alternative energy source (in this case kinetic energy of planetary movement) to discourage him from prospecting for anti-matter (which is aestetically likened by this corresponding references to fuel in these adjacent stories to fossil fuels, which themselves are extraced from beneath the Earth (Hell?)).

The notion of anti-matter as "nature's own demon, caged" was used in Space: 1999 in in a similarly suggestive vein. In Planet of Evil, the anti-matter influence on Sorenson is certainly demonic, as is its horrific, rapid-aging, decaying effect on all those it "touches".

These compelling aesthetic qualities of this story, in addition to the invariably effective character portrayals, especially that of Tom Baker as the Doctor, make Planet of Evil one of my personal favorites in the Doctor Who cannon of excellent science fiction.

Bends, But Doesn't Break by Dennis McDermott 13/6/97

After not seeing anything in the Tom Baker era in years, it was wonderful looking at him with fresh eyes. I don't like this story nearly as much as Kevin McCorry does; nevertheless, it epitomizes what I admire most in Doctor Who.

Is this a great story? No. The sets were cheesy (the jungle nice but the spaceship a little on the minimalist side), and while most of the acting was great, I thought Prentis Hancock's performance as Salamar wooden.

Who cares? There is much in this story to like. The notion of mining anti-matter is an intriguing idea, with the story set in a planet crossing the boundary of the two universes. The villian, Sorenson, is convincing and the threat real. (Though if the spaceship is unable to leave, how is it that the anti-matter would explode? As I said, this isn't a perfect story.)

What makes the story, however, is the acting of Tom Baker and the character of the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker simply knows how to act. He knows that facial gestures and movements are just as important as what is said, and that soft tones will make the hard ones more effective. It is hard to resist this Doctor when he flashes that smile. The Fourth Doctor is also perhaps the most courageous of them all (witness his willingness to enter the pit). He also displays his compassion with his attitude towards Sorenson at the end of the story. Simply put, it is hard not to like the Fourth Doctor.

Which is what Planet of Evil exemplifies to me: with all its warts, it is hard not to like it. That's what makes Doctor Who wonderful.

A Review by Michael Hickerson 10/9/98

When it comes to picking out a Doctor Who story to re-watch, I usually select a story that I've got a particular hankering to see for some reason or another. And while this means that I will rewatch some stories such as Curse of Fenric fifty or sixty times while other stories like Horns of Nimon collect dust at the back of my collection, there are times when an overwhelming urge seizes me to watch one of the stories I've forgotten about. It usually helps me appreciate my favorite stories that much more.

My motivation for rewatching Planet of Evil was partially motivated out of that hankering to see a Tom Baker story I usually don't rewatch on a regular basis. But, it was also motivated by the fact that I recently picked up a copy of Zeta Major, which is a sequel to this story. So, before reading, I wanted to review where we'd been until now and see how well the book worked as a sequel.

But, that's a different review.

What I am here to discuss is Planet of Evil.

While certainly not as enjoyable or as entertaining as Genesis of the Daleks or the Pyramids of Mars, Planet of Evil is a solid fourth Doctor adventures. It has his constant wit, his wide-eyed curiousity, and that certain arrogance that only Tom Baker can carry off. Louis Marks gives Tom Baker and the rest of the crew a pretty good script to work with. As with a lot of Who, the major theme is the shortsighted nature of humanity and how the Doctor must step in to not only save humankind from the ugly monsters (tm) but also from ourselves. Professor Sorenson's refusual to accept that he must consider another alternative fuel source is nicely realized as is his tranformation into the anti-matter creature late in the story. Of course, the threat extends far beyond one starship and planet and the Doctor is forced to once again save civilization as we know it. It's a nice touch, but it's brought up once and then promptly forgotten, which is aggravating.

But the story is full of minor things that aggrivate me. For one, Sarah's being able to tell when the two universes are slamming together is nothing more than a plot device to tell the Doctor when the monsters are coming and to set up a couple of cliffhangers. The other is the standard cliche of the Doctor and the companion show up and are suspected of murder until events sprial out of control and the Doctor is forced to take control the situation.

