by Mark Greig
This is one of those stories that continues to divide fandom right down the middle. You either think it’s nothing more than a load of juvenile rubbish or, like me, you love it simply because it is nothing more than a load of juvenile rubbish.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Graham Williams years, regardless of its many, many faults. In a way I feel sorry for it. It's always been overshadowed by more popular eras and constantly gets picked on by mean fans just because it's not what they wanted it to be. Under Williams' leadership Doctor Who wasn’t scary, it wasn’t serious, it was just fun. Pure escapist fun. That’s something a lot of fans don’t seem to get about the Williams era. They dismiss it as being too childish, too silly and too crap (the moaning dullards).
Still, let’s not forget that although Douglas Adams, then script-editor, was a very mischievous little boy he was also a very, very clever son of a bitch. When he could be arsed to put some actual effort into his work we would be treated to gems like 'City of Death'. Sadly, too often he was content to sit on his backside and let rank shit like 'Nightmare of Eden' go into production. This story falls squarely between those two. It is no way in the same league as the majestic 'City of Death' and yet neither is it a complete train wreck like 'Nightmare'.
Adams' grubby fingerprints are all over the script. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if David Fisher was even a real writer and not some in-house BBC pseudonym. The dialogue is that little bit sharper, the characters that little bit wittier. The tone carefully kept just on the right side of knowing parody, although there are moments when you half expect the Doctor to take a sledgehammer to the fourth wall, jump through and offer you a jelly baby.
For a production from a period when the BBC was virtually bankrupt, 'Creature from the Pit' looks sublime. Well, in terms of sets and costumes that is, not FX and creature work (I’ll get to those later). Certainly the Chloris jungle set is a sumptuous creation, one of the show’s very finest sets. Even the costumes are surprisingly above standard, with the exception of those annoying bandits (more on them later too).
It’s also a well acted tale with the exception being, again, those bandits (seriously, they were rubbish). By this point mad Tom Baker was both a blessing and a curse, but luckily the director manages to reign him in and keep the curly haired one under some semblance of control. Lalla Ward effortlessly turns snootiness into an erotic art form. Geoffrey Bayldon makes for a delightful idiot as Organon, the fortune teller lovably oblivious to the fact he is a complete idiot. And Myra Frances is fantastic as the villainous Lady Adrasta, a glamorous galactic dominatrix and straight woman to Tom’s cosmic jester.
Of course there are quite a few bad points -- this doesn’t nest in the lower regions of the best of lists for nothing, y’know. The narrative eventually loses momentum by the final episode. The metal bandits (yes, them again) are a tiresome bunch of extremely hairy morons. Most of the comedy, notably Tom’s entire ‘Teach Yourself Tibetan’ routine, falls flat with a rather loud thud. David Brierley, replacing John Leeson, manages to turn the tin dog into even more of a smug little git. The FX are even more woeful than usual. And the titular monster can be easily filed away under the category of “Dear god in heaven, what the f**k were they thinking?”. I mean it, what the f**k? How they ever managed to slip that one past Mary Whitehouse is beyond me.
Notes and Quotes
--This was the tenth and final story to be directed by Christopher Barry, one of Doctor Who's longest-serving directors.
--This was also the last story to feature stuntman Terry Walsh, who had been working on the show since 1966 and was the regular stunt-double for Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.
The Doctor: "Well, to be fair I had a couple of gadgets he probably didn't, such as a teaspoon and an open mind."
The Doctor: "I suppose you could say the yoke's on him if you were the sort of person who said that sort of thing which fortunately I'm not."
The Doctor: "Why do you call it the Place of Death?"
Karela: "Because anyone found here is automatically condemned to death."
The Doctor: "Stupid expression, 'stands to reason.' Why isn't it 'lie down to reason?' Much easier to reason lying down."
Romana: "So Erato came here to offer you metal in exchange for chlorophyll. Of course!"
The Doctor: "Right. But who was the first person he met?"
Organon: "The person who held the monopoly of metal."
The Doctor: "Right! And did she put the welfare of her struggling people above her own petty power? No... she tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him!"
Three out of four places of death.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.