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It has been a while but time for another of the old Dr Who series and again it's my all time favourite Tom Baker in the lead roll along with probably the best companion to date - the late Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith.
Tom Baker has been consistently the favourite Doctor of the fans of the programme. Some of this is the way he played the character as someone who appears not just to have a screw loose but that a whole meccano set has fallen apart in there. Naturally this is all an act by the doctor (or is it?) to catch his enemies off guard. Also there was his occasional unscripted line normally concerning jelly babies. In this story we have the Doctor declaring he met Shakespeare once followed by perhaps the unscripted 'he was a terrible actor'
This story consists of 4 25 minute episodes and it was first shown on the BBC between September and October 1975.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane are in the TARDIS and they pick up a distress signal and as you can probably guess the Doctor just has to respond to it...
The arrive on a planet where there has been a series of unexplained deaths which were all the same but with no outward sign of what caused it just who or what could be behind them? Also just what is making Sarah so uneasy?
Professor Sorenson has been on the planet many months but now he seams to have half or totally mad but just what has caused his once brilliant mind to snap?
The doctor needs to work quickly to save the lives of the crew who have just arrived to 'rescue' the Professor's team - not that many are left....
Well you don't have to be all that old to remember the original run of Doctor Who when the special effects were no better than igniting a bit of magnesium powder and the aliens looked like they had been knocked up by blue peter presenters after they had had a liquid lunch. However, for me that was the whole charm of this original run. The writing of the scripts in my opinion was far better than the utter tripe we have had over the past two years of the new series. Also in general the acting was better not only from the Doctor and his companion but also from the supporting cast(s) as well. You do get the impression that most of the budget for these 4 episodes has been spent on the cast rather than all the whiz bang effects we have now.
The acting in this story is among the best I have seen from the original run. There isn't really a weak performance amongst the cast and even the 'extras' appear to have been carefully chosen. In these four episodes I get the impression they have used the 'star trek' approach to some of the cast. In that there is always that new cast member you have never seen before who well you know the rest....
Whilst the first episode of the story very little really happens it does provide the basic plot of the four episodes and introduce all the characters. From the second episode the story does pick up as the drama unfolds. There is perhaps the odd lull in the storyline as if the writes tried to pad the episodes out somewhat to get it to the 25 minutes.
Yes the special effects are not the best but in the low budget 70s there wasn't much in the way of computer technology to fall back on and special effects had to be done live and rarely did you get the chance to re-shoot them. However, in this there really was no expense spared (ooops sarcasm lock was on) the rocks and the cavern area have been made by poly(styrene) R us, the planet as viewed from space looks like a withered orange, dead and dying trees and plants look like they are provided by the dustbins of the local florists, the spaceship has the appearance of a cheap plastic gift from a well known brand of breakfast cereal and the strange camera effects by the use of a curved mirror. The mirror trick whilst simple was effective at the time really it is only from this distance that they look rather 'naf'.
Like in many of the original series good use was made of the lighting effects to add atmosphere to various places. The lighting particularly in the forest scenes and those in the cavern do add to the atmosphere the BBC was trying to create for these parts of the story and they contrast well with the well lit but rather sterile environment of the spaceship. Also adding to this was the incidental music which works really well to build atmosphere and a sense of danger.
Whilst this is a science fiction programme some of what is talked about regarding the anti-matter does sound quite credible. Although I have to admit I haven't done any physics since I sat my A-levels in 1996 and even then particle physics was not my strong point.
As for the 'bad guys' in this story well he, she or it is not an enemy in the traditional sense as the cybermen or daleks are. After all, all it wants is the return of what is rightfully it's own.
Whilst I know Doctor who is known and enjoyed by adults and children due to the perhaps slightly gory sight of some of the bodies in this story parents may want to check this before letting their young children see it. Whilst I do think a PG certificate is correct I always think it is best to pre-view these things.
A darker side - Looking at the development of the story which its self could be described as rather dark as it looks at the two sides of the mind and the influences form novels they used as the basis for this particular four episodes. Also there is an insight to how this particular story was made and how some of the effects were done. This is mainly fronted by Philip Hinchcliffe (producer) and Louis Marks (writer). Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen also appear in this. Also discussed are the problems of the lighting and the use of single and multi camera shooting and the problems each gave. Also there is perhaps one of the first instances of health and safety gone mad. Also looks at how restricted the studio format was in comparison to the most recent run.
Planetary Performance - cast interviews from 'planet of Evil' including Elizabeth Sladen and Tom Baker talking about their characters and their acting in Doctor Who and this story in particular and how some of the minor cast members were signed up.