But, as with all Who, there are some things that set the story out there as being above average. The commander's speech about how far out Zeta Minor based on reference points Sarah has never heard of is nice. Also, the anti-matter monsters are one of the better realized visual effects the show has seen. And director David Mahoney does make the best of a studio bound story, trying diligently to make you believe you're on an alien planet. In most cases, it works.

Overall, Planet of Evil isn't bad Who. It's just not great Who. And in a season with Planet of Evil and The Brain of Morbius, it can easily get lost in the shuffle and gather dust at the back of your collection.

Black Pool Rock by Andrew Wixon 18/1/02

Until I sat down to write the review I always thought of this as an average story from a remarkable period of the show's history. But the more I think about it the less I like it. The title is generic and inaccurate, for one thing - how would we like it if aliens arrived and started carting off bits of our planet with nary a by-your-leave or any attempt at communication? The anti-matter monster may be a bit peevish but describing it and its whole world as Evil because of this strikes me as somewhat mean-spirited.

The rot runs deeper, though. Certainly the jungle looks good in the film sequences, but the rest of the production values - sets, costumes, model work - are distinctly unimpressive. This could be a late-period Pertwee story in terms of sophistication and characterisation (apparently the crew were made as deliberately anonymous as possible, always a mistake in a performance-driven series like DW), and of the guest cast only Frederick Jaeger and Ewen Solon are memorable (and Jaeger is only memorably hammy).

The only thing to really mark this out as a Hinchcliffe-Holmes story is the element of movie pastiche, but for once this is mishandled. The first half of the story obviously wants to be Forbidden Planet and succeeds moderately well (though not as well as Face of Evil would). But then in episode three it decides to be Jekyll and Hyde instead; and it's an unforgivably shoddy slip in the writing that no clue is given to Sorenson's condition prior to this point. It's messily written and - odd moments aside - pedestrianly directed. The scene where the Doctor calmly tells Sorenson to commit suicide should be chilling, classic - but you barely notice it. The end is unsatisfying, too: it doesn't feel right for Sorenson to return home a hero given the deaths his hubris is responsible for.

Not an enormously bad story, just very uninvolving, and proof that even the greats fumble the ball occasionally. Thank heavens Pyramids of Mars is one change of videotape away...

Very Forgettable... by Mike Jenkins 24/7/02

Once you have digested this garbage, it feels like a somewhat less then entertaining story from the darker days of John Pertwee (aka lousy CSO and camparific arrogant pseudo-moral diatribes from Tom Baker who is imprisoned inside of a script written for the third Doctor.) And Sarah Jane? Oh, poor, poor Sarah Jane. You know, if she was truly meant to be a joke it might be one thing but signs are pointing to no. I, being a fan of the Hinchcliffe era, would probably refer to every story from this season as a masterpiece, barring this one. The touch of grey in the silver lining you might say.

The character of the villain is poorly defined and his intentions unclear. The setting makes a couple of ill-fated attempts to evoke terror (a term I use in the loosest of senses), but it gives off a feeling of redundant Arabesqueness. It [the setting] could've been a unifying link in the chain (more like a saving grace within the garbage slab). There's a chance worthwhile stories will triumph above lousy acting. Sometimes. We're given faceless security guards and an unconvincingly allusive source of danger in the main villain. It's one thing to leave a little something to the imagination. It's a proportionally different matter when Louis Marks expects real Doctor Who fans to overlook this ballon juice. Then again, perhaps it's best to overlook it.

Homage to Forbidden Planet by Tim Roll-Pickering 23/8/02

This story's roots are clearly embedded in the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the film Forbidden Planet but there's never been anything wrong with making a blatant homage. Planet of Evil is an interesting foray into the depths of the universe, bringing the Doctor into a situation that would not appear out of place in an episode of Star Trek but that should not be held against the story.

The basic concepts underlying the story are those of greed and arrogance jeopardising everything around them and these are admirably shown in the performances of Frederick Jaeger as Sorenson and Prentis Hancock as Salamar. Together with Ewen Solon's role as Vishinsky these actors bring a strong presence to the story that makes it stand out well. As is often the case Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen give strong performances showing how well the two complement one another and the result is a cast that is not detracted in anyway by the minor roles of the Morestran crew.

