BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

The Mutants

Production Code: NNN

First Transmitted

1 - 08/04/1972 17:50

2 - 15/04/1972 17:50

3 - 22/04/1972 17:50

4 - 29/04/1972 17:50

5 - 06/05/1972 17:50

6 - 13/05/1972 17:50


The Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo on a mission to deliver a sealed message pod to an unknown party aboard a Skybase orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th Century. Solos is due to gain independence from Earth's empire, but its Marshal is determined to prevent this. He arranges the murder of the Earth Administrator and, with his chief scientist Jaeger, plans to transform Solos's atmosphere into one more suited to humans.

Ky, a young Solonian leader, is falsely accused of the murder, and flees to the planet, taking Jo with him. The Doctor follows and joins them in an old thaesium mine. Ky turns out to be the intended recipient of the message pod, which opens automatically for him. Inside are stone tablets carved with ancient inscriptions.

The Doctor's party then meet Sondergaard, a human scientist leading a hermit-like existence in the mine while searching for a cure for the mutating disease that afflicts the Solonians. The Doctor and Sondergaard decipher the inscriptions, deducing that the mutations are part of a natural life-cycle in which the thaesium radiation plays a vital role.

The Doctor retrieves a crystal from a cave where the radiation is concentrated and returns to the Skybase to analyze it. He is recaptured by the Marshal and, with his friends held hostage, is forced to perfect the machine with which Jaeger plans to transform Solos. Sondergaard meanwhile gives Ky the crystal, which turns him first into a mutant, and then into an ethereal super-being - the ultimate stage of the Solonians' life-cycle. Jaeger is killed when the Doctor sabotages his machine, and the Marshal is vaporised by Ky.

Episode Endings

Ky and his people, trying to escape from the Skybase, enter a transmat cubicle with Jo as their hostage. The Marshal orders his guards to open fire and the cubicle explodes.

The Doctor is on his way to the Skybase transmat cubicle when he is seized by the Solonian warrior chief Varan, who mutters 'Die, Overlord!'

The Doctor has found Ky and Jo in the mine caves but the Marshal is close behind. Stubbs and Cotton, two of the Skybase guards, go to search for the Doctor, but the Marshal orders the cave exits sealed and poisonous gas pumped in.

Varan and his warriors, together with Stubbs, Cotton, Jo and Ky, attack the Skybase. The Marshal is ready for them however and, in the ensuing skirmish, Varan is sucked through the exterior wall into space. As Jaeger launches the atmosphere reconditioning missiles at Solos, Jo and the others struggle to avoid being sucked into space themselves.

To ensure the Doctor's cooperation in convincing an Investigator from Earth that all is well, the Marshal places Jo, Ky and Cotton in the refuelling lock under threat of death. The Investigator's ship docks, and Cotton realises with horror that when it refuels the chamber will flood with thaesium, killing them all.

The Doctor and Jo return to the TARDIS, avoiding awkward explanations to the Investigator.


References to the book of Genesis.

References to Gibbon's Decline.

References to Fall of the Roman Empire.

Diamonds are Forever.

Star Trek's The Cloud Minders.

An allegory concerning south African racism and British colonialism in general.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : [Speaking of Earth in the 30th Century.] "Grey cities linked by grey highways across a grey desert. Slag, ash and clinker - the fruits of technology."

Jaeger : "This planet as it stands is no longer of any use unless we make the atmosphere breathable."

The Doctor : "Even if it means wiping out every Solonian in the process?"

Jaeger : "Earth is fighting for its survival - the side effects are of no importance."

The Doctor : "Genocide as a side effect! You ought to write a paper on that, Professor."

The Doctor : "Marshal, you are quite mad."

Marshal : "Only if I lose."

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : [Silly speech about an anti-matter explosion turning them into an] "un people, un-doing un-things un-together."

"Die, Overlord, die!"

"We'll all be done for!"


[The Doctor appears to be working for the CIA.] He describes himself as 'a messenger boy' and his instructions as 'a three line whip'. He is able to stand considerable radiation (and the toxic atmosphere) and is qualified in 'practically everything'.

Thaesium is a rich fuel mineral mined on Solos. Ky states the Solonians were once 'hunters and farmers'. The soil of Solos contains a nitrogen isotope, sunlight producing a mist poisonous to humans. Solos has an elliptical orbit lasting 2000 years, with 'seasons' of 500 years. Each of these produces metamorphic changes in the Solonians.


Solos, an Earth colony [in the Nebula of Cyclops according to The Brain of Morbius,] the 30th century.

Future History

The Doctor notes that after Earth 'sacked the solar system they moved on to pastures new'. The Administrator describes Earth as exhausted 'politically, economically and biologically'. Solos has been colonised for 500 years, Earth running an apartheid policy (Overlords and Solonians have to use separate transmats).


Well-known comedy actor Geoffrey Palmer appears as the quickly assassinated Administrator in Episode One.

Christopher Barry felt that he had become 'typecast' as a Doctor Who director and, in order to avoid being assigned to the series again, let it be known within the BBC that he had had a serious disagreement with Jon Pertwee during the making of The Mutants - a claim that was in fact untrue. He eventually returned to the series to direct Tom Baker's first story.

Episode Six of this story is the first in the series' history to bear an on-screen copyright date.

Author Salman Rushdie refers to The Mutants in his controversial book The Satanic Verses and implies that the programme's characterisation of mutations as evil just because they look different from human beings encourages racist attitudes. He thereby completely misses the point of the story, which in fact has an anti-racist message.


The incidental music for the story's final episode was composed not by Tristram Cary but by Dudley Simpson. (Tristram Cary composed the incidental music for all six episodes.)


