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The Creature from the Pit

Production Code: 5G

First Transmitted

1 - 27/10/1979 18:00

2 - 03/11/1979 18:05

3 - 10/11/1979 18:00

4 - 17/11/1979 18:00

Plot

The Doctor and Romana receive a distress signal and arrive on Chloris, a lush and verdant world that has only small quantities of metals, all of which are controlled by its ruler, Lady Adrasta. Adrasta keeps order with the aid of her Huntsman and his wolfweeds - mobile balls of vegetation - while a band of scruffy thieves, led by Torvin, organize raids on her palace to steal whatever metal they can.

The Doctor identifies the distress signal's source as a large eggshell-like structure in the forest. He is taken prisoner by Adrasta's guards and, in order to escape, leaps into the Pit - the entrance to a cave system into which all those who incur Adrasta's wrath are consigned to be devoured by an immense green globular creature living within. The Doctor, with the aid of the elderly soothsayer Organon, discovers that the creature is not an unthinking killer but an ambassador from the planet Tythonus, which has a lack of chlorophyll but an abundance of metal.

The Tythonians had hoped to trade with Chloris, but the first person their ambassador Erato encountered on arriving in his eggshell-like ship was Adrasta, who took his communicator device and trapped him in the Pit so as to preserve her monopoly on metal. Erato retrieves his communicator and kills Adrasta.

He then warns the Doctor that the Tythonians have set a neutron star on a collision course with Chloris in retaliation for his imprisonment. With the Doctor's help he is freed from the Pit and, out in space, spins an aluminium shell around the star, allowing for it to be pulled off course by the TARDIS's gravitational tractor beam and thus saving Chloris.

Episode Endings

The Doctor, in order to escape from Adrasta and her guards, jumps into the Pit.

The huge alien creature presses up against an alarmed Doctor, threatening to crush him.

The hypnotised thieves, ignoring Adrasta's screams of protest, place against the creature's side the 'shield' earlier stolen from the wall of her throne room.

Organon tells the astonished Huntsman that the scroll he is holding is a draft contract for a trading agreement between Tythonus and Chloris. The Huntsman asks how he knows this and Organon, rather than admitting that he was told it by the Doctor, merely crosses his fingers and claims that it is 'written in the stars'.

Roots

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Star Trek (The Devil in the Dark).

Dialogue Triumphs

Organon : [Introducing himself] "Astrologer extraordinary. Seer to princes and emperors. The future foretold, the present explained, the past - apologised for."

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : "Why do you call it the Place of Death?"

Karela : "Because anyone found here is automatically condemned to death."

Continuity

K9 and the Doctor are reading Peter Rabbit at the beginning: Romana is familiar with the Beatrix Potter oeuvre. The 'junk' she finds in the TARDIS consists of a ball of string (which the Doctor used to help Theseus and Ariadne out of the Minotaur's maze: see The Horns of Nimon), the jaw bone of an ass ('Don't be a philistine!'), and the console's Mark III Emergency Transceiver.

The TARDIS can generate an external gravity tractor beam, which hasn't been used for 12 years. The Doctor [facetiously] says that Time Lords have 90 lives (and that he must have been through about 130). The symbol of the Maternity Service on Gallifrey is crossed computers.

Chloris is a primitive planet rich in plant life, but with little metal. Lady Adrasta has a monopoly on metal, although she doesn't overtly rule the whole planet. (Organon mentions being at the court of other rulers on the planet.) Erato, the creature, is an ambassador from the planet Tythonus, a more advanced world rich in metal, but rapidly depleting its vegetation.

Tythonians consume chlorophyll and mineral salts, and Erato has been 'starved' for 15 years. Their life span is anything up to 40,000 years. Erato travelled to Chloris in a starship that was actually a woven 'egg' of living metal. They can only communicate via a pentagonal device which allows them to utilise another creature's larynx. A neutron star is propelled towards Chloris by the Tythonians after the treatment meted out to their ambassador.

Erato measures time in ninods: 26 of them equal one hour and seven minutes. The Doctor says that his lucky number is 74,384,338 (cf. The Power of Kroll).

