Monday, 7 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Planet of Evil

If I could send one message into the past, it would be to the Doctor Who writing teams across the 70s and 80s, to tell them that antimatter does not work like that.
The victims of the Anti-man.
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Two - Planet of Evil
Written 25/5/13

I can say that Planet of Evil was a story I found quite infuriating. What attempts were made to create a chilling, tense plot were squandered very quickly by a fatal combination of mumbo-jumbo sci-fi and characters as thunderously stupid as they get on Who. What it all boils down to is a rather basic story, borrowing lightly from classics like Jekyll and Hyde and contributing, as the mediocrity of its title entails, very little.
     The Doctor and Sarah encounter the remains of a science expedition to the planet Zeta Minor, on the edge of the known Universe. There Professor Sorenson hopes to exploit naturally occuring antimatter in the planet's ores to create an energy source that will restart the dying star of Monastra, the planet currently at the centre of a grand Human Empire. A ship comes to pick them up, finding Sorenson as the only survivor and blaming The Doctor and Sarah for everything under the sun. As they try to fly away from the planet, it pulls them back, wanting to reclaim the antimatter that has worked its way into Sorenson's system and transformed him into a horrific "Anti-man".
     Antimatter in reality is a form of matter whose properties in relation to forces are the opposite. Equal amounts of matter and antimatter are created when pure energy is turned into matter, which then equalises because matter and antimatter annihilate one another on contact.The script follows a wonderful Who tradition of completely misunderstanding what antimatter is by acting as if it's some kind of mutagenic radioactive material and that there's an antimatter universe somewhere that people can walk around in and come back for tea and crumpets later.
Sorenson's transformation.
     The episode's guest cast contained a surprising number of actors from previous stories, the most jarring being the final appearance of Who favourite Michael Wisher (aka Davros). Prentis Hancock's Controller Salamar is the episode's most notable guest star, however, simply for how desperately annoying he is. There seems to have been an attempt to see his slow decent into psychosis, but what results is a character who seems absurdly paranoid from the off, adding him to a roster of Who characters who see a man in a strange scarf and assume he's a mass murderer.
      The best thing about the episode is probably its early jungle setting, which was constructed in studio and, with the assistance of some well-used film, looks really convincing as an alien environment. The exotic brilliance of Zeta Minor's landscape is sadly poorly used on the big scale, with the action for the vast majority of the story moving to a set of bland spaceships with drab gray walls that wobble when you walk past them.
     Planet of Evil tries to be something more, but the dull Jekyll and Hyde endplot combined with a series of poor choices in both scripting and execution of classical horror ideas made what could have been a creepy story into something of a bore-fest for me. This may be a period of Who that is fondly remembered by a generation of fans, but for me as a first-time viewer Planet of Evil is as boring and unmemorable as Doctor Who can ever really be for me.


NEXT WEEK: The so-called best story ever... we take a sight-seeing tour to The Pyramids of Mars.

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