The Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo on a mission to deliver a sealed message pod to an unknown party aboard a Skybase orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th Century. They are caught quickly in a power struggle between the cruel Marshal of Solos and the young Solonian Ky over the future of Solos – a future that hinges on the contents of the message.
The Mutants has a reputation as being one of the weakest serials of the Jon Pertwee era, something which I found myself questioning when watching the first two parts of this story. I really enjoyed the set-up of this story but it devolves into nonsense at some points.
Like a lot of Doctor Who in general, but especially in the Pertwee era, Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s script reflects the world in which it was written. This story gives us at it’s beginning an Earth Empire which is crumbling, prepared to cede independence to planets like Solos. There is also a thinly veiled anti-apartheid message with the way that the Overlords treat the Solosians, segregating the natives from the rulers. It is a satire of Apartheid, along with the decline of the British Empire, with the main reason for the Solonians being given independence being due to the fact that the Earth simply cannot afford it anymore. It’s quite heavy subject matter for the show to be tackling and difficult to imagine some of the younger members of the audience being particularly engaged by these elements, but as a nearly 30 year old, these elements fascinated me. Sadly, I found nothing else in Baker and Martin’s script that gripped me for the rest of the run time. The elements of terraforming and the scenes on Skybase really cause the narrative to really sag, and the ultimate evolution of Ky stretches credulity as he becomes akin to Superman, not helped by some shaky CSO. Baker and Martin’s story is full of ideas but none of them ever feel fleshed out, demonstrated best by the fundamental flaw in the Doctor’s involvement: why can’t the Time Lords simply provide Ky with the parcel in the first place? At least the Mutts look decent!
Christopher Barry’s direction feels fairly workmanlike and his direction doesn’t feel like it does anything especially notable here, apart from the location shooting in Chislehurst Caves. I think the moments at the end of Episode 4 and Episode 5 show some of the problems facing production. Episode 4 finishes with a hole blown in the hull of Skybase, Varan sucked out into space and Jo, Cotton, Ky and Stubbs in serious danger of following him, but the effects and use of Colour Separation Overlay let it down massively. Equally, Rick James’ delivery of “We’ll all be done for” sounds like the shop has run out of milk rather than relaying the peril he finds himself in at the end of Episode 5. Credit should be given to Barry though for his colour blind casting for Cotton, even if the decision for the character to retain the Cockney dialect is questionable at best. It makes the setting seem more futuristic than the 1970s it was filmed in, which seems like a strange thing to write in 2021.
With regards to the casting, it would perhaps be unfair to say that I lost interest in the guest cast after Geoffrey Palmer’s Administrator was unceremoniously assassinated at the end of Episode 1. I was so pleased to see Palmer walk in that I probably forgot his character would be doomed and he is so good at playing these officious parts that it is a shame to see him go. However, that would disingenuous to the majority of the cast, who certainly cannot be accused of not trying their best. James and Christopher Coll are both perfectly likeable as members of the Marshal’s army, assisting the Doctor as he attempts to provide the Solonians with their freedom, whilst it’s hard to argue that John Hollis’ Sondergaard isn’t a cooler scientist than the Doctor in this story. That’s before we get to Ky, the plucky leader of the Solonians, played by Garrick Hagon. Hagon manages to make the earnest character somehow likeable and makes you believe in their plight against the Overlords whereas in lesser hands, it would be easy to find him to be quite obnoxious. If this story does have a problem with actors, it is when it comes to the pantomime-esque Marshal and the scientist Jaeger. Perhaps it is in the writing but neither seem very fleshed out. Paul Whitsun-Jones just shouts all of his lines and there is no sense of nuance in his character, while George Pravda’s scientist seems lethargic.
Whilst this may feel like the most workmanlike episode of Pertwee’s era, there are some nice moments between the Doctor and Jo, demonstrating the obvious chemistry between the two leads. I particularly enjoyed how well the pairing worked when Jo distracts Stubbs to aid their escape in the first part and their conversation in the Doctor’s laboratory when the parcel from the Time Lords first arrives. Jon Pertwee looks like he is having a terrible time, possibly contributed to by the story’s director, but is superb when he has to be outraged- probably because it reflected how bristly he was feeling. Meanwhile, Katy Manning does well but Jo is a damsel in distress for a lot of this story, used to ensure the Doctor’s co-operation with the Marshal and Jaeger’s plans. I really like this Doctor and companion relationship even when they aren’t enjoying the story, their fondness for each other makes me smile.
Verdict: Ultimately, I enjoyed the premise of this story more than the execution. Like a lot of Pertwee stories, it struggles to justify it’s length. 4/10
Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Paul Whitsun-Jones (The Marshall), James Mellor (Varan), Garrick Hagon (Ky), Geoffrey Palmer (Administrator), George Pravda (Jaegar), John Hollis (Sondergaard), Christopher Coll (Stubbs), Rick James (Cotton), Jonathan Sherwood (Varan’s Son), Sidney Johnson (Old Man), David Arlen (Warrior Guard), Roy Pearce (Solos Guard), Martin Taylor (Skybase Guard), Damon Sanders (Solos Guard), Peter Howell (Investigator) & John Scott Martin (Mutt).
Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Christopher Barry
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles included Independence and The Emergents. The first Daleks story, now known as The Daleks was known in some circles as The Mutants before the airing of this story.
- As a result of correspondence with producer Barry Letts, a young Peter Capaldi received a package of production materials from this story, including two used scripts, floor plans and set designs. Capaldi attributes Letts’ kindness as playing a large role in his desire to work in television.
- Similarly to Colony in Space, which Malcolm Hulke based on the struggles of the Native Americans against European settlers, Baker and Martin based their story on Apartheid, which had also inspired The Savages.
- Christopher Barry de-emphasised the political allegory in favour of a more science fiction elements, including one based on an unused story submission by Barry Letts focusing on species maturing through radically different phases like butterflies.
- The tension between Jon Pertwee and Christopher Barry from the production of The Daemons continued leading to Barry not returning to direct until Tom Baker had taken over.
- The quarry shooting for this story took place near Greenhithe, Kent, now the site of Bluewater Shopping Centre.
- Episode 6 features the last use of the middle eight in the end credits until the final four episodes of The Invasion of Time.
- Paul Whitsun-Jones previously appeared as Squire Edwards in The Smugglers.
- James Mellor previously appeared in The Wheel in Space.
- Garrick Hagon would go on to appear in A Town Called Mercy and Big Finish play The Axis of Insanity. He is best know for playing Biggs Darklighter in Star Wars.
- Geoffrey Palmer had previously appeared as Edward Masters in The Silurians and would go on to appear as Captain Hardaker in Voyage of the Damned.
- George Pravda had played Alexander Denes in The Enemy of the World and would appear in The Deadly Assassin.
- John Hollis played Lobot in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
- Christopher Coll previously played Phipps in The Seeds of Death.
- Roy Pearce appeared in a number of uncredited roles from The Massacre to Image of the Fendahl.
- Martin Taylor went on to play Corporal Norton in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
Whilst it seems to relay the chaotic nature behind the scenes, the cliffhanger at the end of Episode 1 works quite well.
Grey cities linked by grey highways across a grey desert. Slag, ash and clinker – the fruits of technology.The Third Doctor
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