Timestamp #81: Planet of Evil

Doctor Who: Planet of Evil
(4 episodes, s13e05-e08, 1975)

Timestamp 081 Planet of Evil

 

This is not London.

On a dark and misty planet in the year 37166, a mining team hits a seventy percent pure vein as another on their team marks another grave in an already crowded graveyard. Professor Sorensen tells his assistant that the planet “knows” and is conspiring against them, but he refuses to leave the vein of ore since the last one inexplicably vanished after their colleague died. The younger spacer leaves the professor and returns to base, but just like Braun (the man who marked the grave), he is vaporized.

Well, that’s a dark start.

I do love the detail in the planet set, though. It beats the socks off of anything from the original Star Trek.

Meanwhile, in the TARDIS Control Room – We haven’t seen that in a while, and it’s the first time for the Fourth Doctor. – our heroes get a distress call and materialize on the evil planet. Sarah Jane is enthralled by something odd, and after she shakes it off, they find the mummified remains of Braun. So, he disappeared at death, but then reappears as a desiccated corpse?

As they investigate the base, a new starship arrives in orbit of the planet, which is now established as Zeta Minor. The ship barely has enough fuel to return home, but Commander Salamar decides to investigate the planet and find the professor’s party. There’s not enough power for a scan, but they transmat down regardless.

The Doctor works on restoring the base’s power while Sarah Jane volunteers to go back to the TARDIS and retrieve the spectromixer, which will determine where they are. Sarah Jane returns to the TARDIS just as the starship’s landing party arrives, and they lock the TARDIS doors with a clamp and transmat it up to the starship. They then encounter the professor and display terrible trigger discipline and muzzle control during their discussion. Seriously, he keeps his weapon pointed at the professor the entire time with his finger on the trigger.

The professor takes the landing party to the base where they all encounter the Doctor, and the spacers take the Time Lord captive as they investigate the strange happenings. Back in the TARDIS, Sarah Jane tries the doors again and finds herself on the starship. She is taken prisoner and interrogated, and the ship commander is skeptical of her story since Zeta Minor is so remote. Salamar decides to land the ship and continue the investigation. The professor explains that the killings started soon after the team arrived and they mostly came at night (mostly). A paranoid Salamar decides that the Doctor and Sarah Jane are to blame, and orders their execution. Luckily, they escape through a window, but they encounter a strange neon semi-transparent creature.

A ship’s sentry tries to shoot the creature, but it deflects the shots and dematerializes the man. A desiccated corpse appears in his place and the creature vanishes. Sarah Jane explains that this is the strange feeling that overwhelmed her before, and the Doctor has a bad feeling about this. The ship’s crew discover that the Doctor and Sarah Jane have escaped and sound the alarm. The travelers run, and the crew open fire and provide their best stormtrooper impersonation by missing every shot.

The commander sends a drone to search for the fugitives. Their analysis of the corpse shows complete dehydration, almost like freeze-drying. Like that astronaut ice cream they sell at Kennedy Space Center, and probably just as tasty. The professor wants to leave since his mission – to find a new source of energy to replace their dying sun – is complete. The commander says that his new mission – to eliminate hostile alien forces – takes precedence. What is he, a Dalek?

The Doctor and Sarah Jane discover a pool of liquid that doesn’t reflect light. The drone finds them, and crewmen arrive to apprehend them. The crewmen roughly search the travelers, and one falls into the pool. There is no splash, and he continues to fall as if the pool were really a bottomless pit.

Sorenson loads his samples as the travelers are returned to the ship and interrogated. The Doctor explains that the planet is the boundary between the universes of matter and anti-matter. By coming to the planet, the boundary has been breached. The travelers are dismissed and rudely shoved into the quarantine chamber with the TARDIS and the ore samples. Sarah Jane suggests leaving, but the Doctor explains that this extends beyond the planet now. It could result in the destruction of the universe.

The Doctor gets all scientific on the ore – I have missed that aspect of the Doctor – and takes a small sample for later. The ship tries to take off, but the engines fail, and the ship is immediately attacked by the neon creature. It picks off guards like redshirts until the commander listens to the Doctor and raises shields. That pushes the creature away and earns him some cachet with the commander and crew. The Doctor explains that the ore is linked to the planet, and that the ship cannot leave without jettisoning the samples and clearly stating an intention to leave without exploiting the planet. The Doctor offers to take that promise to the forces that control the planet, but he must go alone. He goes to the pit (sans scarf) and encounters the neon creature, but the creature pushes him down the hole.

Commander Salamar argues with the professor about leaving the planet, and Sarah Jane goes after the Doctor. As crewmen unload the ore canisters, the professor sneaks into quarantine and sneaks away with a container. The Doctor falls, encounters a large neon creature, and then climbs out of the pit. Sarah Jane finds him, but he is delirious and half-conscious. Salamar see the duo on the drone’s camera feed, and sends crewmen to retrieve them. Meanwhile, the smuggled ore possesses the professor.

