‘THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Erato with the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9
(confused) So the TARDIS can’t translate Tibetan into English?
‘The Creature From The Pit’ is a four-part adventure in Season 17 of ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana. The story is officially by David Fisher, although that’s a matter of opinion. It’s a story considered to be the apotheosis of the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era.
This was the third story to be shown in TV transmission order, although it was the first made in production history for that season. ‘The Creature From The Pit’ is…okay as a story. However there are things about this TV tale that make it weak and very laughable at points regarding ‘the creature’.
I say this story is by David Fisher, although from watching it and Lalla Ward indicates this in the DVD commentary, it’s got all the markings of Douglas Adams’ writing in it. This includes the humour and the scientific jargon added into the story when Douglas Adams was the script editor for the TV show.
David Fisher contributed two stories for ‘The Key to Time’ season (Season 16), including ‘The Stones of Blood’ and ‘The Androids of Tara’. Likewise for Season 17, he contributed two stories including this one and ‘The Gamble With Time’ which was eventually re-written and it became ‘City of Death’.
‘The Creature From The Pit’ doesn’t feel recognisable as David Fisher story from ‘Doctor Who’. You can clearly see Douglas Adams taking advantage of his script-editing role for the series by adding his own embellishments of humour and playing around with the ideas/concepts featured throughout it.
There are superficial elements of David Fisher’s writing in the story however. This includes the female villains based on the awful aunts David Fisher had when he was young, matching to Bertie Wooster’s aunts in ‘Jeeves & Wooster’. Strong female roles are also found for ‘The Stones of Blood’.
So, what’s ‘The Creature From The Pit’ about then? Well it has the Doctor, Romana and K-9 in the TARDIS landing on the planet Chloris. They become embroiled in a political game of power caused by the planet’s ruler, Lady Adrasta. It involves a large creature lurking within the depths of a mining pit.
It also involves a group of bandits who have this obsession of stealing metal (that’s not just them by the way. That weird obessession applies to everyone on Chloris) as well as a giant eggshell and man-eating Wolfweeds. But as the Doctor discovers in the pit himself, it’s not all so black-and-white here.
Now to give credit to David Fisher and to Douglas Adams on a certain level, the ideas for this story are pretty good. I was amazed by some of the twists and turns that featured throughout this story. I even used some of the ideas from this story as inspiration for one of my own including ‘The Space Hotel’.
But at the same time, this story is somewhat let down by weaker production values. That’s not in the case of the costumes and some of the exotic filming in Ealing Studios for the jungle scenes. Those are spectacular! But as I said, it’s for the story’s monster as well as the pit cave tunnel scenes themselves.
The story is directed by Christopher Barry, who is a veteran ‘Doctor Who’ director from the 60s and the early 70s. I know there was tension between Chris Barry and Tom Baker, especially as the director was giving guidance on how to play the character and the actor refused to take it on board.
The story’s star of course is Tom Baker as the Doctor. Tom clearly relishes the role of the Doctor and the dialogue given to him, whether it’s from David Fisher or Douglas Adams. I enjoyed some of the humorous quips the Doctor gave during the story, especially when he shared scenes with the villains.
But there are also times when Tom’s Doctor became serious and inquisitive, especially when he was discovering more about the alien creature and what it was doing in a pit on Chloris. He manages to work out what Lady Adrasta has done here and he suspects Erato not revealing everything he knows.
However there is a scene in this story with the Doctor that I have to address which I consider to be a silly and typical of the Douglas Adams era of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s when the Doctor’s in the pit and he’s reading a book that’s called ‘Teach Yourself Tibetan’. Yes! That scene is infamous and nonsensical.
What was the point of that scene? To illustrate the Doctor couldn’t speak Tibetan when he was reading from another book also in Tibetan? Why did he need to read the book whilst hanging inside the pit? Also, shouldn’t the TARDIS be able to translate Tibetan into English. It makes no sense at all!
Anyway, Lalla Ward stars as Romana here. This happens to Lalla’s first recorded story as Romana after playing Princess Astra in ‘The Armageddon Factor’. Lalla criticises her performance in this story, saying she was trying too much to be like Mary Tamm. She didn’t like her costume she wore either.
Now I have to be honest here. I don’t know why she’s complaining. As far I’m concerned, Lalla Ward is good as Romana in this story. I don’t see anything wrong with her performance. I also liked the costume she wore in this story. It makes her glamorous somehow. I’ll have to tell her that next time.
K-9 returns to ‘Doctor Who’ in this story. This time however, he’s not voiced by John Leeson. He’s voiced by David Brierley. Now I’ve got to say this here. I don’t like David Brierly’s voice as K-9. No disrespect to David Brierley as an actor, but that voice grates on my brain every single time I hear it.
