Doctor Who #409: Planet of Evil Part 2

"Shakespeare. Charming fellow. Dreadful actor." "Perhaps that's why he took up writing."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.4 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Morestrans try to leave with Sorensen's anti-matter collection, but the planet won't let them. Maybe the Doctor can communicate with a dark pool and make it better.

REVIEW: The key to understanding Planet of Evil is, as I said yesterday, to see it as a piece of Gothic horror fiction... because the science is among the most bonkers ever presented on the program. Change the SF trappings and the story becomes more familiar. Explorers steal an ancient treasure from the darkest frontier, but supernatural forces - the jungle itself, perhaps - prevent them from leaving. The production design knows this is what's going on, producing the gold standard of atmospheric Doctor Who jungles, a dark bottomless pool from which evil spirits arise, and an "oculoid" probe with a snake's eye. Taking it closer to the science fiction realm, it's Forbidden Planet, itself a take on The Tempest, so perhaps the Doctor's Shakespeare quotations - though they fit his grand theatrical persona - are more relevant to the script than they appear.

But though it tries to sell itself as a horror story, it is nonetheless science fiction, or perhaps we should rather say science fantasy. In this story (and it's not TOO far off from what we saw in The Three Doctors), there is an anti-matter universe running parallel to our own. Matter and anti-matter can't mix without causing a massive explosion, perhaps one that would destroy one or both universes. Zeta Minor somehow exists in both universes, or at least is a gateway between them. People made of matter can walk on its surface, but crystallized anti-matter is strewn about the place harmlessly, but it would blow if it interacted with matter off-planet. So this is a place in a state of grace, perhaps enjoying the same kind of quantum effect Omega's anti-matter creatures did in The 3 Docs. However, we've also got a transparent "guardian" monster made of "physical" energy representing some kind of intelligence at work. In supernatural stories, a place can have its own motivation, but in SF, it's harder to explain how a planet/parallel universe knows to defend itself, or understand the Doctor's diplomatic overtures. I'm versed in enough comic book science to win my No-Prize here, but it's still a lot to take in without explanation, and my recollection is that it gets worse. I'm also wondering about the creature's hammerhead design, given than Morestran ships also have a hammerhead profile. What's the link between them?

Beyond the story's premise, we have an episode that moves along at a brisk enough pace, some nice dialog between the two regulars, and cool visuals. Sorensen is only very subtly unhinged, finding the deaths of seven people irrelevant to the bigger picture. He wants to use the anti-matter to restart the Morestran sun (somehow, and I'm wondering why they don't just move to a colony world). There's finally some interesting drama between the Morestran crew members, with the older officer losing his cool when his by-the-book commander hesitates at a crucial moment. Michael Wisher's also in this, as the navigator, but it's too soon after Genesis of the Daleks and I can't help but hear a young Davros at the wheel. The whole universe is at stake, not just this small group of people, so we can't very well abandon this story for being a gaping plot hole between dimensions.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Looks good, sounds good, but the science is out to lunch. And that lunch is in the insane asylum cafeteria.



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