Written by Louis Marks and Sydney Newman
Directed by David Maloney
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, the Doctor is portrayed by Tom Baker. His traveling companion is Sarah Jane Smith (portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen).
The two materialize in the TARDIS on Zeta Minor. There, some scientists have been conducting experiments and extraction operations. One by one, the members of their research party have been disappearing. What the Doctor and Sarah Jane find is a place that looks deserted, but in reality, has been decimated by attacks from an unknown assailant.
When Sarah Jane returns to the TARDIS for equipment, she is trapped inside when a military detachment finds the TARDIS. They attach a device to it that transports the TARDIS back to their headquarters orbiting the planet.
The two have been split up, but both end up as prisoners of the same group after the Doctor is found standing over the latest fatality and thought to be the perpetrator. Unlike other storylines that keep them apart for most of the story, they are reunited fairly quickly. They manage to get back out on the planet’s surface and encounter the creature that is at the root of the disappearances. One of the military officers tries to defend them and is himself attacked by the creature. Both disappear.
A total of seven have died. The military is determined to treat it as a military matter while the scientist wants to continue the experiments his planet desperately needs to succeed. The Doctor and Sara Jane, meanwhile, are off on their own trying to figure out what exactly is going on.
Planet of Evil does a lot of things right. The characters are written quite well, from the guest cast back to the recurring characters. The story moves along nicely. While adults will recognize parts as being reminiscent of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, there’s enough suspense and mild horror for kids to enjoy as well.
Although it’s obviously a soundstage and a set, I thought the effects for the planet’s surface were better than usual. The hanging red vines – or whatever they were – are still distinctly artificial, but at least come off looking like some strange, faraway place. The creature, however, is a bit odd. He’s obviously some sort of animation blended with the picture in the days before CGI. Still, this is definitely one of the better special effects efforts in the original series run.
The acting here is good. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are real companions here, and it’s one of the times I really liked Sarah Jane. At times she seemed too much the damsel in distress getting herself into situations where she was in need of rescue. Here she really seems to be more of a companion; an adventurer on the same scale as the Doctor himself. I think a lot of that has to do with the rapport the two share after working together as long as they have. Tom Baker is comfortable in his role as well, and this story is well before he took the Doctor into the bombastic, campy, and over-the-top territory.
The guest cast is fine. Much of the military detachment is the equivalent to the red shirts on Star Trek: they are there to be the bodies as the count runs up throughout the story arc. Frederick Jaeger as Sorenson, the “mad scientist” role, does a good job without taking the role over the top. He portrays Sorenson more subtly than others might have, especially early in the story. Later on, as he becomes more obsessed, it’s ratcheted up a notch and works very well. Prentis Hancock as Salamar, the quintessential military commander is fairly predictable in his actions and manner, but Hancock does well with the role.
Planet of Evil is a good story arc of the original Doctor Who. It’s a great place to show non-fans of the original series what it was all about. I know this was one of the ones my kids stayed pretty interested in throughout our viewing of it. The special effects are remarkably well-done and the acting is good. The story holds interest and provides a good balance of suspense and mystery.
• Commentary with Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Prentice Hancock, and Philip Hinchcliffe
• A Darker Side
• Planetary Performance
• Studio Scene