Creature From the Pit
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
here’s nothing wrong with “The Creature from the Pit” that a couple pints of ale (or whatever your choice of poison may be) can’t fix. Yet another entry from the Douglas Adams script-edited season of “Doctor Who,” whatever the story lacks in the plot mechanics department, it more than makes up for with its cracking wordplay. The jokes fly fast and furious in this one, which at one time was considered a negative, but I think we’ve all chilled out enough over the years to warrant giving this tale some serious (or not, as the case may be) reevaluation.
The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (David Brierly) are forced to materialize the TARDIS on the planet Chloris, a world which, as its name suggests, is ripe with vegetation. After discovering what the Doctor deduces is a gigantic eggshell, he’s taken prisoner by the planet’s ruler, Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances), whose duds are as close to dominatrix as anything this side of Emma Peel at the Hellfire Club. Adrasta is a temperamental bitch, and anytime one of her subjects does something she doesn’t like, they end up being thrown into the pit. And you know what’s waiting down at the bottom, don’t you? (If you guessed anything other than a creature, I’ve already lost you.) Chloris is also deficient in metal, so anything steely – including K-9 – becomes a coveted artifact. Sooner, rather than later, the Doctor ends up in the pit, and meets the behemoth, which is not quite what everyone thinks it is, and Adrasta certainly knows more than she’s letting on.
“The Creature from the Pit” is played almost entirely for laughs, and even though Douglas Adams didn’t write the script (that dubious distinction goes to David Fisher), you can feel his revisionist hand throughout the proceedings, and not just in the joke department, either. Lady Adrasta, as well as the astrologer Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon), are both incredibly well-written and played characters. Upon meeting the Doctor, the latter proclaims “Astrologer extraordinaire. Seer to princes and emperors. The future foretold, the present explained, the past apologized for.” Adrasta is a perfect nemesis for the Time Lord and Frances plays her to the hilt, chewing every bit of scenery she can along the way. This season often gets a bum rap as being a low point in the history of “Who,” but each new DVD release (this summer’s “The Horns of Nimon” was one such offering) from this block is proving that’s not actually the case. In fact, I’d got so far as to say this season, at least from a watchability and entertainment standpoint, trumps the “Key to Time” season which preceded it, which isn’t something that occurred to me as a possibility back when I reviewed that season.
Granted, some of the laughs that emerge from the “Pit” are unintentional. The scavenger characters – each and every one of them – look identical to the Terry Jones “Monty Python” character that runs up to the screen and says “It’s….!” The creature has a giant green phallic arm (or whatever it is), and then there’s the rest of him, which is so ludicrously cobbled together you have no choice but to look past it. And then there are the Wolfweeds – Adrasta’s vicious tumbleweeds which are conceptually just so far fucking out there one doesn’t know whether or not they’re even supposed to be taken seriously. This was also the first story Lalla Ward shot as Romana and she claims the piece was written with Mary Tamm in mind, and her performance is at times laughable.
The scene in which K-9 is attacked by the Wolfweeds is some of the worst melodrama ever seen on this series, and that’s saying something when you consider the competition. But none of these negatives ever really manage to detract from what’s arguably a very misunderstood and wrongly judged tale. As with the rest of the stories from this season, all “The Creature from the Pit” is really guilty of is not being “City of Death.” But I’d wager that if you enjoy the charms of that classic (which chronologically precedes this one), you’ll very likely find something in the “Pit” that satisfies you as well.
Special Features: The commentary track features Ward, Myra Frances, director Christopher Barry and visual effects designer Matt Irvine, who has plenty to say about the hideousness of the creature. “Christopher Barry: Director” is an interview featurette that pretty much does what its name implies. “Team Erato” is a funny look back at what it took to fail to create a convincing creature. “Animal Magic” is a quick vintage interview with Tom Baker. There’s also an extended scene that doesn’t amount to much, a photo gallery, PDF Radio Times listings, production notes subtitles and a “Coming Soon” trailer for “The King’s Demons” and “Planet of Fire” which are also out today.