QV

Season 6(b)

The Doctor's Age

Location

Chloris.

Untelevised

The Doctor in the Minotaur's maze and the adventure where the tractor beam was used (see above).

Trivia

Former Doctor Who director Morris Barry plays the small part of Adrasta's engineer Tollund in Part One.

Eileen Way, who had appeared as Old Mother in the very first Doctor Who story, 100,000 BC, appears here as Lady Adrasta's assistant Karela.

Geoffrey Bayldon, better known as Catweazle in the LWT series of the same name and as the Crowman in Southern's Worzel Gummidge, plays Organon.

Technobabble

All the stuff about Erato spinning aluminium shells around neutron stars (which would increase its gravity).

Goofs

Torvin, stunned by K9, turns before falling, as if looking for somewhere comfortable to land.

The guard who goes to attack K9 and Romana doesn't fare much better, as he stops and curls up before K9's blast hits him.

The Doctor doesn't need a book on Tibetan as he already knows the language (Planet of the Spiders).

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Lalla Ward

Voice of K9 - David Brierley

Adrasta - Myra Frances

Ainu - Tim Munro

Doran - Terry Walsh Also in Part Two, but uncredited.

Edu - Edward Kelsey

Guard - Phillip Denyer

Guard - Dave Redgrave

Guardmaster - Tommy Wright

Huntsman - David Telfer

Karela - Eileen Way

Organon - Geoffrey Bayldon

Tollund - Morris Barry (2)

Torvin - John Bryans

Crew

Director - Christopher Barry

Assistant Floor Manager - David Tilley

Assistant Floor Manager - Kate Osborne

Costumes - June Hudson

Designer - Valerie Warrender

Film Cameraman - David Feig

Film Editor - M A C Adams

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Gillian Thomas

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Romey Allison

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Douglas Adams

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Warwick Fielding

Studio Sound - Anthony Philpott

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Mat Irvine

Writer - David Fisher

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'We call it 'the Pit'.' The beardy bandits are undiluted cliches, Torvin, their leader, sounding like a cut price Dickensian East London Jew ('My lovely boys'). Appreciation of this story depends on what you think of Douglas Adams-esque humour in Doctor Who (e.g. the Everest in Easy Stages sequence).

It has been claimed by Creature from the Pit apologists that the story is a conscious spoof of bad science fiction. On the other hand, it could just be bad science fiction.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

It is a standard approach in science-fiction storytelling for the writer to posit a world possessing one or two distinctive features and then, by logical extrapolation from those features, develop a culture similar to and yet fascinatingly different from our own. David Fisher starts out along the right lines in The Creature from the Pit by presenting a scenario in which a planet rich in vegetable matter but short on metals receives trading overtures from one with the converse problem. Unfortunately it seems that, having come up with this ingenious idea, he then rested on his laurels and failed to move on to the extrapolation stage.

Aside from the presence of Torvin's band of thieves - and it takes no great leap of the imagination to realise that if something is in short supply there are bound to be thieves trying to steal it - there is nothing here to suggest what the ramifications of the scarcity of metals might be for the wider community on Chloris. Indeed there is nothing to suggest a wider community at all; the planet's entire population seems to consist of about ten individuals.

In fact Fisher has set himself too difficult a task. Had he made Chloris short of one particular metal - copper, say - he might have had a reasonable chance of exploring the implications of this by researching all the things in which that metal is normally to be found and then speculating as to the effects of its absence in each case. A planet lacking in all metals would in reality be so different from our own as to be virtually impossible to represent on screen - at least within Doctor Who's limited budgets.

It is highly unlikely, scientifically speaking, that any animal or plant life existing here would even remotely resemble that of Earth; and it is questionable whether or not a planet could ever have formed in the first place without at least a certain quantity of metals having been present. A possible alternative approach for Fisher to have taken would have been to have made Chloris a planet on which metals were present in normal quantities but unobtainable due to the indigenous population's failure to discover mining skills - an idea with obvious potential for further development.

