The Doctor receives a distress call from far in the future,
on Zeta Minor the furthest planet out in the universe. The
TARDIS arrives on Zeta Minor in the Morestran year 37,166,
to discover a Morestran geological expedition has fallen prey
to an unknown entity controlled by antimatter. The only living
being is Professor Sorenson, and he is not all that he seems
of Evil often gets overlooked by fandom, purely because
it had the misfortune to be produced within the glorious Season
13, where it was understandably overshadowed by such towering
classics as Terror of the Zygons, Pyramids
of Mars and The Seeds of Doom.
actually my least favourite story of the season, but that
in itself is not a criticism, its simply an indicator
of the consistently superb quality of Season 13 within which
Planet of Evil is perhaps unfortunately sandwiched.
just watched the story for the first time in several years
and found it all to be thoroughly enjoyable stuff, but it
never quite reaches the bona fide classic status achieved
by nearly all of its season stablemates.
for a science fiction television series, Planet of Evil
seems at odds with the rest of the season purely because of
its heavy SF trappings. By 1975, under the helm of Philip
Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, Doctor Who had evolved
into a deliciously gothic show, tapping into the Hammer Film
genre with hugely successful results which saw the series
reach one of its all-time peaks in quality and popularity.
whilst the rest of the season dabbled in the teatime horror
of killer Egyptian mummies, giant man-devouring plants and
evil brains kept alive in jars, Planet of Evil goes
against the grain with a solid SF story complete with bickering
men in big chunky spacesuits, under threat from a slightly
dodgy special effect which haunts the jungle-like surface
of the planet Zeta Minor.
story borrows heavily from sources as diverse as Forbidden
Planet and, perhaps more significantly, The
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Morestran rescue ship lands on Zeta Minor to uncover the mystery
of what exactly happened to the crew of an earlier scientific
expedition. The sole surviving member of that expedition,
Professor Sorenson, is eventually tracked down, but then the
crew of the rescue ship begin to fall victim to gruesome murder.
The finger of suspicion naturally points to the newly-arrived
Doctor and Sarah-Jane, despite the presence of a giant creature
composed of anti-matter roaming the jungle, and Professor
Sorensons new-found tendency to transform into a killer
fourth Doctor and Sarah are travelling alone here for the
first time, after Harry Sullivans rather abrupt departure
at the end of the previous story. I still think that Harry
was a terrific character who was dropped from the show way
too soon. But, in fairness, you barely notice his absence
here, as the natural chemistry between Tom
Baker and Elisabeth Sladen is so beautifully tight
that you almost forget that somebody is missing.
interesting to note that although this is Tom Bakers
seventh story as the Doctor, this is actually the very first
time that we see him in the TARDIS interior, having spent
most of his first season travelling by Time Ring, Transmat,
or Magical Time Lord Intervention. Its also nice to
see that the TARDIS itself plays a crucial part in proceedings
instead of simply being used as a handy location hopper.
supporting cast are made up of rather a mixed bag. Space
1999s Prentis Hancock hams up his role as Salamar,
the ruthless and insecure commander of the rescue ship (one
of four equally dreadful appearances he would inflict upon
Who in the '70s).
sharply with this is Frederick Jaegers subtle and quite
brilliant performance as the increasingly deranged Professor
Sorenson. Despite the characters recklessly obsessive
nature and fragile state of mind, Jaeger still manages to
turn him into quite an endearing character, rising elegantly
above the bog-standard mad professor role that
frequently inhabit so many other stories of this ilk.
the real centrepiece of Planet of Evil is Roger Murray-Leachs
stunningly designed jungle set. Yes, its entirely studio-bound,
is made on a very limited budget, and some of the weird and
wonderful plants are clearly a bit rubbery.
its still an evocative feat of design, and serves as
an intensely atmospheric and eerie backdrop to the drama.
In fact, an extensive photograph collection of this set would
later be used by the BBC Educational Service as a classic
example of quality design, although the Beeb would snub Philip
Hinchcliffes suggestion that Murray-Leachs work
be put forward for an award.
Hinchcliffe himself wryly notes in one of the accompanying
documentaries, the wildly imaginative and innovative design
of a fantasy series would generally be overlooked when it
came to BAFTA nominations, in favour of formulaic period drama.
realisation of the anti-matter creature proves to be a mild
disappointment, although the production team should at least
be commended for trying something quite new and different
in its approach to this wholly alien threat. A man dressed
up in a silly furry costume would clearly not have cut the
mustard here, so instead we get a rather basic special effect
depicting the creature as a semi-transparent red blob, but
its so obviously superimposed over the main action that
its very difficult to be at all engaged by it.
I think the story would have been better served had the creature
not been seen at all, and then perhaps more could have been
made of the menacing threat from the raging planet itself.
A couple of wind machines and a few growling effects would
have been preferable to the blinking red shapes that we ended
up with, and would probably have done more justice to the
creeping atmosphere conjured up by the wonderful set.
still a great story though, and had it been produced in nearly
any other season, would have attracted much more acclaim from
fandom. Its simple downfall is that its not the Hinchcliffe
era at its very best, and was served up at a time when
some of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever were being
produced side by side.
DVD presents two new documentaries; A Darker Side explores
the origins and making of the story, whilst Planetary Performance
examines the production from the actors point of view.
of these are so similar in style that they may as well have
been spliced together to form one cohesive documentary, but
they are still very welcome in separate chunks.
Hinchcliffe pores over the original design plans and old memos
and letters from the production, as well as reminiscing with
Roger Murray-Leach outside Ealing Studios where the stunning
set was built over 30 years ago.
some very special interview material with the legendary director
David Maloney, a rare appearance from writer Louis Marks,
and the ever-reliable quips from Tom Baker himself.
also turns up on the entertaining commentary, along with Philip
Hinchcliffe, Elisabeth Sladen and Prentis Hancock, and theres
a lovely 48-second studio clip in which we can see Tom and
Liz pretend to be frightened by something thats not
there, if youre into that kind of thing.
pretty good package then, and well worth dipping into, but
maybe it shouldnt be right at the very top of your Season
13 shopping list.