Aired 8 April – 13 May 1972
The Third Doctor’s stories are certainly no stranger to moral and ethical messages, and ‘The Mutants’ offers perhaps the strongest message yet with its tale of colonialism and apartheid. With the Earth Administration announcing that its colony planet of Solos is to be given back its independence, the Marshall of Skybase on Solos takes matters into his own hands to ensure not only his continued rule but also that Solos will only be habitable for humans. Unfortunately, the execution of noble and grandiose plans significantly fails this story, ultimately making it a rather forgettable affair despite its good intent.
To be fair to ‘The Mutants,’ the apartheid plotline as Solos prepares for independence after 500 years of virtual enslavement proves to be very effective, even if the segregated transportation booths may perhaps be a bit too overt. Likewise, the concept of Solos having a 2,000-year orbit and thus necessitating the complete transformation of its population every 500 years to handle the extremes is fascinating and generally handled and realized well as the transformations occur with different costumes and effects. These ideas are bolstered by strong direction, and the location work and studio work combine to effectively create an engrossing environment.
Unfortunately, the script and acting as a whole are rather less successful, the character of the Marshall himself being one of the least successful components. On paper, this should be one of the most brutal and dangerous foes the Doctor has encountered, his innate racism and insatiable thirst for power a vicious combination. However, the exaggerated dialogue and overly-pretentious performance of Paul Whitsun-Jones instead turns him into a parodied caricature in terms of the delivery of his undoubted villainy. Even George Pravda’s Professor Jaeger is also written as a one-note scientist, one obsessed with particle reversal so much- once the Doctor introduces him to the concept- that he doesn’t care if the genocide of the Solonians is a consequence. In an unintentional show of unity, the Solonians, and especially James Mellor’s Varan, are equally uninspiring and prone to bouts of overacting.
Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning both give their usual strong performances, though even Pertwee seems a bit uninspired by the overacting around him as his usual proclamations of righteousness lack their usual punch and enthusiasm. Jo’s role being reduced to following others to explain rather obvious occurrences fails to make any meaningful use of the character. The two remain the standouts of the serial without question, but their supporting cast members do nothing to positively distinguish themselves.
Despite the unintentionally silly script that the performances of both the Overlords and the Solonians take into near-farcical territory, ‘The Mutants’ still almost manages to succeed. Given the direction and particularly-effective scenes within the caves of Solos, a darker tone and performances with more gravitas could have quickly elevated this tale to a true classic. The core moral dilemma at the heart of the story is an incredibly engaging and poignant one, and it’s a shame that the production as a whole failed to realize its potential. Not every story can be a classic, but ‘The Mutants’ has several elements of a classic that are frittered away to create something altogether less fulfilling.