The Romance of Crime
The Creature from the Pit
|Dates||Oct. 27, 1979 -
Nov. 17, 1979
With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward,
David Brierly as the voice of "K9". Written by David Fisher.
Script-edited by Douglas Adams. Directed by Christopher Barry.
Produced by Graham Williams.
|Synopsis: he Doctor lands on Chloris, where metal is scarce, plants are plentiful, and anyone who disrupts Lady Adrasta's regime is thrown to the Creature from the Pit.|
An underrated if mixed production by Tom May Updated 24/5/03 (originally 6/6/98)
"Astrologer extraordinary. Seer to princes and emporers. The future foretold, the past explained, the present... apologised for."Along with the merry Horns of Nimon, The Creature from the Pit has been consistently derided by the august ranks of Dr Who fandom. It is true that the story lacks a real consistency; but so much in it is likeable and more than competent.
- Organon, introducing himself.
The Williams' era was perhaps one of the true highpoints of Doctor Who, in my humble opinion; full of wit, solid narratives, intelligence and some of the best Doctor/companion teamings. Season 17 was never less than thoroughly enjoyable, and I found The Creature from the Pit of a better quality than the lethargic and bewildered Nation-Adams conflicted Destiny of the Daleks. The potently fresh, ever humorous influence of Douglas Adams pervades this genial story; an example being the Doctor, inside the pit, reading a Rock Climbing textbook which is in Tibetan, and thus digests a "Teach Yourself Tibetan" book. Marvellously absurd, and suitably Dr Who stuff! Tom Baker is perhaps more 'excessive' in The Nightmare of Eden than here - with a few notably unnecessary moments there - and is at his wonderfully silly best, imparting all the humour with flair and gravitas. Lalla Ward is curious... the script seems to be written for the generally more haughty Mary Tamm Romana; it's interesting to see Ward playing the part as more proud and snooty than usual, and she arguably takes this further than Tamm ever did after Tamm's perfectly preening turn in The Ribos Operation, Episode 1. Her attitude towards the bandits is most amusing in its utter condescension, and her scenes with Lady Adrasta are wonderfully catty. It's certainly a very different Romana from the glowingly witty, smilingly sharp example of City of Death, but Ward is good here, definitely a positive.
A further boon has to be the magnificent forest sets; particularly shown in Episode 1 - which give lie to the perception that the Williams era was aesthetically substandard. Even the more obvious studio-bound sets are nicely detailed, and there are some suitably dark corridor-esque caves for the wonderful pairing of Tom Baker and Geoffrey Bayldon to traverse.
Inevitably perhaps, The Creature from the Pit has to have its downpoints.
Season 17 did see a marginal dip in interest and variety compared especially to the magnificent first four stories of Season 16. The abuse accorded this story does has some understandable if overplayed foundation. The long-bearded bandits are utterly inconsequential and irritating in their stupidity; not really the worthwhile comic diversion that one would expect of Douglas Adams. It should be noted that Christopher Barry's direction is very average, at times good in the first episode, but really muffling much of the effectiveness of the very solid central story. Incidental aspects like the design of Erato really go too far in their ridiculousness - which presumably was not intended. The curiously, presumably literary-reference named eponymous creature looks truly laughable; much like a great bulbous mound, with a certain sensitive part of the male anatomy protruding from it... The infamous scene where the Doctor comunicates with it - or should it be him - is lent wonderful comedy by Baker's words and reactions. Of course, the 'credibility' of the story is reduced by this; partly a shame as it is a good production in many ways, but also a fillip as Baker draws some fine comedy out of the ill-conceived manifestation of this creature.
Eileen Way's Karella is not as interesting or as well played as the undeniably classy villain Adrastra, and this lets the side down a bit. Having said that the costumes are good I suppose - certainly perhaps similar to those of Season 18's Meglos. Geoff Bayldon plays perhaps too much of a caricatured sage-like astronomer - i.e. not really having the depth of a Binro - but is truly charmingly played. What a shame it is that this was his only appearance in television Dr Who; he's just the sort of actor who is perfect for the show. The ending, which I initially found bemusing, is amusingly played yet has a peculiarly downbeat, drawn-out air to it.
This adventure, it must be concluded, is by no means a disaster; the majority are wrong to just dismiss it. It is impeccably plotted, but in comparison with classics such as The Ribos Operation, The Androids of Tara, City of Death, and The Pirate Planet it falls a little flat -- but only a little. This is a thoroughly acceptable and enjoyable, if unexceptional Dr Who story.
The Shell Game by Andrew Wixon 29/3/02
As Oscar Wilde said, there's one thing worse than being talked about, and that's not being talked about. And so it is with The Creature from the Pit, which seems to be one of the most overlooked (and, on this site at least, least-reviewed) TV stories. And I can't for the life of me think why this should be. It's not a classic or even an especially great story, but there's no reason to dismiss it out of hand.
Well, I can think of a few reasons, of course: there's the rather underwhelming realisation of Erato (but hey, if we're going to start knocking a DW story for having ropey effects then the series finest hour by some considerable way is the McGann telemovie with the Pertwee logo, right? And Scaroth's mask isn't too great, either), the frankly wobbly science of Erato's metabolism and Chloris' geology (but hey, the natural history in the previous story is very iffy too), and of course some very broad (almost embarrassingly so) comedy from the Jewish outlaws (Tom Chadbon's performance as Duggan is, of course, a masterclass of deadpan comic timing).
