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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Mutants


Starring: Jon Pertwee
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 31 January 2011

The Doctor and Jo are sent to deliver a message pod to parties unknown aboard a Skybase orbiting the planet Solos, a thirtieth Century society on the cusp of independence from the Earth Empire. A political assassination, masterminded by the Skybase Marshall, leaves him in control, a control he intends to use to terraform Solos to make it habitable for human colonisation. When the Doctor arrives he is mistaken for an important Earth representative, in time for him to witness a native, Ky, being framed for the murder. Jo escapes with Ky to the planet’s surface, and the Doctor quickly follows the pair to an embattled, primitive environment where the natives appear to be turning into mutants…

The Mutants is a season nine, John Pertwee story. The story was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and directed by Christopher Barry. The six part story originally ran from 08 April to 13 May 1972. The story is presented as a two disc DVD set.

It’s an odd story for a number of reasons. Budgetary considerations had dictated that early Pertwee stories had been set on Earth, so that when the writers started to tire of this restraint they found reasons for the Time Lords to send the Doctor off on missions. However, the idea that they would send him as a messenger seems to be the most spurious of reasons of any of the stories. That aside, the story has a familiar feel about it with the Doctor arriving on a planet, whose ownerships is being contended by two parties, whilst in the middle a monster lurks and the truth of its existence can only be unravelled by the Doctor.

The story also follows the tradition of presenting a dialogue, regarding an issue of importance, in amongst the narrative. In the case of The Mutants the story has a heady triple subtext of colonialism, racism and ethnic cleaning, which, although it is occasionally heavy handed and at times naïve in its political stance, is rarely intrusive enough to overpower the story. The story is generally well written, but I couldn’t help but feel that it peaked too soon at the end of episode four, only making the last two episodes seem pointlessly drawn out.

Pertwee puts in a fine performance, as the Doctor, even if his signature athletics are held to a minimum, whilst Jo’s predilection for running away with the cute looking lead male, which may be in character, is starting to seem contrived at times, but then in a story where the Doctor is initially little more than a glorified delivery boy contrived seems to be the order of the day.

There are a number of impressive aspects to the story. The first is the interior of the Skybase, whose design puts it above the usual Who, as does the extensive use of film on the planet’s surface and in the cave complex, which has been melded almost seamlessly with the studio work.

Overall, the story looks good, with some excellent direction; some of the acting from the supporting cast is dodgy, but not enough to distract. My biggest problem with the story is that it feels like a four-part story stretched to fill six.

Disc one has the six episodes, plus a full length commentary with Katy Manning (Jo), Garrick Hagon, Christopher Barry, Terrance Dicks, Bob Baker, designer Jeremy Bear and sound supervisor Brian Hodgson, which succeeds in being both informative and raucous at the same time. Methinks that there may have been some wine involved. The extras on disc one are wrapped up with subtitles and production notes as well as the ‘coming soon’ for The Ark (1 min, 05 sec).

Disc two hold the bulk of the extras, which kicks off with Mutt Mad (20 min, 40 sec) which is the usual set of reminiscences, chock full of anecdotes about the making of the story with contributions from Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Christopher Barry, Bob Baker, Garrick Hagon and Jeremy Bear. It covers the political message which the show tried to portray.

Race Against Time (37 min, 38 sec) is a fascinating look at the representation of black actors in Doctor Who and British television, as a whole, with contributions from writer and critic Bidsha, writer Stephen Bourne, Fraser James (who played Cotton in the show). The documentary is narrated by Noel Clarke. This is Who extras at its best, placing Who in its sociopolitical part in history, showing how the show was very much part of the culture from which it sprang, but it also shows the best part of speculative fiction, that modern problems can be examined just as well, even if the story is transported to another time and space. The piece takes a look at the use of black actor’s right up to the new series and postulates the possibility of one of the future actors coming from a different ethnic background, now that would be interesting.

Dressing Doctor Who (27 min, 06 sec) narrated by Simon Ockendon, is a piece looking at the work of multi academy award winner, designer James Acheson, who got his start in Doctor Who, ending up designing thirty six episodes in all. His contribution to the look of Doctor Who cannot be underestimated, an interesting piece.

The disc wraps up with a number of smaller pieces including the inevitable Blue Peter slot (1 min, 37 sec), a photo gallery and the Radio Times listings.

It’s a problematic story, although it has much that is important to say, much of this is achieved by the end of episode four, the last two could easily have been condensed into one.


Charles Packer

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