It's the Pits

Review of The Creature from the Pit (#106)
DVD Release Date: 07 Sep 10
Original Air Date: 22 Oct - 17 Nov 1979
Doctors/Companions: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)
Succeeding Story: Nightmare of Eden (Four, Romana II)

Looking over my spreadsheet of Classic stories I have yet to review, I can see that I've made some progress over the last seven-plus years. However, there are still a couple of Doctors whose runs are, proportionately speaking, underrepresented. So how do I choose which stories from those eras to review in the coming months?

I decided to go with a theme of Bad Reputations.

It was surprisingly easy to make suitable selections. You see, a person naturally gravitates towards the stories she likes when she has a choice of which ones to talk about. After all, if you have to watch something again to refresh your memory, it's no surprise the enjoyable ones rise to the top of the list. This far into the game, then, there are going to be a fair number of clunkers left. And since Verity! podcast last week released their interview with Lalla Ward from last November's LI Who, one of the stories discussed therein—Lalla's first one on set—seemed a perfect place to start.

The Creature from the Pit (TCftP) has a well-deserved reputation. It is, hard as it tries, a hot mess from start to finish. K-9's voice is wrong (David Brierley voiced him for this single season instead of John Leeson); the folks on Chloris, the planet where the story is set, have precious little imagination ("We call it 'the Pit'" and "We call it 'the Creature'" are among the more scintillating lines of dialog...); and the plot ranges from poorly considered to straight up non-sensical. And all that says nothing of the Creature itself.

Underneath it all, there's the kernel of an interesting idea. Keeping it spoiler-free in case some poor soul hasn't yet seen it but wants to give it a go for themselves anyway, I'll go so far as to say that the Creature is not what it at first seems. The underlying conflict is plausible, even if the various factions cross over into caricature, and the final "climactic" peril is (in my opinion) just plain stupid both in its premise and in the supposed solution.

Certain things about Lalla's performance as Romana II make more sense to me now that I know this was the first story she shot after taking on the role (having previously played the part of Princess Astra in The Armageddon Factor). The character isn't quite her witty, self-confident self yet—though there is one time she smart-mouths the local authority figure (like the Doctor might've, or like I'd expect a later version of her to do) and gets slapped for it. I'd forgotten that bit, and it came as something of a shock.

Further, I could often almost see Lalla struggling to find her place in the cast, to inhabit her character and fit her into the script (though perhaps that's only because I had just heard about this being her first shooting block, and knew to look for it). And once it had been pointed out to me, it was so glaringly obvious that the costume had been designed with Mary Tamm's Romana I in mind that wondered that I'd ever missed it before.

Then, of course, there's Tom Baker Doctor'ing his way around the place. He hadn't quite reached the stage in his tenure yet where he'd actively mock a script while still performing it perfectly in-character, but he certainly took a big step in that direction with the Creature. I feel sorry for whoever had to design the thing, as they clearly had an impossible task in bringing what was described in the script to fruition. On the other hand, I can hardly blame Baker for being exasperated at having to act opposite what amounts to a huge, green phallus (though I still think that his (extremely) thinly-veiled mock fellatio was a step too far).

And the rest of the guest cast seemed dead set on chewing as much scenery as possible. While the astrologer Organon was only as shady a character as such a person's place in court would require, both the local despot Adrasta (whose name I kept misspelling due to its nearness to ad astra) and the leader of the gang of bandits took their performances over the top.

Considering everything as a whole, it's a bit difficult to take this episode seriously. Though as I mentioned above there are some workable concepts at the root, the overall execution is ridiculous. Tom looks as if he doesn't particularly want to be there, Lalla looks like she's just hoping no one will really notice her, and the entire thing is rather painful to watch.

I would say that this is one only for completists; if you're the kind of fan who watches a few episodes here and there, go ahead and skip TCftP. If, on the other hand, you feel compelled to give it a go, watch for the "teaspoon and an open mind" quote, some creative aiming of K-9's laser nose, and the unique way the Creature eventually communicates verbally—and if it's the way you roll, a little booze to dull your best judgment wouldn't be out of line.

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Comments

I know I've seen every Tom Baker episode but I have absolutely no memory of this one. I remember one where The Doctor turned into a cactus (Or was it that a cactus turned into The Doctor?) and one where microscopic clones of The Doctor and Leela were injected into his brain, and both were bad.

I guess this one isn't quite bad enough to be so-bad-it's-good. It's just... forgettable.

Reviewing famously bad episodes is a good idea. Fun. But while you are trying to avoid spoilers (which I understand) you are being SO vague that I have no idea what episode you are talking about. I think you can add a little more in the way of disinguishing characteristics without getting spoilery.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Ha! Fair point. I'll try to be a little more specific in the future.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of this story, to my mind, was the "wolfweeds" that the Huntsman used to overwhelm enemies (K-9 in particular). Also there's a big, green blob (the Creature). As far as I'm concerned, that's the one that overwhelms all others. Haha!

But there are bandits set on stealing metal (which is a scarce resource on the planet), and a fairly nasty woman-in-charge who controls the metal supply. And the part of the planet where the TARDIS lands is dense with vegetation.

Don't know if that helps, but much more is either a spoiler or boring as all hell...

By mrfranklin
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