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Planet of Evil ★★★★

Flesh-tingling anti-matter terrors await on Zeta Minor, in Elisabeth Sladen's favourite story

Published: Tuesday, 6th July 2010 at 11:00 pm

Season 13 – Story 81


"Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and that other universe which you just don't understand" - the Doctor

Zeta Minor, c37,166. On a world at the edge of the known universe, Professor Sorenson has found a "new and inexhaustible source of energy" for his struggling solar system, but a creature in the jungle is picking off his team one by one. The Doctor and Sarah answer their distress call but are blamed for the killings by the crew of a Morestran relief ship. The Doctor realises the forces of anti-matter will prevent any energy crystals being removed from Zeta Minor and that Sorenson is degenerating into a savage hybrid, Anti-Man…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 27 September 1975
Part 2 - Saturday 4 October 1975
Part 3 - Saturday 11 October 1975
Part 4 - Saturday 18 October 1975

Ealing filming: June 1975
Studio recording: June/July 1975 in TC6, July 1975 in TC3

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Professor Sorenson - Frederick Jaeger
Vishinsky - Ewen Solon
Salamar - Prentis Hancock
Baldwin - Tony McEwan
Braun - Terence Brook
De Haan - Graham Weston
Morelli - Michael Wisher
Ponti - Louis Mahoney
O'Hara - Haydn Wood
Reig - Melvyn Bedford

Writer - Louis Marks
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Roger Murray-Leach
Script editor - Robert Holmes
Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
Director - David Maloney

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Elisabeth Sladen once told me (on the Blue Peter set in 2006 just prior to her return in School Reunion) that Planet of Evil had been her favourite story. She was entranced by the alien jungle sets and, more significantly, felt it was the point at which she and Tom Baker, and their characters, properly bonded.

It also marks the start of a mini-era for the duo. If you were to sit down and plan from scratch two time-travelling pals, you'd probably never arrive at the oddball fourth Doctor and gutsy but girly Sarah Jane Smith, yet they are the perfect partnership. Just the right levels of respect and teasing, interdependence and mutual concern, and not a hint of the unrequited love buttered over it for Sarah's latterday return.

[Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre on 1 July 1975. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

Now confident in the role, Baker commands the screen, whether stating gravely, "You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility," or snarling, "Alone. I must go alone!" before striding into danger. Perhaps most striking of all are the moments when he stands on the sidelines, silent and solemn with bulging, unblinking eyes. The Doctor is at his most alien since the early Hartnell episodes.

In Planet of Evil, after nine months and 24 episodes, we at last have our first sight of Tom Baker in the Tardis control room, and when he zealously gasps, "Stand by for emergency materialisation!" - that for me is the moment the fourth Doctor finally arrives. (I had a long period of adjustment in 1975.)

Having worked through hand-me-down scripts, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe were now taking the series into fresh and more terrifying territory. Hinchcliffe says on the Planet of Evil DVD, "We were looking for concepts that were frightening in themselves and could underpin a story." In a bid to break away from men in rubber suits and masks, they strove to "divide the monster into various 'aspects of monstrousness' ". So here we have an anti-matter "cane toad", demonic possession, an "id monster" and a planet with a very dark side.

Hinchcliffe concedes they were borrowing from Forbidden Planet and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Sorenson's degradation by anti-matter to the level of a brute also reminds me of the effect that primordial slime had on people in Inferno (1970). But Planet of Evil still feels original, and has ideas of its own worth plundering. The 2007 story 42 has possessed spacemen with burning eyes, and a spaceship trapped unless it jettisons its pilfered cargo.

We are some 35,000 years into the future - a staggering leap for 20th-century Who - and, from English signage and characters' surnames, we infer that these Morestrans are descended from Earth colonists.

As Sorenson, Frederick Jaegar achieves an impressive blend of seediness, egotism, bemusement and derangement. Ewan Solon is terrific as fair-minded Vishinsky, while Prentis Hancock struggles as odious Salamar, a man who's overdosed on angry pills. And just months after his blinding Davros, it's peculiar to spot Michael Wisher, unmasked, playing nondescript crewman Morelli rather like Kenneth Williams at half-cock.

The other recognised "star" of the production is the jungle surface of Zeta Minor, still one of the most convincing alien environments created in Doctor Who and a triumph for designer Roger Murray Leach. Careful lighting, eerie rattling effects and Dudley Simpson's urgent but unobtrusive score enhance the illusion.

There's a tight script from Louis Marks, honed by Holmes, but ultimately it's director David Maloney's show. He's raised his game to the level set by Douglas Camfield and his every decision tightens atmosphere and tension. Interesting shots include a freeze-frame of the Doctor tumbling into the black "pool" and extreme close-ups on Sarah's eyes and nostrils.

Maloney maximises the split-level sets and masters the live-in-studio electronic mix of the red, spectral Anti-Men. Notably, on the line "It may already be too late", he even allows Tom Baker his first close-up looking straight to camera, (almost) breaking the fourth wall to address the viewer.

Maybe in those few seconds we catch a glimpse of the monstrous ego the fourth Doctor would himself develop.

Radio Times archive


There was another great Frank Bellamy cartoon for the story's repeat run in July 1976. It was his final Who illustration as he died suddenly that month.

[Available on BBC DVD]

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