Studio Scene - one of the scenes with the directions instructing how it needed to be acted etc. This is the scene where the Doctor and Sarah Jane first see the 'bad guy' and shows them reacting to an invisible foe which had to be added in during the editing.
Continuities - programme links for when some Dr Who Stories were first shown on
the the BBC.
Photo galleries - well I think we can work this one out.
This is perhaps one of the best stories I have seen form the original run in so far as acting ability goes. There are better ones on the special effect front but I find if these get too good the acting tends to go down and it begins to be seen as less important.
We all have our favourite Doctors, for the new generation of fans many will not be able to look beyond David Tennant as the quintessential doctor although I think matt Smith is making a very good job of it. For some of us of an older generation like me Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker will always be THE doctors. Pertwee was the first doctor for me and he brought a whole new audience to the show elevating the character to someone that older viewers could also watch, but it was under Tom baker's stewardship that the show really took off and I think it is fair to say that Tom Baker idiosyncratic portrayal of the doctor was the major factor to its success. Tom Baker was and is the classic English eccentric in his tenure the doctor became bold, brash a real extrovert with always a hint of madness in his eyes, something which the present Doctor matt Smith seems to have borrowed to an extent.
Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil was a story from what many considered the first golden Age of the Doctor the mid 70's. Indeed this season of the show produced some of the best stories including the Pyramids of mars which followed this story in the schedule. Alongside the doctor we have one of the best loved and fondly remembered assistants Sarah Jane Smith the feisty journalist played by the sadly missed Elizabeth Sladen who just recently passed away. A previous assistant that I also grew to like Harry Sullivan had just left the series in the previous story so Sarah Jane and the Doctor are once again on their own for this adventure.
STAND BY FOR EMERGENCY MATERIALIZATION!
The Doctor and Sarah Jane pick up a distress call from the planet Zeta Minor, there they find that a Morestran geological expedition has been almost wiped out by an unseen killer and only their leader, Professor Sorenson is still alive alive.
At the same time a Morestran military rescue party has also arrived on the planet to investigate and suspect the Doctor and Sarah Jane to be behind the deaths of the expedition members, but soon realise that there are other deadly forces at work on the planet.
Many Science fiction fans will recognise elements of this story have been borrowed from other classic science fiction, including Forbidden Planet and Jekyll and Hyde. The story penned by Louis Marks is a clever one and one of the most interesting of this season. Marks was a experienced writer having previously written some of the Doomwatch series and two doctor who stories Planet of Giants (1964) and one of my early favourites the classic Day of the Daleks (1972). After this story he also went on to write probably one of the best and most unusual of the later Tom Baker Doctor stories 'The Masque of Mandragora'. The basic idea behind the plot was to re tell the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale of competing light and dark sides of one person's personality and transpose it to a science fiction setting, the Jekyll and Hyde character in this story is not really a person but a planet. The inspiration drawn from the 'Forbidden Planet' is more a question of style. In this story as in the 1950's classic the 'monster' is an unseen foe that is only notice through the consequences of its destructive behaviour. In the original film the monster is only seen towards the end as a line animation when it is being repelled by a force field, in the same way the monster is initially seen in the Planet of evil as a red glowing outline around a semi-human form, although we do eventually see a more corporeal version along with unconvincing make up toward the end. There is also a great similarity between the Morestran uniforms and those of the military in the forbidden planet.
LAUNCH THE OCCULOID TRACKER!
The usual disused quarry in Surrey used on many occasions for the surface of an alien planet is discarded in favour of a very elaborate and colourful studio mock up of a tropical planet; the plants do look plastic though. The special effects are shall we say of the budget kind but on only £700 for the jungle setting they have done an extraordinary job. The Morestran spaceship look suspiciously like one of those hand held vacuum cleaners from the 70's, and the costumes also look a little suspect as do the hairstyles that despite being from the year 31,000 look surprisingly 1975, oh well they say fashions come around again and again. Still we can forgive all this in return for a good plot and the verbal sparring between the Doctor and Sarah Jane, which we get lots of in this story.
There are some interesting highlights in this story. There is an almost psychedelic sequence where the doctor is falling in the rift between the known and the alternative universe which is delight and makes me wonder about the drug habits of the programme makers. There are also some other nice touches such as the floating Morestran surveillance devices that they use to follow the Doctor and Sarah Jane through the jungles which look like flying mechanical eyes and reminded me of the Martian eye stalks in the 1950's classic version of 'War of the Worlds'. The recreation of alien world designed by Roger Murray's-Leach despite being a little unconvincing is also quite imaginative and colourful and adds to the oppressive atmosphere key for the story to work. The supporting cast approach this story with verve and while all the performances are enthusiastic Frederick Jaeger as the unfortunate Prof. Sorenson, Ewen Solon who had been a distinguished actor in the 1950's as second officer Vishinsky and Prentis Hancock as the leader of the military rescue mission Salamar stand out from the rest. All in all this is an inventive and enjoyable story from the shows most successful period.
