Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who DVD Review: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Great Story, Lousy F@#&ing Puppets)

Jon Pertwee’s fifth and final season as the Third Doctor is something that’s quite enjoyable to watch, if a bit melancholy. The tone of the season still has the same sense of swashbuckling, Steed-and-Peel Avengers-influenced derring-do of the rest of Pertwee’s time as the Doctor, but there’s also a sense of somberness to it. In many ways, it feels similar to David Tennant’s final run of specials and the four knocks – the blue crystal of Metebelis Three seems to be beckoning to the Third Doctor throughout his last season, letting him know that his time is indeed running out. And while it’s not the best of his seasons – the three middle seasons with Jo Grant were certainly his heyday of classics – with the introduction of Sarah Jane Smith to the TARDIS, it’s still an exceptionally good one.

Perhaps the best story of this season is “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” a story than many classic Doctor Who fans have derided as a low point in the show’s long history … but that criticism is, in hindsight, unfair. Yes, if you ever wanted a poster child for why the special effects of the classic series were utterly atrocious, “Invasion” is the most obvious and easy story to point to. But if, as a viewer, you can get past that – and, admittedly, that’s a Very Big If for some – it’s one of the most surprisingly good stories broadcast during Pertwee’s time as the Third Doctor.

Why? Glad you asked. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Also, spoilers ahead – as much as a 43-year-old story can have spoilers, anyway!

“Invasion” opens with the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith returning to modern-day Earth, where they find London virtually abandoned and under martial law. Mistaken by military patrols as looters (because OF COURSE THEY ARE), they learn that the city’s been cleared out because dinosaurs keep randomly appearing and disappearing on the streets. Why? And who’s responsible? That’s the mystery that the Doctor and Sarah Jane need to figure out, and it’s a mystery that eventually requires the full assistance of U.N.I.T. to solve.

dinoIt’s a story that’s kind of hard to neatly classify, despite the bonkers premise of time-traveling dinosaur invaders attacking London. In reality, “Invasion” is much more of a sci-fi espionage thriller/mystery – yes, really! – and it’s a surprisingly good one. “Invasion” is  a  complex, well-thought-out story, and unlike many of the typical six-parters of Jon Pertwee’s era, it doesn’t feel like it’s being stretched too thin. Much of the story involves the investigation into the cause of the dinosaur appearances, as well as the reason – and not everybody agrees on what’s most important to figure out first. Not even the Doctor and Sarah Jane are always on the same page, and while things invariably go the way the Doctor expects they will, it’s interesting to see the characters try to puzzle everything out.

Even once the basic mystery’s solved, it leads to further questions, and further problems, all of which are logical and fit the story . In this way, it stands out from many of the other six-part stories of this time frame, which typically resemble two separate stories stitched together with some plothole-ridden excuses of ideas. “Invasion” is  cohesive from beginning to end, and always manages to stay engaging and interesting throughout each of its episodes.

One of the big surprises in “Invasion” is how well-nuanced the so-called “bad guys” are in this story. Most Who villains of the Pertwee stories – and, for that matter, in “classic” Who, period – are pure evil, out to take over the world or destroy the universe, and the stakes of these stories are very clearly delineated into good/evil consequences. Here? Well, the main antagonists come in the form of Project Golden Age, a scientific group that has an agenda that seems oddly prescient: Humanity’s busy screwing up the world, possibly dooming it to extinction, and they want to set things right. That, all told, isn’t such a horrible mission. How they plan on accomplishing their goals isn’t exactly great – they want to send an elite group back in time and basically start humanity over, which would wipe out just about everyone in the modern world as we know it – but their basic premise of “making things right” is at least well-intentioned.

Also, most people in Project Golden Age aren’t even aware of the “wipe out humanity” aspect of the plan. So instead of a simple good/evil conflict, you have the Doctor and Sarah Jane finding themselves at odds with plenty of characters who are basically good people with inadvertently bad intentions. And it takes a bit more than a bit of Venusian Aikido to stop those good people.

It’s an interesting – and modern – twist. Fast forward the story thirty-some-odd years to another show in another country, and you could see pretty easily how “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” might be an episode of Fringe or the X-Files, without needing to edit much at all. Having Walter Bishop spout lines like “I posit that these dinosaurs are not being bred in modern times, but instead being brought here through a time corridor” … yeah. It’d work just as well now (and better with modern CGI effects, obviously!).

