I knew next to nothing about this story before I started, which is always my favourite way of approaching a serial. Not knowing whether the popular consensus is positive or negative allows me to form an unbiased opinion, as I would for a brand new adventure. And having done my customary reading up after watching, it would seem that The Mutants can be filed alongside The Keys of Marinus and The Space Museum as “stories that I think are brilliant but that everyone else hates”.
I always love a serial where there’s so many elements that it feels like you’re watching a mini-series rather than a chopped up episode. Both the Solonians’ mutation process and The Marshal’s insane lust for power could have happily supported a story on their own, but they interweave and come together nicely when it’s revealed that one element is causing the other.
The Marshal is the most memorable element for me, with his irrational hatred for the Solonians providing both a particularly entertaining villain and an effective Apartheid parable. The show is pleasingly right-on at the moment, and they’re not afraid to show it. The casting of Cotton is notable as well – one of the earliest and most significant black characters who just happens to be black, with no reference made to his ethnicity.. It’s been a slow and almost imperceptible process, but we really have come a long way since the likes of Kemel and Toberman.
Even without such weighty subtext, there’s a great cast of characters here. As noted, the Marshal is the standout, but the likes of Stubbs, Jaeger and Sondergaard are also memorable. There’s also a welcome but all too brief appearance by Geoffrey Palmer. On the downside, the non-mutated Solonians are a bit clichéd and dull – the story of their species and its mutation process is far more interesting than the characters we meet.
This is one of only very few quibbles with what is ultimately a well-constructed and beautifully-paced story. Another is that Ky’s ultimate mutation into a giant floating rainbow god was a bit silly, and also the complete lack of UNIT, once again. So strange that they’re absent from what’s now the majority of serials in the last season of the Doctor’s exile. Genuinely missing the Brigadier at this stage, and hoping he has a big role in the finale.
PS. Those rockets that the professor dropped on Solos… can we call them Jaeger Bombs?