Who Review – The Mutants

Posted by Richo On May 8, 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Welcome to the thirty-seventh instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to review all available episodes of TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, the Doctor returns to space in The Mutants.


The Mutants


8 April – 13 May 1972 (6 episodes)


Jon Pertwee


Jo Grant


Once again, the Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo on a mission, this time to the planet Solos in the 30th century. They bring with them a message box that will only open for the intended recipient.

Solos is a polluted colony world of the Earth Empire. The planet is ruled over by the militaristic Marshal and his soldiers, known as Overlords, who watch over Solos from the orbital Skybase One. Solos is home to an emerging race of Mutants, aberrations that the Marshal despises and hunts for sport. He is obsessed with eradicating the creatures.  Also inhabiting the planet are the native Solonians, a tribal people divided between those who actively oppose the occupation and those who collaborate with the Marshal’s forces.

In Skybase’s transmit facility (for teleporting to and from the planet below), delegations of Solonions beam up to attend a conference with the Overlords. Two such delegates, Ky and Varan, confront one another. Varan is a collaborator who seeks to destroy the Mutants, while Vy opposes the Overlord’s rule and believes killing the Mutants is murder.

The altercation ends when the Solonians are taken into decontamination. An Overlord guard notices that one of the Solonians is slowing mutating, but is killed before he can sound the alarm.

In a private conference, Varan is furious with the Marshal that Ky has been allowed to attend the proceedings.The Marshal tells him that Kymust not become a martyr to his cause.

Arriving at Skybase One, the Doctor explains to Jo that they have arrived in the dying days of the Earth Empire. Exploring the base, they are attacked by a group of Solonians. They’re rescued by Overlords who then take them into custody.

Meanwhile, the Marshal meets with his superior, an Administrator from Earth, who informs him that the Empire is pulling out of Solos. Earth is on the verge of political, environmental and economic collapse and the Empire is crumbling. The decision on Earth is to give Ky all he demands and return the planet to the Solonians. The Marshal vehemently opposes this course of action.

At the conference, The Administrator is assassinated by Varan’s son under orders from the Marshal, and Ky is framed for the murder. The assassination is broadcast throughout Skybase, and the Doctor and Jo use the ensuing chaos to escape custody. They take the message box to the conference room, where they discover that it is intended for Ky.

Before the box can fully open, Ky takes Jo as a hostage and flees. He and Jo enter the transmit chamber and teleport down to the planet. The planet’s atmosphere is poisonous to humans and Jo almost dies. Fortunately, Ky saves her with an oxygen mask stolen from the Overlords. They seek solace within the cave system beneath the planet’s surface.

Back on Skybase, The Marshal agrees to search for Jo in return for the Doctor opening the message box. The Doctor reluctantly agrees, and is put to work in a lab with Jaeger, the base’s chief scientist. Jaeger has been working on terraforming the Solos atmosphere via rocket bombardment to make it breathable to humans, despite the potential genocide this will inflict on the natives. Jaeger tries to recruit the Doctor to the terraforming cause, or utilise his science in the process.

Meanwhile, the Marshal has Varan’s son killed, but Varan himself manages to escape. The Doctor joins Stubbs, one of the Overlords, in searching for the Solonian, They find and disarm him, and Varan reveals the nature of the Marshal’s assassination plot. Stubbs agrees to aid the Doctor in bringing the Marshal to justice and enlists another Overlord, Cotton, to their cause. Together, they get the Doctor off Skybase and down to the planet.

On Solos, Ky and Jo must fend off attacks by Mutants. They become separated, and Jo ventures deeper into the caves. She wanders into a cavern filled with strange light and sound that renders her unconscious. A figure in a protective suit emerges and moves to her.

Varan leads the Doctor to Jo and Ky.The Doctor passes the message box to Ky, and it opens to reveal archaic tablets and etchings from Solos’ distant past. Unfortunately, Ky cannot read the tablets.

Angered, Varan returns to his village to prepare for war against the Overlords. There, he discovers that he is slowly transforming into a Mutant. A voice in his head tells him to travel to the “place of sleeping and light.”

The Doctor and Ky, meanwhile, find Jo, who recounts her strange experience.

Above, the Marshal sends Cotton and Stubbs to find the Doctor. They travel to the planet with gas bombs meant to weed out the caves. Instead, they join forces with the Doctor. The Marshal, realising their betrayal, releases the gas into the caves then causes an explosion that seals the entrance.

The figure in the protective suit appears and guides the Doctor and his companions to safety. He reveals that he is Professor Sondegaard, an anthropologist whose efforts to warn Earth Control about the Marshal’s plan were thwarted, and who fled into the caves for fear of retribution. The Professor is able to interpret the ancient tablets from the message box as a “lost Book of Solos.” Using the tablets and information gained from investigating an area of the caves high in radiation, the Doctor determines that the Mutants are Solonians, and that the transformation is part of the race’s natural evolutionary cycle.

