The Mutants

The Mutants

I’m going with the classic title here as I think it fits the episode better and I sorta prefer when the title retains a bit of mystery. There’s enough Occurrence of the Daleks titles that I will argue the original should always be referred to as The Mutants. It’s a better story than I remember, could probably stand to be an episode shorter but otherwise there’s a solid logical flow of events until the end and some reasonable discussion of pacifism in the face of irrational killers.

The Dead Planet

The episode starts on what is probably only the 4th bit of sloppy bullshit of this story, the radiation gauge’s decision to give it a mo before telling anyone that the outside is a lethal atomic hug. It’s literally that basic. The Doctor asks Susan to see if outside is safe (which is a thing space people tend to do, Ridley Scott) and the radiation gauge says it is, only to scooch up to danger after everyone’s walked outside. This is back in the “The Doctor really can’t fucking work this thing” days, though, and, going by later additions to the canon, it was probably actively trying to kill the person who stole it. So out they wander into the grim fallout of the final war between the Thals and (what this story calls) the Dals.

The Doctor and Susan explore the forest while Ian and Barbara mull over how to deal with him, deciding they have to stick close as he’s their only way home. This is an element lost from the newer series and it has really contributed to a degree of sameness in modern companions. There’s a natural conflict point when the companions are unwilling abductees that makes for a dynamic one can’t explore when adventures are willing jaunts with accurate return trips. Modern companions whine about being let down, Ian and Barbara openly hope something bad happens to First, with Barbara saying, “Don’t you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?” which I find fucking hilarious. Ha, find some stairs in the TARDIS and push him down them.

Speaking of the TARDIS, early episodes tended to give it a bit more of a standard ship feel with large banks of computers and other regular looking equipment about. This episode also features a food maker, that comes with a little menu book full of codes one dials into it like a vending machine. The results are retro-future-y little bricks of what looks like chicken stock but taste exactly like whatever you’ve dialed in which feels a little lo-tech for Timelords but fits with what the 60s thought the future would be like. This is another thing I feel is really missing from the modern series. They have a nice control room set and that’s it. Fuck you, build some more shit or film it wherethefuckever, the TARDIS is the size of a planet and I want to see where people sleep and eat. The internet has already shown me where they shit. I don’t need to see that again.

The exploration of the planet is fairly dry filler. Susan finds a lovely preserved flower that Ian helps pick, only to crush it when Barbara is freaked out by a weird bit of Skaro fauna. The Doctor spots a city and, as curiosity has always been his downfall, absolutely must have a look. There’s no sense of The Doctor as a superhero fixer of universal injustices in these early days. That probably didn’t really come about until Baker and the modern series has made it a foundation of the character but this wasn’t entirely a piece of lazy flanderisation. The Doctor is around 236 at this point and over 2000 by the most recent series end (not counting the billions of repeated years in Heaven Sent) so we are witnessing a very young Doctor in a very young universe as yet unfucked by his constant mucking about. There’s no Time War here or any of the other experiences that will turn him into the minor deity he currently is. As such, a lot of what you see in these early days is less poor writing and more actual character development which is what makes a Ian’s haranguing him about being a shit so interesting. A lot of The Doctor’s early moral development comes from Ian and Barbara.

The Doctor won’t be denied his greedy want to explore the city and fakes a fault in the TARDIS to come up with the nonsense excuse that they must search it for the mercury they need for repairs. Ian knows it’s bullshit, but they’ve no choice and he’ll be the only suspect if The Doctor comes down with a case of beaten to death. Meanwhile, a Thal has been politely stalking Susan (she’s a magnet for stalkers, must be her fault) who leaves a mystery canister outside the TARDIS. Ian jabs it with a stick, the universal means of testing if something will fuck you up or not, but it’s not a landmine or anything. It’s a canister of fucking rad mystery drugs! To be fair, I wouldn’t take anything unless I had at least the vaguest idea what it was. Fun’s fun but I don’t want to Mia Wallace myself. They leave the drugs in the TARDIS and go poke about the city. Ian has the absurdly Scoobian plan to split up and explore a city full of doors that close on their own which, somehow, leads to Barbara getting separated. Her screaming at the plunger that menaces her at the end of the episode is still a bit comic. Granted she’s stressed and probably wasn’t expecting anything but the Daleks don’t exactly have the immediate fright of a xenomorph or Thing.

There’s a remarkable maturity to these early series, made doubly impressive by the fact that it is still pitched at children. Ian and Barbara are acutely aware of the ridiculous danger of the situation and this is presented with quite stark realism. Modern Who evades this a little by having off-camera fun adventures where nobody is exploded but that kind of telling doesn’t effectively contrast the death we’re seeing. It juxtaposes nastily with the companion’s continued desire to adventure, a little like a friend of yours taking you on trips to do extreme sports and one of his friends dying every time. You’d not keep going and you sure as shit wouldn’t bungee jump with them if the last person who did was eaten by rabid crows during the descent.

The Survivors

I quite like the title of this one. It’s another that doesn’t give too much away which effectively plays to the episode. It’s not The Evil Machines that are EVIL, and it supports something I miss of very early Who which is the treatment of enemies as other races instead of monsters. Monsters and evil are inherently two-dimensional and this leads to a lack of narrative options when coming up with events or conflicts. The Daleks here are survivors of a war, characters with a need to survive and a continuing hate for their enemy. This is understandable as their society has persisted in isolation and their hate hasn’t had any opportunity or reason to subside. Counter to this are the Thaals, whose return to a communist agrarian society has changed them into pacifists. Their active society has given them full lives that distract them from a nursed hate. It’s the kind of characterisation that functions as background world building which the modern series’ shorter story time could well use.

The TARDIS crew, now suffering from radiation poisoning, are imprisoned by the Daleks. They surmise that the drugs they found were anti-radiation drugs and need to get back to them. The Daleks want the drugs too as they believe they’ll let them leave their city, and so send Susan (the only one who can still walk) out to retrieve them warning that she may encounter the “disgustingly mutated” Thals on the way. This story is 7 episodes and, while this one is not bad in isolation, as part of a whole it provides little that couldn’t have been accomplished in a single scene. About the only real highlight is the Dalek line “A few questions will reduce the mystery” which I’d rate as a quality bit of linguistic flair for an alien species being translated to English. You can tell a lot about a culture by its language and this line suggests the Daleks see mystery as a dominant state to be reduced as opposed to a human who’d “get some answers” to return to a state of comfortable knowing.

Nothing else happens! Fucking woo! Next fucking episode.

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