Script wise this is probably Louis Marks' strongest contribution to the series so far. The tale is straightforward but brought to life by some extremely strong characterisation There's a genuine sense of terror throughout the story, though the threat to the entire universe is never properly shown in terms to make such a danger seem imaginable. David Maloney's direction is as strong as ever and makes imaginative use of film to bring depth to the artificial jungle scenes. The anti-matter creatures are extremely well realised through video effects that are highly reminiscent of the exposure of an invisible creature in the film Forbidden Planet. Less effective is the model work of the Morestran ship or the interiors, both of which look cheap, but the direction and lighting manages to cover up such limitations.

Planet of Evil comes from a period often considered by many fans to be the series' 'Golden Age'. Whilst the wider implications of this classification are highly debatable, it's hard to find much in this story that could be held up against the series or which detracts from presenting it as an example of strong Doctor Who. This is a story that shows how important it is to have all elements of production working together to complement one another and the result is tale that can embarrass few Doctor Who fans. 9/10

A Review by Will Berridge 23/6/03

So, it’s called Planet of Evil. Hmph. Do you know what I think? Somewhere in the BBC records, probably under a file titled ‘imagination, lack of’, there probably lies the following random title generator table, which DW writers with a twelve-sided dice and a lot of other things on their time would pick up when they’d found thinking about original titles for more than five minutes was a bit of an over-exertion for them:

‘A of B’ titles


  1. Planet
  2. Power
  3. Revenge
  4. Resurrection
  5. Evil
  6. Invasion
  7. Attack
  8. Destiny
  9. Curse
  10. Terror
  11. Monster
  12. Seeds
then you add ‘of’, and possibly a definite article if you feel like it, and continue to stage B
  1. Evil (yes, it works both ways)
  2. The Daleks
  3. The Cybermen
  4. Time
  5. Death
  6. Blood
  7. The Rani
  8. Fire
  9. Earth
  10. Fear
  11. Doom
  12. Peladon
So, it looks like we got of quite lightly when you think we could have had stories called Curse of Doom, Attack of Evil, or Power of the Daleks. Oh, whoops, we did get that last one. What do you, they’d never be that daft? Bob Holmes was planning to name a story The Dangerous Assassin. And as for this story I’m supposed to be reviewing, where did ‘of evil’ come from? It’s quite patent that the anti-matter force the Doctor and co face is entirely lethal to human existence, but its actual sentience is not malignant in any way. Would ‘evil’ just have been thrown in to scare gullible little children?

It wouldn’t be surprising, as this appears to be the story’s primary raison d’etre, and it manages its best towards this end, within the limitations that the BBC visual effects department’s somewhat unsuccessful attempts to realise the ‘anti-matter’ creature put on it. The object seems to have been to make the planet an entity in itself which we are to be afraid of, an impression well created by some superbly haunting dialogue on the part of Sorenson and the Doctor. For instance: 'the vein vanished... the planet took it back... it's alive, you know... it watches every move we make.' In fact the rather tortured and dazed expression Sorenson wears on his face throughout the story has an unnerving effect.

The impressively detailed jungle effects also give the planet an eerily hostile and otherworldly character, and it's a pity the action is largely centred on the dull old spaceship set in the final couple of episodes. The horrific dehydration of the corpses (well it freaked me out when I was little) and final cliffhanger featuring the Doctor and Sarah about to be ejected from the ship, buried alive in space (the ultimate claustrophobiac fear) on the rim of the known universe, also add to the story's fear-factor.