Most surprising in “Invasion,” though, is the twist of Mike Yates’ betrayal of U.N.I.T. – and of the Doctor! While Seventies Doctor Who really didn’t have much going on in terms of overreaching, season-long story arcs – at least not like it does in the modern era of the show – the recurring appearances of the U.N.I.T. regulars gave at least some backstory to the characters, and made them feel to regular viewers more friendly and familiar. You’d occasionally have the Brigadier grumbling about his wife, Doris, for example, or have a casual mention of Jo Grant and Captain Yates going out on a date, even though said date would never be shown on-screen. In the “classic” Who era, it’s probably as close as you get to character development like the Ponds, or Rose Tyler’s family. And U.N.I.T. certainly was a family.


So to see Mike Yates take sides with Operation Golden Age, and essentially sell out the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the rest of U.N.I.T. – it’s both shocking and sad. Especially since Mike is like many of the other “villains” of “Invasion” – he thinks he’s doing the right thing, just for the wrong reasons. And when he finally realizes that he’s not only wrong and will have to resign from U.N.I.T., but that he’s also deeply disappointed his friends, and especially the Brigadier … man, it’s heartbreaking. This is watching it with modern television sensibilities, too – one can only imagine how shocking this must’ve been for first-time viewers in 1973!

On a more positive note, though, watching Sarah Jane in this story is awesome. I think most Who viewers associate the character primarily with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, but it’s easy to forget how well Elisabeth Sladen worked with Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor as well. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is a solid reminder of the terrific chemistry that they had together – it’s only their second story, but they work with each other with a great, natural ease. The Doctor’s still more than a bit patronizing to Sarah Jane, but that comes with affection, and you can see her understanding that he’s mostly trying to be protective of her (not that she always wants his protection!). It’s also great to see Sarah Jane still in full-on journalist mode – hey, dinosaurs overrunning London just might be a front-page story! So seeing her trying to help the Doctor out while still getting the scoop, and while trying to navigate security clearances, both from bad guy General Finch and from good guy Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart … she’s got a lot to do in these six episodes besides say, “What is it, Doctor?”!

dino13Everyone else in the story is pretty good as well. Pertwee’s in fine form here – even though it’s his last season (and he knew it at this point), on-screen, he’s still radiating the same flamboyant confidence as always. (Particularly when he finally gets to unveil the Whomobile in episode four!) And Mike Yates’ betrayal gives the U.N.I.T. regulars meatier dialogue than “five rounds rapid,” which is great to see. In particular, the Brigadier’s staunch but sad disappointment in finding out Yates is a traitor is terrific. Meanwhile, the guest cast reads like an all-star cast of other great classic Who episodes – hey, the evil scientist is Nyder from Genesis of the Daleks! And General Finch is Li H’sen Chang from Talons of Weng-Chiang! They give the excellent performances that you’d expect, so between the script and the actors, everything’s firing on all cylinders …

… except the dinosaurs.

The goddamn puppet dinosaurs.


Yes, the proverbial elephant in the room with “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” unfortunately, are the dinosaurs … and yes, they’re every bit as bad as their reputation. Not only are they obviously puppets, they’re bad puppets, with primitive CSO overlay trying – and failing – to integrate them into the story. Every scene they appear in is utterly cringeworthy and laughably awful. There’s no way to take this seriously. Usually this era of Doctor Who was pretty good about knowing the limits of its next-to-nothing budget, but the dinosaurs show that the production team was clearly overreaching themselves this time – which is a shame, because if the story had been done with any sort of more conventional Who monster, I think it would’ve been a home run. I give them top marks for ambition, but in terms of execution, it’s one of the biggest failures in the show’s history. (I would love it if this could somehow get the “Day of the Daleks” modernized CGI effects options, which would probably allow viewers to see this story in a different light!)


Finally, “Invasion” represents a swan song of sorts for the classic U.N.I.T. era, which is both wonderful and bittersweet to watch. Already missing Katy Manning and the late Roger Delgado, U.N.I.T. was on the wane in its place in the Doctor Who universe, and “Invasion” is probably the last time we get to see the rest of its regulars – and the Third Doctor – operating at their finest. Yes, there would be more stories featuring U.N.I.T. over the next few years, but their impact in those stories isn’t nearly as strong. They’re basically off to the side of the main action in Pertwee’s final tale (“Planet of the Spiders”), and during their first few appearances in Tom Baker’s early season, it’s obvious that U.N.I.T.’s been relegated to an afterthought. “Invasion” is the story where you can see the curtain really begin to close, and it’s a good one to say a fond farewell to Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and his team, who meant so much to the stories of the Third Doctor’s era.

