Dr Who – Planet Of Evil (1975 UK)

This adventure is the start of moving the series onward from the Earth based, UNIT adventures into new territory. UNIT had an excellent story Terror of the Zygons, prior to this, with the Brigadier and Benton on top form. But to expand the series scope back out to space was a good move even if it meant sadly phasing out UNIT. But Planet Of Evil is not regarded as a classic story by most Who fans. It rips off 1956’s Forbidden Planet along with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So it does get rather formulaic in places, but director David Maloney played up Louis Marks script to its main strength: atmosphere. Plus there’s a jungle to get lost in…

The Doctor and his companion Sarah arrive on the planet Zeta Minor, the “last planet of the known universe”, in response to a distress call. They discover that the call has been made by a geological expedition from the planet Morestra and that all but one of the geologists have been killed by some unknown person or creature. Matters are complicated when a Morestran military mission also arrives to investigate and they immediately suspect the Doctor and Sarah of responsibility for the killings. It turns out, however, that the planet lies “on the boundary between our universe and the universe of antimatter”, and the true culprit is a creature from the antimatter universe, annoyed by Sorenson’s removal by of some antimatter samples. (That may sound scientifically dubious, but Dr Who’s science is often fictitious).

The characterization runs deeper than in many “Doctor Who” serials. Besides Frederick Jaeger’s Sorenson there are also Prentis Hancock’s Salamar, the arrogant, fire-eating Morestran commander, and Ewen Solon’s Vishinsky, Salamar’s wiser, more level-headed second-in-command. It seemed strange that Salamar had been given command of the ship ahead of Vishinsky, clearly much older and more experienced, but we never learn much about the structure of Morestran society. It is quite possible that on their planet promotions are made on the basis of social status rather than age, experience or ability…Moving on, alongside Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor was the incarnation with whom I was most familiar during my childhood. Both played the character as an eccentric English gentleman, but Pertwee stressed his gentlemanliness, whereas Baker places greater stress on his eccentricity, possibly influenced by Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor.

The Fourth Doctor is characterized by a quirky, offbeat, often irreverent sense of humour and an eccentric dress sense, particularly those famous scarves, but is also capable of great seriousness, as in his discussions with Sorenson. Most alien planets visited by the Doctor, particularly during the 60s and 70s, bore a curious resemblance to a quarry, probably because that is where the serials were often filmed. With “Planet of Evil”, however, the set designers appear to have used a bit more imagination. Zeta Minor looks genuinely exotic, a world of jungles full of curious plants. The antimatter monster is similarly imaginative. He (or she, or it) is no mechanical marvel like the Daleks or a flesh-and-blood creature like the Ice Warriors but a shapeless being, sometimes invisible and otherwise seen only as a series of red outlines. It is touches like these, combined with the depth of characterization, which make “Planet of Evil” one of the more original, thought-provoking adventures in this endless series.

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