Saturday 15 December 2018

Inspirations - Planet of Evil

In the previous season, one of the Hartnell writers almost returned to the show after a long absence (John Lucarotti, who had first stab at what became The Ark in Space). As Season 13 gets properly into its stride, another Hartnell writer is invited back - Louis Marks. He had first written for the show at the end of its first season (though held back to open the second), with Planet of Giants, though his absence was not as long as Lucarotti's, having come back for the Jon Pertwee story Day of the Daleks.
Season 13 is the Gothic Horror season - a genre favoured by both Script Editor Robert Holmes and Producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Planet of Evil is the first story not to be commissioned by the outgoing production team, and we see the Hinchcliffe-Holmes partnership working on its own. Holmes loved Horror and the Grand Guignol - whether it be in literature or at the movies.
This story has literary references, as well as movie ones.
The starting point would be Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, first published in 1886 and written by Robert Louis Stevenson during a period of illness and a particularly vivid dream (he complained about the person who woke him up). It was claimed that Stevenson burned the first draft, then rewrote it. The writer was inspired by his researches into a story he was writing about Deacon Brodie - a pillar of Edinburgh high society who led a double life, breaking into houses at night purely for the thrill of it, and to pay off gambling debts. He was arrested and hanged in the city in 1788. Legend has it that he wore a metal collar under his shirt in order to survive the drop, bribing the hangman to make sure his body was whisked away before anyone found out, and it was claimed that he was later seen alive and well in Paris. The idea of a person harbouring both good and evil was what prompted Stevenson to write his novella, in which scientist Dr Henry Jekyll attempts to separate the two sides to his nature by chemical means. He transforms into a totally different character whom he names Edward Hyde. Through Hyde Jekyll is able to do everything which his usual nature prevents him from doing - acts of vice and cruelty. The story was staged in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and you are sure to have seen that TV movie with Michael Caine as Inspector Abelard where the actor playing the double role comes under suspicion. Hollywood had visited the story on seven occasions when this Doctor Who story was written - the first worth mentioning being the silent one with John Barrymore in 1920. In 1931 Fredric March essayed the role, in what is arguably the best adaptation. The 1941 remake with Spencer Tracey is also very good. He dispenses with the grotesque make-up and concentrates on the psychological transformation, leading to many regarding this as the superior version.

Stevenson's story has been interpreted in many ways, including as a mirror of the city of Edinburgh itself, with the ancient Old Town, full of cramped slums and riddled with crime, contrasted with the New Town of elegant squares and Georgian respectability.
Louis Marks took Stevenson's story and applied it to a whole planet - Zeta Minor. This is why the story has the title it has. The planet is relatively benign during the day, but becomes a place of evil as soon as the sun goes down. This is touched upon in the first episode, but once the monsters turn up then the idea becomes somewhat diluted. It's not the planet that's evil - it's the thing that lives on the planet that's evil.
The Jekyll / Hyde theme appears later as well. Professor Sorenson, head of a scientific expedition to Zeta Minor from the planet Morestra, has come looking for a new fuel source as their sun is dying. He is presented as the typical obsessed, driven scientist, determined to carry out his work with little thought to his colleagues, or to his own health and sanity. The crystals he is mining infect him, causing him to begin mutating into a savage, primordial version of himself. He brews up an elixir which holds the transformations at bay - inverting the Jekyll / Hyde idea where the potion triggers the transformation. Problem is, the effect of the crystals is getting worse and his brew is losing its potency.
It was Louis Marks who wanted to include the Anti-Matter element to the story, having read up on it recently.

