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It doesn’t live anywhere. It just is.


Doctor Who
Planet of Evil


One of the few Hinchcliffe-era stories where the reputation preceding it gave way to a “Hmmm, yeah, not quite there”, Planet of Evil has all the requisite ingredients for the ultimate gothic tale. Unfortunately, it stumbles through failing to offer a distinctive enough twist on the plots it’s plundering. Philip Hinchcliffe admitted it was “too much of a rip-off”. It’s a story bolstered by considerable atmosphere (during the first half) and distinctive ideas, moments and visuals (again, during the first half) but falls into overfamiliar telling just when it needed to pile on the weirdness. 

I’m not suggesting Planet of Evil should have gone all Event Horizon on us once the Morestran ship exits Zeta Minor – no one and nothing should endure that – but gluing facial hair to Frederick Jaeger and applying some bad dentures was only going to make him less – and he isn’t an especially threatening fellow anyway – not more intimidating. The effect is, unfortunately, tantamount to a Primord redux (it might have been best simply to give him those CSO glowing red eyes, erring on the side of minimalism). 

There are other issues with the production. When it’s on film, the Zeta Minor jungle looks a million dollars, and everyone involved is justifiably proud. When you see it on video, it’s a fairly bog-standard studio set only Peter Grimwade would consider an upgrade on Deva Loka. The Morestran ship may boast a split-level flight deck, but it’s otherwise as uninspiringly spartan as its crew’s uniforms (which look like they’ve survived a Pertwee story). 

Ewan Solon is dependable as Vishinsky (although the character suddenly seems to know a lot about the properties of the pool at the start of Part Three). Graham Weston attempts to offer his best moaning crewman in DeHaan, in the vein of The Mutants and later Warriors Gate, but he’s on a hiding to nothing; the character needs to offer a contrast with the oppressive claustrophobia, but that’s been dissipating since they were spacebound. 

Prentis Hancock, meanwhile, is permanently poised in the position of nearly forgetting his lines throughout the first couple of episodes. It’s only when he completely loses the plot, and Vishinsky is compelled to take command, that he seems to resolve his performance. I mean, to be fair to Prentis, he’s playing a petulant prick and he succeeds in making Salamar exactly that, so the performance is working somewhere. About Time had it that he was “so shockingly poor that it beggars belief” and tears apart the story’s (lack of) matter/antimatter logic, dialogue, characters, sets and performances. I’d argue Planet of Evil’s biggest clunker comes in the opening scene, though (“That’s when it all seemed to start”).

While Tat Wood and Larry Miles’ criticisms are fair game, they go a little overboard maligning it. Planet of Evil’s a serviceable story that needed to find an extra string to its bow, rather than settling on Sorenson picking off crewmen and Salamar trying to eject the Doctor into space. It’s interesting that Hinchcliffe (as he remembers it) nixed killing off Sorenson at the end for the sake of the “little ones”, given he reserved no such leniency for considerably less culpable individuals like Moberley or Lawrence Scarman. Or even Marcus, come to that, whose only crime was being a bit rude to Egyptian peasants and getting thoroughly possessed. 

The effect of this is to magnify the antimatter issues About Time located; the Doctor has already told Sorenson there’s no way back, that “You’ve reached the point where your tissues are so monstrously hybridised that the next metabolic change could be the final one”.  I suppose the key word is could, and it’s within an antimatter monster’s purview to offer a full body detox. 

Sorenson: Antimatter is simply matter composed entirely of antiparticles. Therefore, the hypothetical energy available, available, is, is stupendous.

Of course, being a NASA-science-dependent universe, Morestra is suffering from dying-sun syndrome. Sorenson’s zeal is to bring back a “new and inexhaustible source of energy”; at the end, rather than persuading him to set up his own CERN lab, the Doctor tells him, since “there’s no practical method of exploiting antiquark energy”, he “decided to concentrate on deriving energy from the kinetic force of planetary movement”. Hurrah for NASA space! That’s the second story in a row where the Doctor is full of wisdom on untapped energy sources, as opposed to the dangerous and or messy ones humanoids are picking.

The story sets up its trade of evocative ideas (“edge of the known universe”, “the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe”) but fails to sell them. Its best move is the hold-back of the Doctor offering a “Time Lord’s promise” (“I’m not entirely without influence”) when he enters the black pool, itself suggestive of black goo, whereby you enter it and you’re are infected with AI nanites, or antimatter ones. Unless you’re the Doctor. Which raises the question: if you stare into an unreflective pool, does the unreflective pool stare back into you?

There, he somehow communicates with the monster. How exactly? Does it know Time Lords because it knows Omega, party to that realm or a similar antimatter realm? It’s a case of Marks and Holmes knowing any elaborating could only diminish the idea (and the visual, one of the story’s best, is shot on film, naturally).  The promise aspect is neatly paralleled by his promise to return Sarah to London. In both cases, the Doctor keeps his promise… eventually (he allows the ship to lift off with both his own supply and the professor’s, although in his case, Salamar’s cry of “You idiot!” is not a little uncalled for, since the Doctor was unconscious when carried onto the ship).

The Doctor: You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.

The scientist’s “total responsibility” idea is an interesting one too, since it’s very much reprised by the “You must help yourselves” reasoning in The Seeds of Doom. The Doctor wants to give others the opportunity to do the right thing for themselves, albeit that probably shouldn’t extend to leaving the room before they do it.  Perhaps it’s this scene that justifies saving Sorenson, though, since he is clearly determined to do the noble thing, until antimatter intervenes. 

