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No Place to Hyde
on 26 January 2014
"You just happened to be passing?" asks Commander Salamar sarcastically. He's got a point. The Doctor was aiming for London (from Scotland), overshot by the length of the universe and landed on Zeta Minor instead. Here our universe of matter intersects with a neighbouring anti-matter universe, here (and we assume only here) matter and anti-matter can co-exist without instantly annihilating. There's plenty of annihilation but it's slower and much more alarming!
`Planet of Evil' is sometimes criticised for drawing on both `Forbidden Planet' and `Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', but those two classics owe debts to `The Tempest' and werewolf legends respectively. There is nothing totally new under the sun - not even the sun that shines on Zeta Minor.
`Planet of Evil' is totally, convincingly alien. Nobody would want to spend time in that steaming, haunted jungle lit by the savage red light of a strange sun. Nobody except Professor Sorenson, last survivor of a lost expedition.
The design work is outstanding; the jungle sets are very popular and highly praised and the monsters still look very good, but the interior of the Morestran spaceship attracts some criticism as `low-budget'. True, it was all done on a tiny budget but the spaceship is bleakly functional and military and makes a very sharp contrast with the hideously alive jungle world it has landed on.
Beyond the well-written story, the sets and the eerie soundtrack, the strength of `Planet of Evil' lies in three excellent double acts. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen look so at home in their roles it's no surprise to learn from the DVD documentary that this was Elisabeth Sladen's favourite story. A poignant moment comes late in the narrative as the Doctor effectively says what might be his final goodbye to Sarah, with the famous quote from Captain Oates, a hero from another, real lost expedition. Trademark touches of humour are shared between them amid the danger; the Doctor quotes Shakespeare at one point and casually comments "charming fellow"!
Prentis Hancock (playing Commander Salamar) and Ewen Solon (playing Vishinsky) bring depth to the uneasy relationship between their characters. It's obvious right from their initial scene that the youthful Salamar has been promoted over the older, wiser and far more experienced First Officer. Salamar radiates insecurity and the need to prove himself as Commander; you just know it won't end well.
Finally, Professor Sorenson (a wonderful, edgy performance from Frederick Jaeger) is becoming lost, deep in a double act with himself. The scene where the Doctor reminds him of the moral responsibility of science is one you'll remember.
DVD extras include a very entertaining commentary and two excellent documentaries. One focuses mostly on the famous design elements of the show, the other is from the actors' perspective, both are interesting and help explain how such great shows were made with such small budgets - in a word, skill.
NOTE: The DVD menu shows clips from the programme as background, so if you don't know the story already, press `Play' ASAP. Hunt for the `Easter Egg', it's a good one.