However, to my tastes at any rate, achieving these goals only merits the story an average rating. It's a far from unoriginal tale with a cast that, with the exception of Soreson and Salamar, are entirely bland. Note that the two exceptions aren't one note, the former being a 'blinkered scientist' stereoptype, and the latter a typically paranoid an impulsive 'military idiot', but at least they're played with some vigour, Salamar getting to become particularly vicious when he loses it in the final episode. They plot... yes, well there's not much too it. They Doctor and Sarah turned up, get blamed for all the deaths as per usual, take a particularly long time convincing everyone they didn't do it (this normally only takes a scene or two), and then defeat the real monsters, with a few scary things happening along the way. I can't say I'm that well positioned to judge the scientific content, but I expect any expert on the subject of anti-matter would find this story rather amusing. The notion of anti-matter substances converting people into inhuman monsters conforms more to the need of children to be frightened than it does to the laws of Physics. The Doctor gets a few good lines one the subject, though, telling the deformed Sorenson 'your tissues are now so monstrously hybridised the next metabolic change could be the final one', and condemns the Morestrans for their reckless interference in a world they don't comprehend in a way that only he can.

So... it's a very typical DW story, with a daft title, not much plot, lots of child-scaring things and a superb performance from the Doctor. Hence it gets: 7/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 21/11/03

Planet Of Evil is frequently underrated and overlooked because of the stories on either side of it; but despite this it is a shockingly effective tale. The sets are small and sterile and add much to the atmosphere and the jungle is one of Doctor Who`s better attempts at an alien environment. The cast are largely great (tho Prentis Hancock`s Salamar is forgettable) with plaudits going to Frederick Jaeger as Sorenson. The regulars continue to be at their best, Sarah Jane doesn`t get to do a lot but Elisabeth Sladen does manage to portray her fear convincingly. Similairly Tom Baker`s Doctor is great, the horror aspects of the story suiting him well. In fact the only thing that isn`t too great is the ultimate realisation of the anti-matter creature itself, although given the standards of the production team at the time this in itself is a reasonable enough feat. In short, then a winner for season thirteen.

"Night's candles are blown out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops" by Terrence Keenan 6/2/04

Planet of Evil is a prime example of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes formula of raiding the B-Movie world for Who tales. Dr. Jeckyll meets Forbidden Planet, with a dash of Mutiny on the Bounty thrown in for good measure.

The end result is a bit of a mixed bag.

It all starts off well with the scenes on Zeta Minor itself. The opening is good horror fun, with members of the expedition being killed off by an invisible nasty. The Doc and Sarah arrive after picking up a distress call and while investigating, get tangled up with a Morestran military investigation team, sent to rescue the expedition.

Dr. Jeckyll rears its ugly head through Professor Sorensen, the only survivor of the expedition, who's been affected by anti matter to the point where he becomes a mindless beast. The Forbidden Planet aspect shows up in the presentation of the anti-matter creature and the anti-man clones that run amok in the final episode. And Mutiny is represented through the battle for control bbetween Vishinsky and the Controller Salamar on how to deal with the anti-matter menace and our heroes.

Unfortunately, the last two episodes, although filled with tension, repeats the same aspects -- the ship being drawn back to Zeta Minor, anti-matter monster(s) running amok and killing the crew. And Sorensen's survival at the end is a bit of a cop out.

On the acting front, Tom and Lis are good fun, as always. My favorite bit is in part two when the Doc quotes Shakespeare and Sarah refers to woodland nymphs while being followed by the tracker. Prentiss Hancock turns in a strong performance as the increasingly deranged Salamar. Frederick Jaeger is all right as Sorensen, although he doesn't chew on the scenery as much as he should in the Jeckyll/Hyde part. Ewen Solon is okay as Vishinsky and the rest of the cast hold their own, including Michael "Davros" Wisher in a minor role as Morelli.

Planet of Evil is a decent runaround which falls apart in the last episode. I could think of worst ways to kill a couple of hours.

A Review by Brian May 1/4/10

Planet of Evil is a story I adored in my younger years. However, the law of diminishing returns has taken its toll. Today I can watch such season 13 fellows as Pyramids of Mars or The Seeds of Doom and retain the same wonder I did almost thirty years ago, but this story doesn't have the same staying power.

So what exactly is wrong with it? Well, for once I thought I'd start in reverse order and work out what's right with it, and go from there. For indeed there's a lot to commend. It looks fantastic; the design work is some of the programme's best ever. Roger Murray-Leach's jungle set is spectacular, fantastic, wonderful, and any other superlative I can't immediately think of. The rich colour, the depth, the under-lighting; it truly is a delight to behold. Shooting the majority of these scenes on film adds to the atmosphere, and I'm not going to get all nitpicky and criticise the studio-bound jungle moments. The unavoidable visual jarring isn't that bad; it doesn't quash any atmosphere.