So, despite the dubious reputation of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” I highly recommend it as one of the best stories of the Third Doctor. And if you’re watching it on DVD, some of the extras are great – the Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen Part One feature has the late Lis Sladen talking about her auditions for Sarah Jane, and working with Jon Pertwee. Some of the stories she tells are familiar ones, but it’s still nice to have them all in one place, being told by Lis herself. Also, People, Power, and Puppetry is a great “making of” featurette where both Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts talk at length about the behind-the-scenes work that went into making “Invasion” … and that, yes, even during the making of this story, they were acutely aware of how bad the dinosaurs were going to be.

At any rate, if you’ve never seen a Third Doctor/Sarah Jane story … I’d seriously recommend “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” as the one to watch, even with the terrible puppets. Even despite them, it’s outstanding.

Rating: 4/5 Braaaaaaaaaains.


“What is it, Doctor?” The 10 Best Companions in Doctor Who

With a long wait ahead of us until new Doctor Who arrives (next Christmas? Aaaargh!!!), and while waiting for the announcement of a new Companion for the Doctor’s upcoming episodes, we thought it’d be a good time to look back at the best of the previous Companions on Who. Rather than drive ourselves completely crazy, we’ve limited our choices of Companions to those who actually traveled in the TARDIS with the Doctor at some point, and those who only appeared on TV series (both “Classic” and “New” iterations).

So, without further adieu …

10. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) recurring, 1968-1989

“Chap with wings – five rounds rapid!”


The superb, never-ruffled Brigadier has traveled with the Doctor on several occasions, so yeah, he counts as a Companion! Classically British in the best sense of the word, the Brig would often pooh-pooh the Doctor’s scientific solutions to a crisis and look for something to shoot. This eventually became something of an in-joke, but it paid off in the 7th Doctor story, “Battlefield,” when the Brigadier returned to the show after a long absence and pretty much saved the day by firing silver bullets into a demon. It was the last Who appearance for the Brig, but he returned in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008. It’s a sign of the character’s strength (and the actor’s talent) that the Brig’s influence continues into New Who, with his daughter Kate now appearing in tales with the 11th and 12th Doctors.

9. Leela (Louise Jameson), 1977-1978

“These ‘taxes’… they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?”

Leela_close-upDon’t mess with the fierce warrior of the Sevateem and her skimpy leather hunting outfit. She certainly was unlike any previous Companion up to that point, having little compunction about killing enemies, although the Eliza Doolittle-Henry Higgins relationship between her and the Doctor created enough comedy to brighten up the dark spots. Her clash with Victorian England dining habits in the excellent “Talons of Weng-Chiang” is a moment of sheer joy. The fact that “Weng-Chiang,” like most of Leela’s stories, occurred during the great, dark, gothic Philip Hinchcliffe era didn’t hurt. Also, while Leela is best known for her savagery and fighting, she was surprisingly good at inspiring others to find bravery inside themselves.

8. Jo Grant, 1971-1973, 2010

JoGrant“One minute you’re condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you’re proposing to me!”

Television in the Seventies (and Eighties and Nineties…) wasn’t renowned for character development. And yet here’s Jo Grant! In the course of three years, she goes from being an earnest but vapid assistant to the Doctor to being a bold, spirited adventurer who could face down the Master one on one, armed with nothing but good, old-fashioned pluck. Her departure in 1973’s “The Green Death” was deservedly treated as a big moment. She wouldn’t meet the Doctor again until the “Death of the Doctor” episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

7. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill), 1963-1965

“I’m lending her a book on the French Revolution.” “What’s she going to do? Re-write it?”

Ian-and-BarbaraDWHow can you separate these two? The schoolteachers introduced us to the Doctor in the series’ very first episode, “An Unearthly Child,” and they left together two years later. Not only did they give us, the viewers, a reference point in those early days, Ian and Barbara helped to “humanize” the Doctor, forcing him to confront his own stubborn beliefs and eventually compelling him to view the people around him as more than just pieces of history data. They also set the bar high for all the Companions to come. Barbara, in particular, was remarkably feisty for an early Sixties woman on TV, a credit to both Hill and producer Verity Lambert. Barbara’s argument with William Hartnell’s Doctor in “The Aztecs,” where she attempts to violate history and persuade the Aztecs to follow a more peaceful path over his near-panicked objections, remains a favorite Who moment. And for a skinny science teacher, Ian could kick ass.

