The Doctor and Romana receive a distress signal and arrive on Chloris, a lush and verdant
world that has only small quantities of metals, all of which are controlled by its ruler, Lady Adrasta.
Adrasta keeps order with the aid of her Huntsman and his wolfweeds - mobile balls of vegetation - while a
band of scruffy thieves, led by Torvin, organize raids on her palace to steal whatever metal they can.
DVD extras for THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT:
- Commentary with Lalla Ward, Myra Frances, Mat Irvine and Christopher Barry.
- CHRISTOPHER BARRY: DIRECTOR - On location with the director talking about his career.
- TEAM ERATO - the BBC VISUAL EFFECTS crew discuss the issues faced with creating the alien, Erato.
- ANIMAL MAGIC - A real gem - The Fourth Doctor, recorded on the set of this story, discusses some of the creatures he has met on his travels. This was broadcast as part of the iconic BBC 1 series, ANIMAL MAGIC. See screengrab, right.
- Photo gallery, production notes, RADIO TIMES LISTINGS and the COMING SOON trailer for THE KAMELION BOXSET.
COMMENT - SPOILERS AHEAD
Not the most eagerly (1) hailed or (2) awaited CLASSIC SERIES Tom Baker story but this 1979 (season 17) four-parter is well worth re-visiting if only for the wonderfully rich set creation for a realistic "alien jungle" design (second only to the truly obtuse & eclectic setting created by Roger Murray-Leech for DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF EVIL), the atmospheric Ealing Studio's shot film sequences and the melodramatic seriousness of Myra Frances as Lady Adastra.
Yes, I did watch this when it was first broadcast and as a young viewer I had an instant loathing for the "wolfweed" creatures (for attacking the beloved K9) and being terrified by one of the biggest "monsters" as it swallowed the Doctor. Some 31 years later, DOCTOR WHO - THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT whilst it is, obviously, no longer frightening it is still disturbing for its depiction institutionalised terror and of summary execution by & of the ruling monarch.
Of course, with a cleaner print & LCD definition screens, David Fisher's penned (and Douglas Adam's script edited) story is now held up to be scrutinised in such depth that it could easily dismissed as "rubbish" (why are DOCTOR WHO so critical of a programme that they/we clearly love/obsessively like?). Yes, it is evident that the Typhonian Ambassador, Erato, is created from balloons dripped with thick green paste and operated by two BBC special effects employees but it is beautifully finished. Remember, it was 1979 and the British economy was emerging from massive inflation and, subsequently, TV budgets were as overstretched as it is today.
Tom Baker's characterisation was, by this time, honed and relaxed, whilst, in her first story recording, Lalla Ward's Romana demonstrated exceptional promise, and, as an on-screen team, the two Time Lords were a winning combination, continuing as such until 1981's WARRIORS' GATE.
This single DVD release may be bereft of substantial DVD EXTRAS but those presented are shining gems of delight, including a tour de force straight-to-camera (edit-free) dialogue from the Fourth Doctor (not as Tom Baker) from an episode of the BBC's ANIMAL MAGIC series.
The commentary is thoroughly entertaining from a balanced selection of cast & crew members; Lalla Ward (Romana), Myra Frances (Adastra), Mat Irvine (Special Effects) and the legendary DOCTOR WHO director, Christopher Barry.
Link to commentary highlights.
The DVD EXTRA, CHRISTOPHER BARRY: DIRECTOR, filmed on location in Aldbourne (DOCTOR WHO - THE DAEMONS), he recalls filming of THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT in addition to the other nine stories (including the iconic DOCTOR WHO - THE DALEKS episodes from 1963). He, humbly in my opinion, describes himself as a "good jobbing director, and an actor's director", and, meekly, recounts an encounter with Peter Davison when the new face of the Doctor told him that he had just been offered the role (Barry told Davison not to do it; "How wrong I was - he was a great DOCTOR WHO"). It felt a little like a hybrid of THIS IS YOUR LIFE and WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Magical. More like this, please.
TEAM ERATO focuses on the manifestation of the Typhonian Ambassador by the BBC Special Effects team and how BBC Management instigated an investigation on why it was not sanctioned before it was wheeled into the studio. In remembering the alien's probing appendage, one of the team describes it as "the dick from the pit". And that was about the tone of this schoolboy humour toned documentary. And that's just fine.
The documentary gem for this DVD is clearly ANIMAL MAGIC as the Fourth Doctor breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses young fans during the iconic Johnny Morris presented nature-related series. Talking from the jungle set and in full costume, the Doctor details some of the fantastical creatures that he had met on his travels, including describing the Shrivenzale (DOCTOR WHO - THE RIBOS OPERATION) as being able to devour six buffalo and many coconuts in one go. Humorous and charming in equal measure.
On seeing Romana, Lalla Ward: I'm here doing a pretty bad interpretation of Mary Tamm.
On spotting a special effects item in a box dragged into the Console Room by Romana, Mat Irvine: Oh, a "beam machine" from THE STONES OF BLOOD.
On the story's costume design, Lalla Ward: I think that June Hudson was a great designer but what she did with me was my entire fault. I was playing Mary Tamm but no-one could act in a frock like that.
On the Doctor's metal computer, K9, Christopher Barry states: I didn't like that dog. It took power away from the Doctor.
Lalla Ward: I loved that dog!
On her invitation from Tom Baker to leave the studio complex for a coffee, Myra Frances recounted a funny story of them heading to Ealing High Street in full costume.
On Special Effects, Mat Irvine: The trouble with effects we were only allowed to get it right first time. The wolfweeds; we were quite pleased about them. Internal radio controlled devices.
On the tinkering of David Fisher's script, Lalla Ward: All the wit - entirely Douglas Adams.
On her excessive costume and full-length false fingernails, Myra Frances: Wardrobe had to provide me with an assistant when I went to the loo. I couldn't do anything.
On seeing the "metal bandits", Lalla Ward: Very MONTY PYTHON. You expect Terry Gilliam to swing in at any moment.
Mat Irvine: Totally Fagan with a touch of TREASURE ISLAND.
On Geoffrey Bayldon, Lalla Ward: A most gorgeous actor and great character. Tom loved working with Bayldon. He was happy on this story.
On Erato, Mat Irvine: We all laughed on the studio floor. Made from Metrological balloons, like the balls in THE PRISONER.
Christopher Barry: You were limited by the script.
Lalla Ward: But what was in the script? I cannot have said "a floating condom". Never act with dogs and condoms.
On Tom Baker's insistence of directing an episode three scene, Christopher Barry: He was a bit beyond himself.
As an overview after four episodes, Mat Irvine: Not as bad as I thought. I've mellowed.
Christopher Barry: I thought the first episode was great.
Lalla Ward: Was this your last DOCTOR WHO you did?
Christopher Barry: Yes. I had worked with all the Doctors. Patrick Troughton was my favourite but I didn't get one with Philip Hinchcliffe though.
On potential new titles for the story, Mat Irvine: The Creature from the Panto.
Lalla Ward: Jack and the Brussel Sprout".
On the final sentence, Lalla Ward: A real Douglas Adams's last line.
And in a final act of professional defiance against the curse of 21 st century television - squeezing cast & crew credits - Christopher Barry relishes seeing all the names rolling across the screen. However, for the curse inflicted on the NEW SERIES. Finally, he states: Nobody gives a...
DOCTOR WHO - THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT may not be that "must buy as soon as it comes out" list but you should. You'll be pleasantly surprised.