The Doctor plans to install a minimum inertia hyperdrive for Bessie (see The Time Monster).


The opening, with a hermit like figure shambling towards the camera is screaming out for an 'It's...'

When using Oxymasks, the Overlords' dialogue is frequently unintelligible.

The end of episode four is ludicrous: Varan, shot by the Marshal, falls against the hull of Skybase which disintegrates, sucking him into space (he doesn't explode in the vacuum). Despite the gaping hole, Jo, Cotton, Stubbs and Ky are able to walk away from the area once the pressure has 'normalised'.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Jon Pertwee

Jo Grant - Katy Manning

Administrator - Geoffrey Palmer

Cotton - Rick James

Investigator - Peter Howell

Jaeger - George Pravda

Ky - Garrick Hagon

Marshal - Paul Whitsun-Jones

Mutt - John Scott Martin

Old Man - Sidney Johnson

Skybase Guard - Martin Taylor

Solos Guard - Roy Pearce

Solos Guard - Damon Sanders

Sondergaard - John Hollis

Stubbs - Christopher Coll

Varan - James Mellor

Varan's Son - Jonathan Sherwood

Warrior Guard - David Arlen


Director - Christopher Barry

Assistant Floor Manager - Sue Hedden

Costumes - James Acheson

Designer - Jeremy Bear

Fight Arranger - Terry Walsh

Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton

Film Editor - Dave King

Incidental Music - Tristram Cary

Make-Up - Joan Barrett

Producer - Barry Letts

Production Assistant - Fiona Cumming

Production Assistant - Chris D'Oyly-John

Script Editor - Terrance Dicks

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Frank Cresswell

Studio Sound - Tony Millier

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

Visual Effects - John Horton

Writer - Bob Baker

Writer - Dave Martin

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Genocide as a side effect.' The Doctor Who story mentioned in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, The Mutants is tedious. Paul Whitsun-Jones hams it up ('I'm surrounded by incompetents!') whilst Rick James is given some of the worst lines in Doctor Who's history. The CSO is rotten too. The Mutants can be summed up by the fact that Geoffrey Palmer is the best thing in it and he dies before the end of episode one.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

This story is in essence very similar to the previous season's Colony in Space. Both feature two sides battling over an inhospitable planet apparently inhabited by a mysterious race of monsters whose origins are unknown. The difference in The Mutants is that the action is viewed mostly from the point of view of the oppressing humans rather than from that of the oppressed natives; but, as in Colony in Space, it takes the Doctor to figure out what is really going on.

The idea of the Doctor being stranded on Earth is, by this point, really starting to wear thin. The Time Lords have already been responsible (or so it is implied) for his trips to Uxarieus in Colony in Space and Peladon in The Curse of Peladon, but now we have them giving him a far more blatant mission: to deliver a message pod. One wonders, in passing, why they could not simply have materialised the pod in front of its intended recipient - but then of course there would have been no story.

As it is, the Doctor and Jo dash off to Solos, there to lock horns with the obsessive Marshal as he dedicates himself to 'cleansing' the planet. The Doctor's distaste for this imperialistic attitude is well brought across; and one of the nice things about the story is the way he manages to stay one step ahead of the Marshal and his scientist Jaeger all the way through, even when supposedly working in a forced alliance with them.

Some fine scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin are well served by Christopher Barry's characteristically polished direction. The mutants themselves are both well conceived and nicely designed; most people have a fear of insects, and the thought of the hapless Solonians transforming involuntarily and seemingly at random into giant ant-like creatures is quite terrifying - especially as they seem to be the 'good guys'.

The scenes set on the planet's surface and in the caves are particularly well shot and directed, making Solos one of the most effectively realised alien worlds ever presented in Doctor Who. 'There is a surprising amount of film in this story,' noted David Gibbs in Star Begotten Volume 3 Number 1/2, dated winter/spring 1989. 'All scenes set in the underground mines were filmed on location, as were the bulk of the planet exteriors (and even those in the studio - Varan's village - were melded in almost imperceptibly). For once a Doctor Who planet really does [look] like an alien world, helped in no small part by the copious amounts of the swirling mist that pervades every inch of the "Solonian" surface...'

One of the less praiseworthy aspects of the production on this occasion is the acting of the guest cast, none of whom is particularly impressive. Probably the best is Paul Whitsun-Jones as the single-minded Marshal, a worthy opponent for the Doctor who manages to make the act of threatening into an art form.

Undoubtedly the worst is Rick James as Cotton, who puts in a strong bid for the title of worst performance ever seen in Doctor Who. His woodenness and apparent inability to deliver his lines with any degree of conviction unfortunately tend to undermine every scene in which he appears, while Christopher Coll as his partner Stubbs struggles gamely to make the script work. Even the weakest elements in a story can have their admirers, however, and Dallas Jones took a rather different view in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988: 'The story had two characters I thoroughly enjoyed watching, namely Stubbs and Cotton... It was nice to see Cotton played by a black actor, especially as the story could be seen as commenting on the South African apartheid problem.'

Another aspect of the The Mutants that has attracted both condemnation and praise is the incidental music by Tristram Cary, with whom Christopher Barry had previously worked on the Daleks' debut story - also called, by a strange coincidence, The Mutants. Like Malcolm Clarke on The Sea Devils, Cary adopted an atonal musique concrete approach, creating an electronic landscape of beeps and whistles that, while admittedly quite in keeping with the story's themes and settings, is highly distracting.

Overall, though, The Mutants is a good story - and one that, with its strong anti-apartheid and anti-colonial messages, gives a good illustration of the increasingly moralistic tone that producer Barry Letts was bringing to the series at this time.

< The Sea DevilsThird DoctorThe Time Monster >

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.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy