Tuesday, 23 October 2012

63: The Mutants - Don't Be Mutt Mad, It's Not That Bad

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant.
Monsters/Villains: The Marshal, Mutts.
Brief Synopsis: On the planet Solos, the sadistic Marshal is experimenting on the mutant natives.
Rating: 7/10.

The Mutants is not the best produced story ever, it's a bit pacey, quite long, the acting of a few members of the cast is more than a little suspect, and the monsters are somewhat under par. This story could easily be judged by and dismissed for all the above reasons. However it's the meaning and the message behind this story by which it should be measured. A story that clearly uses science fiction to draw parallels between the Mutts and Overlords of Solos and real life colonialism, apartheid and racism. The Mutants isn't rated very highly but Salman Rushdie thought enough of it to give it a mention in his infamous book, The Satanic Verses. I ask that you consider the following before judging this rough and ready story.

Salman Rushdie with his book The Satanic Verses.
The story sees the Time Lords sending the Doctor on another mission, this time delivering a box to an unknown someone on the planet Solos. Arriving on a Skybase in orbit of the planet, the Doctor and Jo find the sadistic Marshal ordering his pet scientist Jaeger to attempt experiments to change the atmosphere of Solos making it breathable for humans but not for the native solonians (a perfect sci-fi parallel with colonialism). The Marshal, along with the other humans in attendance claim they are their to "help" the savage natives, and civilise them, but the Solonians want freedom from the overlords oppression and rule.

Paul Whitson-Jones as the Marshal
and Geoffrey Palmer as Administrator.
The cast assembled really shouldn't be too bad, Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter, Star Wars and  the undertaker Abraham in A Town Called Mercy) is our leading man Ky, Geoffrey Palmer makes a brief but excellent appearance as the Administrator, John Hollis as Sondergaard, Christopher Coll as Stubbs, Paul Whitson-Jones as the Marshal and George Pravda plays Dr. Jaeger. 

Rick James as Cotton.
I have to admit that The Mutants does boast some of the very worst acting in Doctor Who history. The  side is let down by James Mellor who overacts terribly as native warlord Varan, and Rick James as the Skybase soldier Cotton, whose character name is even a reference to the cotton plantations used in colonial times. His dialogue is awful and take some of the responsibility but sadly he isn't the best actor either.

Garrick Hagon as Ky, beside the segregated transmat.
Aboard Skybase there are separate cubicles for the transmat to Solos, marked 'Solonians' and 'Overlords,' showing a segregation similar to that of apartheid in South Africa. This segregation is driven by fear of the unlike and fear of difference. The people of Solos appear diseased and are gradually transforming into apparently savage mutant 'Mutts.'

Eventually we learn that the Solonians are naturally meant to mutate, but the Marshal and Jaeger's experiments with the atmosphere have sped up and changed the rate of mutation causing their fearful appearance. With the help of the Doctor, another scientist, Sondergaard (who was presumed lost on Solos) and a bit of radiation, Ky is able to open the time lords box, decipher the tablets within and complete his intended mutation.

John Hollis as Sondergaard.
It's a clear comment on colonialism. A group of colonists arrive in a new place, they try to "help" the natives of that place by civilising them but all they actually achieve is restricting and halting the natives own ways by holding them to colonial expectations and standards.

Once Ky has completed his mutation he appears as highly developed being a kind of telepathic, floating rainbow angel. Showing what Ky and the natives of Solos can achieve if left alone clearly comes down  against Colonialism.

A wonderful caricature of The Mutants by Ben Willsher. 
In the end Ky kills the Marshal, Cotton takes over command of Skybase, and Sondergaard stays on Solos to help the remaining Mutts to complete their mutation. 

All of this may seem like I'm looking for needles in a haystack, but the messages of this story are still as important today as they were in the time when The Mutants was originally shown (1972), and their execution through a family sci-fi television show was a wonderful and covert way of getting these important points into the public awareness.

The Mutants isn't the best story ever and it's messages could certainly have been put across in a more accessible way, but the fact that it deals with these big issues in the first place should surely make it in some way worthy. I leave you to decide.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Doctor Who Season 7 "P.S" The Scene That Was Never Shot Concerning What Happened to The Ponds and Brian.

