Doctor Who: The Mutants—Racism Through Metaphor, Part 1

Last time I did a review of the entire The Ark, and this week I was hoping to do the entire Pertwee story, The Mutants in one go, but time got away from me, not to mention that Weather and Safety Leave scare I still am not ready to talk about. So this time, I’m just doing part 1, with other parts to follow.

We start out with what looks like a fox chase. Yet, we see a terrified, middle-aged gentleman and no fox. He’s human—or at least mostly human, apart from the chitinous, jet-black spine along his back.

The bombastic Marshal and his two less-than-willing lackies, Stubs and Cotton are on a Mutt Hunt. They are giving chase and when the Marshal finds the poor, beleaguered, heavy-backed soul, we find him already dead. Clearly, the Marshal takes no prisoners. One is, naturally reminded of a 1930s Lynch Mob, all the more poignant as Cotton, played by Rick James, is clearly an Antiguan with African roots.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Jo Grant is rather peckish. Of course, the Third Doctor is, as usual, totally oblivious to his companions needs, instead tinkering with some device that will give Bessie faster breaking. Suddenly, the Time Lords give the Doctor a rejected, black football, as Time Lords are want to do, and send him to Solos.

The Doctor and Jo land on Skybase 1 with their charcoal football and puts around a bit, examining a clearly bland and empty storage room. Come on, Doctor, where’s your get up and go? Has it got up and went?

Finally, we meet Ky, a charismatic freedom fighter. Now we get to see the racism at play, Ky has to take the Solonian transport (fountain for coloreds) and one for Overlords (whites). The Overlords are clearly the Human colonists. It looks like the British empire is subjugating native peoples even in the thirtieth century. Ky doesn’t get along with the Uncle Tom, like Varan, working for the Overlords.

As the Solonians leave, one Uncle Tom remains behind. At first, all seems normal until the human examines the Uncle Tom, and notices the same chitinous shell around his hand and calls him a Mutt. The Uncle Tom goes crazy and attacks a human guard, killing him, then flees.

Finally, the Doctor gets out his trusty Sonic Screwdriver and leaves the storage closet.

Meanwhile, the Marshal is asking Varan for a patsy. Varan offers his most loyal subject as tribute, his very own son. This even startles the Marshal since he knows just what’s going to happen to his patsy.

Stubbs and Cotton are playing Chess with Windchimes. When the first door fault goes off, they say bugger it, who cares about his nibs.

The Doctor and Jo are attacked by the Uncle Mutt, and break into yet another storage room, setting off a second alarm.

When the second one goes, Stubbs and Cotton realize they’d better get a move on. They find the Doctor and Jo and Stubbs shoots the Uncle Mutt, killing him. Then, for once, some characters in Doctor Who do the logical thing: they arrest Jo and The Doctor.

The Administrator is looking to retire. Earth has no more interest in Solos and all he wants is to leave the planet to its own devices. He’s bored, but decides to meet with the Doctor anyway. The Doctor gives him the charcoal football, and then the Marshal takes it. It opens for no-one. The Marshal tries to blast it opened, and, failing, rolls his eyes, and then leaves with the Administrator. Stubbs is left to guard them.

In the Marshal’s office, the Administrator is trying to give the speech of his life, announcing that Earth is giving Solos its freedom. Too bad he’s such a blowhard. He has to get through every word of his speech before he can make the announcement. Ky is right impatient and starts heckling. In the chaos, the Marshal smiles, waiting for Varan’s son to pull the trigger and assassinate his boss—that’s one way to get ahead.

The Doctor does some Venusian Aikido and he and Jo escape without the Socic. You’d think they’d have locked them in, but I guess after one logical move, they were done.

Varan’s son shoots the Administrator and pandemonium ensues. Of course, as the Martin Luther King, Jr. of Solonians, Ky high tails it out of there, just as the Doctor and Jo arrive on the scene. In the corridor, Ky runs into the Doctor and… the charcoal football finally opens.

Jo and the Doctor chase after Ky, and Ky takes Jo hostage, down to the surface of Solos and its semi-toxic atmosphere.

The Doctor, Jo, and Stubbs watch the Independence Conference
The Doctor, Jo, and Stubbs watch the Independence Conference, from Doctor Who: The Mutants. © 2020, The BBC

Next up, The Mutants, Part 2…

The Music of Tristram Cary

For once, I wish to channel my musical esthetics and talk about one of the absolute most sought-after albums I have ever pined for. Which is to say, when it was released I was just starting a new job and on a tight budget, but by the time I’d established myself, it was already grossly out of print.

To be sure, as a musician, I don’t know if I could ever play any of Tristram Cary‘s music, but like Delia Derbyshire, I find the kind of organic sound they used in the mid 1960s was unique and something I’d love to try. I would love to have high-fidelity digital tape loops of ordinary, everyday sounds.

