The Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) finds himself becoming a delivery boy to the Time Lords as he has to deliver a locked box, although it looks somewhat like a rugby ball, to someone which it will open to when he hands it over. It is for this reason that his TARDIS takes him and Jo (actress Katy Manning) to a space station orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th century. The Earth Empire is in recession and the Administrator (actor Geoffrey Palmer) is about to withdraw his staff back to Earth, much to the annoyance of the Marshall (actor Paul Whitsun-Jones), who will finds himself out of a job. Solos is in a mess from the humans or overlords mining caesium and the Soloians are not happy, especially as some of them are mutating and are hunted down and killed by the Marshall’s men, seeing them as a deadly threat. Then again, the Soloians aren’t exactly happy about the mutes being amongst themselves as well.
The Doctor and Jo are detained, discovering that the box is neither for the Administrator or Marshall and not allowed to visit the Solonian delegation to hear the message of the overlords leaving. They also miss out on the Administrator being assassinated, the machinations of the Marshall by getting the Solonian Varan (James Mellor) to arrange it, who uses his own son after his own bodyguard muates. Marshall later kills Varan’s son and declares Varan a mute to be killed.
In the meantime, in the aftermath of the assassination, Solonian rebel leader Ky (actor Garrick Hagon) escapes down to the planet with Jo his prisoner and out on the planet surface where there’s a toxic nitrogen isotope that without a mask quickly renders her unconscious. With human guards chasing after them, Ky knocks one unconscious and steals a mask for Jo and gets her to safety in the caves.
Back on the space station, the Doctor, having discovered that the box is for Ky, is ordered by the Marshall to find a way to open the box so he can see the message first. Reluctantly, the Doctor agrees and has to work with Professor Jaeger (actor George Pravada) and after a brief failure, talks himself into helping pursue Varan, only to prove to the guard Stubbs (actor Christopher Coll) that as the Solonian isn’t a mute that they have to stop the Marshall. A plan is forged to blow the generator to allow himself and Varan escape to the surface, except no one told Varan who attacks the Doctor.
It takes valuable moments for the Doctor to convince Varan he needs to go down to the planet with him and guide him to Kai and Jo, who are being attacked by the mutes. As Kai wards them off, Jo collapses in a radioactive cave and rescued by a silver-suited person who leaves her somewhere safe where she can be found. Although Varan helps the Doctor rescue Kai, he then leaves to go to his own village to get his troops ready to attack the overlords, although discovers he and them are also mutating. The Doctor hands Kai the box which opens for him and reveals 4 encryptogram stones that the Solonian can’t read.
The Marshall urges Jaeger to get a move on with preparing the missiles to bombard the atmosphere then he takes his military down to the planet. He is determined to kill all the Solonians and mutes in the caves and orders his men to mine and gas the entrances. He lets Stubbs and Lamb go in to rescue the Doctor but as he suspects their complicity, he ensures they are trapped inside as well. The group of them discover the silver-suited man, Sondergarrd (actor John Hollis – if he looks familiar then you saw him as Lobot in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’), who has been thought dead but investigating what is causing the mutates. When the caves are rocked by explosions, the Doctor orders all but himself and Sondergarrd out by a secret exit as they try to decipher the encryptograms. You can see that for yourself, suffice to say that the Doctor tracks down a stone.
Kai and the others are captured by Varan and used to get him and his people on-board the space station and attack. Unsuccessfully, as all but the companions are sucked out an airlock and they in turn are captured and face an execution squad. This is stopped when Jaeger tells the Marshall that the chemical bombing of Solon is a failure and they’ll need the Doctor to sort things out.
After finding a green stone that appears vital to the Solonians, the Doctor and Sondergarrd try to make their way to teleportation station but the bomb failure is injuring the geologist. Sondergarrd urges the Doctor on and after he recovers, goes back to the caves and finds he can get the mutants to co-operate and get him to the teleportation station. Meanwhile, the Doctor on the space station uses the technology to restore Solon’s atmosphere to what it was. Jo, Kai, Stubbs and Lamb manage to escape their bonds and send a message to the Investigator’s spaceship but after a fatality they are imprisoned in the caesium chamber.