Okay, enough with the City of Death comparisons already! My point is that if you come to CftP with an open mind you will find much to entertain you: the high production values of the filmed sequences, Geoffrey Venables, and a typically witty and engaging David Fisher script (who, let us not forget, co-wrote a certain Paris-based story).
But even so, why does it have such a poor rep? I suspect because it's a story of lots of little unconnected ideas rather than one or two big ones: there's the metal-free planet, the matriarchal society, the vegetable pitbulls, the big green tactile-communicating brain, the neutron star weapon... But all tied together by a logical, coherent and never confusing story.
I have a very soft spot for this: an underrated story from an underrated season.
How to write an enjoyably romp in easy stages by David Barnes 19/7/02
I just got the video today, coming hot on the heels of The Ambassadors of Death release. I know this story used to be derided by fans but has recently had a re-evaluation. I had seen this story before but couldn't remember anything about it so it was like a new experiance. I had read the novelisation (which was OK, but nothing spectacular) but wanted to see the thing.
Well, I'm happy to say that this, while not being 24-Caret Who, is still a good, fun adventure.
The main idea, that of a planet rich in plantlife but very low on metal, is very good, and David Fisher works in various details into the script to make it seem even more real, such as the talk about how no tools could be made to cut back the plants.
Tom Baker is obviously having fun, and I didn't think the humour went too far. Who wants every story to be a gritty, tough adventure anyway? I loved Logopolis (a very dry escapade indeed) but also love stories like The Chase and City of Death (both comedies). Funniest moments in this story include the Everest in Easy stages sequence, the final scene and this following exchange:
"We call it...The Pit."
"You have such a way with words."
Lalla Ward is OK, though the lines were written for Mary Tamm and it is easy to picture Tamm being in this story. David Brierley as K9 is marvellous! I can see how he would be irritating to some but I thought K9 was killingly funny, particularly his insisting that he is not made of tin.
Geoffrey Bayldon is funny and has some good exchanges with the Doctor, although his character is almost totally superfluous to the plot.
Myra Frances is suitably nasty (and is one of the few villians in Who who looks nice!) and her raising of her eyebrow when she first sees K9 is hilarious. Eileen Way as Kareela is not as good, being rather faceless and dull.
The other characters, including the bandits (who look as if they modelled themselves off the "It's..." man off Monty Pythons Flying Circus) are a rather dull bunch.
The creature itself looks rather absurd and thankfully is not seen much in either episodes 1 or 4. It is obvious the creature (or Tythonian ambassador) is too big to really move convincingly so it resorts to just occasionaly wobbling. The wolfweeds are far more successful but look more cute than threatening.
The story does meander at times (such as the sudden explanation of a neutron star heading for Chloris), but overall this story is a very enjoyable adventure but shouldn't be taken too seriously! 7.5/10
There's more to it than the penis by Tim Roll-Pickering 28/10/02
After the immense disappointment of City of Death, The Creature from the Pit is something of an improvement. David Fisher's story evolves out of straightforward ideas and the result is a tale that holds up quite well in its basic concepts. The idea of a planet with no natural metal sources at all may be difficult to accept at first , but is not that strange an idea when one thinks it through and considers the possibilities of space travel. Otherwise this is a straightforward tale of exploitation and monopolistic control of resources. The story does start to splutter a bit at the end and the entire section in which the Doctor and Erato deal with the neutron star feels as though it has been tacked on to ensure that the story makes it to four episodes. But otherwise the story is competently constructed.
Of the characters, the Doctor is more subdued in this story than previously, whilst Romana shows a great deal of strength of character. Both Tom Baker and Lalla Ward give strong performances that do much to boost the story even in little joke moments such as the scene where the Doctor is clinging onto the side of a the mine shaft and pulls out a beginners guide to mountaineering, only to find it is written in Tibetan, and then produces another book: Teach Yourself Tibetan. However K9 suffers badly in this story and at times he is literally used as a mere blaster. The change in voice from John Leeson to David Brierly is very noticeable and there is no explanation at all of why such a voice change has occurred. Brierly simply does not sound like Leeson and fails to give K9 the sense of lovability that his predecessor did. Out of the guest cast, Eileen Way gives a good performance as Karela whilst Geoffrey Bayldon brings a strong sense of wisdom to Organon but none of the other cast make much impact at all. The weakest group of characters are Torvin and his thieves who are extremely clich? and contribute little to the tale.
This story is best remembered for the design of one of Erato's appendages and it is absolutely impossible to deny that it looks like a penis, especially when erecting. This is extremely unfortunate as otherwise Erato makes for a change from many of the monsters in the series by being distinctly non-humanoid and not being able to communicate with the humans directly and the monster is generally well designed. Generally the production values on this story are competent, with the use of film for the scenes in the jungle improving their feel no end. Although the story suffers from the double ending, the lack of a spectacular cast and the misfortune of part of Erato's design it is nevertheless a good story and deserves far more attention than it presently receives. 6/10
A Review by Paul Rees 21/6/03
There is a good story buried somehere in Creature from the Pit, but this fact is rather obscured by the sometimes lamentable standard of 'acting' as well as by the rather poor realisation of the Creature itself. The idea of a fearsome creature (don't laugh) turning out to be a well-meaning ambassador is very intriguing, and makes a nice change from the usual 'evil alien' story lines. The idea of having a creature which is essentially all brain is also very interesting, although this does mean that at no time does the Creature seem to be menacing enough to actually pose a threat to our hero.
