Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Mutants - "Uniting together to create a new society, a new and richer world. Now, after five hundred years of ... " "Exploitation." "Expert scientific and technical aid, we have steered you to the verge of ... " "Disaster!" "To the verge of independence."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Mutants - Details

Season 9, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #63) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Greyhound One

One of those stories everyone wants to rescue from the dustbin of general opinion. And rightly so. Even io9's rank-them-all post (which gets so much wrong) says it's better than people think, then puts in the below average grouping. Sandifer and Graham both offer high, though mitigated, praise for what it gets right, while acknowledging it gets a few things quite wrong. Sandifer's description of it as a "hot mess" may not sound like high praise, but that (apt) description comes from a place of appreciation.

Me, I like my sci-fi with a big idea, and here it's how the Solonians move through adaptive changes as their planet's 500 year long seasons change, so the mutations are in fact a natural process in the Solons' lifecycle, albeit one disrupted by those meddling Overlords from Earth.

I also like righteous takedowns of apartheid states, such as the Earth empire has instituted here at Solos.

Also a fan of anti-colonial narratives in general.

And, I like when a show isn't afraid to get weird, which this one does. (This is the same writing team that gave us "The Claws of Axos," so we knew going in we were going to get more than a sterile space station set and a fog machine.)

"The Mutants" hits all those buttons. Unfortunately, it also fiddles the Nonsensical Plot Device Widget and the casting is shaky. At six episodes, it also can feel a bit like an endurance challenge. I split up the viewing over a couple nights after realizing I'd started too late and was starting to fade midway through the second episode. Had I been smarter and watched earlier in the evening, I can't for certain whether I'd have had the same issues. (Your mileage may vary.)

Now, WTF kind of mission is this for the Time Lords to be assigning the Doctor? Deliver this package to we're-not-telling-you-who and, by the way, they're not going to know what the heck it is when you give it to them. Gallifrey operates bureaucratic nightmare designed by Robert Holmes. (Terrance Dicks was script editor for Seasons 8 & 9, so some of the blame for how poorly the device of having the Time Lords parse out missions, going back to "Terror of the Autons," is executed must be at least partly his fault.)

What is up with Rick James? (That's not a random aside about funky disco R&B star Rick James, who was playing in the rock band Salt and Pepper in 1972, I mean the actor who played Cotton.) (And, really? The black guy in apartheid/segregation piece is named Cotton?) (And, back to Rick James for a moment, was he Prince before Prince was Prince? An out-sized personality, multi-instrumentalist who could cross genres at will ... ) Early on, he doesn't seem to care about what everyone else is doing. He seem unsure what kind of show he's even in. "Why am I dressed in this get-up? Separate but equal whatchamacllits for the people these what-do-you-call'ems to use? I hope this is some kind of leftist polemic and not a propaganda film for the National Front ... hmm, they're looking at me, I must have a line here ... is it on a cue card somewhere?" I'm not sure if I just got used to his style, or he got better as the story progressed, but by the end his line readings had at least stopped pegging my internal odynometer.

One of my favorite moments is right at the beginning. Jo's hungry so, after a mysterious scaly black giant egg thingy materializes in front of her, she asks if it's lunch. When the Doctor assures her it's not, she asks, as if it still might be something she'd consider eating, whether it's a bomb. How great is Jo? She's just going to roll with it, whatever it is, and don't dare try to keep her out of the adventure of finding out! Unfortunately, she doesn't get another moment the rest of the story where her charm really shines through.

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