Another great, inventive, clever, ground-breaking story. It was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, although at times feels like a Malcolm Hulke story with political overtones pertaining to the British Empire and its downfall. Add to this the idea of a species mutating to adapt to its environment, the use of humans basically as the bad guys, the message of ‘just because it looks horrible to you doesn’t mean it is horrible’, I think ‘The Mutants’ should be up there with the classics of Doctor Who.
It moves very well for a six part story, adding new elements and characters as it goes along with various storylines intertwined; narratively it is very well done. The director, Christopher Barry may have wished he hadn’t had such a bizarre and challenging piece, but I think he makes a decent fist of it. The use of lighting and colours in the caves is great, and I felt that the majority of the CSO shots worked effectively.
The casting has a question mark over it in fan circles. I have heard that Rick James, an actor of African descent, is regarded as one of the worst actors ever in the history of the show. I can’t really agree, although some of the lines are clearly written for a cockney accent, as the writers had originally planned for the character of Cotton (you’d have thunk the director might has also changed the character name). It’s at the very least refreshing to see an African character in a main part in Doctor Who, indeed in any early-1970s British show. His delivery is stilted throughout, but I’m not sure it is ‘bad’.
|Jon Pertwee with Varran and Ky (right)|
Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Marshal is perhaps just a little too stereo-typically megalomaniac for me, and is thus my biggest beef with the story. In his second Doctor Who story, he is very one-dimensional which is a pity. The part was presumably also written in such a way, but a different actor may have brought something less predictable to it. Other casting was spot-on with Geoffery Palmer again failing to last long in his second Doctor Who story, and James Mellor and Garrick Hagon perfectly cast as Varran and Ky respectively.
The ‘mutt’ costumes also deserve a mention. Very well made and effective, much better than the Silurian or Sea Devil costumes. Dirty and horrible
|In the lab.|
|End of Episode Four.|
The end of episode four (I think) sees Skybase punctured in a crazy scene with Varran flying out through a huge hole in the side of the space station. This was just one of the many technically difficult scenes Barry had to shoot, and whilst the first part of it works very well, it lingers on Jo, Stubbs, Cotton and the Marshall hanging on from grim life except they don’t appear to be and it’s poorly directed and acted.
Barry had to deal with psychedelic caves, transforming one of the leads into a super-being, making the planet misty (presumably with mist-machines!), lighting and shooting in caves, a large amount of CSO and who knows what else. I reckon he did well.
For me, the production has a few problems, a few moments that weren’t presented as well as they might have been, however, the storyline is brilliant, and more than makes up for the bits that are rough around the edges. It was one of the most daring, different and difficult stories the production had encountered at the time, rivalling ‘The Claws of Axos’. Loved it.