"Perhaps we can talk without interruption from rifle butts."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Harry are interrogated and find an ally who objects to the Daleks. Sarah Jane is forced to work on a radioactive missile and makes a vertiginous escape.
REVIEW: One thing about Terry Nation's plotting, it's not light on jeopardy. Where other attempts at the movie matinée style have sometimes felt like a string of barely connected challenges (this, then this, then this), this episode's success lies in how they are piled up one on top of the other (this AND this AND this). Intercut with the promise of the Doctor and Harry escaping through a cave filled with mutant monsters, Sarah Jane is put to work on a chain gang building a Thal missile that's to be soon shot at the Kaled bunker AND she has to handle radioactive material that is slowly killing the prisoners. She stages the escape - that's my girl - but it can only be done by climbing the rafters around the rocket while Thal guards shoot at the escapees, until finally, she falls! It's an exciting sequence, shot on film, with a camera smoothly drifting up with Sarah, and it's Lis Sladen all the way, not Stuart Fell doing the booty shake. Doctor Who will soon get in trouble for a freeze frame cliffhanger that's "too scary", but here's one, Sarah suspended in mid-air and mid-scream, and yeah, it's quite effective.
Unusual for a Nation script is how all sides of the conflict have both ruthless and honorable members, as if he (or Holmes) has taken a page from Hulke. The Kaleds are Nazi stand-ins, and Davros is quite mad, but both the Doctor and Sarah make Kaled friends. It's Ronson, the scientist who helps the Doctor with his info-dumps that sees it as his moral obligation to stop Davros' experiments, having turned his attention to survival in the face of inevitable mutation, while his crazed leader only wants to perfect destructive beings and would have rashly killed the Doctor and Harry. Davros isn't just a psychopath, he's a bad scientist. There's the Muto who wants to kill Sarah for being a "norm", and the Muto who saves her life because he can't bear to see beauty destroyed. In fact, it's the Thals who lose the morality game. We know the species grows up to become a pacifist/heroic tribe, but we haven't met any Thal goodies in this story yet.
And though the story is a violent and dark one, we do have the Doctor's inappropriate good humor to keep us from the edge of the abyss. The worst thing about getting captured for him is that there's no tea. Of course, it's an act. When the time ring is taken, he gets serious, even panicked. It's solid old Harry who calms him down and advises a cool head so as not to let the Kaleds know the ring's importance. There's also some humor in the bit where the Doctor returns from interrogation with more information than what he gave up. It's a neat way to share the exposition among several characters. But in the end, it's seriousness that wins out. After all, he's there to potentially kill Daleks while they're still in the egg, so to speak. We don't get to see the Kaleds' "ultimate" (in the actual sense of the word) mutation, leaving it to our imaginations based on our heroes' shocked faces... for now.
REWATCHABILITY: High - An exciting chapter as the odds keep piling up against our heroes, and Skaro turns out to have more shades of gray than you'd ever expect from a Terry Nation story.