So first of all, early in the 17th century, there’s this genius bloke by the name of William Shakespeare, and he writes this play called The Tempest that gets a sci-fi update years later called Forbidden Planet. Then, late in the 19th century, there’s this other genius bloke called Robert Louis Stevenson who writes The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And then, in the mid-to-late 20th century another genius bloke, a writer by the name of Robert Holmes, has the idea of getting Louis Marks to put the two of them together for Doctor Who and call it Planet of Evil.
This is another of those wonderful Bob Holmes “let’s do a mashup” stories that gets overlooked due to it being sandwiched between the two out-and-out classics either side of it. It’s possibly the least successful of the shows made under the “homage” approach adopted by Hinchliffe & Holmes and doesn’t work quite as well as you think it would. I reckon that’s because silent monsters mean the Doctor has no-one to face off with.
Although there is the “moral responsibility” chat he has with Sorenson, we’ll never know what he said to the anti-matter creature, or why the infection Sorenson has somehow picked up makes him into a monster. Things happen simply because the story needs them to happen because we’re doing Forbidden Planet Meets Jekyll & Hyde and never mind the explanations. I think it’s the lack of those very explanations that stops you engaging with the narrative as fully as you do when the Doctor has a natter with Magnus Greel or Sutekh. So there’s a lesson for all would-be Who Writers – don’t have a silent monster!
I always remember this one for the cliffhanger ending to part two when the Dr fell into the pit, the resolution of which I caught the following week in my local chippy – from the counter where you placed your order you could see into the back room where they had a little black & white portable telly – before racing home as quick as I could so I missed as little of it as possible, since watching it in the chip shop sadly wasn’t an option.
Racing home to see Who was something we all did back then, if you were lucky enough to have parents who weren’t ITV philistines like mine were. Quite aside from the appeal of the show itself, mostly that was down to the fact that, by the time this story came on the telly in 1975 Tom Baker was not only The Doctor, he was already THE Doctor. His predecessor, Jon Pertwee, wasn’t entirely forgotten though, he was over on ITV hosting Whodunnit? but Tom was already well on the way to making the role his own in a way that nobody else could hope to do until David Tennant came along. His relationship with Lis Sladen’s Sarah starts to shine here, now that Harry isn’t playing gooseberry, and The Bisto Kids In Space will soon be cementing their position as THE Doctor/Companion combo in a way that nobody else could until Tennant & Rose.
Freddie Jaeger is on top form as Sorenson, a performance light years away from his upcoming comedy turn as Professor Marius in The Invisble Enemy. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, Sorenson and Vishinsky are none other than Jano and Chal from the Hartnell story The Savages, which must have made for a nice reunion in the rehearsal room.
Jaeger makes Sorenson a Tragic Hero with a Hamlet-esque struggle between his ambition and his conscience and it’s a sterling performance that is up there with the Best Supporting Actor turns ever seen in the show. Shame the same can’t be said of Prentis Handjob’s Salamar, who’s so Brian Blessed that it’s a wonder there’s any scenery left by the end of part four… Given that, as mentioned earlier, there’s no tangible villain for the Doctor to face off against, it’s a tribute to Jaeger that he makes Sorenson not a flawed character but a believable one. He isn’t a real baddie as such, even though he killed a lot of the crew while he was infected. In some ways I think it’s a mis-step to have the story’s conclusion glosses over that uncomfortable fact but if it’s Emotional Realism you’re after, you’ll have to wait another 40 years…
The editing of the story was fairly straightforward and it’s one of those stories where almost everything is still there, only the pace is a lot quicker, particularly at the end where there were quite a few trims. The only really challenging bit was the resolution to the part three cliffhanger, which meant cutting out the repeat of the crew member’s death scream. There were also a couple of edits to work around two clear bloopers, in part three when Sarah says that the minerals are changing colour before they’ve started changing colour, and part one where there’s a studio light you can see when they open the door to lock up the Dr & Sarah.