The Doctor and Sarah leave Harry behind in Scotland to travel back to London by TARDIS. En route they pick up a distress signal to which the Doctor responds, landing the TARDIS on Zeta Minor, a remote jungle planet in the far reaches of the universe. It appears that a geological research expedition has fallen prey to a mysterious killer, and only the expedition leader, Dr. Sorenson, is left alive. A military ship comes to rescue Dr. Sorenson, and capture the Doctor and Sarah, suspecting them of the murders. But the creature that attacked the expedition is now turning upon the crew of the ship. Someone, or something, is not only on the warpath, but is preventing them from leaving. The Doctor and Sarah have seen the attacker, a hazy red entity composed entirely of anti-matter. The Doctor suspects its attacks have something to do with the minerals Sorenson has extracted from the planet. He needs to convince the crew of his and Sarah’s innocence, and get them to return the minerals before they are all destroyed…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
The Doctor and Sarah continue their adventures without Harry. While not technically part of the story arc from “Robot” to “Terror of the Zygons,” this story takes place as they are making their way back to London from Scotland. I love the Doctor’s reaction when he hears the distress signal–he’s evidently excited at the prospect of adventure and danger.
I’ve lost count how often the Doctor and his companion(s) turn up on a planet and are immediately accused of causing whatever problem they encounter. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this could happen, especially if they are caught examining a dead body, or in some other compromising situation. However, the Doctor is usually able to convince people of his innocence fairly quickly. In this story, Salamar, the commander of the rescue ship, remains unconvinced for most of the story, which is unusual.
This is a good serial, though not entirely original, since it plays on the “planet fights back” theme we’ve seen before (“Inferno” and “The Green Death” for example). Important minerals are extracted, and the planet, in the form of an anti-matter monster, won’t let the explorers leave until they return the minerals. In episode two, the story takes a Jekyll and Hyde turn as Sorenson is taken over by the anti-matter monster and has to drink a potion to control the transformation. Perhaps a hint at the “gothic horror” direction the show’s producer and script editor planned to take Doctor Who?
The effects are reasonably impressive for the time. They use a red superimposed outline to indicate the anti-matter monster, and red reflective patches on Sorenson’s eyelids to show when the monster is controlling him. I’m not exactly sure, however, how an anti-matter monster is able to control someone who is matter. Wouldn’t there be some kind of explosive reaction? And why does anti-matter make Sorenson behave like a Primoid from “Inferno”? Maybe these questions were answered somewhere and I missed it.
It’s notable that the Doctor uses physical violence when he punches Salamar and knocks him out cold. That might be the first and last time we see the Doctor land a punch on someone. Even the Third Doctor’s hand-to-hand combat was restricted to Venusian aikido, which consisted largely of chops and finger pressure applied to certain parts of the body. Certainly no fisticuffs!
The most impressive part of this adventure, however, has to be the forest scenery. The trees, the vines, the plants are all superbly rendered using who-knows-what. The effect is even more stunning when shown on film as opposed to videotape. I think this is one of the best Doctor Who sets in the programs’ history. If they recreated it today, it couldn’t look much better.
In summary, “Planet of Evil” is another good story, with a dark atmosphere and a challenging monster. Indeed, it’s hard to dismiss any of the stories from this era since so many of them are good. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith work so well together, you can’t not enjoy watching them. Add to that the amazing scenery, and I think you have reason enough to check it out.