The excellent design is also present in the Morestran ship. It's a minimalist contrast to the jungle, but there is still some fine detail. The split-level flight deck allows for more significant depth and the opportunity for additional camera angles. There are also some very good visual effects: the Oculoid flying through the jungle is terrific; the wires holding it up cannot be seen at all! Tres bien! The red electronic outline of the anti-matter creature is also very impressive, given it was originally a poorly-looking silver-painted pile of rags!

So precisely what am I going to criticise, to keep faithful to my opening argument? David Maloney's direction? Well, bits of it. Maloney was one of the programme's best directors, and his skill is certainly on display here. He takes advantage of the great jungle set, milking the full eeriness of Zeta Minor. He helps to build a sense of claustrophobia, both here and during the ship-bound third episode, with lots of shadows in corners. One of his trademark freeze-frame cliffhangers brings part two to a stylish end, while the Doctor falling through the black void a few minutes into part three is simple but effective. However the crash-zooming in on plants in part one is rather silly, and on several occasions we get to look straight up Elisabeth Sladen's nose. Don't get me wrong, I think she's lovely, but I'm not keen on gazing into her nostrils! It's odd images like these you'd think Maloney would have had enough nous not to have shot, or at least cut from the finished version.

From the actors, Ewen Solon and Frederick Jaeger are both very good. They play against the hackneyed characterisations with a healthy credibility. Unfortunately they're the only performances of any real note. Poor Michael Wisher is relegated to a dull supporting role; by all means, he's passable, but it seems a raw deal for an artist who's had so many great roles in the programme recently. Graham Weston, excellent in the Maloney-directed The War Games, is dull here. But worst of all is Prentis Hancock. He is awful. His delivery of lines is absolutely wooden. He's proved he can act in Doctor Who in smaller roles (a journalist in Spearhead From Space, the Shrieve captain in The Ribos Operation), but it's the bigger parts that let him down. Salamar is virtually identical to Vaber in Planet of the Daleks, also directed by Maloney. And Hancock was just as bad. Like a lot of directors, David Maloney often used the same actors: Bernard Horsfall four times, with four excellent performances; the aforementioned Graham Weston twice, with the aforementioned result of one hit, one miss; Prentis Hancock twice, with two flops, I'm afraid. Keep this guy in minor roles. IMHO, Michael Wisher would have made a better Salamar, except his diminutive stature wouldn't have lent the physical presence required. Oh well...

The regulars don't fare much better. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are not at their prime here, wandering through the four episodes quite listlessly. Especially Baker; perhaps his first below-par turn as the Doctor. A dramatic moment like his excellent "total responsibility" speech is delivered with a bored casualness. Perhaps the high of recording Pyramids of Mars immediately before this had worn them out?

The script is sound enough; the concept of the planet is very interesting, and the steals from Forbidden Planet and Jekyll & Hyde are a good combination. The first few episodes have the requisite thrills and scares befitting the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, and part three has a strong suspense element as the ship slowly heads back to Zeta Minor while anti-man is on the loose. Unfortunately, the final episode is a stinker. It's your typical Who runaround, with none of the above thrills or scares. The climax is boring, the nick of time resolution predictable. I do like that Sorenson is released, but that's about it.

Planet of Evil should have worked a treat. It has so much in its favour. The excellent design, David Maloney at the helm and a story that reflects the moody horror of the programme at the time. But this potential isn't fulfilled; lots of indifferent acting, a poor final episode and a general sense of apathy get in the way. As I said at the beginning, I used to love it, but it hasn't stood the test of time. Which is unfortunate, because it has all the ingredients to ensure it could have done.

And it looks as though in the 37,200th century flares will be back in! At least the power of retro will endure! 6/10

A Review by Finn Clark 4/3/11

I'm terribly fond of Planet of Evil, but it's a struggle to justify why. Nostalgia for the Target novelisation is undoubtedly part of this, but its virtues are, oddly enough, also shared by the original story.