DVD BONUS MATERIAL
As usual the BBC DVD's in the Doctor Who series are packed with bonus material.
A DARKER SIDE- This is a half hour documentary talking about the themes behind the story. It features interviews with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Louis Marks, Roger Murray-Leach Elizabeth Sladen and also a very rare chat with Tom Baker. They are basically talking about how the idea of the Jekyll and Hyde planet idea came to fruition after a lot of debate between the various parties involved. Some time is also spent outlining how the design of the sets came about and the differences between filming in the studio on videotape as opposed to a movie set on film. This is an interesting insight into the programme making process.
PLANETARY PERFORMANCE- This is a short documentary mostly reminiscences from some of the actors involved in the story on how it was acting in the show.
STUDIO SCENE- Exert from the filming of one of the jungle scenes featuring the Doctor and Sarah Jane, you can hear the director giving them guidance on how to play the scene.
CONTINUITIES- Short TV trailers announcing the following weeks Doctor Who episodes as broadcast at the time in 1975.
AUDIO OPTIONS - This has commentary with Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe. It is the usual mixture of background info reminiscences and anecdotes, quite worth listening to fro Tom baker's witticisms.
INFO TEXT ON/OFF
PHOTO GALLERY- Some nice pics and stills from in front and behind the camera.
COMING SOON- An advert for 'Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks' DVD.
RADIO TIMES LISTING- Feature to play on PC giving you the TV listings for the broadcast day of the show.
Overall although not a classic in this very good season of the show it is still a thoughtful, imaginative and well made addition to any fans DVD collection.
'Doctor Who - Planet of Evil' is available from Amazon.co.uk for £5.49(including p&p) at the time of writing this review.
PLANET OF EVIL is the 7th 'Doctor Who' story starring Tom Baker, who played the role from 1974 until 1981. This story was first broadcast in September/October 1975 and was the second story of Baker's second year in the role. The story also stars Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, who was The Doctor's companion at the time, and who recently return to Children's BBC in the series The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The story has The Doctor and Sarah Jane travelling to the planet Zeta Minor where they discover that a geological expedition has fallen prey to a strange killer and only their leader is still alive. The culprit is an alien from an antimatter universe, and it is up to The Doctor to stop him from destroying the planet!
I really like this story and particularly like noticing where the production team have plucked some ideas from old movies - the most obvious being the class 'Forbidden Planet'. It is sad that Harry Sullivan is no longer part of the Tardis crew, as he was one of my favourite companions, but he left the show in the previous story.
Another reason why I like this show is that you get to see the inside of the Tardis! I know that it sounds silly, but I really like seeing the inside of The Doctor's time and spaceship, and this period where The Doctor was based on Earth working with UNIT is a period where the interior was shown very little. I always do a liltle 'whoop' with delight when it appears on screen (my fiancee thinks I'm a bit silly, but there you go).
The DVD release of this story features a fine commentary from Baker, Sladen, Philip Hinchcliffe (the producer), and Prentis Hancock, who was one of the guest actors in this story. The only other extra of any worth is the 25 minute documentary about the making of the series.
I thoroughly recommend this DVD to any Doctor Who fans out there.
DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF EVIL (1975)
Starring Tom Baker as The Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith
Written by Louis Marks
Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
Directed by David Maloney
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This review will shortly be posted on ciao under the username phurren2006
Drawing influence from some classic science-fiction across its four episodes, Planet Of Evil is a strong Doctor Who adventure, that finds Tom Baker in the title role, and Sarah-Jane (played by Elisabeth Sladen) as his side. The adventure begins when they respond to a distress call from the most distant planet in the Universe. The planets name is Zeta Minor, and when they arrive, the Doctor and Sarah discover that a geological expedition has gone wrong, with just one survivor left. So whats happened? And whats with the one who managed to stay alive? Planet Of Evil has the answers This is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, originally broadcast in the midst of a confident period in the shows history. Well directed, and only occasionally hurt by its limited budget, there are also some strong supporting performances among the cast that do the story no harm at all. The DVD itself is suitably packed with the kind of fascinating material that classic Doctor Who stories are renowned for, with a commentary track, documentaries, a photo gallery and publicity material. But the star remains the story itself. Planet Of Evil is really good science fiction, reverential in some of its story elements yet tight enough to work as an adventure of real merit in its own right. A worthy addition to the Who DVD library. --Simon Brew