CRRRaSh! 274 Doctor Who: The Mutants (1972) 2019-07-01

By Roy Mathur

Oh My God, The Rewatch Continues Part 1

Why? It's easier to do than actually sleep and because the living room's much cooler than the bedroom. Fuel? Eye drops, Red Bull, Popcorn? Check.

Though it's not really going as fast as I'd like, is it? Yes, I'm well aware I am already lagging behind. Nevertheless, let's do thiszzz... I'm awake, I am awake, damnit! Let's do the show.

Doctor Who: The Mutants (1972)

Cast and Production

Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant: Katy Manning
Cotton: Rick James (also Chalsa in Blake's 7: Warlord)
Sondergaard: John Hollis (also Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back)
Ky: Garrick Hagon (also Biggs Darklighter, Red Three in Star Wars)
Director: Christopher Barry
Writer: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Producer: Barry Letts
6 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from the 8th of April to the 13th of May 1972

What Happens

The Time Lords have sent the TARDIS to Skybase One orbiting the seemingly primitive planet Solos, HQ of the 30th century Earth Empire Overlords led by the Marshal. The Doctor's mission is to deliver a strange, black, football-like box. Jo and the Doctor find out that the package is for Ky, a young rebellious tribal native leader of Solos, which the Earth Empire is about to grant independence. Unfortunately, the planet is rich with caesium, that the Marshal wants to carry on exploiting. The murderous Marshal is also set on exterminating the Mutts—natives transforming from a human form into insectoid mutants. The box contains black tablets carved with pictograms. Although Ky doesn't understand what they mean, the Doctor later meets renegade earth boffin Sondergaard underground on Solos. He and the Doctor work out that the tablets describe the natural life-cycle of the natives, which includes an insectoid stage, but the Marshal is altering the planet's biosphere and the cycle has become vastly accelerated. On Skybase One, exposed to radiation, Ky first changes into the insectoid form, then ascends into a glowing and powerful humanoid superintelligence. In a final confrontation, Ky kills the Marshal. The imperial inspector hands command over to Cotton, a friendly Overlord. The Doctor and Jo leave discreetly.

What I Thought

This is a like a bigger, flashier version of the previous serial Colony in Space (1971), covered in podcast episode 248, which was also about the evils of colonialism, imperialism, resource exploitation, and environmental collapse.

Given the extremely political nature of the serial, I thought I'd mention a reason for this in some of the stories. I referenced Doctor Who: Colony in Space (1971) and in the last episode, I talked about Doctor Who: The Sea Devils. Both serials reflect an anti-colonial, anti-imperial and anti-racist stance, and both scripts were written by Malcom Hulke, a left-leaning writer and onetime member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. There is a short minor study called Doctor Who and the Communist: Malcolm Hulke and his career in television by Michael Herbert. I am not in any way suggesting that all Hulke's writing was influenced by a strong political ideology, because no writer can afford to live that way.

Oh, and just a little trivia before I go on, Hulke is also known for writing a lost early Doctor Who radio pilot called Journey into Time.

Neither am I saying that he was the only Doctor Who writer with a social concience; look at Terry Nation's work on the show or as the creator of Survivors (1975) and Blake's 7 (1978). However, you do very often see this moral core deeply ingrained in much of Doctor Who and it is one of the reasons I and many others are fans, despite the BBC's occasional lapses in judgement.

Representation isn't so terrible this time around with black actor, from Antigua and Barbuda, Rick James (no, not that Rick James, but George "Rick" James), playing a key role as one of the Marshal's chief guards. He gets quite a lot of lines, a prominent role, and doesn't even have to die first, or at all. Actually, I also counted another two non-white actors playing guards. On the other hand, Rick James's character's name is Cotton. Seriously? Almost BBC, but not quite.

Ky (Garrick Hagon) is very much the angry young man, Che Guevara rockstar revolutionary. Though, as annoyingly right-on as Ky is, you have to admire his dedication to his people, whether human, mutating, or fully mutant "mutts".

At the end, when Ky ascends, and given that this is Gay Pride Week, I thought his resplendent rainbow coloured cloak appropriate. Pride week didn't exist back then, but Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had been around since the late 60s, so the colourful cloak trope would have been familiar to the public. A few years later, I actually played one of the Joseph's anonymous brothers in a school play. I did try for Joseph, but my audition was rubbish, so I had to stand in the background with a stupid fake moustache.

It's another expensive production. I think I may have made a mistake comparing Blake's 7 to Doctor Who because, although some of the creatives, actors, crew, props, and wardrobe are the same, I certainly don't remember such a vast number of stunts, actors, and large elaborate sets etc. in Blake's 7. Epecially, since Jon Pertwee's residency as the Doctor, I absolutely get the impression feeling, that the Beeb was beginning to regard Doctor Who as their flagship show.

Oh My God, The Rewatch Continues Part 2

Rewatch methodology? Watch, sip, munch, walk around a bit, write some show notes, watch, sip, munch, doze off, wake up drooling. I think the question is why. No, for god's sake don't question the magic! And the rewatch continues! (I am so sick of saying that). Join me next time for Doctor Who: The Time Monster (1972).