Thursday, 5 July 2018
Inspirations - The Mutants
The Mutants was the second story to be commissioned from writing duo Bob Baker and Dave Martin - the Bristol Boys. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had been impressed with their imaginative ideas for what became The Claws of Axos, even if Dicks knew that they required close scrutiny to ensure what they came up with something which could be realised on screen. After enjoying his work on The Daemons, and generally getting on well with Jon Pertwee (being obliged to miss his sister's wedding clearly forgiven and forgotten), director Christopher Barry was happy to come back again.
The origins for this story can be traced back to 1966, when Letts submitted a story idea to the programme about an alien race which went through a process of metamorphosis, akin to butterflies or moths. They would only be "monstrous" in the early or mid-stage of the process, turning out to be beautiful and friendly at the end. The idea did not get very far, but Letts was extremely pleased when Baker and Martin, quite independently, proposed something similar for their story.
Selecting The Mutants as a title has since caused headaches for those who like to have sleepless nights and pub arguments over what the early Hartnell stories were called. Letts and Dicks would not necessarily have known that the BBC paperwork had given the title to the first Dalek story. That is still called "The Mutants" by many fans, but even the BBC themselves have renamed it The Daleks for the VHS and DVD releases, to differentiate it from this story.
Their initial drafts had a substantial sub-plot about clones, but this was dropped as the scripts developed.
After coming up with a neat idea for getting the exiled Doctor back into outer space in Colony in Space, it had been decided that two of Season 9's stories would feature alien jaunts courtesy of missions for the Time Lords. The rescheduling of The Sea Devils to be broadcast out of production order allowed these two tales to be separated. Once again UNIT would be absent.
A mysterious football sized message container materialises one day at UNIT HQ, and the TARDIS suddenly becomes operational. The Doctor is familiar with these vessels, and knows that they only open for their intended recipient. Once again, the Time Lords do not make things easy for their unwilling agent - giving him no clue where he is going or to whom he is to give the message. This is partly to make the story more interesting for the viewers but, as we mentioned when looking at Colony, it can be justified within the context of the plot as well. The Doctor tends to work best when presented with a mystery, and with a few obstacles thrown in his way.
The TARDIS arrives on Skybase One, which is orbiting the misty planet of Solos in the 30th Century. The Doctor tells Jo that this is the period of the collapse of Earth's empire - the one they saw in its earlier expansive state on their visit to Uxarieus. Along with next season's Frontier in Space, and the two Galactic Federation / Peladon stories, this has lent the Pertwee era a sort of story arc, with a consistent timeline for Earth's future history.
The politics of Solos bring us to the story's principal inspirations - which most guide books claim to be colonialism and empire. That should be post-colonialism, and the end of empire.
The Doctor specifically mentions the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the six volume work by Edward Gibbon published between 1776 and 1789. The book charts the downfall of Rome due to the rise of Christianity and the decline of the pagan religions, the increasing importance of the Byzantine Empire, and invasions of the Italian peninsula by foreign barbarian tribes.
The dismantling of the British Empire is generally considered to have started on August 15th 1947, when the "Jewel in the Crown" - India - was granted independence. The following year saw the birth of the state of Israel. Over the next couple of decades, more countries were granted their independence, many of which were in Africa. One country in particular held out against these moves - Rhodesia. Its government under Prime Minister Ian Smith declared independence from the UK in 1965, but whilst other states had been given over to their own people to govern, his was a white minority government, determined to maintain racial segregation and oppression. Rhodesia became a pariah state, with sanctions imposed upon it. It had one powerful ally - South Africa - which was also determined to maintain a white minority in power. The idea for basing a story on these topics arose when Dave Martin met a friend in a Bristol pub who intended to move to Rhodesia to take up farming.
The Marshal of Solos is a Smith figure. An Administrator has arrived from Earth to inform him that the planet is to be handed back to its native population. Earth can no longer afford to govern and exploit it. The Marshal decides that he has invested too much of his life here to simply let it go. Like many of the British ex-colonial government officials, he has been promised an admin role back home, whereas here he gets to rule. He has been working on a genocidal scheme, even before the Administrator breaks the bad news, to alter the planet's atmosphere to make it breathable for humans, to the detriment of the Solonians. He then intends to declare UDI - a Unilateral Declaration of Independence - from the Earth, just as Smith did from the UK in 1965. The experiments of the incompetent Professor Jaeger seem to be triggering a disease amongst the Solonians, causing them to mutate into insectoid creatures. It is clear that the Marshal would hold the same racist opinions of the Solonians even if they were not apparently succumbing to some sort of disease. Jaeger was named after an actor friend of the writers - Frederick Jaeger. Surprisingly, he was one of the few actors not to be considered by Chris Barry for the role. Jaeger would eventually appear in one of their stories - as K9 creator Professor Marius.