Back at Skybase One, the Marshal orders Jaeger to begin the bombardment of Solos with ionisation rockets, part of the terraforming process designed to alter the planet’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the steadily mutating Varan leads his people in an attack on Skybase. The attack is a disaster and Varan and his warriors are killed.

The doctor and his companions return to Skybase, but all but the Doctor are captured. Only Sondegaard remains on the surface, seeking out the Mutants in the hope of explaining that their transformation is natural and not to be feared.

Back on Skybase, the Doctor learns that Earth has dispatched an investigator to look into the Marshal’s erratic actions. The rocket bombardment has not terraformed the planet, but has caused widespread environmental damage. Under duress, the Doctor uses Jaeger’s technology to decontaminate the planet. When the Investigator arrives, the Marshal feeds him a series of lies. The Doctor backs up the Marshal’s claims, fearing for Jo’s life if he refuses to co-operate.

Fortunately, Jo, Ky and Cotton manage to escape, arriving in time to reveal the truth to the investigator. Now able to speak freely, the Doctor accuses the Marshal and Jaeger of  “the most brutal and callous series of crimes against a defenseless people it’s ever been my misfortunate to encounter.”

Sondergaard arrives on Skybase with a group of Mutants, hoping to show the investigator the truth of the creatures. Unfortunately, the shock of the Mutants appearance leads the Investigator to support the Marshal’s efforts instead.

Ky beings to transform, but his mutation accelerates faster than his compatriots. He moves beyond the Mutant phase, transforming into a radiant, angelic being. Seeking justice, the now superhuman Ky disintegrates the Marshal.

With the transformation of Ky, the Investigator sees the error of his ways. Sondergaard and Cotton elect to stay on Solos to oversee the Solonians mutation process, while Jo and the Doctor slip away, their mission from the Time Lords complete.


The Mutantsis arguably the most overtly political Who storyline to date. Its statements are many, drawing on anti-Imperialism and anti-colonialism metaphors and a particularly strong anti-racism stance, complete with racial slurs, segregation and attempts at genocide.  The parallels between Solos and South Africa during Apartheid are particularly powerful, and some elements of the story are clearly drawn from Britain’s withdrawal from its colonies in the post-WWII era.

I applaud the attempts of screenwriters Bob Baker and Dave Martin to infuse strong political undertones into the storyline. Their script is certainly ambitious, but unfortunately it is also uneven and often muddled. It sometimes feels as though Baker and Martin are attempting to cram too much into the story, sacrificing the flow of the story in an attempt to really push home the political statements.

There are some definite standout moments in the story, though. The Administrator’s speech to the native Solonians just before his assassination is fascinating, offering freedom to the natives while seemingly patronising them as well. This is one of the better and more subtle approaches to the subject matter.

The story also looks at the nature of evolution, presenting a race that evolves naturally through several cycles, much like a caterpillar. This exploration of evolutionary cycles is one of the highlights of the story

Much like The Sea Devils, The Mutants benefits greatly from location shooting, most notably the underground sequences shot in Chiselhurst Caves. This lends an authenticity to these sequences that a studio shoot would not have been able to provide.

One rather humorous aspect of The Mutants lies in its opening sequence, featuring an old man stumbling through the foggy woods on Solos while being hunted by Overlords. The opening shot bears an uncanny resemblance to the “It’s” man from the opening of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I’m not sure if it was deliberate but it certainly made me laugh.

Overall, The Mutants is ambitious, but the sum of its parts are definitely greater than the slightly cumbersome whole.


What stands out most in The Mutants in relation to the Doctor is his deductive scientific skills in piecing together the evolutionary nature of the Solonians. This, coupled with his disgust at the Marshal’s plans and his compassion for the plight of the Solonians and the Mutants, highlights the three strongest elements of the Doctor’s personality.


In reviewing The Curse of Peladon, I stated that Jo can often be overshadowed in the Earth-based stories by the Brigadier and the members of UNIT, but that she really gets a chance to shine when taken out of that environment and into space. The Mutants is another strong showing for Jo in this regard. Although not as impressive or resourceful as in Curse, Jo still has many moments to shine in this storyline.

I can honestly say that, despite my earlier concerns, I’ve genuinely grown to enjoy Jo as a companion. Her relationship with the Doctor has become one of the highlights of the series.


One of the weaker elements of The Mutants lies in its villains: The Marshal is, unfortunately, quite a one dimensional villain, a standard tyrant indistinguishable from so many other similar characters. In a period that has introduced such incredible villains as The Master, The Sea Devils andAzal, The Marshal shows an incredible lack of imagination and creativity.

The Mutants, on the other hand, are fascinating, and represent one of the best creature designs seen in the series for a long time. More importantly, they’re genuinely sympathetic, their grotesque appearance in stark contrast to the horrifying plight they suffer at the hands of their tormentors.


The Mutants is an ambitious script whose heart is in the right place, but the story is cumbersome and not fully realised.

3 Lukes


We close out season 9 with the return of The Master and a trip to Atlantis in The Time Monster.

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