Planet of Evil

DVD NTSC
Region 1
DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 81, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Louis Marks
  • directed by David Maloney
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Sarah to a jungle on the forlorn planet of Zeta Minor on the very edge of the known universe in the far future. An expedition from the Morestran Empire has come to find a way to use the planet's abundance of anti-matter resources to power their civilization, but the secret to successfully mine and use the mysterious substance continues to taunt and elude Professor Sorenson, while the Morestrans continue to meet grisly ends at the "hands" of both organic and energetic creatures. It is up to the Doctor to discover the planet's secret before it has its revenge on them all....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah), Prentis Hancock (Salamar), and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
  • "A Darker Side" making-of featurette (25 min.) adding writer Louis Marks, director David Maloney, and designer Roger Murray-Leach.
  • "Planetary Performance" acting featurette (15 min.) with Baker, Sladen, Hancock, Tony McEwan (Baldwin), and Graham Weston (de Haan).
  • Behind the scenes studio footage (1 min.)
  • Photo Gallery (7 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Easter Egg

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


This story is an interestingly tangled ball of mixed elements. On one hand, it is full of good stuff. Thematically, it's an outer space equivalent to an environmentally-friendly "green" story full of other-worldly unknowns, the plot is full of all the right movements, the pace moves ahead at the perfect speed, and the director holds the production together tastefully and interestingly. It also has the distinction of being the first Tom Baker story to do justice and more to the TARDIS. But although the two main premises of the story are both excellent on their own, they don't fit together as logically as one could hope for, and several elements of the production are unfortunate letdowns as well.


Defining Worlds

All of the characters and settings are introduced exceptionally well, the science expedition on the planet, the Morestran military arriving on their ship, and most importantly of all, the Doctor and Sarah in the TARDIS. Not a single previous Tom Baker story has opened with a proper materialization, or a scene in the interior. "Planet of Evil" delivers on both, and gives many of the characters plenty to do in, around, and with the vehicle later on in the story as well. "Planet of Evil" gets full marks for TARDIS visual literacy, repeatedly demonstrating the relationship between interior and exterior throughout. Curiously, the console room door to the real world is never shown opening or closing, while the door to the rest of the interior seems to be a redress of the main door of the Master's TARDIS from "The Time Monster" (story no. 64).

Roger Murray-Leach continues to be quite creative with set design. The jungle set has rightfully received a lot of praise, and works excellently for night and dusk scenes. However, it never really delivers day scenes as believably as, say, jungle sets from "Planet of the Daleks" (story no. 68) or "Meglos" (story no. 111). There's just never enough light in the distant background to pull it off. The black pool itself gets pulled off with much greater finesse than I would have expected, thanks to trick CSO, but the set is claustrophobically too small for my liking. Finally there's the Morestran ship itself. It's definitely unique, but I think the multi-level crutch gets used too often to be believable. The thin, plain, empty glass table in place of any relevant useable controls for the Captain and his closest officers makes the upper deck of the bridge seem totally irrelevant, and I was never very enamoured with the wall of stairs and ladders serving as the exterior exit of the ship. It does at least give the ship size, and lend itself to a few stunts during the battle between the crew and the anti-matter creature.

The Morestran costumes seem to be designed for superheroes, as the low neckline becomes unflattering for most of the crew.


Motive Illogic

Onto the premises, the idea of placing the boundary between two universes in a tiny black pool on a far-out planet, guarded by clumsily violent energy beings is not as believable as, say, the struggle between anti-matter doppelgangers on the original Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor". Mind you, neither version of the "Lazarus" character was very well fleshed out in that episode, but at least the idea that he was being driven mad was a cornerstone of the exploration of the anti-matter universe concept.

In "Planet of Evil", the key challenge with the anti-matter creatures seems to be a language barrier, thus making communication very animal-like, and dependent on gestures and/or telepathic imagery. But go figure, while Sorenson plunders the planet's anti-matter resources red-handed, the creatures guarding it wipe out his far more respectful colleagues instead while they are minding their own business. Later on, Morelli is about to do the anti-matter forces a favour, returning their anti-matter, and for that they do him in instead, thus leaving the anti-matter precisely where they don't want it.

Mix into that the second premise: a Jekyll & Hyde duality for Professor Sorenson. You'd think that he would help the anti-matter creatures when he turns into Anti-man, yet he does the dumbest things to hinder them instead. The focus of the story is a little too bent on horror spectacle lurking around the corners and in creating tension, and it doesn't take care of motives as well as it needs to. As long as Hinchcliffe and Holmes get a mad killer wandering about, they seem happy.


