13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT
"My lady, this man is being facetious."
Given its reputation, we were dreading Creature From The Pit. Surprise! We loved it. We think it's one of the most underrated stories ever.
Usually when we laugh out loud at Who, it's for the wrong reasons. Here, though, it's a script deliberately crammed with humour that had us on the floor. Although David Fisher had a bad start with the dull Stones of Blood, he redeemed himself with the sparkling Androids of Tara, and Creature From The Pit's well up to that standard. Who could resist lines such as ' "Did you examine that thing's skin?" "No thank you, I was trying to prevent it examining mine" ', or the fabulous "We don't want several hundred cubic feet of angry blob heaving itself round the country crushing people"? There are some misfires, like the opening stuff in the TARDIS and the heavy-handed "Teach Yourself Tibetan" scene, but overall, the script just crackles with witty exchanges. It's a total gem.
But wait, there's more. Unlike the overrated City of Death it follows, whose reliance on irony keeps the viewer at arm's length from the story, Creature manages to be funny while still remaining slap-bang within the Who universe. You're laughing, but you're right there, not viewing the thing down the wrong end of a telescope. Some of this is about the writing, and some of it's about the performances: there are some excellent characters here, but the icing on the cake is that the actors nobly resist the temptation to send them up, instead playing them with complete conviction. (It's also the formula that made Men In Black so successful.)
Adrasta is a particularly delightful villain, wonderfully played by Myra Frances. It's an over-the-top character, but she makes it believable. She gets to do all the things we want to do, dissing K9 ("You listen to the opinions of an electric dog?") and administering a good bitch slapping to Romana. And we love the way she tells Romana "Don't interrupt, dear". Priceless.
Organon the fake astrologer is another great character, beautifully played and with some killer lines. We particularly love his explanation to the Doctor of how good he is at his job, not to mention his indignation that the Doctor was going to let him be killed.
Other characters admittedly aren't quite as good: Karela is a bit on the dull side, although she does get to say "If I say you're made of tin, you horrible little animal, you're made of tin". Well put, we say. And it's a bonus to get a whole two female villains. The bandits are a complete waste of space, except for the opportunity it affords Romana to say "I'm not used to being assaulted by a collection of hairy, grubby little men".
As for the monster, there's nothing we can say about its appearance that isn't immediately obvious, so we won't bother. But we do like the way it starts as a baddie, becomes one of the good guys, veers off somewhere in between and ends up on the side of the angels. It's a lot more interesting than the slice-and-dice path most monsters take.
And the regulars? Well, it's a blinder for the Doctor. Tom Baker gives an excellent performance which makes the most out of the comedy while resisting the temptation to drag it down to buffoon level. And he brings the serious stuff through very nicely as well: there isn't another actor who could say "Weeds, weeds, forest and weeds!" with quite his conviction. He even manages to inject some gravitas into the monster scenes, which is a superhuman effort by anybody's standards.
Romana's okay, but Mary Tamm's enjoyable haughtiness is translated by Lalla Ward into an annoyingly superior smirk, which makes us like her less than we're supposed to. And we're not very impressed by her bloodthirsty, squealing excitement at K9 stunning the guards. Imagine what a ticking off she'd have got from the Doctor for that if she'd been Leela. She also doesn't get much to do in the story off her own bat, relying on the wretched K9 instead of her own wits.
Speaking of K9, he's even more boring than usual in this, with very little to do except for ineffectually stunning people. And if we thought we didn't like him when John Leeson was voicing him... Like his mistress at times, he now sounds terminally petulant.
There's some rubbish in here, of course. The bandit scenes. The appearance of the monster. The terrible aluminium-spinning ending. But that's par for the course, and there are lots of little things to like, as well. The metal-obsessed planet, with the iron at the end of the rainbow, is well drawn. The faux ending, where it seems everything's tied up after the death of Adrasta and the release of the monster, is a nice bit of misdirection. While, as we said, it's not overly encrusted with irony, there are some lovely satirical jabs: ' "What is that thing in the pit?" "We call it - the creature." "How original." '. The guard asleep on Adrasta's throne is a fun touch. And the wolfweeds, while a good laugh, are awfully cute.
It's not the world's most stunning Who story. But it's very, very funny - and very, very much better than its reputation.
MORAL: Don't go down t'pit.
YOU KNOW HOW TO WHISTLE, DON'T YOU?
Oi, Douglas! You used that getting someone else to blow K9's whistle trick in The Armageddon Factor!
AND A SIDE ORDER OF BACON
Romana's squawking "K9! K9!" as he's covered by the wolfweeds is horribly hammy.
IT'S A TRAINING ISSUE
Romana's plan to have K9 stun the guards, given the number of people there, is remarkably stupid. It's a shame they couldn't think of something more effective for her to do.
GIRLS ON TOP
Not a lot's made of it, but it's a nice touch that it's a matriarchy. We like the way they assume Romana's in charge of the Doctor.
The special effects at the end are woeful: it looks as if they threw the ending together on no budget after finding the last episode was underrunning. Horrible.