Cary’s music was itself bombastic and brutal in a fresh, naturally bassal way. I was reminded of this, but didn’t have a chance to cover it, during my discussion of Doctor Who: The Ark. The Ark is filled with the classic themes and tones from Cary’s earlier work on The Daleks. Cary actually contributed music to a number of Doctor Who stories during the Hartnell era of the show, as well as in the early 1970s with the Pertwee story, The Mutants.

The album is so rare, it often goes for, from $80–$130, which is well beyond my price range. Especially considering it originally retailed for about a quarter of that. It’s not that I don’t think it’s worth it, but it’s not the media I care about, it’s the music and surely if it was just a digital copy of the music, it could be re-released as streaming for little to no cost, and thus all profit to the Cary estate.

Tristram Cary died in 2008, so he was around when the album was released. I can only assume he was happy with it. I hope he would want more people to hear it, but I am hesitant to look into the grey recesses of the Internet to procure his music. I want so badly to buy a legal copy. I just wish I could get it for a fair price.

But that music, it’s just, so, good!

Doctor Who: Devils' Planets: The Music of Tristram Cary
This is the long sought after, albeit maybe only by me, album of the amazing Tristram Cary’s music. Cary was one of the major incidental musicians of the Hartnell era, from The Daleks to the Ark and even the Pertwee story, The Mutants. © 2020, BBC Music

Doctor Who: The Ark, a.k.a. Dodo gives the Monoids SARS-CoV-13

Well, no new Doctor Who for a while now so I thought it might be fun and topical to review a story from the third series in the classic run as a tie-in with the modern Covidapolis. The Ark was is the modern name for the collection of 4 stories which ran in March 1966, pretty much 54 years ago from today. In a sense, though, it is precinct because in The Steel Sky and The Plague (parts 1 and 2 of The Ark), Dodo Chaplet gives a race of humans and Monoids a coronavirus. Yes, technically that’s exactly what she had since the common cold is a coronavirus. But it’s easy to speculate the variety she has is actually some form of SARS-CoV-2, so let’s just say it’s SARS-CoV-13—we’re skipping 3–12, which is just as well as SARS-CoV-7 was really nasty. But I digress.

The Steel Sky

Doctor Who: The Steel Sky
This is a scene from the first episode of the Doctor Who serial known collectively as The Ark. The Leader is tended to by his daughter as he meets the Doctor. © 2020, The BBC

The story starts out with the TARDIS landing in a jungle with a mix of animals from Central America, South America, and India. The Doctor, Steven Taylor, and Dodo Chaplet even pet an Indian Elephant’s trunk.

The problem is, Dodo has SARS-CoV-13, or so I assume. The story takes place four billion years, or ten million years, or whatever this story misinterprets the age of the Earth to be at the time the Sun becomes a Red Giant (hint: it’s four to five billion). In that time, the human race has lost all immunities for most illnesses, having long ago eradicate them.

Meanwhile, the rather docile Monoids have also lost their home planet and are friendly companions to the last humans. The do act subserviently but the humans also see the Monoids as friends and defend the Monoids when, Niash, a human, is negligent in the beginning of the story and sentenced to suspension for seven hundred year of miniaturization. Strangely, this red herring is never seen again, even in the later episodes that take place when his sentence would have been served.

Also, why do they all drive hovercrafts on a spaceship? Wouldn’t an electric car work better? But I digress.

The Doctor and his companions—we called them companions in those days, though I’m sure they were friends—are brought by the Monoids to meet the humans. The leader of the humans welcomes them. However, Zentos—the Freshmaker—remains uneasy and fails to trust the travelers. Zentos is the second in command, and was the prosecuting attorney in the trial above.

The Leader takes a shining to the strangers and even shows them a statue they’re building of a human holding a globe. The statue, though, is barely built, with only its feet complete.

So Dodo goes around touching a lot of things, failing to wash her hands, sleeping with her head on the table, spreading her SARS-CoV-13 everywhere. Eventually, the leader gets the virus and the Zentos hears the Doctor tell Steven he feels guilty for bringing the virus there. Heck yeah, Doc!

The Plague

Doctor Who: The Plague
This is a scene from the second episode of the Doctor Who serial known collectively as The Ark. Suddenly Zantos is all chummy with the Doctor. © 2020, The BBC

As if things weren’t bad enough, the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo are put in jail and forced to watch a sham trial lead by Zantos. Everyone seems to be coming down with SARS-CoV-13, Monoids and Humans alike!

When Steven is called to the stand, he is shown—having clearly touched Dodo too much—to have contracted SARS-CoV-13. He collapses on the stand. Zantos assumes this to be an admission of guilt but saner minds agree that the Doctor wants to help cure the plague and they agree to let him try to experiment with a cure on Dodo.

Meanwhile, the Monoids start stroking animals in order to get samples for the Doctor to formulate his cure.

One wonders just what form of virulation he was trying to conduct. After all, can Iguanas get SARS-CoV-13 even? But I again digress.

Some timey wimey jiggery-pokery stuff happens and the Doctor’s cure works. First, Steven thrashes about, but then he his fever is down and he’s alright. The Doctor then orders the virulation to be performed on everyone.

I think it’s important to stop here and get a little sciency for a moment. Virulation is a form of early vaccination and vaccines only work on people who don’t yet have the virus. or who are at an early stage of infection such that the antibodies for the virus can have time to build up before the virus reaches a critical threshold. If someone is already at an advanced stage of SARS-CoV-13, like the leader, would the virulation even work, or would the disease have progressed too far already.

Anyway, the Doctor’s cure works and Zantos is not longer getting fresh with the time travelers. He thanks them and a Monoid takes them back to the TARDIS.

The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo are off on their next adventure, which just happens to be the same jungle environment from before. They’re back on the Ark. Only this time, the that statue of feet is complete. The whole body is as normal and originally designed, but the head is the head of a Monoid.

The Return

Doctor Who: The Return
This is a scene from the third episode of the Doctor Who serial known collectively as The Ark. Juan is lording over his domain. © 2020, The BBC

We learn that the Doctor and his companions have arrived seven hundred years later, when the Ark is near its destination of Refusis-II. We don’t know where Refusis-II is as the story Refuses tell us, but we guess it’s close to Spiradon. Niash is nowhere to be seen. He must have been trapped in a plot hole.

The Monoids can talk now, and they have taken over and are lead by a ruthless leader, Juan. Juan wants to claim Refusis-II for the Monoids and leave the now enslaved humans on the Ark to wither and die. Juan captures the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo and puts them to work in the kitchens, the most menial of slave labor jobs. Apartnely, the Monoids have huge appetites. Then again, cooking seems to simply consist of a bullion cube being dropped in water to turn the contents into potatoes or chicken. I guess Rey had the same thing on Jakku. But I again digress.

Some humans are considered collaborators and work more closely with the Monoids. The regular humans don’t like them.

Steven tries to attack Monoid number 2 but fails and a human dies. The Monoids are brutal since they stopped using Sign Language.

Juan is worried about landing on Refusis-II, so he sends a collaborator, Monoid-, the Doctor and Dodo to the surface to make contact with the natives and figure out if they will be easy to subdue.

The Refusis-II people though, you never see them. Turns out, they’re invisible. Monoid-2 is no match for the Refusian and is easily disarmed, though he escapes and tries to warn Juan and the others. Unfortunately, the collaborator human dies in the struggle.

Monoid-2 makes it to the shuttle only to have the ship detonate with Monoid-2 on board.

The Doctor and Dodo are stranded. And Juan has left a bomb on the ship, to detonate when all the Monoids have left and only humans remain.

The Bomb

Doctor Who: The Bomb
This is a scene from the fourth and final episode of the Doctor Who serial known collectively as The Ark. The Doctor saves the day, as usual. © 2020, The BBC

Juan is suspicious and he and Monoid-3 decide to execute the Monoid Evacuation plan. They’re convinced the bomb in the head of the statue will never be discovered.

Juan’s personal servant hears about the bomb and decides to join the resistance. Steven uses him to help him and the other humans escape from the kitchens.

Meanwhile, Monoid-4 is not happy with Juan’s leadership. When all the Monoids get to Refusis-II, they try to find the Refusians but they only find the Doctor and Dodo. Juan is irate but Monoid-4 rebels and takes half the Monoids back to the ship to return to the Ark. Juan warns them about the bomb but Monoid-4 doesn’t care.

Juan decides to ambush Monoid-4’s party on the way back to the ship and a civil war erupts. Monoids are dying left and right. Eventually, only Monoid-4 is left. The Doctor, Dodo, watch the battle and find out the bomb is in the head of the statue. They return to the ship and message Steven, then return to the ship.

The thing you need to know about Refusians, they’re hecka strong. The Refusian lifts up the megatonne statue and chucks it in the airlock, then the prop just sort of teeters out of the ship, falling down toward Refusis-II before exploding in space.

On the ship, all is well. Juan is dead, and Monoid-4 and two of his companions are captured. The Refusian chastises the humans for enslaving the Monoids and the humans agree to treat the Monoids as equals.

Having made they agreements and prepared their landings, they take a hovercraft back to the TARDIS and get on their way. Steven wears my favourite striped shirt, and Dodo wears her zero camisole and skirt. But the Doctor disappears, captured by The Celestial Toymaker…