The problem, I think, is that it's two stories in one. The first is a neo-Lovecraftian nightmare, taking the Doctor to the edge of the universe where he must grapple with terrifying, primal forces. Professor Sorenson has already fallen to them and become a monster. All this is great. I love the story's scale, which is thinking in tens of thousands of years when we're more used to a few hundreds. I love the unstoppable force from the other universe, which can't be fought but only negotiated with and appeased. I like the way that even the very laws of physics are up for grabs. This is the story you'll get from Planet of Evil if you shut your eyes and open your imagination.

The other story though is a load of rubbish with the Morestrans and Prentis Hancock. This is the filler that's propping up all the good stuff I was talking about just now. They work better in the novelisation, with Vishinsky coming across as heroic instead of merely passable, but even that's a step up on everyone else. Space uniforms, space guns, boring spaceships and barely a flicker of humanity from any of them. Michael Wisher's hidden away in there as Morelli, but don't blink or you'll miss him. The story's one good actor is almost playing an extra, although on the upside this was his third appearance in four stories. Anyone here for the aforementioned neo-Lovecraftian stuff is going to have to put up with all this sub-Sawardian nonsense as well.

Without the Prentis Hancock character, this would merely have been limp. The spaceship looks dull, but I like the split-level effect and the way they've carefully made the Morestrans multi-ethnic. There's a black soldier, a voice on the intercom called Ranjit and of course our Russian-named hero Vishinsky. Louis Marks wouldn't have been a Marxist, would he? In addition, I like the space funeral of that nobody in episode three. Obviously, this is all set-up for the same thing happening to the Doctor and Sarah at the cliffhanger, but it's still a sombre and almost touching scene of a kind we don't normally see. We also get those two grumbling crewmembers.

However, anything good about the Morestrans gets undermined by Salamar, who's simply the world's biggest cock. He's a cliche, the paranoid captain, but raised to the power ten. He's wrong about everything. You could become the world's wisest being by consulting him on all matters and then doing the opposite of his advice. This is a man who demands to have the Doctor executed for murder even when he was personally with him in a different part of the ship when the incident happened, in one instance being in the process of ejecting him into space. Eventually it becomes official. He's mad. Not just stupid, but clinically insane. Before the end, he's stopped being a hate figure and has become merely a plot function, draining away your suspension of disbelief whenever he's on-screen.

This is shockingly lazy scripting, but it could at least have been fun to watch. Prentis Hancock, though, plays it like an android. What he gives isn't merely a bad performance, but instead no performance at all. He says the lines and occasionally grimaces, but that's it. Nothing reaches the eyes.

The only Morestran with anything interesting at all going on is Professor Sorenson, played by Frederick Jaeger. He makes for a fascinating scientist, because he's clearly so ill-suited to the role. It's the classic Jekyll and Hyde problem. As Jekyll, he's unconvincing, but you realise why they cast him once he grows the shaggy hair and glowing eyes. Jaeger's a growling bear of a man and he's rather good at staggering around mindlessly, killing people.

As for the regulars, Tom's phoning it in a bit, but Liz is fine. She's a bit stupid in episode one where she has a creepy experience on a planet where people have mysteriously died and yet doesn't even tell the Doctor, but that's not the actress's fault. They're the 4th Doctor and Sarah Jane, so they're always going to reach a certain level of watchability, anyway.

I've already started having a go at the script, but I haven't yet mentioned that it's so derivative that somehow that becomes the most interesting thing about it. Look at the laundry list of, um, influences.

1. You've got Jekyll and Hyde, obviously. Sorenson's drink actually smokes.

2. You've got the ripoff of Forbidden Planet, for the sake of which they even throw in lots of Shakespeare references.

3. The anti-matter comes from Louis Marks.

4. Most curiously, you've got the similarities with Ark in Space. Personally I reckon this is a counter-argument to the suggestion that Image of the Fendahl was a deliberate copy of Pyramids of Mars. Here, we have an SF horror story set unimaginable thousands of years in the future, with the twin problems of an environmental catastrophe big enough to devastate solar systems and an unkillable alien threat that can transform people into monsters. The humans' leader is mentally unbalanced. Our heroes end up trapped on a bland-looking but claustrophobic BBC spaceship, which by Doctor Who standards manages to be scary. Oh, and this is the season's second story, with the first having been a UNIT story on contemporary Earth.

