5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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PLANET OF EVIL
"Antiman! A hybrid creature running amok!"
Oh, dear. Planet Of Evil is truly dreadful, a studio-based melange of appalling science, terrible plot cliches and totally gratuitous monsters. It's evil, all right. Oh, yes. Ahahahaha.
The concept itself's actually pretty good. The idea of nicking antimatter for energy's cool, and we love the idea that we're right at the edge of the universe. But it's where they go from here that makes the story go rapidly downhill.
We've already seen the concept of antimatter discussed in The Three Doctors, where it was pointed out that bringing antimatter into contact with matter's a good way to get rid of any unwanted universes. All pretty reasonable stuff, especially as they took the trouble to explain away why the Doctor et al could cross to the antimatter universe without exploding.
In Planet Of Evil, however, they work antimatter into a series of alarmingly stupid scenarios. Antimatter, it seems, is attached to the planet by a kind of bungy cord. Bringing it to the surface of the planet doesn't cause any problems, provided you keep it in an ice bucket. Falling into the portal between the two universes is fatal, but not if you have connections. "Infection" with antimatter turns you first into an extra from Planet of the Apes and then into a homicidal line drawing. And waving your ice bucket at a line drawing frightens it off. Uh-huh. Not to mention that the antimatter universe has some kind of omniscient guardian/s that run the show. We're not going near that one. Oh, yeah - and why all the fuss about the antimatter exploding in the matter universe and the Doctor promising not to take it away when it just yoyos back to the planet anyway?
Then there are the awful, awful stock characters. The scientist who won't listen to reason. The spaceship captain intent on flinging his weight around. The red-shirt extras with a Shakespearean flavour (i.e. completely unfunny). The captain in particular must have been a thankless part to act, with 90 percent of his dialogue consisting of repeating the equivalent of "I'm in charge! You have to do what I say!" You could comfortably add "So nyaah!"to any of his speeches. What with that and his dogged determination to cling to his ideas ("It's another trick!"), he's a complete and utter plonker.
Even Sarah, with some brain function restored after Harry's departure (we cheered when she pointed out to the Doctor how to escape), gets saddled with some ludicrous kind of antimatter ESP in the interests of plot expediency. And in case all that isn't enough, there are the hackneyed plot turns. The Doctor suspected of murder. Nobody believing the Doctor when he says what's going on. Even, God help us, imprisonment, escape and recapture. Were they trying to set a record?
The sets are suffering from a clear case of budget starvation. We don't mind the minimalist spaceship as much as we do the horribly indoor jungle, not to mention the Cardboard Pit of Death. And haven't we already seen invisible forces waving the foliage around on Planet of the Daleks? Mind you, there's an excellent giggle to be had when Tom Baker actually manages to put his foot through the set, falling arse over elbow amidst the crunching of polystyrene. Priceless.
There is, however, one worthwhile element in the whole farrago, and that's Tom Baker. Again, he's astonishingly good here, delivering a multi-layered, nuanced performance that conveys a Doctor of immense complexity. And while the Doctor has strong emotions, instead of wearing these on his sleeve Baker chooses the more subtle route of letting us glimpse them from time to time through the Doctor's facade of affability. It makes impassioned lines like "Don't you learn anything?" that much more effective. And when he says to Sorensen "You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility", it's an impressive moment. Baker's Doctor is a compassionate one, but seeing him as implacable as he is here is a timely reminder that he has concerns beyond the human. And it's nicely contrasted with his joy at the end when Sorensen is saved. The Doctor's "I am not without influence" bit, too, hammers home that he's more than just some space adventurer. We like this a lot: it walks a very successful line between making the Doctor too human and giving us too much mystique-destroying information about the Time Lords.
Of course it's watchable. Tom Baker's in it. But frankly, it's a close-run thing.
MORAL: Put it down. You donít know where itís been.
THE FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT, I GOTTA WEAR JUMPSUITS
Well, of course. It's the future. So there they are.
MY COLLEAGUE, MISS SMITH
There are some lovely exchanges between the Doctor and Sarah inside the scientists' base. They so obviously treat each other with the respect of equals, which is a first for any Doctor and a particular relief after the Third Doctor.
I'M SURE THEY'RE QUITE NICE, REALLY
When the space crew threaten Sarah, why doesn't she just nip back into the TARDIS, rather than standing there like a lemon?
THAT'LL BE YER COMPRESSION UNIT, THEN
Sarah seems to know an awful lot about how the spaceship works. What exactly have she and the Doctor been doing during those long evenings in the TARDIS? (Oops, that didn't come out quite right.)
That's a nice cliffhanger as the Doctor falls into the pit.
In getting away from the crew, Tom Baker delivers the worst stage punch we've ever seen.
NO, NOT THE BLOW WAVE
Well, okay, it looks more like a modified hairdryer, but may we point out yet again the fallacy of the Doctor never using a gun?
IS THAT A DALEK? OR IS IT JUST ME?
While the Doctor is saying to Sarah "His brain cells are being changed", there's a hideous squeaking going on as something is being rolled along on the set.