Doctor Who #410: Planet of Evil Part 3

"Half my service I spend flying one way, the other half I spend flying back again. They should pay me for staying in one place."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.11 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor brokers a deal to let the Morestran ship leave, but Sorensen is aboard drinking anti-matter and making a mess of things.

REVIEW: Perhaps fitting in a story about matter and anti-matter, this episode has both really good elements, and anti-good (i.e. bad) ones. Director David Maloney's visuals, for example, are excellent. The Doctor falling into the black pool, bathed in pink light, is a tremendously better version of a similar interdimensional travel scene from Inferno, and not just because of the absence of gurning (also, see Theories). The austere burial in space. The oculoid mounted on the camera. The clear control panels that somehow got how the future would look much better than any of the surrounding push-button tech. Even Sorensen's transformations are kept in shadow to keep things suspenseful and creepy.

On the actors' side of things, Tom Baker's Doctor is as good as ever, if stuck with purple technobabble only marginally less offensively dramatic than Sorensen's, but it's Lis Sladen, given a relatively small role (or lines that really shouldn't be given to Sarah Jane), who surprises with her line readings. How she brags about the Doctor, or grows quiet when Sorensen starts to rant at her. The conflict between Salamar and the more level-headed Vishinsky is at times strident, but manages to reach a kind of poetic relevance in the cliffhanger, when their very struggle pushes the lever that threatens to send the Doctor and Sarah into space unprotected. And Holmes seems to sneak a little double act in the proceedings in the form of Morelli and De Haan, the latter supplying some fun lines as the crew member who really doesn't like his job.

But despite the episode's qualities, there's no getting away from the absolute nonsense contained in the plot. What the heck is going on here? The Doctor meets an energy creature in a black void and makes a promise "as a Time Lord", but we don't see it, or what power such a promise can carry, or what the creature really is, or how he climbs out of the hole. Anti-matter acts as a talisman that protects him, but is a curse everywhere else in the story. The ship can't leave with anti-matter aboard, then can, but the tether is short. And Sorensen DRINKS anti-matter, which turns him into a dehydrating Mr. Hyde, surely a concept closer to alchemy than any real science. The production should have replaced anti-matter with some ancient, cursed treasure and left the pseudo-science at home. It's what's holding an effective horror story back.

THEORIES: A space between universes. A strange substance that turns people into primal beast-men. Sound familiar? It's the plot of Inferno! Is there a link between the two stories? There might be! We could never really explain what that green goo was in Inferno, and why it would turn people into super-heated "Primords". This was one of two competing stories in Inferno, the other, seemingly independent, was about the Doctor accidentally slipping into a parallel universe. Was it really a TARDIS console malfunction? Or was the Inferno project sitting right on top of an interdimensional rift much like Zeta Minor has a portal to the anti-matter universe? And could the goo have seeped into the Earth's crust from that other-dimensional space? From what we now call the Void itself? In Planet of Evil, the Doctor seems to slip back into the Void, but does not come out on the other side of the rift. I might imagine the crystalline anti-matter as the residue of whatever process occurs when universes rub against each other in the Void, a solid version of the goo, so to speak. Sorensen's contact with the stuff has a similar effect. Mercifully, he doesn't turn green, but he does revert to a violent, primal state, and he does have "heat-based" powers of dehydration. There's a lot of talk about the anti-matter universe, but we never actually see it. We see a black space in between universes, and that can help explain why the so-called anti-matter doesn't explode Zeta Minor on contact. There are strange things in the Void, as Torchwood as intimated, things that are "evil" and toxic to our universe.

- Pure nonsense, but the visuals and performances save it. Again.


Matthew Turnage said...

I really like your theory linking Inferno and Planet of Evil. I'll definitely keep it in mind when next I watch these two stories.


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