There’s a hilarious song about Doctor Who doing the rounds on youTube at the moment (by Scottish ex-pat chatshow host Craig Ferguson), the chorus of which sums up the show as “The triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.”
It’s a brilliant description – and one which certainly applies to this adventure from 1972, featuring Jon Pertwee’s frilly-shirted third incarnation of the Time Lord.
With him is his slightly ditzy companion, Jo (Katy Manning, who was recently reunited with the Doctor in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures).
While it’s doubtful James Cameron has seen this particular slice of vintage sci-fi, the plot will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Avatar.
A future Earth Empire is mining a rare mineral from an alien planet, with scant regard for the natives.
The Doctor must stop the humans ruining the planet’s natural habitat (and causing the mutations of the title), and help the locals reach the next stage of their evolutionary cycle.
There are some big themes here: imperialism, with its attendant racism and apartheid, environmental damage on a global scale and evolution – and it’s fair to say the show’s meagre budget and production values struggle to keep up.
The ‘Mutt’ monsters (called ‘Munts’ in the script) are a valiant effort but look like what they are: men in rubber suits.
And, while there’s some atmospheric location filming in Chislehurst Caves, some of the performances are a bit overripe and the pacing suffers from the curse of most Who six-parters: at least two of the episodes are just pointless running about, advancing the plot not one bit.
As with most Who DVDs, however, excellent extras save the day.
The commentary is a jovial affair and there’s an in-depth Making Of, plus an interview with costume designer James Acheson.
Acheson giggles remembering his contributions to the show, which started with the Mutts and went on to include the Zygons and Tom Baker’s costume, before he left the BBC “under a cloud”.
Acheson had the last laugh – he went into movies and has won three Oscars (for Dangerous Liaisons, Restoration and The Last Emperor).
The centrepiece doc is ‘Race Against Time’, which takes the supporting part played by West Indian actor Rick James as a jumping-off point to examine the representation of ethnic-minority actors in Who.
Thoughtfully written by Simon Guerrier and narrated by Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith in new Who), it’s worthy of a proper TV broadcast.
A far-from-classic story, but its heart’s in the right place, and it’s well supported by solid extras.