Elsewhere, such diminishing devices are all too evident. When Sorenson takes his “oral vaccine”, it’s a steamy brew – so you know its potent – in the manner of horror-movie, Jekyll & Hyde potion clichés. Salamar opts not to scan the surface before landing, which mightn’t have revealed anything, but all the same, it’s an Alien: Covenant sign of bad SF. And Sarah’s response to burial in space – “It’s horrible” – elicits a response of “It is?” I’m unsure “clean and tidy” is strictly accurate, but you may as well say burial on a plot of land is horrible, or cremation is horrible. 

As alluded, the show has priors in the antimatter realm, but it would remain a fairly elusive element going forward, give or take the odd fuel supply (Earthshock). And in the case of Event Horizon, there was no antimatter at all. The movie reduces the Lovecraftian otherness that marries with the idea of an antimatter universe to a level that is at once both more nebulous and thuddingly literal in its illustration, as we learn the ship’s experimental gravity drive opened a “gateway to a hellish dimension outside the known universe” (near enough to antimatter) and the ship became an AI. 

Because that’s the idea behind the actual AI that has had claws in our Universe, per Corey Goode; it’s an AI in terms of our realm, in terms of its behaviour (but also known as Satan and Lucifer). An AI that infects matter (with nanotech) and so possesses or controls other lifeforms (Greys, Draco, and us if it could get that far). Which means, in its way, this antimatter is infectious, like Zeta Minor’s, and it reduces those (of matter) in contact with it to a submissive or brute status. In Zeta Minor’s case, it can also, it seems, be bartered or reasoned with, which doesn’t really make immediate sense when it’s simply and unconditionally reducing everything in its path to husks on contact. But still. The point is, the antimatter monster has no designs on the matter universe and thus contrasts fundamentally with the AI scenario.

The Doctor: Antimatter in collision with matter causes radiation annihilation. A release of energy more powerful than nuclear fission.

Which comes back to what it is the idea represents. The question isn’t what antimatter does, per se – in scientific terms, which must be taken as suspect because they lie to us, although hats off for terms like “antiparticles” that immediately smack of pseudoscience – but what it means. Metaphysically or spiritually, if you like. Because universally, one would be forgiven for assuming it’s ying-yang, positive-negative, service-to-self vs service-to-others in polarity. It isn’t evil per se, except when it comes into contact with 3D and is actualised, since its effects in the matter (material) or on the matter universe are essentially corrupting, inimical. Hence Omega going slightly mad. And Sorenson going ape. 

The actual antimatter universe’s existence of AMT (ascended machine technology) suggests otherwise, however. The Seth Material talks of antimatter as the opposite end of a full spectrum, with matter the one we know, of the antimatter universe comprising two universes, corresponding to a “before image” and an “afterimage”, and deriving from energy that flows from the physical universe and is transformed via the dream universe into the antimatter one.

Doctor Who soft pedals anything so conceptually eccentric. It provides a demarcated boundary to a physically vacuous universe, or how else are you going to tell a story? But the more revealing characterisation may be “It doesn’t live anywhere. It just is”. Where is something that isn’t part of the physical universe, at least in polarity, if it enters the physical universe? Is it tangible in our terms? Or is it dimensionally distinct or undefined? 

About Time mentions The Mutants – the Pertwee era seems to be the prime rump of Who material that relates to actual universal matters, bordering on a legitimate claim to soft disclosure – where the Doctor warns “The slightest accident in this stage of the proceedings and we’d all reverse instantly into antimatter. Blasted out to the other side of the universe, as a flash of electromagnetic radiation. We’ll all become unpeople, undoing unthings untogether”. Seth has it that we, along with our physical universe, are non-existent for the same number of intervals that we are existent, such that we have parallel selves there, of a sort. The two universes cannot physically meet but may communicate.

About Time also suggests, per CERN, “the transition from matter to antimatter is easier than the reverse”. Inevitably, where CERN is involved, whatever you’re being told is surely not the case. Or not the half of it, at best. So their success bringing antihydrogen particles into existence – as opposed to their day job of opening portals – is surely debatable. 

Hinchcliffe’s immediate source, Forbidden Planet and Altair IV, was very literal in its menace – the Krell’s machine materialised subconscious thought forms/desires, sounding not so far removed from the Montauk Beast – and Doctor Who is really only taking the signature of an invisible monster and its visible “cues”. To a degree, Event Horizon is much more aligned with Forbidden Planet, since it’s the stuff of nightmares made real. Planet of Evil just has the idea of the opposite manifest, ying-yang of universes, but without anyone to talk to – as has been noted, there are no villains as such – and with only a very limited amount of trippiness, it’s rather left dangling dramatically. 

Lisbeth Sandifer makes a thing of the story’s “pure ghost story constructs”, its inexplicable horror tropes, but they’re really no more or less so than any genre blend, including the two movies mentioned. Sandifer is right, however, to note the “sort of religious awe” involved in the Doctor’s approach to the antimatter realm, and the reverential horrors that accompany such Lovecraftian constructs; that it is HP-ish may be key to why the superior parts of Planet of Evil are those left unexplained. And Louis Marks did suggest nineteenth-century writers had already come up with every plot known to man. Lovecraft could claim a decade in that era.

So Planet of Evil’s legacy is a great jungle and a dreadful actor (Shakespeare, rather than Prentis). David Maloney may have been Hinchcliffe’s favourite director, but the creaks of his approach are readily evident in a number of his stories (Planet of the Daleks, The Deadly Assassin). I’ll go my currently preferred Michael Ferguson route and suggest his particular brand of psychedelia might have pasted over some of this story’s less forgiving joins. Generally, though, Marks’ stories seem to go so far and no further. You have all the necessary building blocks in place, but the full construct is a little lacking. The Stones of Blood also told a story in two halves and two locations, but there, each was equally satisfying (your mileage may vary). Planet of Evil gives a good set up, it can be allowed that much.

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