This is probably the first Fourth Doctor serial where I’ve not known what to expect in advance – no recurring enemies, no iconic first appearances, and not a title I remember seeing too often in any top or bottom ten lists. I don’t know whether it’s down to the lack of preconceptions, but I always seem to enjoy these types of serials a lot. This was no exception.
What a beautiful setting. That jungle has got to be one of the best pieces of set design in the show so far. Unbelievable that they managed to achieve all of that in the studio. It’s the sheer amount of foliage, all painted from a rich and varied palette. It’s marks this story out as something special right from the beginning, and draws you in to the world.
It’s an unpredictable and exciting story, which seems incredibly fresh and original, despite chunks of it being basically Jekyll & Hyde (I confess that I’ve never seen Forbidden Planet, which I’ve read was the other big influence). You can tell that it’s the first story aired that’s purely conceived by Hinchcliffe & Holmes, without a sniff of Letts & Dicks. The Fourth Doctor has so far taken part in adventures that would equally have suited The Third, but this is something different.
From what I know about Hinchcliffe, he was the guy that was big on horror, and that’s certainly the case here. Sorenson’s transformation into the daftly-named Anti-Man is pure B-Movie stuff, and utterly gripping. It was also incredibly bleak, with a very high body count – I was relieved that Sorenson and (especially) Vishinsky ultimately survived, but they were pretty much the only ones.
Elsewhere, I note that after such impressive work with the jungle, it was time to fall back on the extremely cost-effective invisible aliens once more. But the CSO-red-outline versions were very good indeed. Again, it’s a marker of the new regime that they felt confident enough to rely on the ethereal for the main threat – it’s a lot spookier than a rubber suit. Obviously, I love the proper monsters too, but it’s good to have a more varied arsenal.
Also, I could be wrong, but is this the first time that The Doctor has successfully piloted the TARDIS as if it were a normal spaceship, in order to make a short trip within a story? If so, while it feels like a little bit of a cheat in the context of this episode’s conclusion, it’s another big step forward in terms of the types of stories this development allows the show to tell, and what kind of heroics The Doctor can get up to. The time spent at UNIT HQ continually tinkering with the TARDIS and conducting experiments has clearly paid off, as his new incarnation seems capable of anything.