The Marshall forces the Doctor’s co-operation at the Investigator’s (actor Peter Howell – if he looks familiar, look at the original ‘The Prisoner’ series episode ‘The General’) hearing but after Jaeger’s statement, the Time Lord shows just how short-tempered the Marshall is. Things move quickly with the arrival of the escaped Jo, Kai and Lamb, not to mention the arrival of Sondergarrd, and the Investigator gets the entire picture. However, one of the mutants has followed Sondergarrd to the space station and the Marshall deems them threatening and dangerous and foolishly, the Investigator returns control to him. With Jo, Kai and Lamb returned to the caesium chamber, the Doctor is again ordered to change the Solon atmosphere to an Earth-like atmosphere but manages to pass the green stone to Sondergarrd for Kai’s final transformation which is essentially spoiler territory.
When I watched this story back in 1972, it was one of the rare stories that I thought awfully drawn out. Watching it again now, I do understand more of the intricacies. If anything, I do have to wonder how do the Solonians breed, as there’s no sign of the female of the species. However, considering certain transformations, maybe conventional breeding isn’t needed. The story is very much character driven so probably only needed the bones of a plot to work.
The audio commentary is a real musical chairs of seven people: actors Katy Manning and Garrick Hagon, sporting his normal American accent; director Christopher Barry; script editor Terrance Dicks; co-writer Bob Baker; special effects sound editor Brian Hodgson and designer Jeremy Bear, leaving little really for moderator Nicolas Pegg to do. No one asks or suggests a reason for why the Marshall has ‘58’ on his chest. They do, however, point out a microphone boom dropping into view in episode 2, oxygen mask damage in episode 3. If you’re like me, you’re probably too engrossed in the story to worry about things like that.
I knew I’d seen Hagon’s face before somewhere and he confirms he was in ‘Star Wars’ and a little check by me found he was Biggs Darklighter, the moustache hiding his features.
Designer Jeremy Bear’s triangular pattern background walls have appeared several times since in ‘Doctor Who’ and in other series and films since, which should keep spotters busy for a few more years.
The comment made about the future and sliding doors as being an instant sign of it is very valid, although I’m not entirely sure if it was the first time a handprint was used to open one, although not perhaps showing the impression to touch. The real problem with automatic doors for real is what happens if there’s a power cut and how do you maintain some form of privacy? More recent SF series have shown this working but I still think there’s always going to be room for the regular door.
A whole disk devoted to extras, three of which are about half an hour long each makes for an interesting watch. The first, ‘Mutt Mad’, goes over the actual making of the story. I’m glad the comparison to ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ with the opening scene from the first episode was noted, even if director Christopher Barry hadn’t noticed it at the time.
More important is ‘Race Against Time’, which explores not only the lack of people of colour, Asians and Orientals in the early ‘Doctor Who’ stories. One thing I wish they had explored is the fact that there hasn’t been any involved in scriptwriting for the series which would significantly change the mindset more. After all, most writing does start with what people know. Narrator and actor Noel Clarke for this piece and now a reputed scriptwriter really ought to consider submitting a script or maybe he has.
The other significant feature is a half hour interview with costume designer James Acheson who worked on the show for 18 stories covering the Pertwee/Tom Baker period. Some bits I’d heard before but it’s always interesting to hear it from the people involved.
An nice package overall, although I’m still wondering why the Solonians in a transitory phase had an extended abdomen. Must be an insect thing.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD3042. 2 DVDs 145 minutes 6 * 24 minute episodes with extras. Price: £ 5.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Garrick Hagon, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Christopher Coll, Rick James, George Pravada, James Mellor and John Hollis
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