Doctor Who #320: The Mutants Part 1

"I'm not sure I like being described as a malfunction."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Apr.8 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The Time Lords send the Doctor to Solos, an exploited world on the verge of independence, to deliver a message.

REVIEW: And this is the one that starts with Monty Python's "It's Man" racing through marsh land, chased by a plump fascist guard. So it's very hard to take it seriously. The guards are wearing gas masks, and seem worried when one of their own loses it, but they keep taking theirs off to speak. And then we're at the UNIT lab for some of the most stilted dialog between the Doctor and Jo ever. Pertwee seems distracted and repeats the same line twice, and Jo just sounds fake and rehearsed between "Oh no you don't" and, at the other end of the TARDIS trip, "Amazing!" So it bodes ill for this serial which nonetheless starts with the intriguing twin notions that the natives of Solos are spontaneously mutating, and the Time Lords have given the Doctor a weird message box to deliver which only the rightful party can open.

Thankfully, despite some cod-Shakespearean over-acting in places, it gets better. One thing Doctor Who does better than almost any other program is juxtaposing incongruous images, and what look like tribal Celtic warriors rampaging through a space station certainly fits that bill. What is described is an Earth Empire on the verge of collapse, a gray, polluted world folding in on itself economically and having to abandon some of its colonies, including Solos. Solos' atmosphere is apparently unbreathable to humans, but the Marshall in charge has conducted experiments to change its composition, which has almost certainly resulted in the rash of mutations (or Mutts) gadding about. Politically, some of the native tribes are collaborators all too happy to help with the genocide of these Mutts, while others (like Ky's) just want their independence. Here, the future meets the past, with a nod to the present in the blue collar attitudes of the guards played as comedy relief, but more importantly, as real life blokes who can't wait for their shifts to end.

As it turns out, the Administrator played by Geoffrey Palmer (his second of three Doctor Who roles) is there to give the Solonians the independence they crave, but he's shot with a poison dart moments before he makes the proclamation. Imperial Earthmen just love making speeches, don't they? If he'd just cut to the chase! It is entertaining to see Ky finish his sentences with the wrong (but more accurate) words though. And its not a case of complete irony, because the Admin was shot by one of the Marshall's pawns. While I immensely enjoyed the Admin telling the planet's governor that he'd try and find him a clerical position or something once they pulled out of Solos, the Marshall (would it have killed Baker and Martin to give these guys names!?) did not appreciate the nullification of his power base.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Rough start, but the politicking eventually redeems the episode.


Anonymous said...

About Pertwee repeating the line: I once read that, during a certain period in Pertwee's tenure, he was spending a lot of time doing stand-up comedy, and really wasn't giving the "Doctor Who" scripts proper attention. So this was probably during his phone-it-in phase. (He later grew out of it when the producer, or whoever, had a sit-down with him and let him know he was letting everyone else down.)

Dave Mullen said...

So this was probably during his phone-it-in phase. (He later grew out of it when the producer, or whoever, had a sit-down with him and let him know he was letting everyone else down.

True. I've just listened to Barry Letts' own audio Biography and he relates this very fact. I don't know when this 'Phone-it-in' period took place within the show exactly but The Mutants is late enough into his tenure to fit the bill.
If you haven't got this audio I'd strongly reccomend it, there's a lot of trivia in there and Pertwee comes in for due criticism in several places by Letts for his shortcomings and selfishness.


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