Sunday, October 09, 2005

'The Mutants'

6 episodes

Well, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to expect. The plot, a thinly-veiled dig at the perils of colonialism and apartheid coupled with some interesting bioevolutionary speculation, is strong enough, and although I gather some of the acting is widely held up as the worst on offer in Doctor Who history I didn't find it particularly objectionable. Indeed, I thought Rick James' role as a steadfast and ultimately rewarded guard character was a rare sympathetic central part for a black man in the Who canon - although all things considered I'd say naming him 'Cotton' was a little thoughtless. The rest of the cast are serviceable enough, although it is a shame the always reliable Geoffrey Palmer's Administrator gets killed off within the first episode - the actor's second nasty exit in as many appearances, following 'The Silurians'. Most memorable is definitely Paul Whitsun-Jones' OTT portrayal of the fat, loathsome Marshal, whose desire to retain his priviledged position and terraform Solos as 'New Earth' is the engine of the plot. John Hollis' Sondergaard is excellent and distinctive, and it is a shame we don't meet him until relatively late in proceedings; furthermore, he contributes to the amazing melting pot of accents also featuring Cotton's Caribbean and the Germanic scientist Jaeger. Also worthy of mention is the slightly bonkers Solonian, Varan, who tends to talk about himself in the third person (presumably to demonstrate his primitive status, although this doesn't afflict Ky, say) and whose hairdo, sartorial elegance and overall sublety are startlingly reminiscent of Freddie Mercury circa 'Bohemian Rhapsody'...

What really makes this story something of a trial are its length - four episodes might have served it better than six - plus a slightly less than committed turn from Jon Pertwee, who manages to set the tone with an outstanding fluff in his first scene: "I'm not allowed to open it; I couldn't even if I wanted to... No, I'm not meant to; I couldn't open it even if I wanted to," that caused me to rewind to check I hadn't imagined it, and some peculiar stylistic choices - e.g. the Doctor and Sondergaard wandering around the 'dark' caves worrying their blazing torches might burn out is ludicrous in view of the fact that the entire system is lit like a particularly gaudy discotheque, with odd green and red spotlights overlaying pink floodlighting, and the CSO-heavy scene there where Jo stumbles into the radiation chamber is so trippy it gave me a headache. Similarly, while the arthropod-like Mutant stages of the Solosian's life cycle are quite well-realised, Ky's final transformation into a floating, rainbow-hued spare member of Abba is a little too much frankly. The cliffhanger sequence where Varan is sucked into space through the Skybase's hull is weird, too, as despite the beautiful background nebula the attention is soon diverted by the others just waiting out the initial pressure drop and then walking off with barely a struggle. Such oversights are a shame given that the Overlords' costumes are good, the transporter effects are quite decent, the model work with Skybase orbiting Solos like the Death Star isn't bad either, and scenes like the opening one and indeed all the others on the surface of Solos are a treat - the swirling mist, skeletal vegetation and low camera angles create an excellent alien environment.

Tell you what's weirdest, though - I fell asleep twice during episode 1 and consequently took twice as long as I should have to get to the end of it, and so had been watching for about seventy-five minutes when about halfway through part 2 the plot elements of planet, orbiting base, power-mad Marshal, mutants, changing the atmosphere etc. fell into place and I realised that I've actually watched this story before!! Discovered afterwards the video came out in 40th anniversary year, 2003, so presumably Locus bought it then - considering it's only a year or two since that viewing, the fact that I had totally forgotten I'd seen it and took an hour and a quarter to remember is possibly some sort of inarguable verdict on the whole adventure...


Episodes watched: 215
Episodes still to watch: 507

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