Doctor Who: The Mutants (Story No.
Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: A+ Episodes: A
Bookended nicely by The Sea Devils and
Time Monster, The Mutants pits John
Pertwee’s Doctor Who up against the
horror of an autocrat gone mad. When the
usurping commander of the orbital research station Skybase One pursues a
program of genocide against an alien planet’s mutant population, the Doctor and
Jo (Katy Manning) must intervene.
Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin explore some dark topics in this
six-episode story, chief among them being the Marshal’s pursuit of racial
purity, and his subsequent pogrom against a “lesser” race. Irredeemably evil and beautifully played by
actor Paul Whitsun-Jones, the Marshal arranges for the murder of the base’s
true commander, takes control, then begins to enact his draconian policies
against the mutant populace of the planet below.
Sent by the Timelords to deliver a message
for a man named Ky (Garrick Hagon), the Doctor quickly finds himself in the
thick of the action. In addition to the
able assistance of regular companion Jo Grant, the Doctor also enjoys the aid
of a Skybase security officer named Cotton (Rick James), and the renegade
scientist Sondergaard (John Hollis of Lobot fame). James provides a notable, if controversial,
performance as one of the first protagonists of color to appear in the
series. Although sometimes less than the
ideal action hero, his Cotton renders invaluable assistance to the Doctor and
Jo through the story’s six episodes. Progressive
fans who had long been calling for such a character to appear found Cotton’s
character (and James’ performance) wanting, but the importance of this
ice-breaking moment in the show’s history should not be overlooked.
The Mutants features excellent effects work, including
some truly slick monster design on the titular characters. Given budgetary constraints and the available
technology, the transformation of the Ky character during the sixth episode
also works fairly well, selling the idea that the mutants themselves might one
day further evolve into ethereal super-beings.
Fans of Mr. Pertwee’s run on the show will find him at the height of his
powers in this story--clever, dynamic, and heroic all in one.
The extras provided include an engaging documentary
on the issue of race in the Doctor Who series.
Narrated by Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith in the modern series), the piece
provides an unvarnished look at the show’s shortcomings in this area. Among the topics discussed include the idea
of there one day being a Doctor of color.
Other extras include commentaries and a second feature on the technical
aspects of producing The Mutants.
While not regarded as a classic of the
series, The Mutants provides plenty of thrills and high
moments, and will be of special interest to fans of John Pertwee’s Doctor.