Planet of Evil

Written by:
Louis Marks
Directed by: David Maloney
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1975
Video Availability: Try

One of the earliest reviews I did here, which explains why it's a bit sparse. Not to worry, the rest of season thirteen is all fresh stuff…

For me this is probably the weakest example of Hinchcliffe era Who. People criticise Graham Williams, but The Creature From The Pit jungle was far more realistic than this. The team behind the fourth Doctor handbook called it "one of the most convincingly realised alien environments ever seen on television" - were they on crack or what?

When we open with plastic "scientific equipment", polystyrene rocks, rubber jungles and too-clean actors who are supposed to be muddied and weary it's like Pertwee never left. These are real poor 70s actors, too, the types who spent all their time getting drunk in Groucho's and didn't respect the show enough to learn their lines convincingly. It's not long before an invisible monster attacks.

Somewhat staggered by his travels through video to film and back again, a shaken Doctor is accused of murder. The Pertwee feel continues with Michael Wisher in a non-Davros role, and a black actor who gets just three lines. Planet of Evil episode one is too brightly lit, inadequately acted and poorly directed. A bit poo, really.
* * ˝

After catching the end credits of episode one I'm reminded that David Maloney directed this one. Were there two David Maloneys do you think? Otherwise how could someone who could be so brilliant also be so bland? A major criticism that can levelled at Maloney is his urge to constantly cast Prentis Hancock - though he's in good company with the old buffer who sounds like he's reading his lines from a script, and the black guy with the beard. (Maybe that's why Doctor Who had such a poor representation of race - after him and Rick James narrow-minded producers didn't want to take a chance).

The Doctor references Hamlet, but that's all you'll find in the way of subtext here. This is Doctor Who as pulp SF kid's show, with none of the characterisation or concepts that mark out its best. The occuloid tracker is a decent special effect, and, if it was on wires, then I couldn't tell. Also a good effect is the anti-matter creature, impressive for the period. Not a good effect is the cartoon "force field barrier". Tom's attempt at anger (a sort of grit-toothed bellowed whisper) is faintly embarrassing, self-conscious acting. Not as bad as McCoy doing anger, but Troughton'd wipe the floor with 'em all.
* * ˝

"No, he can't be dead!" screams Sarah-Jane about the Doctor. "He has ceased to exist" counters Sorenson. You expect him to say "he is an ex-parrot", but he never does. So instead Sarah takes advantage of her role as prisoner under armed guard by escaping yet again.

This story was partly based on Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Imagine such a Who story, set in fog-enshrouded Victorian streets, styled after the 1931 classic starring Frederic March. Instead, it's generic SF pap, done on the cheap. Sorenson's eyes start to glow red - amazing what can happen when you stick CSO on your closed eyelids - while a Morelli, told to get down to the disposal shoot fast, takes his bloody time about it. Weird how all these transformation effects could be achieved so much better in a film 43 years earlier. The Captain again turns against the Doctor, and marches him off at gunpoint, only for him to escape, to be recaptured..

This episode was sponsored by "Boom Mike Shadows R Us".
* *

Like the worst episode of Scooby Doo, the Doctor and Sarah's ejection into space is miraculously halted, despite their being virtually out by the episode's end and left for several minutes.

There's some nice tinkly music in this one when we see the anti-matter, a nice bit of subtlety from Dudley Simpson. That's subtle as in Colin Baker. Prentis Hancock again loses his head and goes around shouting with a gun. What a bore the man is. Still, I bet the local amateur dramatics society was one man down that week.

The superb Frederic March picture had the irony to compensate for any slight silliness inherent in its monster. Planet of Evil has no such irony, making "anti man" as Sarah calls him, somewhat laughable. Tom, meanwhile, has developed the habit of telling everyone mid conversation to "listen". Why don't they turn round and say "I must be listening, otherwise I wouldn't be able to hear you telling me to listen in the first place, would I?"

It's all so niave, childlike and simplistic. The Doctor paraphrasing Oates would seem ironic and intertextual in a Williams production, but in amongst all this earnestness it just seems silly. There are more moments of horror in this one, but when the script and lighting cry out "kid's show" it doesn't quite come off. I tell you what, though, the ending is exciting. As the Doctor battles for his life on a cliff face, the sound man makes it eerie and surreal by dubbing polystyrene squeaks over the action. Not to be outdone, the visual effects man makes one of the rock walls appear to shake when Tom lands against it.

And did I mishear or is the black guy called "Ranjit" in this episode? Why would a black man have a Sikh name? Loveable old 70s Doctor Who and its rubbish racial representation. I look forward to seeing other great characters like Shamus O'Reilly the Welshman and Mr. Chung the Scotsman.

The only real word of praise I can give is to the Tardis interior, which is very cool. Amazingly, this was the first Tom story (yes, yes, Pyramids was produced first before you say it, but in transmission order...) to feature it. Shame the rest of it's not much cop.
* * ˝

This okayish but cheap story has no real appeal for an adult audience, and is curiously flat. It's watchable, but is the weakest Philip Hinchcliffe story bar none. And using half stars in an overall verdict is cheating, so it has to be...
* *