Social commentary in Doctor Who isnâ€™t a new idea and over its decades the show has made its views and opinions known on most aspects of life.
The Mutants was one of the most blatant of the showâ€™s run, hitting targets such as race discrimination, colonisation and apartheid head on and is, at times pretty heavy going. But itâ€™s this that makes it such an important story and is as relevant today as its always been.
The Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo on a mission to deliver a sealed message pod to an unknown party aboard a Skybase orbiting planet Solos in the 30 century. Solos is due to gain independence from Earthâ€™s empire but its Marshal is determined to prevent this. He arranges the murder of the Earth Administrator and, with his chief scientist Jaeger, plans to transform Soloâ€™s atmosphere into one more suited to humans.
Ky, a young Solonian leader, is falsely accused of the murder and flees to the planet, taking Jo with him. The Doctor follows and joins them in old thaesium mine. Ky turns out to be the intended recipient of the message pod, which opens automatically for him. Inside are stone tablets carved with ancient transcriptions.
Iâ€™m not the biggest fan of six part adventures though there are a few exceptions with the most notable being Genesis of the Daleks. But thanks to Jon Pertwee and a strong cast and script this adventure is an engrossing affair. Packed with politically charged prose, mainly about oppression, the story gives Pertwee the chance to shine, to give depth to his interpretation of the Doctor, instead of being the dandy he was always made out to be. He is emotionally engaged in all that happens and you realise just how fabulous he was as a straight actor.
Katy Manning as Jo Grant is also more subdued here and all the better for it, gone is the mad questioning airhead, replaced by a thoughtful young lady who wants to know exactly whatâ€™s going on. The supporting cast play it totally straight, a fine cameo from Geoffrey Palmer heads up a strong team which also includes Paul Whitsun-Jones and Garrick Hagon. Let down only by the special effects of the time and a slightly subdued score, the story is paced perfectly by director Christopher Barry who manages to squeeze every ounce of pathos from the cast. He only lets himself down and its right at the start where the famous Monty Python style â€œItsâ€ sequence happens.
Bob Baker and Dave Martin litter the script with anti racist messages and plough home the message that everyone should be treated equally and it stands as one of the most perfectly formed of all Doctor Who six-part stories.
Extras Disc 1:
Commentary â€“ Katy Manning, Garrick Hagon, Christopher Barry, Terrance Dicks, Bob Baker, sound supervisor Brian Hodgson and designer Jeremy Bear all contribute (though not all at the same time) much to this fun and entertaining gag-track. Moderated by Nicholas Pegg, itâ€™s a fun journey through this six-parter with a team of people who still have so much enthusiasm for the serial.
Coming Soon â€“ A rather smart trailer for The Ark, which I must admit havenâ€™t sat through before and quite looking forward to.
Subtitle Production Notes â€“ My favourite extra comes up trumps once again as it unleashes fact after fact about the production and transmission of the story.
Extras Disc 2:
Mutt Mad â€“ The cast and crew of the story reflect on its production in this brief look at the history of the piece. Entertaining and fun its all the more important as Barry Letts is here talking about the story. Heâ€™s still a huge miss in the world of Doctor Who and any appearance on screen is worth investing your time in.
Race Against Time â€“ Noel Clarke narrates this documentary which examines the representation of black actors not only in Doctor Who but on British television as a whole. Here, mainly because The Mutants had Rick James in the cast, itâ€™s a worthy but unsettling documentary about how black actors were used to â€œbalanceâ€ things up rather than being used for their talent.
Itâ€™s strange looking back at how television took so long to catch up with the rest of the world when reflecting real communities and as to what was considered acceptable. Not a documentary I was expecting to see on a Doctor Who release but one everyone should watch to appreciate exactly how difficult it was for black actors to be considered for â€œnormalâ€ roles. Also it dissects the shows history of social commentary and should be everyoneâ€™s first port of call, extras wise anyway.
Dressing Doctor Who â€“ Multi Academy winner James Acheson looks back at his early work on the show from the comfort of his home in New Zealand. Again this is a fun short that shows just how creative the team were during the 1970s.
Blue Peter â€“ Fan favourite Peter Purves takes a brief look at a collection of Doctor Who monsters that were going to be used in an exhibition of visual effects. Incredibly brief and not really in depth itâ€™s another fine example of how Doctor Who and Blue Peter relied on each for publicity and content.
Photo Gallery â€“ A collection of snaps from the production of this story.
Radio Times Listings â€“ One for the hardcore fan out there, pop this disc into your PC or Mac and pour over the original Radio Times listings from the serialâ€™s transmission.
The Mutants is classic Doctor Who in every sense of the word and its place should be readied to take pride of place in your collection.
This DVD is released on January 31st, 2011 and has an RRP of Â£19.99; however you can pre-order it now for just Â£12.93 from Amazon!