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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 509 > The Mutants

The Mutants

The Doctor and Jo are sent on a mission by the Time Lords to the thirtieth century – a mission that will affect the evolution of an entire planet…

Scratching beneath the surface of Doctor Who’s most fascinating tales…

The Fact of Fiction

“We can’t afford an Empire anymore,” the Administrator of Solos tells its Marshal in Episode One of The Mutants. “Earth is exhausted… Finished. Politically, economically… finished.” Substitute ‘Britain’ for ‘Earth’, and there’s the inspiration for The Mutants – the post-War decline and dismantling of the British Empire, which had once coloured the atlas pink.

Decolonisation began with the partition of India in 1947, after which Britain surrendered its interests throughout Asia; in Burma, Palestine, Singapore… This continued in Africa throughout the 1960s, when Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), among many others, all gained their independence.

Independence was mostly achieved peaceably – but one exception comes to mind when we watch The Mutants. Ky and Varan represent the ‘Solonian All People’s Union’ (SAPU, presumably), which is reminiscent of ZAPU – the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, an organisation founded in 1961, dedicated to the overthrow of white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia. In 1965, the Rhodesian government defied British plans to grant full independence to its former colony, and eventually severed all ties with the Crown – forming a breakaway racist republic. In the 1970s, ZAPU’s military wing fought a guerrilla war against Prime Minister Ian Smith’s government; ultimately, the republic’s collapse led to the creation of modern Zimbabwe in 1980. But the villainous Marshal intends to defy the colonial authorities and make his own law so might we compare him to Smith…?

Episode One

FIRST BROADCAST: 8 APRIL 1972

In a mist-shrouded scrubland, men wearing black and silver uniforms hunt down an Old Man… with knobbly vertebrae jutting out from his spine.

■ It’s… not Michael Palin, as a haggard, bearded castaway staggering raggedly towards camera in the pre-credits to many, many episodes of cult sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-74). At The Mutants’ first playback in April 1972, Doctor Who producer Barry Letts became the first of many, many viewers to remark on the apparently unintentional similarity between the two, however!

■ It’s… actually supporting artiste David J Grahame – uncredited for all of his Doctor Who appearances, including as a Villager/Coven Member in The Dæmons (1971), also directed by Christopher Barry.

■ The Country scenes were filmed at an Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers site at Western Quarry, near Northfleet, Kent. The site was redeveloped in the late 1990s; if you’ve ever visited the Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford, you’ve walked on what was once the surface of Solos.

■ “Path! He’s heading to the path!” cries the voice of the Marshal from off; but as originally scripted, the Old Man was “heading for the river!”

■ Script editor Terrance Dicks adapted the serial as a Target Books novelisation, Doctor Who and the Mutants (1977) – in which scrubby Solos became ‘a planet of jungles. Hot, dense, steamy tropical jungles…’

It’s…. the opening scene of The Mutants!”

Leading the chase, the Marshal (Paul Whitsun- Jones) removes his ‘oxymask’ to be better heard: “Hurry! Mutt!”

■ In their stage directions, writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin described the Marshal as ‘big, bull-necked, shrewd and ruthless’, wearing ‘immaculate tropical uniform’.

■ Besides Paul Whitsun-Jones, Christopher Barry considered several other actors for the Marshal including John Bryans, who wasn’t available on this occasion; Barry would later cast him as Torvin in The Creature from the Pit (1979). Also listed in Barry’s casting notebook: Michael Barrington, later Sir Colin Thackeray in The Seeds of Doom (1976); Dallas Cavell, who’d played a number of villainous roles in Doctor Who as far back as the Road Works Overseer in The Reign of Terror (1964); and Philip Madoc, whom Barry would eventually cast as Solon in The Brain of Morbius (1976).

■ The writers envisaged the Earthmen’s oxymasks as ‘sinister fleshcoloured objects with a speaking grill’ [sic].

Coming up behind, Stubbs(Christopher Coll) and Cotton (Rick James) collect the mask accidentally dropped by the Marshal. “Mutt mad, he is. Sport to him,” says Cotton.

■ Stubbs and Cotton were described as ‘riot patrolmen’ wearing ‘similar but less flashy gear’ than the Marshal’s.

■ Barry had directed Christopher Coll previously: as Arnold Henshaw in The Gold Rosette, an episode of hotel-set series The Flying Swan (1965); then in a couple of Z Cars serials, in which Coll had played semi-regular DC Kane – All in a Day’s Work (1967), then Blind Alley (1968).

■ Other possible Stubbses included Paul Angelis, another young Liverpudlian who’d served time in Newtown nick, plus: Derek Newark, previously Za in 100,000 BC (1963), then Greg Sutton in Inferno (1970); Graham Weston, previously Russell in The War Games (1969); and also James Culliford, Stuart Henry, Nigel Lambert and Ian White.

■ Baker and Martin wrote Cotton as a stereotypical Cockney. Casting against type, Barry chose Rick James, one of four black actors on his shortlist – the others being: Dominican-born Kenneth Gardnier, who wasn’t available; Jamaican-born Clifton Jones, who went on to feature as David Kano in the first series of Space: 1999 (1975-76); and Jason Rose.

■ Given the grim historical association between cotton plantations and the slave trade, it’s sometimes been suggested that casting a black actor as a character named ‘Cotton’ might have been meant to make some kind of ironic allusion. More likely, it was simply a crashingly insensitive oversight, since Barry also considered a couple of noteworthy white actors for the role. One was David Daker, who’d later feature as Irongron in The Time Warrior (1973-74), then as Rigg in Nightmare of Eden (1979). The other was a young actor whom Barry would eventually cast in Undue Influence, an episode of country-set solicitors’ series The Carnforth Practice (1974). His name? Colin Baker.

ESSENTIAL INFO

Ultimately ranking 213rd (out of 241) in DWM’s First 50 Years poll of 2014, the penultimate adventure in Doctor Who’s ninth season began life early in 1971 – around the time that Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s first co-authored Doctor Who serial The Claws of Axos reached the screen. One of the writers’ followup ideas drew on decolonialisation in Asia and Africa for inspiration. Meanwhile, producer Barry Letts had long harboured a story idea about a species with a life-cycle akin to a butterfly- a notion he’d first pitched to Doctor Who as far back in 1966, under the title The Mutant…

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: An interview with actor and Doctor Who fan Rufus Hound; Showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers’ burning questions; a feature by Steve Lyons investigates the weird world of the supernatural in the Doctor Who universe; the feature 'Crack of Doom' finds out more about Big Finish’s audio box set Doom Coalition 4; Toby Hadoke pays tribute to Rodney Bennett, the director who oversaw three very different productions during the early years of Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor; the original Master returns for new comic strip adventure 'Doorway to Hell' part two, by Mark Wright, with art by Staz Johnson; 'The Fact of Fiction' examines 1972's 'The Mutants'; The Time Team rewatch the 2011 series opener 'The Impossible Astronaut'; plus Previews, book and audio reviews, news, the Watcher's column, the annual season survey poll, prize-winning competitions and much more!
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