Now, on the one hand, the production team are clearly aware of the similarities. Both stories have the same director (Rodney Bennett) and designer (Roger Murray-Leach). At the very least, it shows that Robert Holmes wasn't shy of letting his thoughts run on familiar lines. However, given the sheer number of the sources they're already ripping off, it seems absurd to suggest that Ark in Space was consciously being copied on top of all that. It seems more likely that we're looking at something more like a Remembrance vs. Silver Nemesis situation, in which two similar stories got thrown up and Holmes was happy to run with what looked like a winning formula.

The story's big innovation is of course the jungle, which is simply the best ever seen in Doctor Who. Hinchcliffe recommended Murray-Leach for an award for his work on it. They actually booked Ealing in order to shoot it on film, which makes for some dodgy transitions when we've obviously swapped back to video, but damn, it's good. It's a swampy jungle, with lots of reds and blues. It's the perfect environment for this neo-Lovecraftian horror story and one of the finest you'll see in all of Doctor Who, not just the old series. It's astonishing. After you've seen that jungle, you hardly even need the monster. It's not often that the design work is the biggest reason to watch a Doctor Who story, but that's the case here.

On the downside, there are production gaffes. The rock walls wobble around the Black Pool. The first cliffhanger looks rubbish. I blinked at the Las-Vegas-style neon force field. The Doctor punching Salamar is unconvincing, the fat crewmember's death is hilarious and Anti-Sorenson can look pretty amusing too. Nonetheless whether on TV or as a novelisation, I find this story scary. The director isn't afraid to turn down the lights and of course there's no way to stop the monsters. They kill on touch and the only thing that can save you is to give them what they want and hope they go away. In episode four, they seem to want everyone dead. Yikes.

Oh, and if Sorenson can generate red-outline Sorenson monsters, does that mean that the original red-outline beast back on the planet might once have been a normal being too?

Obviously the science is so bonkers as to become a mad kind of poetry. Anti-matter can be put in toffee tins and used to repulse anti-matter monsters, presumably by half-arsed analogy with magnetism. You know, since everyone in the regular matter universe goes around being repulsed by matter. I think we have to assume that there's an entire layer of technobabble we're not seeing here. There's matter, anti-matter and some hybrid third state, which has wacky SF properties and can survive contact with anything. Perhaps there's a third universe out there, made up of this other kind of matter?

This is a dark, twisted, mind-expanding story, that unfortunately happens to be riddled with uninteresting numpties on a spaceship. It has a good scene where Tom Baker basically tells Sorenson to kill himself. It also has any number of appalling scenes starring Prentis Hancock, although please don't think that the bad acting ends there. I wouldn't dream of arguing with anyone who hates this story, but personally I really like it. I still think the anti-matter monster was in the right, you know. Yes, even when it's about to kill them all.

Certainly not in the pits by Richard Evans 2/8/11

Like Shakespeare plays (and just about everything else in the world), Doctor Who stories fall into one of several categories: horrors and comedies, the good and the rotten, the innovative, the bizarre and the downright derivative, and the simple and complicated narratives. Planet of Evil is certainly a good, simple, innovative horror story, and that's why it works. Enough said.

From the opening minutes, the serial seems to be consciously trying to have an insanely high body count. Two men are murdered by an unseen creature very quickly indeed before we've had a chance to get to know them. Instead of being a silly waste of two actors, this sets up the peril of the situation as clearly as it can. Director David Maloney, who seems to command authority in the Doctor Who fan circle simply because his name is on the cards, knows the difference between good long shots and good close ups, and this shines through in the production: the first death in Part Two is agonising because we can see it very closely, but another one later on has a huge impact because there's so much going on in the shot around it. The fact that so many characters lose their lives in Planet of Evil means that the whole thing is quite light in terms of character development, but this is subordinate to the atmosphere of the story, partly because of who these people are: what we see is a rescue ship flying to a threatening planet to save a group of scientists. Like in the much-acclaimed docudrama United 93, it's not as if you would get to know your rescuers intimately, so the crew of this ship are all everymen. The net result is that all the deaths are equally damaging for everyone involved (apart from that of a vile, narrow-minded man who thoroughly deserves his fate). Poor old Michael Wisher, underexposed in Revenge of the Cybermen after stealing the show in Genesis of the Daleks, is thus an entirely transparent presence in Planet of Evil, but I'm willing to let that pass because, in Graham Williams' words, I shouldn't be watching a story just to look for familiar faces.

