Doctor Who
The Mutants

Starring: Jon Pertwee
BBC Video
RRP £12.99
BBCV 7331
Certificate: PG
Available now

The Time Lords send the Doctor on a mission to the far future, where the planet Solos is claiming independence from Earth's empire. The human ruler of Solos, the Marshal, is determined to retain control at any cost. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of the native population are mutating into monsters...

I doubt that The Mutants will rank highly among many fans' favourite stories, but, viewing it once again, it's better than I remember it being.

True, Bob Baker and Dave Martin have written more inspired scripts than this. There are an awful lot of clichés here, from the stereotypical deranged despot that is the Marshal (Paul Whitsun-Jones) and the archetypical honourable but deluded native, Varan (James Mellor), to the standard outspoken freedom fighter, Ky (Garrick Hagon). To his credit, though, Garrick Hagon manages to make his one-note character seem somehow sympathetic.

Sondergaard (John Hollis) is a more difficult character to categorise. On one hand, he is the stereotypical wise old hermit so beloved of producer Barry Letts. But on the other hand, he is one of the few ethical scientists ever to be depicted in Who on television. The institutional colonialism and racism of the Earth Empire are also nicely offset by the thoroughly honest and decent guards Stubbs (Christopher Coll) and Cotton (Rick James), although Rick James' performance is truly diabolical.

Actually, very few of the performances are particularly inspiring, with the notable exception of the aforementioned Hagon. Unfortunately, the best actor in the entire production - Geoffrey Palmer, who plays the Administrator - gets bumped off in the opening instalment.

Christopher Barry has directed far better stories than this. Six-parters tend to be slow at the best of times, and this is one of the slower examples.

Effects-wise, the mutant costumes are rather good, although when the Solonians mutate, their clothing seems to mutate as well. There is some dodgy - either fuzzy or badly aligned - chromakey, but then we have come to expect that from this era. Earthquakes are simulated by pointing a camera at a reflective surface, which is then wobbled by a stagehand. Unfortunately, Barry keeps the camera pointed at the reflective surface even when it is static, which makes the picture appear distorted.

Neither was Tristram Cary's incidental music such a good idea. Like Malcolm Clarke's infamous score for The Sea Devils, Cary's contribution is a Musique Concrète affair involving a series of electronic beeps and burbles. Whereas Cary's music for Christopher Barry's The Daleks (which, coincidentally, was originally entitled The Mutants) was creepy and unsettling, this effort ranges from distracting to downright annoying.

For all its faults, The Mutants manages to combine some decent SF ideas - radiation, mutation and alien natural history - with some worthy moral messages - about imperialism, racism and environmental damage - albeit messages that are driven home in a less than subtle fashion. Following on nicely from the previous season's Colony in Space, which depicted humanity's expansion among the stars, The Mutants takes place during the dying days of Earth's empire. Frontier in Space, which followed a year later, would revisit the Empire at the height of its power. In fact, the Third Doctor's trips into the future during Barry Letts' reign as producer have helped to create a consistent historical backdrop that is still being built upon by Who novelists today.

So there are plenty of reasons for enduring this story's more cringe-worthy aspects. Not least of which is the (I assume deliberate) homage to Monty Python at the beginning of the tale!

Richard McGinlay

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