Watching all of these Doctor Who stories, I start noticing recurring themes and ideas. The Mutants takes sci-fi elements like the oppression of alien natives who turn out to be more than they seem (The Savages), a dystopian future where Earth is overrun and polluted (Colony in Space) and good old-fashioned corrupted officials hankering for power (half of all Patrick Troughton’s episodes ever). It’s also full of ideas that I’ve seen in countless episodes of Star Trek, and yet it’s no less compelling for being slightly overdone.
While the drama does make the usual concessions for cliffhangers and reversals, there are enough mysteries to keep the plot interesting over six parts. Firstly, the contents of the box, then the identity of the spaceman, the secret of the ‘magic cave’ (what is this, Lost?), the arrival of the Investigator, and the reveal of the mutants’ true form. It’s a good story and it’s quite well plotted. I was engaged throughout.
I like the ones set in space, as it allows for more ‘out there’ concepts like this, while also keeping the action locked into one location. Generally, I find space-based shows more appealing; I like all the miniatures they use, and the special effects seem to get more ambitious year on year. If the show was still struggling with budget cuts, this particular serial does not give that impression. It’s relatively lavish and unique-looking in terms of effects, costumes, models and sets. It’s aged more gracefully than most I’ve watched so far, anyway.
Additionally, the Doctor is more sympathetic than his usual grumpy self, Jo continues to add very little, but the two uncharacteristically intelligent security guards make a refreshing change from the usual drones and add some extra character. I suppose the only thing I miss in these outer space serials is the Brigadier and his witty banter with the Doctor. I guess that just reinforces that the show needs a better (or another) companion, as soon as possible. Otherwise, this was perfectly fine, one of the better stories of the Pertwee era so far.