Tuesday 10 June 2014

Story 106 - Creature From The Pit

In which the TARDIS picks up a faint distress signal, emanating from the planet Chloris. This world is covered in dense vegetation. The signal appears to be coming from a large egg-like structure. It transpires that this area is a forbidden zone, and the Doctor and Romana are captured by soldiers led by Madam Karela. K9 tries to intervene, but it is attacked by Wolfweeds. These are aggressive balls of vegetation, which can smother people with a thick web substance. They are controlled by the Chief Huntsman. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are taken to the palace of Chloris' ruler - Lady Adrasta. The Doctor learns that this planet has very few metal deposits, so metals of any kind are highly prized. Adrasta deals with her enemies by throwing them into the Pit - an old mineshaft - where they are killed by "the creature". The Doctor witnesses an execution - a hapless astrologer being thrown into the pit. To escape captivity, the Doctor throws himself in after the victim. He has managed to get onto a ledge out of sight of Adrasta and her soldiers. He climbs down to a network of tunnels, and here he sees the creature. It is a vast green gelatinous mass.

Also in the tunnels is Organon. He is another astrologer who has fallen foul of Adrasta. He was thrown into the pit but managed to survive, and has dwelt down here for many months. The Doctor realises that the creature only kills people inadvertently - smothering or crushing them when it tries to make contact. It is unable to speak or communicate in any way, but does draw a design on the rock wall. The Doctor realises this is a picture of an object which hangs in Adrasta's palace. A gang of metal thieves break into the palace and steal this object - which resembles a huge shield. Adrasta wants to destroy the creature, and believes K9 might be capable of doing this. She leads Romana, Karela and the Huntsman and his troops into the tunnels with K9. The metal shield exerts a hypnotic influence over the thieves, and they are compelled to bring it to the creature. This is actually the mechanism through which the creature can communicate - this plus the borrowed voice-box of a human being. It is called Erato, and it is an ambassador from the planet Tythonus. Tythonus is rich in metals but has a shortage of vegetation, and Tythonians need chlorophyll to survive. Erato was to have arranged a trade - metals for chlorine. Determined to keep her monopoly on the scarce metals - and through them her power, Adrasta tricked it into entering the pit where it has been trapped ever since.

The Doctor convinces the Huntsman that Adrasta has been holding back development on his planet for her own selfish ends. Metals would allow technology that would clear the forests for food growing and for industry to develop. Adrasta tries to flee but she is attacked by Wolfweeds then crushed to death by Erato, in revenge for its long captivity. Karela treies to seize power in her place and attempts to take over the metal thief gang - murdering its leader, Torvin. The Doctor becomes suspicious about Erato's haste to leave, and learns that when it failed to report home a neutron star was sent to destroy Chloris. It is about to arrive. The Doctor forces Erato to help him deflect this. The egg-like structure is actually the vessel in which Erato travelled here. It repairs it and takes off. Along with the TARDIS forcefield, a web is spun round the star and it is deflected. Karela's attempt to take control fails, and the Huntsman agrees to take charge - his first act being to establish the trade links with Tythonus.

This four part adventure was written by David Fisher, and was broadcast between 27th October and 17th November, 1979. It was the last Doctor Who to be directed by Christopher Barry - and the first in which David Brierley takes on the voice of K9.
The plot is quite straightforward. Doctor turns up and dethrones the local tyrant in a couple of hours. The "monster" turns out to be really quite nice. Its' death-dealing a mere misunderstanding. The story is particularly noted for its level of humour. Depending on your taste, this is either a very good thing or...
Personally, I have never been a big fan of Douglas Adams' style of humour. "Under-graduate humour" is the term most often employed. The scene with the books in the mine shaft is just plain silly. The Doctor takes out a book - "Mountain Climbing in Ten Easy Lessons" sort of thing. Turns out it is in Tibetan, so he takes out another book - "Teach Yourself Tibetan". Silly.
Many writers are able to create a realistic society with just a few deft sketches. There's just no sense here of what this civilisation looks like.

The other big problem with this story is the realisation of the titular creature. If you have seen the DVD of this story, you'll know that the main VAM item is a post-mortem on Erato. Matt Irvine and his FX team bravely accepted the blame. However, the real blame should be spread amongst several people. There's the writer who came up with an unrealisable monster. When Bob Baker & Dave Martin came up with a skull-like spaceship landing in the middle of Hyde Park (in the initial drafts of Claws of Axos), script editor Terrance Dicks pointed out that this was the BBC - not MGM. In other words, he made sure that the writers reined things in. Adams should also shoulder some of the blame for failing to act on this. Then there is the producer, who is supposed to oversee every aspect of production. And there is also the director. Christopher Barry should have put his foot down.
The best thing about this story is Geoffrey Bayldon, who plays Organon. Many people have thought of him in the past as a potential Doctor. Indeed, he did get to play an alternate Doctor in a Big Finish production. Eileen Way is the only other good thing. She plays the evil Karela. Of course, Way had appeared in the very first story back in 1963. Myra Frances is Adrasta - not one of the most memorable villains. John Bryans plays Torvin like a stereotypical Faginesque character.
Episode endings are:
  1. To escape from Adrasta and her men, the Doctor leaps into the Pit...
  2. The creature starts to crush the Doctor when he tries to communicate with it...
  3. Adrasta tries to stop the metal thieves from giving Erato its communications device...
  4. Organon amazes the Huntsman by "predicting" the contents of his message (which he'd earlier managed to sneak a peak at)...

Overall, a weak and mostly forgettable story. Deserving of its 211th place in the recent DWM poll.
Things you might like to know;
  • Erato's "bits" change between episodes. Initially, there is only the decidedly phallic proboscis. Later, there is a little two-pronged appendage - which doesn't really improve things.
  • Regular stunt performer, and Doctor-double, Terry Walsh gets a credited role - as Doran, who gets thrown into the Pit.
  • His colleague, Tollund, is played by Morris Barry, who had directed the first two Troughton Cyberman stories, as well as The Dominators.
  • Lalla Ward loathed her costume. It had been designed for Mary Tamm's Romana.
  • That's because this was actually the first story of Season 17 that was produced.
  • I'm no scientist, but apparently the business about covering the neutron star with aluminium would have had the opposite effect to what goes on here.
  • Why would the Doctor need a "Teach Yourself Tibetan" book, when he was quite fluent in the language in Planet of the Spiders... 

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