It was not to be, however; and in fact one senses from the scripts that Fisher's grasp of scientific principles is none too sound. The most obvious illustration of this is the scene in which Erato launches itself into space and weaves an aluminium shell around a neutron star in order to minimise its gravitational pull (eh?) and allow the TARDIS to pull it off course with a tractor beam. Hmm...

The scripting of this story is actually below-par in almost every respect. The characters are all cliched and one dimensional, the dialogue is generally atrocious, and the wolfweeds are just plain silly. The decision to make the thieves a bunch of stereotypical Jewish characters of the Fagin variety was apparently taken by script editor Douglas Adams rather than by Fisher, but the end result is that they seem to have wandered in off the set of a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch.

The three regulars are also poorly catered for here. It is all too obvious that Fisher has written Romana with Mary Tamm's characterisation rather than Lalla Ward's in mind (admittedly, not his fault, as at that stage it had yet to be firmly established that Tamm was leaving); the Doctor seems to lose his senses altogether at the end of Part One as he leaps into the Pit of his own accord, knowing full well that to be consigned there is regarded as tantamount to a sentence of execution (another example of the 'anything for a cliffhanger' syndrome); and K9 is at his silliest and most irritating - although this is due not only to Fisher's writing but also to David Brierley's vocal performance, which is sadly not a patch on John Leeson's.

Just about the only redeeming features as far as the story's characters are concerned are Geoffrey Bayldon's Organon and Myra Frances's Adrasta, both actors managing to work wonders with the material that they are given. 'The Lady Adrasta... was excellently evil,' opined Chris Dunk in Oracle Volume 3 Number 5, dated February/March 1980, 'and her confrontation with the creature was very dramatic although tended to be corny too. Never mind, the end of [Part Three] was quite the most exciting Doctor Who that I have seen for a long time. Marvellous stuff!'

'One word sums up this adventure,' suggested Richard Walter in Matrix Issue 5, dated February 1980. 'Disappointing. And it's a shame, because [it] boasted some fine sets, good actors and a rather interesting plot with some twists. For a start, the jungle set filmed at [Ealing] really did make a tremendous difference. It looked like the whole sequence had been filmed on location and gave the episode a heavy atmospheric quality which was never noticeable in the following episodes...

'The first part showed promise, and with the introduction of Geoffrey Bayldon in the second my hopes were high for an exciting romp. How wrong I was! The second and third episodes were very tedious with hardly anything of importance happening and with the Doctor and... Organon wandering through tunnels in pursuit of a giant green blob (which incidentally was of a rather obscene design, I thought!) whilst Romana, now in the clutches of Adrasta, carted K9 around under her arm using him as a portable blaster!'

The blatantly phallic appendage that visual effects designer Mat Irvine saw fit to give Erato is indeed an unfortunate lapse in taste - the scene in which the Doctor raises it to his lips and blows into it, supposedly in an attempt to communicate, leaves the viewer similarly open-mouthed in astonishment - and the creature in general is very poorly realised. 'The "spherical mattress" was unconvincing enough,' wrote Dunk, 'although some children were apparently terrified by it, but the joking response to it offered by the Doctor destroyed all believability. Maybe he can defuse the scary bits, but there comes a limit; and why not let the kids be frightened anyway? TV can so often be condescending to the unrepresented minority.'

The use of humour in the story has come in for considerable criticism from reviewers. 'Isolated moments of humour... are to me quite agreeable,' conceded Tim Westmacott in TARDIS Volume 5 Number 1 in 1980. '[It] is [the Doctor's] flippant remarks in a dangerous situation like "You're standing on my scarf!" as the creature looms over him that are not.' John Peel, writing in the same issue of TARDIS, was rather more forthright: 'After a shaky start to this season, the usual degeneration seems to have set in... I can't help feeling that The Creature from the Pit didn't have humour to hold the plot together, but a bit of a plot to hold the humour together... It's getting very embarrassing admitting to watching the [series] nowadays. Virtually all of my friends and family have given [it] up in disgust now.'

Even the usually dependable director Christopher Barry is somewhat off form on this story - his last for the series - although, in fairness, he had an uphill struggle to try to make it work. There is, all things considered, very little to recommend The Creature from the Pit.

< City of DeathFourth DoctorNightmare of Eden >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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