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Doctor Who: The Mutants

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // February 8, 2011
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 18, 2011 | E-mail the Author
 The Show:
The 1972 Doctor Who adventure The Mutants is being released on DVD in R1 this week, and while it's always fun to get another Pertwee story, this one is terribly average.  A six part saga, this story would have played better as a four parter as there are a few too many dialog heavy scenes and a tighter script would have increased the tension somewhat.  The script is a little over ambitious too, with political allegories (dealing with racism and empires) that are a bit dated and a convoluted story that has some glaring plot holes that are never quite explained.  Even with these flaws though, The Mutants is a solid adventure and turns out to be a Doctor Who story that's worth watching.
While working on an experiment on Earth, the Time Lords send The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) a message box, a sealed container that can only be opened by the intended recipient. (Why not just transport it to the recipient?  Seems that would be much easier.)  Trusting that the TARDIS has been programmed to the correct time and place, The Doctor and Jo jump in and take off having no idea where they're going.
They land on Skybase One, a station orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th Century.  Solos is a colony of the Earth Empire, who have mined the planet for its rich mineral resources, which are almost depleted.  In the process the planet's atmosphere has become toxic to Earthmen, or Overlords as the Solorians call their occupiers.  Another side effect is the plague, a presumed disease that turns the local inhabitants into mutants or Mutts as the Overlords refer to them.  These Mutts are hunted and killed on sight.
Skybase One and Solos are run by the Administrator (Geoffrey Palmer).  His second in command is The Marshal (Paul Whitsun-Jones) the leader of the military troops stationed on Skybase.  The Marshal has also convinced some of the local tribes, lead by Varan (James Mellor) to support the occupation and fight their fellow Solorians.  The resistance is lead by a young charismatic Ky (Garrick Hagon) who hopes to one day free Solos from the Overlords tyranny.
The Docotr and Jo arrive just as a meeting between all the major players is going to take place.  The Administrator has let the Marshal know that Earth can no longer afford to keep troops on Solos.  He's planning on giving the Solorians their independence and send all the troops home.  That will pretty much end the Marshal's career, so he comes up with another plan.  During the speech where that will grant them their freedom, the Marshal arranges for the Administrator to be killed and frames Ky.  The young leader flees from Skybase, but in the process brushes against the message box that The Doctor has, which causes it to open (if only briefly).  Plucky Jo is taken as a hostage at first but soon decides that she wants to help Ky escape (someone so cute could never be a murderer!) and finds herself hunted on the planet's surface without an oxygen mask.
Meanwhile The Doctor wants to find Jo as well as give Ky the mysterious box, but the Marshal, who has taken command of Skybase One has other plans.  He wants The Doctor to help his lead scientist transform the atmosphere of Solos into something that is breathable by humans, even though that will kill the local inhabitants.  So it's up to the doctor to stop the crazed Marshal, give the box to Ky, and prevent a genocide of the Solorians, all while looking for Jo.
This story would have worked much better as a four part adventure, as they reused the same plot devices too many times to stretch the story out.  As it is, the plot is fairly typical of a story from this era with Jo Grant, getting lost, found, lost again, found again, and held hostage a couple of times.  There are a lot of talky scenes too, where various characters will make speeches, both long and short, about freedom, occupation, and racism.  This gets old pretty quickly.
The acting wasn't the best of any Who adventure either.  Paul Whitsun-Jones played the Marshal with too much gusto and chewed the scenery way too much, yelling about destroying all the Mutts and crushing any resistance every chance he could get.  There is also a black guard, Cotton (played by Rick James), who is one of the first people of African descent to appear in a supporting role in Doctor Who.  It's appropriate since the story addresses racism, but ironically James gives a horrible performance.  He's incredibly wooden and seems to be reading all of his lines off of cue cards.  Given that it's a pretty meaty role, I'm a bit surprised they couldn't have found someone better to play the part.
So the story is long, a bit convoluted, has several holes (for example - once the box is opened, Ky has no idea what to do with the contents and never does figure it out, which begs the question:  Why did the Time Lords send this information to him?) and the acting varies a bit.  The story still has its strengths though.  Pertwee is restrained in his role, nicely offsetting most of the rest of the cast, and the script, while wordy, does have some interesting ideas and concepts.  The stakes are high, the survival of an entire race, and the costumes for the Mutants are actually pretty good.  While these don't totally make up for the flaws in this adventure, they do make it a story worth watching.  
The DVD:

This release is a two-disc affair. The six episode story is on disc one while the second one is reserved for the bulk of the special features.
This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine.  The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts.  There are optional subtitles in English.

The full frame image looks good.  The Restoration Team did their usual fine job though the first two episodes are a bit softer and not as tight.  That's because that pair of show's original tapes were wiped and the restoration had to be performed on NTSC tapes from Canada.  That necessitated transferring them to PAL first, restoring them, and then transferring them back to NTSC for this release.)  The colors are nice and the fine detail is good.  The blacks are pretty strong too, but there is some detail lost in bright, white areas in a few scenes.  It's not a big deal though.  This looks very comparable to the other Who releases from this time frame, which means your getting a pretty solid transfer.   
This disc has some great extras included, as is the standard for Doctor Who releases.  There are commentary tracks for all of the episodes hosted by Nicholas Pegg.  The commentators vary from episode to episode (which is good... there's only so much one person can say about each story) and they including actors Katy Manning (Jo Grant) and Garrick Hagon (Ky), director Christopher Barry, script editor Terrance Dicks, co-writer Bob Baker, set designer Jeremy Bear and sound man Brian Hodgson.  They're fun to listen to, with none of the cast or crew taking show too seriously but not belittling it either.
Most of the bonus material is found on disc two.   The video features start out with Mutt Mad (20 min) a look at the creation of the story with most of the surviving cast and crew giving their take on the show.  It's interesting to note that director Christopher Barry admits that it's not his best work and that there are some problems with the story, something that would never happen in a feature profiling a current film or TV show.  It's very refreshing to have the creators talk freely about their work without having to worry about pissing off someone who might give them a job.  Race Against Time (37 min) is a look at black actors in British television from the 60's onward.  It was interesting, especially since it appears that black actors had a harder time getting on air in the UK than they did in the US. 
Though I was expecting it to be terribly dull, Dressing Doctor Who (27 minutes) is actually a fun look at Academy Award winning costume designer James Acheson's tenure on Doctor Who.  He's a fun and interesting guy and has some nice memories of the show and the lead actors.  There's also a minute long clip from Blue Peter.

In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always.   It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters.  The extras are rounded off with storyboard comparison, a trailer for the story, a photo gallery, and the listing from the Radio Times in .pdf format.

Final Thoughts:
While this story does have some serious flaws, when all is said and done it's an average Who story from the Pertwee era.  It would have been strengthened by being just four parts, but even at six there's enough good here to Recommend this disc to fans of The Doctor.  Check it out.
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