I don’t understand why they couldn’t get John Leeson to come back to voice K-9 for Season 17 of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s explained in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ that K-9’s voice has laryngitis. Really? A robot with laryngitis? However it makes things inconsistent with John Leeson as K-9 for the audio stories.
Myra Frances guest stars as the villainous Lady Adrasta in this story. I must admit, Myra Frances delivers a good performance as Lady Adrasta, balancing both the calm and angry sides to her character. However there were times when I felt the character was a bit over-the-top in this TV tale.
Also her motives seemed two-dimensional. Why would she be so cruel to a creature like Erato and trap it down in a pit, except for political gain. I might be missing something. I do agree with Lalla Ward though. Myra Frances’ angry delivery of “Point the dog against the rock!” made me laugh a lot.
Geoffrey Bayldon guest stars as Organon, an astrologer that the Doctor meets when he’s inside the pit. Geoffrey Bayldon played the White Knight in ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ with Sarah Sutton in 1973 before this tale. He was also in the BBC version of ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ in 1989.
I like Geoffrey Bayldon’s performance as Organon in this story and he seemed to have a good working relationship with Tom Baker in this one. Astrology and star-gazer seems to be a recurring theme throughout this story. Geoffrey would later play an Unbound Doctor for the Big Finish audios.
Eileen Way guest stars as Karela, Lady Adastra’s loyal confidante in the story. Eileen Way also appeared in the first ‘Doctor Who’ TV story, ‘An Unearthly Child’, where she was an Old Mother in the Stone Age. I know that Eileen Way and Tom Baker got on well during the making of this TV story.
The story also features David Telfer as the Huntsman, who doesn’t have a name strangely enough and is only in the first and fourth episodes of this story. There’s former ‘Doctor Who’ director Morris Barry as Tollund and ‘Doctor Who’ stuntman Terry Walsh as Torvin, whom appear only in ‘Part One’.
There’s also the ragtag band of bandits who live on Chloris, including John Bryans as Torvin the leader; Edward Kelsey as Edu and Tim Munro (who would later play Sigurd in ‘Terminus’) as Ainu. Honestly, I think these bandits are pretty dopey in this. Lalla Ward’s Romana is not impressed either.
But of course, the main guest star of this ‘Doctor Who’ story is ‘the creature from the pit’ itself: Erato. I commend the visual effects team of Mat Irvine with Steven Bowman, Steve Lucas and Morag McLean who put a lot of time and effort into making Erato work, even though it wasn’t successful.
But I’m afraid I have to say this. I laughed when Erato appeared in ‘Part Two’ of the story. I can understand why producer Graham Williams burst out laughing during the making of this story when he saw Erato for the first time. I think it’s the same for many of the cast and crew making this adventure.
There are moments where Erato could appear menacing, especially with it glows a fluorescent green at times. But when you see Erato for the first time in ‘Part Two’, you see his…I’m afraid I have to use this word…’dick’. Because that’s what it looks like. It looks like a dick. I couldn’t help laugh at that.
This story could easily have been called ‘The Dick From The Pit’. I mean, just look at it when you see it! It looks ridiculous and feels pretty rude. I’m glad they changed things with it when they got to ‘Part Three’ by making it look like it had pincers instead of a…you know what. But come on! It’s ridiculous!
I did like it when the Doctor, Romana and the others found a way to communicate with Erato when that communication shield-like device was put on him. The creature uses the Doctor’s larynx as well as Romana’s to speak its words. It’s a neat concept. It’s such a shame the rest of the creature wasn’t.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a ‘Christopher Barry: Director’ interview; a ‘Team Erato’ making-of featurette and ‘Animal Magic’ with Tom Baker. There’s also a photo gallery of the story and an extended scene taken from ‘Part Three’ of the story featuring those so dopey bandits.
There’s a commentary with Lalla Ward; Myra Frances; director Christopher Barry and visual effects designer Mat Irvine. There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy; PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listing’ of the story and a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘Kamelion Tales’ DVD box set with Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor (including ‘The King’s Demons’ and ‘Planet of Fire’).
I forgot to mention that I had ‘The Creature From The Pit’ for my birthday as well as the ‘Myths and Legends’ DVD box set back in May 2010. Was the story worth having for my birthday? It was! Despite the story having many flaws, there’s a slimy deliciousness to this Tom Baker tale that I liked.
‘The Creature From The Pit’ is a pretty typical adventure from the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s not the greatest ‘Doctor Who’ adventure from that era (that honour goes to ‘City of Death’). But it’s far from terrible. It has nice concepts in it, despite a badly-realised monster.
Also, were Mrs. Drabble’s kids in the ‘Team Erato’ DVD special feature really scared of Erato? WOW!!!
‘The Creature From The Pit’ rating – 7/10
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