Casting

We have a bit of a reunion of the cast from "The Savages" (story no. 26), with both Ewen Solon (previously Chal) returning to play Vishinsky and Frederick Jaeger (previously Jano) returning to play Professor Sorenson. Solon is welcomingly solid in his role, while Jaeger has by far the most demanding role of the story and pulls it off incredibly well.

Also on hand is Prentis Hancock, fresh from completing his first season on "Space: 1999", landing yet another argumentative role as Salamar. Thankfully this character is far more watchable than Vaber from "Planet of the Daleks". Salamar's impressions of the Doctor are quite strangely scripted though. In the beginning, the Doctor's dialogue to Salamar is most suspiciously vague and cryptic (and apparently for no good reason), yet surprisingly Salamar trusts him quite easily. If that had been my first impression of the Doctor, I would not have trusted him myself. Then later on, after the Doctor has proven himself right several times and he finds the words to explain his reasoning and motivations far more clearly and worthy of trust, Salamar turns on him instead. The script could have done a far better job designing the dialogue for their interaction.

The cast also includes Graham Weston (de Haan) previously of "The War Games" (story no. 50) and Michael Wisher (Morelli) who is quickly turning into one of the most frequently used character actors on the show during these years. Neither of them make it into the final episode, which is most regrettable as their characters brought out a lighter side to the story and were quite enjoyable to watch. Able stuntman Terry Walsh is also quite visible as a Morestran soldier throughout the story. I thought for sure he was one of the soldiers falling to his death in the battle at the end of part two, but he makes a solid appearance in part four and gets a more definitive death there as well.

The Doctor does get surprisingly little to do in the first episode, where Sarah seems to fare far better. But the Doctor remains quite busy in the rest of the story, and does particularly well during the climax. The script seems quite prepared to give us a few bouts of the "Man of Sleep", but enough wisdom is used between Tom Baker and the crew to keep these moments to a minimum, and emphasize his recovery and subsequent actions instead.


Forbidden Id Effects

The superimposed red outline effects for the Anti-matter energy creatures are most definitely inspired by the Id creature from "The Forbidden Planet", and work fairly well. They look best against dark backgrounds, and the natural creatures have an advantage over the Sorensonites in having more lines running through their centres and looking less hollow. The arbitrary decision to not reveal them until the end of the first episode leaves us with very silly death scenes throughout the first episode, where the actors struggle against absolutely nothing before slowly fading away. I think it would have been better to either bring out the monster effect right away, or cut away from each death scene at the first hint of fear in the victim's eyes when they spot the off-screen monster. Later, their corpses will be found, and that's all you really need. The viewers' imaginations will undoubtedly cook up something better to fill in the gaps than actors struggling against nothing.

The footage of laser fire sequences is quite excellent, with flash charges going off in the gun and echoing around the surrounding jungle quite effectively, but this sadly lacks any superimposed beams to make the shots complete. With the monsters themselves being a superimposition effect already, perhaps this is asking too much of the production team of the day, but it did make a very disappointing first viewing for me years ago.


Soundscape for the Unknown

The musical composition for this story is exceptionally rich, with traditional notes from recognizable instruments merging with a variety of transformational electronic sounds. Usually it is Dick Mills who helps Dudley Simpson with the electronic side of things, but for this production the Radiophonic Workshop's Peter Howell took over the sound effects department, gaining his first on-screen credit. Since transformational sound seems to be the most recognizable trademark of Howell's own Doctor Who scores from the 80's, I highly suspect he had some influence on Simpson's scores. As sound effects go in this story, I particularly like sound of the occuloid - it is both appropriate and quite moody.

The music itself does not achieve the full effect of its potential in the performance on the video story though. It remains far too low key most of the time, and excellent themes like that for the Morestran Military do not repeat themselves clearly enough to be easily noticed. Heathcliff Blair's CD version is a wonderfully bolder angle on this particular Simpson score. The fourth Doctor's theme is again used, most memorably during the final cue of the story where the melody around the chord movements is developed enough to finally resemble the definitive version heard in later stories like "The Invasion of Time" (story no. 97).

Music by Dudley Simpson
Four lengthy re-recorded suites feature on:
Audio CD - Pyramids of Mars

Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era

Heathcliff Blair

More info & buying options


This story has grown on me over the years, so much so that I think it may cause a small upset in the rankings.....



This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC for North America
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Pyramids of Mars"



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