What also tends to mitigate against any real sense of danger is the appearance of some rather lame attempts at "humour". In particular, the fact that the Doctor reads a book on mountaineering whilst hanging onto a cliff face does not really convince the viewer that his survival is truly at stake. Tom was in my view the definitive Doctor, but at this stage he appears to have lost the plot completely. Romana is rather more restrained, and is here at her most imperious: only her wails of anguish upon K9's apparent demise are rather badly judged.
It is undeniable that there is a theme of sexuality running through this story: Adastra appears to be the archetypal dominatrix, whilst her guards are decked out out from top to bottom in decidedly kinky outfits. The character of Adastra herself is pretty well acted; what really lets the side down is the - ahem - "performance" of the hirsute bandits. Oh dear. What ever were they thinking of? Ditching naturalism and adopting a lighter touch is all very well, but it is surely an unmitigated disaster when the end result is stripped of any believability whatsoever.
The plot is resolved fairly neatly, although Karela's desire to form an alliance with the bandits seems rather odd to say the least (her subsequent surrender of the photon accelerator being even more so.) All in all, this is a rather disappointing story which is totally unbelievable at times, and consistently lacks any character depth whatsoever. It is, however, at least never boring.
A Review by Keith Bennett 16/12/03
Well, it's nice to see a few kind words offered for this often-critisized story. I can see why people wouldn't like it; it really is rather silly. However, as Paul Rees says, it is never boring.
I actually think the creature looks really good, although I can see now what I didn't notice in my naive, younger years, about it's... um... protrudence. But I have to say I thought the large shot of it, with the Doctor and Organon standing before it, looked very impressive. Maybe it was the copy of the story I was watching, but I did not see the usual "lines" that make it clear that the actors are really standing in front of a blue screen or something.
I also didn't think the bandits were that bad. Well... all right... they were bad. :) But enjoyable all the same.
The Doctor I thought was a bit mild, but Organon was wonderful, as was the wicked witch of the west. Romana... hmmm... I thought she did the haughy bit quite well - I admit I didn't think of Mary Tamm when she looked down her nose at the grubby metal collectors. However, the Famous Five way she kept saying "K-9" grated a LOT.
Overall, certainly a flawed story, but one that I do find amusing and enjoyable.
The "Moonraker" of the Dr Who canon by Steve Cassidy 27/1/04
I thought on the way home tonight that I was being too harsh on The Creature from The Pit. Maybe I misunderstood it. Why O why does it have such a bad reputation? Why is it seen as the "Moonraker" of the whole Who mythos? "Moonraker" amongst Bond fans is a term to describe something where the bad is so bad it strangles the good. For every superb action scene there is a scene of such excruciating badness that the whole film plummets. It staggers on like a wounded beast until someone to puts it out of our misery.
I wanted to like it. It is one of the few that I remember as a 9 year old with its strange alien planet, the human sacrifice to the monster in the hole and those creepy wolfweeds. The two cliffhangers, I remember after 25 years, are very good and occur in the first and second episodes. The good Doctor leaps into the pit volantarily or is engulfed by the bulk of the "creature". Both of these are worth watching. Even the name "The Creature from the Pit" is eerie and laced with mystery. And to be frank the first two episodes are very enjoyable.They have a creepy ambiance which sweeps you along but it seems to flounder in the last two. The final episode is so groanable that I was going to cancel my cheque to the bank to get my money back. My return to the Dr Who fold was becoming very shaky indeed.
What happened? Well, in a word "Erato"..
I'm not a great fan of overelaborate special effects. I don't care how many millions of dollars ILM and WETA have spent on the latest blockbuster. Give me a set, a good script, a couple of capable actors and a good director - and I'm happy. I love television drama, I love theatre - quite frankly I don't give a damn about The Matrix or Star Wars prequels so long as the direction and acting are good (they generally aren't) - but please god, give me a character I can believe in - and I couldn't with Erato. It's difficult to pinpoint when the realisation occurred. Maybe when Tom Baker was putting his head against the creature and mumbling about "it being a giant membrous brain" when quite obviously it was a giant green mattress. Maybe it was the overelaborate plot about Erato being an ambassador from another world who was using the Doctor and the TARDIS to get back at his captors. Whatever happened I stopped believing - which in Doctor Who is simply fatal.
But there are plenty of good stuff about Creature. First of all the production design is magnificent. The use of Ealing studio's vast sets to house the jungle planet of Chloris was inspired. And the idea of this planet totally devoid of metal is a good one. The fear of plants taking over was used excellently in The Seeds of Doom and that jungle is very convincing. It's a pity it wasn't utilised more. When we move underground the action seems to slow and by the time we get to the TARDIS everything seems clunky and cumbersome. The Creature from the Pit seems like a very heavy meal that you wished hadn't started.
The plot itself is good to start with but tangles itself up in knots. Adrasta is a wicked villainess - redolent of a 'Disney witch'. You half expect hissing to come on from the sidelines every time she enters. For a start it is entertaining to have a female villain and one whose organisation seems to be female dominated. I love the idea that she keeps a monopoly of metal on Chloris and keeps control in a manner that Saddam Hussein would have been proud of. Anyone who doesn't measure up, displeases her or does anything different at all is taken to the pit and thrown in with elaborate ceremony. The opening scene of the poor unfortunate pleading for his life before being thrown in is very atmospheric.