6. Ace (Sophie Aldred), 1987-1989

“Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers 9 on the Richter scale?”

ace doctor whoSpeaking of kicking ass, there’s Ace. A juvenile delinquent with a knack for explosives, Ace was bold, reckless, completely devoted to “the Professor,” emotionally damaged, and fearless. She could shoot anti-tank missiles at Daleks and take on Cybermen with only a slingshot and a bag of gold coins — and she could fall to pieces if anybody dredged up memories of her mother. She was the culmination of then-producer John Nathan-Turner’s desire to feature “interesting” Companions, and while her backstory – such as it is – seems weak compared to what’s happening in the series now, Ace did blow up a path for these current Companions to follow.

5. Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), 2012-2015

“Run. Run, you clever boy … and remember.”

clara strong 1From the Impossible Girl’s first appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks,” Clara’s tenure aboard the TARDIS has certainly been anything but dull. Although the mystery surrounding her arrival often overshadowed her actual character at first – somewhat understandable, since she died twice in her first two appearances! – she began coming into her own during “The Name of the Doctor” … and by the time “The Day of the Doctor” rolled around, she was more than holding her own with three Doctors! It was with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, though, that Clara really found her voice, and could often take charge of a, well, impossible situation as well as the Doctor. Could she be bossy? Sure. Abrasive? Yes. But much like the Doctor himself, everything she did was in the name of finding adventure – and more importantly, helping others.

4. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), 2010-2012

“Raggedy Man, I remember you, and you are late for my wedding!”

amy pond

An attractive Scottish redhead with an attitude? What’s not to like? But even beyond the looks and the sass, there’s a lot about Amy Pond that makes her such a great Companion. Amy possesses a determination and confidence that rarely has been seen in the series. In her own way, she’s more intimidating than Leela, more tenacious than Donna, more resilient than Rose and Ace, and sexier than the whole lot of them. And it’s her fierce, passionate love for her friends – her love for Rory, and especially her love for the Doctor – that drives her to often do the impossible.

3. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), 2006, 2008

“Oi! Watch it, spaceman!”

Donna-2From her beginnings as a bad-tempered, about-to-be married ‘temp from Chiswick’, Donna Noble arguably had the most complete evolution as a Companion in the whole of the series. A departure from her predecessors, Donna had no romantic interest in the Doctor – she simply wanted adventure. And as she found adventure with the Time Lord, she managed to discover so, so many good things about herself as well. She also helped keep the Doctor grounded, such as in “The Fires of Pompeii,” when the Doctor horrifically realizes that HE is responsible for triggering Mount Vesuvius and killing thousands of people in ancient Pompeii. In that moment, she stands beside him and won’t let him face that decision alone.

Sniff. Oi, you were brilliant, Donna. And Bonus points for the epic tragedy of her departure. Double sniff.

2. Romana II (Lalla Ward), 1979-1981

“Do you know what I don’t understand, Romana?” “I expect so.”

RomanaLallaWardRomana’s second incarnation went from being a novice Time Lord who often was unsure about herself (and played wonderfully by the late Mary Tamm) to being one of the few Companions ever to stand on equal ground with the Doctor himself. Smart, funny, and extremely charismatic, Lalla Ward as Romana was a genuine joy to watch. At times, she was a powerful force to be reckoned with – watch her performance in the otherwise forgettable “Horns of Nimon,” it’s outstanding – and by the time Romana leaves the Doctor’s side in “Warriors’ Gate,” it’s quite clear that the character is more than ready to face the universe (or E-Space) on her own. (It also didn’t hurt that the evident off-screen chemistry between her and Tom Baker carried over to their televised stories, and brought a smile to every viewer’s face.)

1. Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), 1973-1976, recurring and ongoing through 2011

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

sarah jane

It’s more than nostalgia – and longevity – that makes Sarah Jane the best companion of all.  But that would be excluding the fact that she’s returned to Who in recent years — even starring in her own series — and is just as awesome! Originally cast as a nod to the changing times in the Seventies (“women’s lib”!), Sarah is smart, inquisitive, feisty, and a whole lot of fun. Sarah was always ready to stand up for herself – and her friends – in trying to do the right thing, but with Sarah, you could also see that, underneath, what was happening terrified the ever-loving crap out of her at times. But nonetheless, she always stood her ground. Marvelous acting by the late Liz Sladen, always – both during her classic appearances with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and during her most recent stints on the modern iteration of the show with David Tennant. (Not to mention how terrific she was on her own spinoff show, The Sarah Jane Adventures!) For longtime followers of the show, she’s still quite deservedly the most popular Companion. And the best.