For those who were left a tad cold from the Ponds departure, watch this wonderful video of a scene that was never shot, which reveals what happened to the Ponds and to Rory's dad, Brian.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death DVD Review

The Ambassadors of Death had a turbulent genesis. It was originally submitted by writer David Whitaker in 1968, titled 'Invaders From Mars' and written for Patrick Troughton's Doctor. In '69 the script was reworked for Jon Pertwee and renamed 'The Carriers Of Death.' The scripts were handed to Terrance Dick's assistant Trevor Ray who reworked episode one. After going through three different producers, Peter Bryant, Derrick Sherwin and finally Barry Letts, Whitaker's working and reworking on the scripts was deemed unsatisfactory; therefore episodes two and three were rewritten by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, and Four-Seven by Hulke alone. The Ambassadors of Death is a great story but this complicated process sadly reflects on the finish product.

The story centres around the Doctor and UNIT's investigation of the mystery surrounding Mars Probe 7. Space Control hasn't had any contact with the astronauts on board since it started back from Mars seven months ago and then the Recovery 7 rescue mission runs into similar difficulties. It transpires that the ship's occupants are not the human astronauts after all but a trio of radiation-dependent aliens. The earth is threatened once more by invasion but who is behind the plot? The Ambassadors of Deathis arguably the closest Who gets to James Bond. It also goes without saying that the narrative owes a great deal to the 1953 tv-serial The Quatermass Experiment, where an astronaut returning to earth is replaced by an alien life form. The story boasts one of the first uses of CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) on Doctor Who and some of the programme's greatest ever stunt and action sequences.

The Quatermass Experiment (1953)
Extra Features/Value Added Material:

Much like the story's production itself the DVD release has had a somewhat troubled past and development. Originally planned for release in 2011 alongside The Sun Makers,Ambassadors was delayed due to ongoing restoration issues. These issues were finally resolved in November 2011 and it has taken until October 2012 for the DVD to finally see release. So, was it worth the wait? I'll say, it was! Like other early Who,The Ambassadors of Death benefits immensely from theDigitally Remastered Picture and Sound Quality. This is probably the best it has ever looked.

The difference from VHS to
DVD speaks for itself.

The main boast of the DVD's V.A.M. is the documentary Mars Probe 7: Making the Ambassadors of Death from BAFTA-nominated director Chris Chapman.  The doco chronicles the making of this story brilliantly; covering it's sticky inception, writing, rewriting, production, stunts and effects. There is some lovely old footage of the HAVOC stunt team, who share their anecdotal experiences with glee. We also get some interesting insights from the show's director Michael Ferguson. Just as the story was when it was original aired, the documentary is framed beautifully by the real life events of the Apollo 13 space mission.

Toby Hadoke ably moderates the Commentary with the massed collective of Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Peter Halliday (Alien Voices) and Geoffrey Beevers (Private Johnson), director Michael Ferguson, script editor Terrance Dicks, stunt co-ordinator Derek Ware and stunt performers Roy Scammell and Derek Martin. The assembled team give an enjoyable and amusing recanting of their experiences working on the story, with plenty of jolly anecdotes on hand. Hearing Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney's voices from beyond the grave is at times haunting and at others wonderfully comforting.

Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John.
The disc features the final installment of the Tomorrow’s Times series, this time for The Third Doctor. The extra looks at the press coverage of Doctor Who during the Pertwee era and is presented by Peter Purves, who gives the piece an experienced and grounded feel.

Also included are the original BBC Trailer for the story, and the usual Photo Gallery, Coming Soon, and Radio Times Listings.

The Ambassadors of Death is a fairly long, seven-part story with a troubled background, but it's action packed and offers a rare cocktail of Doctor WhoJames Bond, and Quatermass, shaken but not stirred. The extras are a little thin on the ground but it's quality over quantity.

Story: 7/10
Extra Features: 4/5

The Ambassadors of Death is released on DVD in the UK on 1st October, the US on 2nd October and in Australia on the 3rd October.