Second in command is the ancient Karela played by Eileen Way. Way looks the kind of woman who would knit under the shadow of the guillotine but is unfortunately underused. When she tries to bargain with the bandits at the end - it just doesn't seem to work. And is it me or does she seem to stumble over a couple of lines. As back-up Adrasta has 'The Huntsman' a ginger bearded man in leather and antlers who cracks a big whip. He controls my favourite things in Creature - the wolfweeds. Oh why was not more made of them. These rolling balls of vegetation had the potential to be very creepy. I can just imagine them rolling along after a terrified Romana as she runs through the jungle. However, they are involved in Adrasta's very camp death scene - that scene almost justifies the purchase of the video. Almost, I said, but not quite...
In fact it while the story is struggling in the third episode, it starts to unravel once Adrasta leaves the picture. And she has a fantastic cliffhanger in the third episode where she screams as the bandits move the translation device to Erato. The close up on her screaming is absolutely fantastic. And, oh yes, the bandits. Am I watching Dr Who or a rep theatre version of 'Fiddler on the Roof'? Who suggested they play them as semitic and incompetent? Oh well, I suppose it is a children's programme. Mustn't grumble.
I've not mentioned Lalla and Tom yet. Still giddy after their honeymoon in Paris they have their usual chemistry and Romana has some wonderful bitchy repartee with Adrasta. Girl versus girl really seems to work here and Adrasta's slap looked very authentic. But once again, Romana works in the first two episodes but seems to get overtangled in the gobbledegook for the last episode. And I don't know in which sequence these were written but the dialogue did suit the Mary Tamm Romana better. And as for Mister Baker? Well, he once again doesn't put a foot wrong. And it's only his schoolboy performance which keeps the whole thing together. And his scenes with Catweazel (Geoffery Bayldon/Organon) were enjoyable but seemed to prove that this adventure was aimed squarely at children.
Nothing wrong with that I hear you cry? Well, no but I prefer a little more meat on my bone and only Myra Frances as Adrasta really gave it to me. The device of the crashing planet/sun and the TARDIS stopping its course seemed to be just tacked on to the end. And by then I didn't care.
The Creature from the Pit smacks of an interesting idea on paper that doesn't work on screen, and there are sequences so bad that I was hitting the remote. And as with "Moonraker" once that gondola turns into a hovercraft and speeds across St Marks Square - there is no going back.
The damage is well and truly done. Man the lifeboats! It is hit beneath the waterline..
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/2/04
Despite it`s poor reputation, The Creature From The Pit does have a lot going for it. The plot is relatively simple; a planet under the thumb of a dictator, with a "Creature" held captive. To this end it is relatively standard Doctor Who fare. Tom Baker is on witty form (the scene with the book, as he hangs in the pit springs to mind), while Lalla Ward continues to play Romana straight; thus as a result this provokes a mixed reaction from Adastra, the central villain.
In another example of a strongly motivated female villain, Adastra slaps Romana, whilst simply tolerating the Doctor. In this respect Adastra is well portrayed by Myra Frances and her comeuppance all the more satisfying. Not content with one female villain however, David Fisher`s script features a second in Eileen Way`s Karela; in some regards she is little more than a glorified henchwoman, and her selfish desires make her worse than Adastra. Of the supporting players, it is Organon who is the most memorable, thanks largely to Geoffrey Bayldon`s lively portrayal. Similarly K-9 gains a new voice in David Brierly; the result being a haugty and slightly camp robot dog.
And so to the titular creature. Perhaps the best thing that can be said is that a giant green blob is actually quite innovative (certainly the series hadn`t resorted to this cliche before now) and as a result is refreshing, despite its dodgy realisation. In short then, this is Doctor Who getting silly, but if you like that then its also great fun too.
"We call it... the Creature!" by Joe Ford 19/5/04
There have been lots of derogatory things said about Creature from the Pit, so much so that it has achieved a sort of fandom infamy for being the biggest pile of garbage and the worst excesses of low comedy and poor FX that the series could sink to. What people usually forget to mention is that it is also fabulous.
I think Creature from the Pit got its reputation when the Williams era was in especially low repute and only celebrated gems like City of Death and The Pirate Planet were praised and nobody bothered to go back and actually watch the story and realise it wasn't in fact the embarrassing production the JNT era led fandom to believe it was. My best mate Matt thinks it is the worst travesty Doctor Who ever threw up but I am glad he is one of a diminishing number, reviews when the story came out on its belated video release were positive and encouraging others to give it another chance.
At the heart of the story is a fair few effective messages, dislike for the unlike is a powerful corruptor and a lust for wealth even more so. Through the despicable actions of the villainous Lady Adastra we can see how one person can affect the poverty of an entire planet. Chloris is a planet rich in Chlorophyll and rather than trade with alien species and introduce a further supply of metal (which is scarce) and lose her tyrannical advantage over the population she condemns them to a life of poverty.
Even better is the way the story deals with the Tythonian ambassador. It is almost like a fairytale the way we are led to believe the Creature (it has to be spelt with a Capital C considering how much stress is put on the word!) is a brutal beast, one that skulks about in a dark pit and gobbles up all the frightened scientists that are thrown into his lair. But rather unpredictably the Creature, an amorphous blob turns out to be a friendly sort who is accidentally murdering those men because he is trying to find some way to communicate. It is marvellous to see how Adastra twists the image of the Creature; with a little tweaking she has her planet in abject fear of being munched on by the blob from hell. Glorious scenes of the Doctor trying to communicate with the Creature (widely dismissed because it looks like he is sucking the thing off) prove David Fisher is trying to create something truly alien and different from the archetypal Doctor Who monster of the two arms, two legs and human vocabulary type.