So … who’d we leave out? Who should’ve been ranked higher or lower? Or who did we include that you can’t stand? Give us a shout in the comments!

-Ken & Mike

Doctor Who DVD Review: Planet of Evil (Welcome to the Jungle!)


The thirteenth season of Doctor Who is also arguably its best of all time. Certainly, it’s got a lot going for it. In this season, you get arguably one of the best (and certainly the most iconic) actors to take the role of the Doctor in Tom Baker, and perhaps the best companion with Elisabeth Sladen’s portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith … and it’s in this particular season where the wonderful chemistry between the two really begins to shine. You also have Phillip Hinchcliffe at the helm as producer, finally steering the show away from its action-adventure period with the Third Doctor towards a more horror-inspired era heavily influenced by the Hammer films of the 1950s and 1960s … and the brilliant Robert Holmes as script editor. The show hit a creative peak during this season that’s been largely unmatched, before or since – imagine the possibilities if only this amazing creative team had been given the budgets and the special effects technology of the modern show!

Season Thirteen has a number of outstanding episodes – the fantastic “Seeds of Doom”, the delightful Frankenstein-inspired “Brain of Morbius” (a story that Ken and I like so much we named this site after it!), and the chilling “Pyramids of Mars”, which made our Top 5 Classic Who Episodes list. But pretty much all of the stories in this season are exceptionally good, with the possible exception of “The Android Invasion”, which mostly suffers by unfortunate comparison – put it in virtually any of Tom Baker’s other seasons as the Doctor, and it’d be closer to the top, rather than the bottom. Compare that to almost every other season, even including the modern iteration of the show. There’s almost always at least one clunker in there, if not two or three! So to have a season of solidly “good” stories, with half of them being standouts, if not classics … well, it’s impressive indeed.

One of my favorite Fourth Doctor stories – and another that I think gets overlooked from Season Thirteen, lost in the shuffle of so many good episodes to watch – is “Planet of Evil”. It’s the first real story where the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith step away on their own, away from Harry Sullivan and the last vestiges of UNIT, and forge their way through the universe in a bold new direction. Like many of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes stories of this time, “Planet of Evil” cribs liberally from gothic horror stories – in this case, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, with a more modern splash of “Forbidden Planet” thrown in for good measure – and puts its own Who-laden spin on the tale.

“Planet of Evil” opens up in the year 37,166, at the edge of the known universe, where a scientific team is studying anti-matter on the lonely planet of Zeta Minor. Professor Sorenson – the leader of the scientific team – is slowly going crazy, and while the rest of his crew is still sane (good!) they’re also being murdered by sinister invisible monsters (bad!). One of the last members of this crew manages to activate a distress call before shuffling off this mortal coil, though, so the signal is picked up by both the Doctor and Sarah Jane in the TARDIS, and by a military exploration ship. The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive first, and are immediately blamed for all the deaths by the crew of the exploration ship that arrives later. Wacky hijinks ensue as the Doctor tries to convince everyone that what’s really killing everyone is an anti-matter creature, except no one’s listening except Sarah Jane (as usual) – and the anti-matter creature’s taking physical form through Sorenson, who’s apparently been busy drinking enough anti-matter soy espresso venti lattes to become an anti-matter monster himself!

Though “Planet of Evil” is a fairly straightforward story, it’s a good one … and it’s dark. The story really doesn’t pull any punches. The desiccated corpses of the science crew visible early on in the first episode make it clear that this is going to be a bleak, somber story. (You can see how those who still viewed Doctor Who as solely a children’s program, like Mary Whitehouse, would clearly be dismayed by Philip Hitchcliffe’s reign as producer!) The character’s lives are in constant danger, whether from each other, or from the anti-matter creatures lurking on Zeta Minor … or from the horrors exotic alien jungle, which is worth its own special mention.

Designer Roger Murray-Leach created a beautiful set for the jungle scenes that still looks terrific even when watching the story today – it’s a far cry from the typical “spray-painted styrofoam and tinfoil tied together with a bit of twine” cheap sets that unfortunately were all too common in the stories from this time. Done properly, with proper dim lighting to set the mood, rather than the constant over-bright lighting common to everything recorded in the BBC’s Television Centre … anything featuring the jungle sets is a treasure to watch. It makes you wonder what might’ve been possible production-wise in the stories of this time if only the BBC had been a bit more flexible!

