This one ends with my favourite cliffhanger yet. The tyrannical Lady Adrasta, ruler of the planet Chloris, has had one of her hapless minions hurled into ‘the pit’, which conceals some horrible, unseen monster, as a warning to the Doctor of what happens to those who disappoint her. Romana arrives with K9 to rescue the Doctor, but K9 is overcome by Adrasta’s wolf-weeds, and the Doctor gives Romana a sad pat on the arm before suddenly and unexpectedly leaping into the pit. Not only is this about a hundred times more shocking and interesting than the Doctor being thrown down the pit, or being dragged in, but it’s the kind of twist I really enjoy (the audience isn’t just left wondering how he’ll get out of it, but why he got into it in the first place).
This is the best moment in another David Fisher script that’s full of local colour: like Tara, Chloris seems semi-feudal, but with a grasp of technology (although thanks to June Hudson’s costume designs it looks a bit more like Ribos). Fisher side-steps the old cliché of the planet of women by not making it clear whether this is a matriarchal society or whether Adrasta just happens to be the one calling the shots. Either way, I like that her guards assume Romana is the Doctor’s superior. Myra Frances and Eileen Way are great as Adrasta and her sidekick Karela, a sort of openly villainous version of Vivien and Amelia. And in her first performance as Romana (this was made before Destiny of the Daleks and City of Death), Lalla Ward gets to outwit the local bandits by being intelligent and indomitable. As she points out, ‘As bandits go, you’re a pretty duff bunch’ and they are – broadly-played Jewish stereotypes that are a bit of a weird choice.
The only man with any real gumption is the Doctor: the way he nervously mutters, ‘It’s alive’ when he finds the giant eggshell, almost escapes when in stocks, and quickly impresses Adrasta with his intelligence. ‘This man is being facetious,’ complains the doomed Doran, and of course he is. I enjoyed this: the jungle (on film) looks as good as the one in Planet of Evil, and again shows the uptick in production since the lows of Season 15. The wolf-weeds, sort of carnivorous tumbleweed, aren’t particularly terrifying, but the Grandmother’s Footsteps sequence of them stalking the Doctor is very Blink, and the idea of a huntsman keeping them in line with a whip is fun.
Next episode: The Creature from the Pit – Part Two