This is a further example of the brilliance of Douglas Adams' inspired mentally unstable Doctor. This is Tom Baker at the height of his powers, relishing the glorious dialogue on offer. I have been rather critical of Tom's season seventeen performances in the past (particularly in my own appraisal of the fourth Doctor) but re-watching these stories of late has opened my eyes to the possibilities of a manic, almost lunatic version of the Hinchcliffe fourth Doctor, one who relies on his wits and flies through the story improvising every move and most of all ENJOYING HIMSELF. What a refreshing change! Through this relaxed, charming protagonist it is a pleasure to experience the story, it is the complete inverse of the Davison era where you pick any story and it is a struggle to get through no matter how good it is because the regulars are always fighting amongst themselves (and thus the audience). Watching a season seventeen story is like going on holiday with your dream companion, someone who keeps things exciting, unpredictable and fun and that person is of course the Doctor.
Examples of his fervent eccentric-ness beam from every scene. I would spend the entire review listing every moment if I were to mention my favourite bits but selected gems would have to be:
Perfection is an object I would rather Doctor Who not achieve, if everything about the show was flawless how would we know what was crap? There are faults in Creature from the Pit, some gapingly obvious but I am inclined to forgive them because the story comes under fire for all the wrong reasons. The embarrassing monster seems to be the object of everybody's distaste and yet there are some inspiring CSO shots of the Creature filling the cave giving a sense of awesome size. Yes it is clearly a man in a quilt but you didn't let the snake stop your enjoyment of Kinda, the Skarasen of Terror of the Zygons, nor the animatronic cats in Survival. Doctor Who is not FX driven, the Williams era especially not and anyone who approaches the show from that angle (read non fans) is going to be sorely disappointed and missing out on the ideas and storytelling behind those FX which are magical.
The bandits are pretty superfluous but they pad out the story nicely and provide some decent comic interludes. Okay so they're a bit too cuddly to convince and seems to have come from the Oliver! school of acting ("My lovely boys!" ...sorry couldn't resist the urge!) but considering the handful of screamingly funny moments they provide (my biggest laugh in the story comes when their stupid leader Torvin takes offence to Romana: "Who are you calling hirsute?", "You! Do you want to make something of it?", "No I just want to know what it means!"). They are surplus to requirement in late episodes, just there to provide some token threat (which they fail to do). Still the whistle scene is still marvellous.
I love how camp everybody is in the story. Adastra is the epitome of the femme fetale, she struts about the story reminding everybody that she is a woman of power and her dominance over men, caked in make up and with a viscous temper (she slaps Romana around the face for being cheeky). All she is missing is a cheesy sax score and a cigarette holder. Karella is just as bad, a lady of luxury who sucks up to the boss and then switches sides when the tides turn. Let's face it Myra Frances and Eileen Way are both excellent, decked out in vibrant clothes they relish their roles, annunciating every line for all the female empowerment its worth.
Lalla Ward's debut performance as Romana is an interesting one, she claims in interviews that the script and her efforts are both effectively drawing on Mary Tamm's initial portrayal of the character but I disagree, whilst there is a fair peppering of Tamm's aloofness, Ward plays her scenes with a twinkle in the eye, a hidden warmth that makes all the difference. Her sadness as K.9. is smothered by the wolf weeds is far more touching than anything Romana reacted to last year. I think Ward has a presence and a vulnerability that makes her stand out, when she backchats Adastra you have some prime bitch fighting in progress!
It astonishes me when genuinely well written and goofy as hell fun stories like this one get dismissed to the bottom end of the polls when there are far more insulting examples of depth sinking (either side of this season you have The Power of Kroll and Meglos both of which never come anywhere near as low as Creature from the Pit in fan polls). It was made at a time when Doctor Who storytelling and characterisation was at an all time high, yes it does flirt with the cliches but then the reason ideas become cliches is because they are used a lot and the reason they are used a lot is because they WORK. This is an effective tale; one of tyranny and manipulated identity and it deserves a little recognition for its sumptuous production at least.
Get out the banners! Picket fences around the BBC! Creature from the Pit is fab! Sing that creed!
A Review by Brian May 1/6/05
The Creature From the Pit has a bad reputation floating around the "official" ether of Doctor Who thought - influential publications like The Discontinuity Guide and The Television Companion certainly don't recommend it. But look at the reviews on this site. Only one is negative; for the others it ranges from flawed but fun to very enjoyable. But the majority of them focus on an important factor, summed up in one word: underrated. This is a more than appropriate description, for this is one of the most underrated Doctor Who stories ever.
Okay, it's not brilliant. But, and I think I'm not alone here, recent viewings have warmed me to it. There are bad elements certainly, but they don't turn it into a disaster. Let's get these out of the way first.
The bandits: they're dreadful. Embarrassing. One of those things that make Who fans cringe - although they're not bad in theory, and they play a crucial part in the narrative. Reading the novelisation you get the impression they're a fearsome bunch. But then I read the Target book before I saw the televised serial, in which they're no more than a disastrous attempt at comic relief. The way they allow Romana to boss them around like naughty children is a prime example of this. None of them are particularly well acted, with John Bryans's Torvin the worst - there have been many comments likening him to Fagin that I can only reiterate here. In the end, he is not funny. The only other roles I've seen Bryans play have been in Blake's 7 and judging from them he's a decent actor; perhaps Douglas Adams forced him to ham it up?
