PLANET OF EVIL
First broadcast 27/9-18/10/1975 starring Tom Baker
Here’s a little factoid for you, this was the very first Doctor Who VHS I purchased. An even more bizarre factoid is I was actually trying to track down Nightmare of Eden (this was before Who reference materials were so easy to come by) – but that’s, literally, another story (which you can read all about HERE). Despite looking for a different tale, I was most certainly not disappointed. (Without spoiling this Top 50 for you, Nightmare of Eden is not in it.)
The most notable feature about Planet of Evil is its atmosphere. Rarely does Doctor Who do atmosphere quite like we see here on the planet Zeta Minor, and it’s purely down to the wonderfully realised “jungle” set, from the impeccable Roger Murray-Leach, and exquisite filming on, wait for it, film. It’s an old argument but Who on film really does make a difference.
I mentioned this facet with Spearhead From Space a few weeks back (see HERE) and Evil features some truly delicious film work. The set suits the filmic quality but it’s director David Maloney who uses the camera to its full potential during the limited film time. Just check out the way in which the camera peruses the alien world; creeping along, filled with tension with every move. Slightly unusual for Who are the POV shots, courtesy of the oculoid tracker (and superbly designed it is too, almost as eerie as the story), adding an incredible dynamism and urgency to proceedings.
Also worth a strong mention is the unnerving and trippy, erm, trip that The Doctor takes in the vortex between the two universes. Again, the direction shines and is very un-Whoey during these moments – adding to the alien-like and hugely unsettling otherness of the piece.
From a production perspective it’s an unquestionable triumph (though perhaps the costumes are a misfire) and this is matched in the performances from the leading couple, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. From the former it’s a suitably taut performance, drinking in the terror around them; reminding the audience just how subtle he could be at times. The pair are an absolute delight throughout.
In the guest cast there’s Frederick Jaeger (pictured above) who has to deal with a tremendous amount of drama in the character of Sorenson, switching from troubled scientist to possessed maniacal monster impressively. Never over-egging it and always affecting (with some neat eye SFX in there too).
Planet of Evil is a perfect example of just how horror-filled the Hinchcliffe era could be, though this outing is particularly more sci-fi than many of its season neighbours (most of which you’ll find in the this top fifty). It may steal/borrow from numerous sources but the production, and the performances make this total Doctor Who.