Monday, 7 September 2009

Doctor Who: The Creature From the Pit

Part One

“What are you doing in the Place of Death?"

“Oh, just pottering around. I have this insatiable curiosity, you see… why do you call it the Place of Death?”

“Because anyone found here is automatically condemned to death.”


This is a story I’d been looking forward to immensely, as I remember finding this story an utter delight back when it was released on video- silly in a good, Season Seventeeny way, with lots of Douglas Adams-esque witty dialogue which often did extyreme violence to the fourth wall. Plus, it’s written by David Fisher, who penned two great stories last season. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, K9’s new voice, for a start. Perhaps it’ll grow on me, but David Brierley’s vocal style lacks the prissiness of John Leeson’s, and doesn’t deliver the lines the same way. K9 suddenly seems to have lost a large chunk of his personality.

The TARDISeers land on an alien planet where the our heroes attacked by silly yet convincing looking “Wolfweeds” and threatened with death by Eileen Way, a real face from the past. Some of the dialogue sparkles a bit, but it all seems a little formulaic, however much this is acknowledged in the dialogue. And then we get our hirsute cockney bandits, who all seem to be played like Fagin and out to pick a pocket or two. This is a little unfortunate, especially as they’re portrayed as grasping and greedy. Still, I love Romana’s attitude to being captured, and the cool way she contrives her escape.

It’s quite surprising to see Morris Barry turning up in an acting role here, executed for his unfortunate lack of “a teaspoon and an open mind”. But the main baddy is played in a suitably pantomimish fashion by Myra Frances- it’s not a particularly subtle performance but Lady Adastra is such a fun character, and there’s no other way her lines could have been delivered. She’s a pure cipher, but this is of course quite deliberate. This story knows exactly the sort of thing it is, as clearly shown by the dialogue’s frequently wrecking ball-like relationship with the fourth wall: “We call it… the pit!” / “Ah, you have such a way with words…”. It’s just that, for the first time in the Graham Williams era, this is all starting to sound a slightly troubling note. This story may know it’s a formulaic runaround crammed with stock characters, but that doesn’t stop it being a formulaic runaround crammed with stock characters.

Oh, and why on Earth does the Doctor just chuck himself into the pit at the end?

Part Two

“We call it… the creature!”

“Ah. That’s original.”

There’s a justly famous scene at the beginning of the episode, with the Doctor, hanging off a ledge halfway down the pit, consulting a climbing manual called Everest in Easy Stages. It’s in Tibetan, so the Doctor pulls out another tome from his bottomless pockets, this time titled Teach Yourself Tibetan. It’s a terrific gag, and I wouldn’t dream of being so churlish as the bring up any linguistic skills the Doctor may or not have displayed in Planet of the Spiders.

We get introduced to the fab Geoffrey Bayldon as Organon in this episode, and he gets by far the best line: “The future foretold, the past explained, the present… apologised for.” We’re also introduced to the eponymous creature, which looks almost exactly like a massive green… words fail me.

We’re introduced fully to the underlying concept behind the story here too- metal is rare and Adastra has the monopoly. It’s fundamentally a sound basis for a story, but never explored in any depth. In fact, much about this society is left vague- what’s the tech level? What about those other communities without a metal mine? How come a single mine produces so many different kinds of metals?

Part Three

“I thought you were dead! Why haven’t you died?”

“I’m sorry, my lady. It was… an oversight.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t going to be as good as I remembered it. It has lots of good one-liners and a fun camp villain, both of which protect it from falling too low in my affections, but I must admit the plot itself is very much by the numbers. Plus, I don’t like the way an astrologer is allowed to be a major character in here without astrology being seriously questioned at any point. That’s not the way Doctor Who has traditionally dealt with the subject.

The most eye-popping moment in this episode (and perhaps in all of Doctor Who thus far!) is a certain moment involving the Doctor and the creature’s, er, protuberance. I suspect it’s this more than the story’s perceived shortcoming that led to this story being one of the last out on video and is delaying its DVD release.

Part Four

“Have a care, Doctor!”

“Have a care yourself. Have a care for your people for a change.”

We finally get the big revelation- the creature, or Erato, is in fact an ambassador from Tythonius, who rather conveniently comes from a world with loads of metal and a deficit in chlorophyll, and arrived on this world to arrange a trade. Adrasta, wishing to retain her monopoly, kidnapped him, shoved him into a pit, and proceeded to drop engineers and astrologers on him. Instead of, say, just killing him. Once the secret is out, both Erato and her own people have a bone to pick with Adrasta and she is quickly killed. End of story. Except we’ve still got most of the episode to fill.

And there lies the problem- with the plot wrapped up, the episode just feels like padding to fill up the time until the end of the episode. Which is exactly what it is. And I’m not entirely sure the science is accurate!

Well, I’ve not exactly been complimentary about this story, but in spite of everything it has enough wit and charm about it to protect it from a seriously low rating. This is an odd one, the first genuine guilty pleasure because the fact is, despite its faults, I can’t help being fond of The Creature From the Pit. 3/5.

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