01/02/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 2849. 2 DVDs 96 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: GBP 4.50 (UK) if you know where to look). cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Myra Francis, Eileen Way, Geoffrey Bayldon and David Brierley.
check out website: www.bbcshop.com
‘The Creature From The Pit’ has the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Romana (actress Lalla Ward) arrive on Chloris where they are captured by its ruler, the Lady Adrasta (actress Myra Francis). They are in turn attacked by rebels and Romana is temporarily kidnapped by rebels before escaping with the aid of K-9 (voiced this time by David Brierley), discovering how precious metal was on this planet. Returning, she finds the Doctor witnessing an engineer seeing Adrasta putting one of her engineers to death by having him thrown into a pit. Romana’s attempt to rescue the Doctor fails when K-9 is covered in wolfweed but the Doctor sees the only way out and jumps into the pit, lodging himself out of sight until they’ve gone. Romana finds herself having to unravel the secret of the eggshell that the Doctor had been examining but finds herself and K-9 taken into the pit via another entrance. Meanwhile, the Doctor, failing to get out of the pit, discovers the horoscope seer Organon (actor Geoffrey Bayldon) and the creature which smothers him. Having difficulty communicating, the creature finally reveals a picture of a device it needs and is actually an alien ambassador called Erato seeking a treaty to trade metal for vegetation.
Meanwhile, the castle being mostly deserted is seen by the rebels as ripe for plunder but after collecting as much metal as they can, including the alien device, hearing guards, they flee into the labyrinth pit. The device hypnotises two of them to return the device to Erato which allows it to communicate through whoever touches the device. Adrasta had kept Erato imprisoned rather than a treaty for a swop for needed metal for vegetation. Her guard are dismayed and she is quickly deposed. However, because Erato’s people haven’t heard from him and fear hostility, have sent a neutron star to detonate and destroy the star system. It is up to the Doctor to come up with a plan to save everyone.
In some respects, there are elements of the original ‘Star Trek’ episode ‘The Devil In The Dark’ about this story although other aspects dealing with world economics raises these stakes. The alien itself, although essentially a big green blob, reminds me a bit of the Larry Niven alien species, the Bandersnatchi. The extra ‘Inside Erato’ examines the problems with its design as its writer, David Fisher, describes it as a giant amoeba-like like creature with pseudopods, which ended up giving it a somewhat phallic look and immense problems for the effects crew.
This story depends a lot on solid reasoning although I do wonder if kids would believe you shouldn’t be afraid of creatures in the dark? Nevertheless, this is a solid and interesting story with some dry humour balancing things out.
The audio commentary is a four-way affair with actresses Lalla Ward and Myra Francis with director Christopher Barry and special effects maestro Mat Irvine. This story was recorded at the start of the season which explains Romana’s white dress and her, to me, more Mary Tamm haughtiness. Ward definitely comes over being uncomfortable with her costume, shoes and demeanour, despite the assurances by Francis, although does explain why there is a definite change in the earlier shown stories in this season. They all point out that Douglas Adams added the humour to the David Fisher script. Irvine explains the advantages of using the Elstree Studio and having to create specials effects on minimal time and budget.
I’m not sure if I agree with Christopher Barry that K-9 takes power away from the Doctor. It’s not as though he’s pivotal to all stories and seems to be more of an aid to Romana than him. Mat Irvine thinks part of the attraction of the show was invention on a low budget. People also remember the effects that weren’t great and most of the time they did get it right. They all agreed that the story was better than they remembered it and this particular story would work rather well as a panto, with its slight resemblance to ‘The Wizard Of Oz’.
Of the other extras, as this is the last story directed by Christopher Barry, there is twenty minutes looking at his career. Where ‘Doctor Who’ is concerned, he was director of the first Daleks story and that of ‘The Daemons’, set at Aldbourne where he sat and talked. There’s also a Tom Baker wind-up of the creatures he met as the Doctor.
‘The Creature From The Pit’ has an odd reputation but it is carried on well by the cast so watch with an open mind cos its still a lot of fun.
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