David Brierley as the new voice of K9: he's awful. The snooty, public school tones don't do the mechanical pooch any justice; it's no surprise John Leeson came back for season 18.
The creature: another unimpressive Who monster. This time it looks like a mix of tent and inflatable garbage bag, and its phallic qualities have been oft mentioned. But then again, we've had dreadful looking monsters before - Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Talons of Weng-Chiang are notable examples. We've had phallic looking aliens (The Claws of Axos), and heck, we've even had rubbery garbage bags - Frontier in Space, The Seeds of Doom (the episode 4 cliffhanger in particular). So The Creature From the Pit is not alone here, although the infamous sucking scene is so startling you wonder how it got approved by the producer, let alone the censors!
The last ten minutes: a rather illogical and, I'm sorry to say, dull climax, which gets itself bogged down in technobabble and bad pseudo-science. But then how about The Masque of Mandragora? When it comes to lacklustre endings in general, just look at The Mind Robber - a story that's one of the programme's all time gems!
The humour: it's definitely excessive at times, and very much the influence of Douglas Adams as the new script editor. His brand of comedy worked in some stories of season 17 (City of Death), but it took a while for the charm to set in - the Philistine and Minotaur gags are evidence of this - they don't raise the chuckles they're meant to; neither does the whole Everest/Tibetan bit, nor the Doctor's "lucky number". I know it's in character for Tom Baker's Doctor to say "You're standing on my scarf!" to an opponent, but not when a huge green blob is about to crush him! The aforementioned bandits also fall into this category.
But then you have a lot of things that do work in the story's favour. The script is first rate - despite the lapse at the ending, the basic plot is an intelligent and entertaining one from David Fisher. The focus is small scale - the fate of one planet hangs in the balance and the villain, Lady Adrasta, has similarly parochial designs. When she forces the information about the TARDIS from K9, she only thinks about the ability to venture forth in space and time for bringing back materials to further her rule ("the monopoly will still be mine") - she doesn't want to conquer every world in every time; she just wants to keep ruling Chloris. This is amazingly refreshing for a Who enemy, just like Fisher's season 16 creation, Count Grendel. The whole concept of Erato works well (I'm not talking about the realisation of course, but we've already been there!) - I particularly like how Fisher keeps its motives ambiguous. It's not simply a benign monster; it has its own agenda.
Fisher has created some other good characters - Organon is sublime. His speech when he introduces himself to the Doctor is wonderful (especially "The present - apologised for!"), providing the story's best line. The Huntsman is well fleshed out - he's not your average henchman, blindly obeying his superior to the point of blotting out everything else. He's willing to listen to the Doctor and Erato, and when he realises what Adrasta has been doing he helps to defeat her, taking over the ruling duties because he knows it's right for the planet. However Madame Karela is a rather under-utilised character, and her motivations waver, especially in the final episode. But Eileen Way gives her a sadistic but controlled relish, while Myra Frances is excellent as Adrasta, making her the perfect total bitch. But Geoffrey Bayldon steals the show as Organon. Lalla Ward's first recorded appearance as Romana is very assured, although of course we've yet to see the chemistry between her and Tom Baker that would surface later.
Speaking of Baker, I think his performance is an excellent one, without the hammy overacting that was his wont in this period of his run. He's got the same wanderlust-filled, bug-eyed energy that graced his earlier years; any flippant humour derives from the lines he's been given. My favourite Doctor scene is his attempt to converse with Erato whilst bathed in the green light - it has the combination of wonderment and humour that is Baker at his best.
The production values are for the most part high. The lighting is excellent - the aforementioned green light is one such example; others include the general lighting, or lack of it, in the pit, creating great shadows and suspense in the early stages of part two. The studio shots of the bandits approaching the palace are under-lit to give the convincing appearance of an exterior night. Indeed, the whole jungle set is extremely well done, as are the palace interiors and the pit itself. Christopher Barry's direction is good, although I must say it's not up there with his previous efforts. The effects during the tractor beam climax are not the best, and the only other failing, the monster itself, has been discussed. But since when have we judged bad special effects in a Doctor Who adventure harshly? And, if you like pace and frenzy, the last few minutes of part three are an incredible adrenalin rush.
Overall, this is a very entertaining story, well written and with generally high production values. There are some character flaws (the bandits) and some excessive humour, but these seem more Douglas Adams than David Fisher. A below-par ending and a badly realised monster are its other faults, but I've listed other stories that share these facets - The Creature From the Pit in pretty good company indeed. To critics and doubters, give it another shot. You may be surprised. 7.5/10
A Pit Full of Crap by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 16/4/12
The Creature from the Pit is a story which I've only seen a few times. As I put the video in, the overwhelming memory of the last time I watched it was the stupidity of it. Well, I mean, come on, this is Season 17 after all. So was the memory justified? Well yes and no. More yes than no, actually. It's actually much less silly than Nightmare of Eden and The Horns of Nimon and in some ways even less silly than City of Death but then again City of Death just oozes classiness on a level all of its own. I was struck by a strong sense of how good The Creature from the Pit could have been and that's the annoying thing; it's a mixture of good stuff and crap stuff and the good stuff is really quite impressive.
First let me say just how impressive those jungle scenes are. Jungles are one of the hardest environments to pull off in Doctor Who and there are numerous examples that just don't work, Planet of the Daleks and Kinda being the really obvious ones. Shooting it on film here was a masterstroke, as was the ambient light level. Shot on video, it might not have looked as good. Whoever decided to use film (I assuming it was the director) had exactly the right idea. The Wolfweeds could have been terrible, but they are mostly successful even if they are more cute than frightening. In fact, I'd quite like one as a pet.
It's nice to see a matriarchal society, something else that we've had few instances of. They did it in Galaxy 4 and The Mysterious Planet and they sort-of did it in The Happiness Patrol, but this is possibly the most successful example of it. In fact, it's a fairly successful attempt at building an entire world in the space of four episodes, complete with gender politics, geological attributes and sartorial styles. This is a planet that is bare in metallic elements, an interesting idea and something I don't believe had been done before. Speaking of sartorial styles, the costumes are nicely reminiscent of the Saracens, particularly Adrasta's outfit. Less successful is Romana's costume; it's just a bit too floaty and virginal for my liking. Quite what is she wearing in the TARDIS in episode 1? She looks like a dinnerlady.
The Creature from the Pit is fairly successful as character piece. Adrasta, Organon and the bandits are all quite strong personas who make the most of their screen time quite effectively even though Torvin seems to be some kind of impression of Fagin from Oliver Twist. Adrasta is a cast-iron bitch and Myra Frances does the job perfectly, especially that scene where she slaps Romana for her haughty attitude.
I do like Tom Baker's performance in this. He handles all the comic stuff well, but manages to resist the urge to tip over into silliness. It's actually a much more subtle performance than most of what he turned in this season. Even compared with the next story, the difference is noticeable. Compare his performance here with his performance in The Horns of Nimon and the difference is staggering. The Creature from the Pit seems almost Shakespearean by comparison. Even that much-maligned scene with the Doctor hanging in the Pit and reading two books at once doesn't bother me at all.
So what's wrong with The Creature from the Pit? Well, for a start, Romana. She's stunning when she coolly deals with the bandits, putting them in their place with almost nonchalant ease but most of the rest of the time she seems to be overacting. Not entirely Lalla Ward's fault, the people behind the camera should always give as much help to the actors as possible and they don't exactly do so here.
The Pit itself is a disappointment. Considering that so much emphasis is placed on people being thrown down it to an inglorious demise and considering that it's in the title, you'd expect a little more than what looks like a grave, but no, a grave is what we get. And if we're going to have a Pit then we may as well have a Creature and boy do we get a creature... It's kind of like a giant green whoopie cushion and believe me that is a difficult look to carry off successfully. Those phallic appendages don't help either. Phallic-looking creatures are never a good idea and if you don't believe me then take a look at The Curse of Peladon or Terror of the Vervoids. Then there's that scene in which the Doctor tries to, erm, orally communicate with the Creature... Yes. Well. 'Least said, soonest mended' I think is the phrase. There is, however, one shot of the Creature which is stunning. It's that very long shot at the end of episode 2 as the Doctor and Organon approach it. The CSO is great and very reminiscent of scenes from The Blob. It's almost enough to make me forgive the awfulness of every other scene in which it features. Almost.
I've never been that keen on David Brierly as the voice of K9. He's far too prissy and just, well... emotional. He is supposed to be a machine after all and machines generally aren't stroppy.
Then there's the inescapable sense of crapness of the whole story. It could have been a lot better than it is if people had just tried a bit harder. In a way that almost makes it more of a criminality than Nightmare of Eden and The Horns of Nimon. They're crap stories, we know they're crap and we've always known they're crap. They go so wide of the mark it isn't even funny. I mean what is the point of trying to ram a serious drugs message down the throat of the audience when you're constantly undercutting yourself with sheer, mindless stupidity? But The Creature from the Pit almost hits the mark. It almost achieves admirable things. But it fails because it can't quite be bothered to pull its socks up. A waste.
Down the pit with it.
Yes. Yes. Yes! by Jason A. Miller 19/7/21
I'm not here to talk about the Erato prop. This story is more than 40 years old, there's nothing left to be said about that thing. We can take it as read that the Erato blob creature was a bad idea poorly executed. It's too easy to mock the effect, but that ignores the elephant in the room (okay... the other elephant in the room).
Everything else about The Creature From the Pit -- with one sorry exception -- is brilliant.
Doctor Who's two best special effects in the '70s were words and body language. If you're a cheap show made on a shoestring, and you're churning out 26 weeks' worth of teatime drama in a post-Star Wars world, you'd better have crackling dialogue and really good small-screen acting. Creature from the Pit has both of those things in spades, but nobody really mentions that.
The dialogue in Creature just crackles off of the screen. Now that we're watching on our DVDs or our streaming media platforms or on Daily Motion, we can rewind certain things, and there are several lengthy dialogue exchanges that just beg to be rewound and watched multiple times in a single viewing. The Doctor and Romana bantering in the TARDIS in Part One is glorious; it's the first time Tom Baker has seemed to be enjoying himself acting against his female lead since the end of The Hand of Fear. They bicker over props -- Theseus's ball of string, Samson's jawbone, the fate of Peter Rabbit (check out Tom Baker's sneeze) -- and it is so full of sexual tension that it hurts. Especially knowing where Tom and Lalla ended up, but this was Day One Scene One for them, and this was the beginning of something wonderful (before it became something terrible).
Doctor Who has put millions of sentences on screen from An Unearthly Child (1963) through Revolution of the Daleks (2021), but only one of those sentences is good enough to double as my "bio" statement on Facebook -- you know, the one bit of introductory prose that Facebook allows you to put on top of your homepage, right under your profile photo. And the one sentence that I chose, comes from this story. From Organon, in fact. "The future foretold. The past explained. The present... apologized for."
Honestly. With moments like that, the Erato prop is all you can talk about?
But what else does The Creature From the Pit get right? Well, sir... it also excels when there are NO words.
Tom Baker had a reputation for being a beast at the read-through table. Tom Baker had a reputation for being a beast during rehearsals. Tom Baker had a reputation for being a beast on the studio floor. Indeed, the episode right after this one, The Nightmare of Eden, was nearly sunk in large part due to his in-studio behavior, which helped cost that story its director.
But his actor's choices here are terrific. Look at his body language. Look at how much value he adds even when his mouth is shut. At the Part One cliffhanger, where Adrasta is crowing that she holds all the cards (the Doctor, Romana, K9) and that the Doctor must obey her, the Doctor stops talking. He pulls Lalla Ward aside, arm around her shoulder (sexual tension so strong you could charge a Tesla for weeks off of it) and, all without a word, jumps into the pit. No words, and there's your cliffhanger.
And there's an exposition scene midway through Part Four -- the business about Erato's photon drive and his possible ulterior motives -- and all of David Fisher's carefully scripted dialogue (which you can still see in the novelization) is abandoned. Baker just starts responding to Romana by saying nothing but "yes". Eight times. Until Romana, in character, calls him on it, and he responds only by saying yes -- a ninth time. Then he starts talking -- and Romana answers him only by saying "Yes". THEN Baker pulls out his trump card -- the stolen photon drive -- and he and Romana trade "yes"es again.
The best sex scenes on screen do not have actual sex in them. The chess game between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in "The Thomas Crown Affair". The first Robert DeNiro/Juliette Lewis encounter in the "Cape Fear" remake. And add to that list, the "yes" scene between Tom and Lalla.
Oh, and the bit in Part One where Adrasta says that she's found the Doctor's "commander" -- Romana -- and Romana comes out with a mile-wide grin and a cheery wave. I thought I fell in love with Lalla Ward during the nose-wrinkle at the end of The Horns of Nimon, but, no, this came first.
The other actors are just on point. When I was 12, nothing was more fun to watch than Geoffrey Bayldon's performance as Organon, the quack astrologer who's better at telling the future than he lets on. I love how he gets the final word in the story, how he wordlessly strokes his mustache as the electronic scream brings us into the end credits.
Putting aside the love for a moment. All the Fagin/Dickensian Jew stuff with the bandits is horrific. Evidently, per the DVD production notes, the actor who played Torvin thought he saw a bit of Oliver Twist in the script, and just ran with that racist interpretation, and Christopher Barry in 1979 never thought to tell him, "Ooh. Yeah. Umm. I'm gonna have to go ahead and sort of. Disagree with you, there". Almost none of that grubbery is in the novelization; in the book, which reflects Fisher's original thoughts rather than the final script, the bandits are laid-off Thatcher-era miners trying to get their revenge against the woman who prematurely ended their livelihoods (in a script prophetically written before Thatcher actually took over and shut the mines). So the TV production winds up being piggish and regressive. Ha ha ha, look at them there silly Jews. The legacy of Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert has gone up a bit of a blind alley, now hasn't it?
But most of the rest of it is just pure delight. Look how all the actors touch their larynxes in amazement when Erato speaks through them using the shield. Look at how deadly straight Eileen Way and Lady Adrasta read their lines. Look at how Baker flinches when Adrasta offers to scratch his nose (right after he's used the itchy-nose trick as a ruse to knock out her guards). Look how Adrasta stalks and circles Romana during their scenes together. Look at how the Huntsman interacts with his Wolfweed props. Look how seriously Tom Bakers plays (most of) his scenes with Erato; look at the raw anger he flashes at Adrasta, in between other moments of clowning around. This script has great humor and great outrage, and Tom Baker, at the precise moment when his ego was turning into the black hole drawing this show off course, like the black hole drawing the Skonnan battle cruiser off course later in the season during Nimon... look at how Baker plays every note in this script correctly. He delivers every emotional beat, and, boy, are there a lot of different emotional beats.
Except for his fellating Erato's enormous green you-know-what. But, hey, he didn't ask Mat Irvine to design the thing that way. Not his fault.
What's odd about this story is that most of the guest cast comes in and delivers their lines with supernova precision -- minus the bandits, everyone here is on fire, from Myra Frances to Eileen Way to Geoffrey Bayldon to even David "The Hunstman" Telfer. And yet, none of these guest actors ever got invited back... work that good really deserved return engagements, no?
... except little Tim Munro, as one of the miners. He came back.... in the least funny, least perfectly-acted episode of Doctor Who's next decade. Terminus. Although, appropriately enough, he delivered the one whimsical guest performance in that whole thing.
I've been harsh on this story in the past, because of the Erato prop. I spent so much time criticizing Tom for having oral sex with the Erato prop that I managed to miss what he and Lalla were doing (honestly, that "Yes" sequence between the two of them in Part Four is the greatest PornHub video of all time, and there's not even any nudity in it). I spent so much time bashing this story for not being City of Death, the gem that came right before in broadcast order.
But never mind all that. With two exceptions, this story is exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.