Doctor Who: Planet of Evil

Rating 2¾

Written by Louis Marks

Directed by David Maloney

Starring Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Frederick Jaeger (Sorenson), Ewen Solon (Vishinsky), Prentis Hancock (Salamar), Michael Wisher (Morelli), Graham Weston (De Haan), Louis Mahoney (Ponti), Terence Brook (Braun), Tony McEwan (Baldwin), Haydn Wood (O’Hara) and Melvyn Bedford (Reig)

The TARDIS responds to a distress call from Zeta Minor, the most distant planet in the known universe, where the Doctor and his companion Sarah Jane discover the apparently abandoned base of a geological expedition. A military ship has also answered the distress call and the Doctor and Sarah Jane become suspects for the unexplained deaths of several of the expedition crew. Only Professor Sorenson remains alive and the Doctor realises he has been tampering with antimatter in his bid to discover alternative sources of energy to save his people, whose Sun is dying.

‘Planet of Evil’, a serial broadcast in four 25-minute episodes between 27 September and 18 October 1975, has always stuck in my memory. I am not sure why. Perhaps because it is clearly based on the classic 1956 film ‘Forbidden Planet’, a real favourite of mine, with a bit of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ thrown into the mix. Maybe because this was one of the classic periods of Doctor Who, with the most popular and successful Doctor, Tom Baker, and one of the most popular companions, Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen.

Elisabeth Sladen played this role from ‘The Time Warrior’ at the start of the final season featuring the third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, in December 1973, until ‘The Hand of Fear’ in October 1976, the second serial in Tom Baker’s third season. She made a subsequent appearance in ‘The Five Doctors’ in 1983 and in the aborted 1981 spin-off ‘K9 and Company’, before returning in 2006 for a guest appearance in ‘School Reunion’ in the revived series. This led to the successful spin-off ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’, which has so far run for three seasons, with two more confirmed by the BBC.

Is ‘Planet of Evil’ memorable? Well, I don’t think it ranks amongst the very best Doctor Who serials from the classic series, but I love nearly all Doctor Who and this is a minor gem, even if it does rather fizzle out in the final episode. It is not original by any stretch of the imagination, but it is constructed with some degree of flair. The message can perhaps best be summed up by something the Doctor says to Professor Sorenson: “You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.” It is a theme that has been explored over the course of the series time and time again.

The sets are what they are and anyone with any knowledge of Doctor Who knows not to expect state-of-the-art special effects. The spacecraft is rather threadbare, to say the least, but the alien jungle landscape of the planet Zeta Minor is not entirely bereft of charm.

Tom Baker had an odd lazy approach to his acting, almost disinterested, which somehow seemed to work perfectly. It gave his Doctor a slightly disengaged air, often one of amused and slightly superior intellectual curiosity. I recall that he was sometimes compared to Harpo Marx and there is occasionally a degree of uninhibited anarchy about him.

‘Planet of Evil’ perhaps has not quite lived up to my memory of it all these years later, but I still enjoyed it very much.

Review posted 17 June 2010

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