“Are you pondering what I’m pondering, Doctor?”
“I think so, Sarah Jane, but where would we get a coconut at this time of night?”

Another of the main reasons that the story works so well is because of the Doctor and Sarah Jane. Tom Baker, in his second season in the role of the Doctor, is starting taking the opportunity to truly make the role his own … and he’s paired with Elisabeth Sladen, starting her third year as Sarah Jane. Top this amount of time they’ve spent in their respective roles with the clear chemistry between the two actors – it’s quite evident that Tom and Lis have a great deal of affection for each other – and you’re seeing a Doctor/companion pairing that isn’t trying to figure out exactly what that relationship really is, as it does in so many other seasons. They’re best friends, and they trust each other implicitly. And this trust comes across not just in the acting, but in the writing as well – when Sarah Jane heads back alone to the TARDIS through the jungles of Zeta Minor, there’s a moment where it’s clear the Doctor doesn’t want her to go … but he also knows she’s resourceful, and she’ll do the right thing, so he doesn’t try to stop her. There’s several scenes where Sarah Jane gets to do far, far more than just ask “What is it, Doctor?” in “Planet of Evil”, and it’s lovely to see the many nuances Elisabeth Sladen gives to the character.

The other characters (with one major exception, noted below) bring a lot to “Planet of Evil” as well. Frederick Jaegar’s unhinged Professor Sorenson can get a little over the top at times, but he plays the part of obsessed scientist very well, and as he starts transforming into the “Anti-Man” – the Hyde-like villain of the story – you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the deluded fool. Also worth mentioning is Ewen Solon, who plays Vishinsky, the second-in-command of the military ship. Vishinsky’s an interesting character in that he realizes fairly early on that what the Doctor is saying about the dangers on Zeta Minor is correct … but he’s not always in a position to do anything about it. There’s a nice balance between military duty and pragmatic realism with the character, and the conflict he finds in reconciling the two, and he’s both fun and believable to watch.

Not that everything about “Planet of Evil” is always brilliant, of course. For as wonderful as the filmed studio jungle sets are for the story, things get decidedly less impressive when the story returns to the video cameras and sets of BBC Television Centre Studio 6. Apparently military spacecraft in the year 37,166 are quite minimalist, utilizing cheap glass-and-chrome furnishings from some IKEA knockoff store to represent a supposedly high-tech control room. (Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that this set gets a terrific makeover the next season, though, when it’s transformed into the control room of the Sandminer in “The Robots of Death”.) Also, the electronic effects for the anti-matter monster – the in-theory scary “Big Bad” of the story – while reasonably good for the time back when “Planet of Evil” originally aired in 1975, don’t hold up well at all some forty years after the show originally aired.

“You know what they say, Frank … black holes really suck.” (puts on sunglasses)

And then there’s Salamar, the commander of the military ship. Bless Prentis Hancock, who played the character, but he’s straight out of the William Shatner/David Caruso School of Overacting. (When he arrives at Zeta Minor to survey Professor Sorenson’s abandoned outpost, I kept waiting for him to put on a pair of sunglasses while The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ started blaring in the background.) He’s just ridiculous in the part, and it doesn’t help that he’s been handed a ridiculously-written part in the first place – he’s all blustery pompousness, doing virtually nothing that’s helpful to find out what’s actually happening on the planet, and often doing incredibly stupid things simply because it’s the opposite of whatever Sarah Jane or the Doctor has just helpfully suggested. Salamar’s just a bad fit all around for an otherwise exceptionally good story, which is a shame (although he does add a certain amount of unintentional comedy to his scenes that’s worth something, I guess).

If you can find “Planet of Evil” on DVD, it’s definitely worth picking up – apart from getting to watch a terrific story, the extras on the DVD are certainly worth a view as well. The “making-of” feature called “A Darker Side” covers the production aspects of the story, such as the making of the aforementioned brilliant jungle set at Ealing Studios, as well as the evolution of the script from its initial concept to its final draft. Meanwhile, the feature called “Planetary Performance” focuses on the acting side of the story, including a lot of interesting insights from both Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen about their acting relationship, and what their respective takes on their roles where during this time period. If – like me – you’re an absolute junkie for exactly how the show was made during these times, these features are must-watches for you.

Is “Planet of Evil” the best story of Season 13? No. But it’s damn fun, and it’s damn good … and if it can be said that there’s a hidden gem in this outstanding season of “Doctor Who”, this would be it. “Planet of Evil” is definitely worth watching.

Agree? Disagree? Think that Salamar has been viciously slighted in this review? Post your comments below!