The travelers end up in the ship’s sickbay, and as Salamar attempts to lift off, Sarah Jane assures the Doctor – who promised the neon creature as a Time Lord that they would leave the ore behind – that all of the samples are off the ship. The Doctor is assuaged until he remembers that he has some in his toffee tin, and he takes it to the commander. An unfortunate crewman takes the tin to be jettisoned, but he is attacked by the professor. As the ship attempts to reach escape velocity, there is a significant drag, and the Doctor presumes that more antimatter ore is still onboard.

The professor is drinking some kind of fluid to remain in human form. In an attempt to deflect the investigation, he suggests that the travelers are responsible for the deaths, and Salamar demands (at gunpoint) to inspect the TARDIS as a result. As the commander takes the Doctor to quarantine, the professor remains with Sarah Jane. The professor begins to change, sparking that same wave of unease for Sarah Jane, and he leaves sickbay to attack another crewman. Sarah Jane follows the crewman’s screams and discovers yet another desiccated corpse. The same screams distract the commander long enough for the Doctor to sucker punch him and run to the scene. Salamar follows, assumes that the travelers killed the crewman, and shoots the Doctor point blank. The travelers are taken to the ejection chambers – a futuristic walking of the plank – but they are saved by an attack on the bridge.

The professor is trying to maintain control with his serum, but he spills it, leaving no way to stop his transformation. Meanwhile, Salamar is relieved of command by Vishinsky, a senior crewmember who disagrees with the commander’s assessment of the travelers. Sarah Jane explains the strange sensations around the antimatter to the Doctor, and she rushes to the bridge and recommends closing all of the hatches in the passageways to slow Sorensen’s progress. The Doctor breaks into Sorensen’s quarters and finds the antimatter. Sorensen finds him, but the Doctor holds the professor back and explains that the serum has only facilitated the mutation. Sorensen realizes that he must remove the antimatter from the ship.

Meanwhile, Salamar takes the ship’s neutron accelerator and plans to hunt Sorensen with the deadly radiation. After Salamar kills a crewman who tries to stop him, Vishinsky lets the former commander go. Sorensen goes to the ejector room and attempts to eject himself and the sample, but he transforms before he can throw the lever. Vishinsky informs the Doctor of Salamar’s plan, and the Doctor goes to stop him. Salamar finds Sorensen in the ejector room and uses the accelerator, but Sorensen drains him and uses the accelerator’s radiation to increase strength and multiply. The creatures pass through the hatches and kill the crew as the Doctor reaches the bridge. He takes a pistol – noted – and the remaining ore and sets off to find the original Sorensen. The Doctor shoots him – also noted – and drags him into the TARDIS and restrains him, then sets a course for the planet’s surface.

The TARDIS lands at the pit, and the Doctor and Sorensen struggle on the edge. Sorensen falls in, and the Doctor throws the remaining ore in after him. The creatures on the ship vanish, and the ship stops it’s descent toward the planet. Since the Doctor kept his word, a fully human Sorensen is returned to the normal universe, and they return to the ship in the TARDIS. The professor is still returning to his original self and is highly suggestible, so the Doctor plants the idea of using planetary kinetics as an energy source. The travelers then depart for their appointment in London.

This is the standard creature feature with some added twists like the anti-matter universe, a strong environmental message, and the super-guardians of the planet’s balance. I love the detailed planet sets, and enjoyed seeing a more meaty role for the secondary characters as well.

I’m eager to see how the show reconciles the Doctor’s use of firearms in later stories. Part of me holds to the mythos that the Doctor abhors their presence, kind of like MacGyver, and using one is a breach of his character. Day of the Daleks is a good example. The counter-point, as long-time reader Nathan mentioned in a discussion on Facebook, is that the Doctor may be pragmatic enough to realize that firearms are sometimes the lesser of two evils, but always tries to find a better way. Either way, I’m looking forward to how the classic series handles this.

All in all, this was a fun and entertaining story.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

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4 thoughts on “Timestamp #81: Planet of Evil

  1. This may have the best alien planet set ever in Doctor Who. It’s clearly not a dressed up location and they hid the fact that it’s in a studio remarkably well.

    I kind of like the fact that the Doctor isn’t omnipotent in the 60’s and 70’s stories. In the new series and even somewhat in the 80’s he becomes so smart and resourceful that he can basically get out of any danger with solutions that are indistinguishable from magic. I like that the Doctor sometimes has to use a gum, despite his abhorrence. I also like when he’s not an expert on everything and has to actually learn, but they start slipping down that slope as early as Pertwee’s era.

  2. […] Before we go any further, let’s talk about racism. Doctor Who is no stranger to yellowface, which is using makeup to disguise non-Asian actors in Asian-based roles. The franchise has offended many times (Marco Polo, The Abominable Snowmen, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and Planet of the Spiders), and has subverted or avoided the trope many times as well (The Mind of Evil, The Celestial Toymaker, and Planet of Evil). […]

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