The story arc which ran through Season 12 is continued here, as the Doctor and Sarah are in the TARDIS heading for 20th Century UNIT HQ, following their departure from Loch Ness in the previous story. They receive a distress call from the planet and come to investigate. Not long after they arrive, a Morestran spaceship turns up, in search of Sorenson's expedition.
This part of the story has its roots in a very famous Sci-Fi movie - 1956's Forbidden Planet.
In the film, a spaceship from Earth arrives on the planet Altair IV in search of an expedition which has not been heard from in 20 years. The crew, captained by Leslie Nielsen, find that there is only one survivor - a scientist named Morbius. (Remember that name for a couple of week's time...). He has with him a daughter, born on the planet - Altaira. Morbius is resentful of the intrusion, determined to carry on his researches despite all of his colleagues - including his wife - having died.
Morbius has awakened a monster with his research into the planet's long-dead original inhabitants (the Krell), in the same way Sorenson unwittingly provokes the Anti-Matter Monster.

The thing which Morbius creates is invisible, but can be seen as an angry red outline when the Earth ship crew fire upon it. The Anti-Matter Monster is also, initially, invisible, but later appears in red outline. The makers of Forbidden Planet were able to call upon Walt Disney animators to create the Monster from the Id, whilst the BBC had to make do with a man in a baggy suit overlaid with video effects.
Morbius eventually pays for his scientific hubris, and so does Sorenson. As originally scripted, the latter was to have perished at the conclusion of the story, after he has been transformed into Anti-Man and killed off many of the spaceship crew members. His redemption, when the planet gives him back, was only added late in the day.
Looking at Forbidden Planet, it is not hard to see its own literary roots. It is a Sci-Fi adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Morbius is Prospero, and Altaira Miranda. Altair IV is the desert island upon which they live in exile. The spaceship crew are the shipwrecked mariners. The Monster from the Id is Caliban, and Robby the Robot, who can summon up any amount of liquor you want, is Ariel.
The Doctor even quotes the Bard on a couple of occasions (from Hamlet and from Romeo and Juliet), just to remind you that this story was inspired by a movie that was inspired by Shakespeare.

The story is interesting from a production point of view as it features a cast made up almost entirely of actors who have appeared in the show before - two of them even appearing in the same story. Sorenson is played by Frederick Jaeger, and the second in command on the Morestran ship - Vishinsky - is played by Ewan Solon. Both had appeared in the late Hartnell era story The Savages.
Salamar, the ship's captain, is Space: 1999 Season One regular Prentice Hancock - who had featured in Spearhead from Space and Planet of the Daleks (the latter directed by this story's director, David Maloney). One of the Morestran crewmen is portrayed by Michael Wisher (his last appearance in the show). He had appeared numerous times since 1970, most famously as Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. As well as playing navigator Morelli, Wisher also voices an unseen crewman called Ranjit, who is killed off screen. Unfortunately Wisher uses a cod-Indian accent that can only be described as a poor man's Peter Sellers "Goodness Gracious Me" imitation from The Millionairess. (Tom Baker had essayed the same role in the BBC adaptation before landing the Doctor Who gig).

Two other crewmen are played by Graham Weston (The War Games, again directed by Maloney), and Louis Mahoney (Frontier in Space). Mahoney will be back in 2007's Blink.
Roger Murray-Leach's jungle sets, built at Ealing Studios, were deemed so good that they were used as examples for BBC design training. Philip Hinchcliffe attempted to get his work recognised for a Craft BAFTA, but science fiction in general, and Doctor Who in particular, were not highly thought of by the bestowers of awards back in 1975, pre-Star Wars. The spaceship sets, despite a nice two-level control deck, are not so hot. Murray-Leach was somewhat put out that the spaceship model maker did not consult with him, and the model and sets do not quite match up.
The TARDIS console room is seen on screen for the first time since Death to the Daleks, back in Season 11 - so it's the very first time we get to see Tom Baker at the controls of the ship. (The console room had one other notable lengthy absence from the show, when we had to wait until Season 8's The Claws of Axos to see it following its last appearance in The War Games at the close of Season 6, although the console itself had been seen in between as the Third Doctor had removed it from the ship during the intermediate season).
Next time: Are you my Mummy? The Universal horror motifs of Season 13 are Hammered home further...

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