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22 November 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 326: The Mutants, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Dear diary,

Now that I’m more than a third of the way through this marathon, I’m at a point where I can almost tell where my reaction to things will be heading. By about the halfway point in any story, I have a vague idea of where I think it’ll be ending up, ratings-wise, and I keep an ever-changing average in my head. It’s not entirely foolproof: I really liked the first episode of The Mind of Evil, and thought it was going to be a return to form having not enjoyed the season opener, but then I found my interest faltering as the story went on. I’m glad that I can be wrong in my predictions, because it gives a bit of surprise to proceedings.

Yesterday’s episode of The Mutants scored a 7/10. It’s not the best score in the world, but it’s a long way from being the worst. By my own table of ratings, that classifies it as being well above average, but with room for improvement. I confidently predicted afterwards (aloud, to my empty flat) that the story was likely to score some 4’s before it was over. It just felt like one that I’d not be enjoying, and having found the really rather cool reaction to the story from most fans didn’t exactly help. The Mutants, I decided, would be coming out with something like a 5/10 on average. It just wasn’t all that special as a story.

And yet… I’ve spent today really looking forward to getting home for this episode. Couldn’t tell you why, but at various points throughout the day I’ve been really wishing time forward so I could pop the disc in and see another 25 minutes. I’m not sure if they’ve lived up to my excitement – I’ve certainly found today less interesting than yesterday was – but it’s nice to see that even a story I’m expecting to find a bit average can keep me excited about the experiment.

I think the big step-down from yesterday is that the Doctor and Jo spend the whole episode separated. Episode One was probably their best ever interaction with each other, so to then see them split apart so completely (with Jo down on the planet’s surface while the Doctor remains aboard the Sky Base) feels like a shame. It means the story is doing its job, however, because showing them as being so brilliant yesterday has made the split all the more disappointing than it might have otherwise been.

The world in which the story is set feels very rich, here, and I’m rather enjoying that. Much as the Troughton era had a version of ‘the future’ in which stories like The Moonbase, The Enemy of the World, and The Seeds of Death could all comfortably sit, the Pertwee years are developing their own very distinctive feel too. You can tell that people in the production team (most notably Barry Letts) are keen on environmental issues, when Jo’s description of being from London is met with bemusement – no one can live on the ground – the air is far too polluted and poisonous.

It’s perfectly in-keeping with the vision of the future we were given during Colony in Space. There, the Earth was vastly over-crowded and it was causing the prospect of venturing out into the stars to take your chances on another world to look far more appealing than it really should. It’s great to see this all being developed, as it really does help to give a proper sense of continuity to the universe in which the Doctor travels.

It’s great to see the change coming as we move into the 1970s further and further. In the gap between Patrick Troughton’s last appearance and Jon Pertwee’s first, the whole world changed massively in regards to space travel and the future. America became the first nation to land a man on the Moon, and the whole idea of space-travel went from being some glorious futuristic concept that would sit perfectly alongside our jet packs and rubber cardigans and became just A Part Of Modern Life.

It coincided with the dying days of a decade in which anything seemed possible – the 1960s is still the absolute symbol of freedom. The decade in which the Jon Pertwee stories were made is a far more uncertain time for Britain, and a bleaker view of the future, in which life is a struggle seems far more realistic than a world in which we can teleport people and items globally in a matter of seconds and control Earth’s weather with pin-point accuracy from the Moon.

As for the look of Solos itself… I shouldn’t like it. When they’re roaming around in the trees shrouded in mist, it really does look quite effective. It looks barren, and I can really believe it as a world being throttled by the poisoned air. But then, Jo and Ky hide in what is effectively a hedge, and there’s no kidding myself that this is some distant world at the very fringe of Earth’s shrinking empire. I’m hoping that the rest of the story gives us lots more of the misty shots – they’re far more effective.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I do with the Doctor would stop talking about the Solonian natives of the planet. I don’t know if it’s just the way Pertwee says it, but it sounds like he keeps saying ‘Silurian’, and it’s getting me very muddled up!


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