The plot is summarised on the back of the Planet of Evil DVD release in only three lines, making it the briefest summary of a story I have seen (apart from Survival). This has very good consequences for the serial, seeing as there's no chance that anyone will get muddled by events. An equal number of locations are used in the story - the thick, unsettling forests of Zeta Minor, the rescue ship and the TARDIS console room - giving Planet of Evil a more claustrophobic feeling than many of its contemporaries. When a large number of monsters appear out of almost nowhere in Part Four, the story does not cop out, brutally conveying that the survivors are trapped in an ever-decreasing area. The Doctor definitely has nowhere to go when he is ambushed by a giant anti-matter monster in Part Two, so what happens to him next is inevitable and stunningly dramatic. When it becomes clear that the protagonists have missed an opportunity to get rid of the danger to them, the Doctor's obvious trepidation is both fitting and frustrating (and I mean "frustrating" in a positive sense, because this element of the story is not padded out or a convenience, but perfectly in line with the tragedy of Professor Sorenson, the guest character about whom we know the most). In the closing minutes of Part Four, one man has a lucky escape from almost certain death; I dislike that touch, but it is welcome nonetheless.

Mr Michael Wisher's final fate is sombre and somewhat of a nasty shock, and by the end of Part Three, it looks as if the Doctor and Sarah are about to follow him. Their apparent fate in this treacherous struggle is definitely up there with the best cliffhangers of its time, partly because I was left gasping in disbelief. Only two other 1970s episode endings can be said to have had that effect on me - Inferno episode 4 and Genesis of the Daleks part 4 - and I first saw both of them four years ago. Brilliant cliffhangers are what I live for when I watch Doctor Who, so Planet of Evil deserves my thanks and respect.

It's good that antimatter is used within the story in an entirely different context to both The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity, thus avoiding any risk of it degenerating into just another "matter-meets-antimatter-big-bang" format (not that "matter-meets-antimatter-big-bang" is a bad idea, but variety in plotlines is appreciated). The wonderful exchange about "privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility" that results from the significance of this antimatter is highly rewarding.

With much sadness, I am obliged to close this review on a reflective note; I only went to buy and watch Planet of Evil on 20 April 2011 because I'd heard, a few hours earlier, of the untimely passing of Elisabeth Sladen. Just like a great legion of modern-day Whovians, I first met her through the episode School Reunion and then went on to watch a thrilling selection of her endlessly charismatic appearances in the pre-2005 series (including the boundlessly enjoyable The Time Warrior, in which Sladen makes a suitably enlightening debut appearance). In Planet of Evil, there is never any doubt that Sarah Jane Smith is a strong presence in the treacherous saga, and she comes across almost as more than just the Doctor's plus one. Tom Baker may always be in the driving seat for events throughout the story, but Sarah is never less than proactive. It is utterly unsurprising, therefore, that I have never heard a negative word said about Elisabeth Sladen. "She seemed invincible," said David Tennant upon hearing of her death; this sums up both character and actress concisely and precisely. We are, in short, all sorry to have lost her, especially so soon after the death of Nicholas Courtney. I, for one, spent much of the day in a subdued sense of mourning when I learnt of Sladen's passing, with the really tragic irony being that the last Sarah Jane Adventures story aired before then was entitled Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.

Planet of Evil isn't trying to be the best Doctor Who story ever, and nor does Ms Sladen go out of her way to endear herself to the viewers; she does so very naturally, just as the story stands up as a neat and efficient production.