A planet where metal is a rare commodity, ruled by the severe Lady Adrasta, presents mystery and danger for TV’s Doctor Who. But can he avoid the creature (they call it ‘The Creature’) that awaits in the pit? (They call it the Pit, by the way.)…
Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but, well, Creature From The Pit is a bit kinky. Actually, it’s very kinky. Quite frankly, it’s kinkier than Dame Diana Rigg in her Queen of Sin get-up. “Ah, my dominatrix outfit,” says Myra Francis (Lady Adrasta) scant minutes into the commentary. And yes, yes it is.
The Lady Adrasta is a cold, brutal, aggrandizing Mistress of Chloris, dressed to the nines in boots, leggings, a PVC corset, and a turban. You’ve got guards with full-face Lector masks and whips, Romana, virginal in white, who begins a scene tied to a stake and ends it telling a bunch of borderline offensive Fagin-esque stereotypes to “sit”, and the Doctor in stocks, who dismisses Romana’s offhand explanation of being “his commander”. “I couldn’t imagine you in a subordinate role,” says Adrasta. If I’d been drinking tea at this point, it probably would have gone everywhere. And at this point is his career, I couldn’t see Tom in a subordinate role, either. Could it get any worse?
Romana only blows into a whistle to make K9 wail “Coming, Mistress!” So, yes, it can. You see, we haven’t even got to the enormous amorphous green titular testicle-esque monster with the unfortunate proboscis, yet.
I’m a fan of the ‘Everest In Easy Stages’ scene, but the bit where Tom tries to communicate with Erato (the only bit of Creature I knew for years, thanks to The Tom Baker Years video) is a little more awkward.
In 2010, in a world that now contains The Inbetweeners, it’s hard not to inject a bit of audience participation into the scene where he insists he’s a ‘friend’. (“Friend!”) “Doctor, friend.”Don’t do it, Tom.”Friend!” Don’t touch it, Tom. “Rude friend.” What the hell are you doing, Tom? He’s put it to his… “Sex friend! Friend!”
But does this make Creature a bad story? Dear me, no.
In a story based pretty much entirely around an awfully realised monster, there’s a lot of visual quality too. Planet Of Evil is the Ealing-shot alien jungle everyone always raves about, but this one is actually far better. June Hudson’s costumes look expensive and very nicely colour co-ordinated. Bar some earnest bit parts, it’s decently acted. Assuming you can cope with Tom in full flip fettle, the dialogue is very funny too, with a better hit rate from Adams’ additions than anything else bar City Of Death that season.
David Fisher’s Who scripts always included good, strong female roles: the Professor and Vivienne Fay in Stones Of Blood; Lady Lamia in The Androids Of Tara. Later, we’d get the dignified Mena in The Leisure Hive.
He does a decent Romana (though not the opinion of Lalla Ward, who hates her performance in this, her third story on-screen, but the first she recorded.) Adrasta is excellent, following Scarlioni in City… as another Bond-standard nemesis, and Frances is rightly praised on the commentary by Lalla for being extremely good at getting sincerity out of melodrama.
She shares honours with Geoffrey ‘Catweazle/Crowman’ Bayldon, as the dotty astrologer Organon, probably one of my favourite guest characters. “The future foretold, the past explained, the present… apologised for” is certainly one of my favourite lines ever.
There are also a few left field behind-the-scenes links to early Who, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. 60s director Morris Barry (The Moonbase, Tomb Of The Cybermen, and, ahem, The Dominators) appears on-screen in Part One, although he doesn’t make much of a splash. Eileen Way (Madam Karela) makes a return engagement to Who after appearing in An Unearthly Child (that’s the four-part story in the bits with cavemen that would only be called 100,000BC if you’re a pedant, for those who like a good debate) and gets to have a good old spar with David Brierley’s prissy version of K9.
Incidentally, it’s also the final story of long-term director Christopher Barry, who goes all the way back to The Daleks (being, of course, the second ever story, the one that’s only called The Mutants if you’re a pedant who wants Christopher Barry to be the only one to direct two stories with exactly the same title.)
Team Erato rather overdoes the ‘Yes we know, the monster is appalling’ angle (and, let’s face it, it is a visual disaster, but it’s a bit late for apologies or justification) it’s still a lively watch, produced by newcomer Chris Chapman (no relation, but it’s nice to be just a few consonants away from being a DVD contributor by some twisted logic.) Animal Magic is just magic, a possibly post-pub Tom detailing a few of his encounters with aliens to the kiddiwinks, and then scurrying off with a cry of “God forgive me!”
The yack-track stars visual effects stalwart Matt Irvine, responsible for Erato, Barry, Frances and Ward. It’s not bad, although Lalla restates her usual likes and dislikes across her time as a whole, which is getting a little dull. Barry is more engaging on the commentary, and also gets a charming autobiographical documentary, where the sprightly old gent ambles round Aldbourne (from The Daemons).
There’s also a trailer for The King’s Demons and Planet Of Fire, due in June. There’s the usual photo gallery and info text. There’s no easter egg, but as I assume they’ve knocked original transmission continuities on the head, there’s not much missing.
Like the shady world of perverted peccadillos and proclivities the costuming and dialogue alludes to, Pit is an acquired taste, and it’s probably wise not to admit whatever appeal it holds in polite company. But it’s a guilty pleasure.
Doctor Who: Creature From The Pit will be released on May 3 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.