You only have to take one look at Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Marshal to see that Reichsmarschall Herman Goering was an inspiration, both in look and performance. Whitsun-Jones had been an old actor friend of Barry Letts, and he had played one of the Three Musketeers, alongside Roger Delgado, for the BBC back in 1954.
Earlier drafts of the script made more of the issue of racial segregation. These elements were pulled back, so that we only really have the separate transmat booths for Overlords and Solonians remaining. It is interesting to read that a forthcoming episode of Doctor Who is to feature (Spoiler ahead...) a storyline revolving around this issue - an episode featuring Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat in the "Colored" section of a bus to a white passenger. (Just hope they don't do anything so crass as to make out that it was a white woman - the new Doctor - who was responsible for this iconic act).
The Marshal has the Administrator assassinated using a patsy (shades of the Lee Harvey Oswald / JFK conspiracy). Blame is put on a rebellious youngster named Ky - who it transpires is the Time Lord message box's intended recipient. Just to add to the byzantine methods of the Time Lords, when the box is eventually opened even he doesn't have a clue what the contents are about. It is Professor Sondergaard who helps the Doctor work out what the stone tablets are describing - so why not address the container to him? The writers had Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl in mind when they devised the professor.
The Doctor and Sondergaard work out that the mutation is a natural process - tied to the planet's 500 year seasons. Jaeger had previously mentioned that Solos was coming out of its Spring and moving into its Summer. Presumably the super-beings who eventually emerge either die very quickly, like mayflies, or clear off to another plane of existence, otherwise there would be someone around every 1500 years or so to explain this to everyone. Radiation, and a special jade-like stone aid the process.
Luckily for Ky, he gets locked in a radiation-filled chamber with the stone and so gets to metamorphose into the first of this summer's super-beings (described as Super-Ky in the scripts). The Doctor quite gleefully blows up Prof. Jaeger, and Super-Ky disintegrates the Marshal. I can see Hartnell or Troughton setting up the death of the scientist, but future Doctors would have balked at this (apart from Six perhaps - and maybe Twelve).
This is the first story to feature costumes by future Oscar winner James Acheson. (Just imagine there's a little TM next to "Oscar"). He was actually a late replacement when the costume designer allocated (Barbara Lane) fell ill. He chose the colours for the costumes very carefully, as he knew that Chris Barry intended to use a lot of CSO in this story - hence black for the Overlords and cream for the Earth soldiers who accompany the Inquisitor later in the story, whilst Sondergaard and the Solonians all get earthy tones.
The location shooting took place in Kent, during a period of industrial action. We've already mentioned how the previous two stories were affected by this as viewers missed episodes and summaries had to be provided explaining the story so far. The power cuts affected filming, in that the crew did not get their alarm calls one morning, and on another occasion the lights went out as they were filming in the middle of Chislehurst Caves - where you can still see some of the alien symbols which were painted onto the walls. The BBC offered to clean them off, but the caves' operators regarded them as a new part of the network's history and retained them.
The AFM on the story was supposed to be future Doctor Who director Fiona Cumming, but she had to withdraw near the start of filming due to illness. Taking to her bed at the location hotel, she realised that she had forgotten to put the film unit's petty cash float in the hotel safe. She kept it under her pillow, intending to deposit it in the morning - only to discover that during the night one of the employees had made off with the safe's contents.
Before we go, one final (possible) inspiration. Chris Barry claims it was not intended, but the opening shot of the ragged, unkempt Solonian immediately puts you in mind of Michael Palin's ragged man who introduces each episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus... He would take an age to stumble towards the camera then utter "It's...." before the opening credits came up.
Watch this story with the commentary track and the assembled group all go "It's..." as the story opens.
Next time: the third explanation for the destruction of Atlantis (the second of which came from the same writers only one year before). The Master goes all New Age and gets into crystals, whilst the Doctor goes all Blue Peter and shows us what we can do with an empty wine bottle, an ashtray, some corks, forks and tea leaves...