It's perhaps appropriate, given this adventure's underlying message, that The Mutants seems to have changed in the near-40 years since its first broadcast - and only for the better. Long-vilified by seasoned fans, here it emerges on DVD (and immediately after fellow miserable outcast Meglos) looking slightly mad, very spangly and all rather good fun.
There are no utterly-lost Pertwee adventures (technical issues still affect the future DVD release of classics like Ambassadors of Death, Mind of Evil, The Daemons and The Dinosaur Invasion, for now), but critical cold-shouldering means The Mutants is in some ways the closest we come to such a creature. It's shaping up as a vintage year for Pertwee fans, with Terror of the Autons, a revised Day of the Daleks and Three Doctors, plus swansong Planet of the Spiders, all in the DVD pipeline, but these we know and love. For many, the rummy six-parter presented here is undiscovered country and, coupled with unavoidable low expectations, means pleasant surprised lie ahead.
It's got a loose, relaxed, undercooked (but sometimes overheated) feel, and unfolds in a charmingly offhand manner, developments seeming to surprise the cast as much as the viewer in a way that keeps the adventure effervescent and wards off typical six-parter fatigue.
The lead himself is in fine form (and has the third Doctor even looked quite so swankily third-Doctor-ish?). Pertwee mixes a strange, Troughon-esque feyness and amused distance into his usual impressive performance, as the still-officially-exiled Doctor is suddenly whisked off by his Gallifreyan gaolers to the year 3000, and tasked with sorting out trouble at t'Skybase, an Earth Empire-run space station (the exteriors of which, at least, are spiffily done) that's orbiting high over turbulent planet Solos at a time of flux with apparent cosmic implications.
Relishing his return to off-Earth adventure, but resenting his errand-boy status, Pertwee's urgent, imperious, impatient Doctor switches moods slickly here as he bears down on new problem after new problem while his mission endlessly changes shape. His hilariously-efficient, explosive dispatch of sort-off-baddie-scientist Jaegar (Who fave George Pravda), after the Doctor quickly sizes him up as first necessary help, then a nuisance, then nothing more, is one of the great Pertwee moments no one ever talks about. They should!
Space-and-time travel always brings the best out in companion Jo Grant, we know, and Katy Manning shines in shrewd mode, showing Jo as not just a blinky-eyed little kitten-face but someone evolving into a smart improviser in the image of her Doctor. She pulls, of course, and her scenes with Solnian rebel Ky (proto-Johnny Depp Garrick Hagon; he's on the commentary track) hold much sub-textual fun, especially when Solos' poisonous atmosphere makes Jo feel a bit, er, faint...
For the admission fee you also get a fine, watchable supporting cast: Geoffrey Palmer shimmers in (and out a bit too soon, alack); John Hollis is a striking, stranded scientist and helpmeet dressed in Anita Roddick cast-offs; and Christopher Coll charms as a Scouse space security guard. Fans have often poked fun at Rick James' performance as Skybase servotor Cotton, but I dunno... it has a certain memorable charm.
Tristram Cary's squelchy, squonky, synth-heavy soundtrack (already out on CD, but better heard in context here) adds another layer of distinctiveness, providing as it does the precise sound of ropey-but-head-spinning CSO effects. There's a genuine sense of weirdness crackling throughout all six episodes that never fails to beguile and is undiminished by repeat plays.
By year's end, all of season nine should be out on DVD; from the fug of Accepted Fan Wisdom, The Mutants could well have emerged by then in a new light and deserving place among the best of the Pertwee years.
Oh, and it's a deliberate nod to Monty Python at the start, by the way.