“The Creature from the Pit” is an adventure of the seventeenth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1979. It follows “City of Death” and it’s a four parts adventure written by David Fisher and directed by Christopher Barry.
After intercepting a distress signal, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) brings the Tardis to the planet Chloris, where metals are rare. Upon their arrival, he and Romana II (Lalla Ward) discover the remains of a huge egg in the jungle but don’t have time to study it because they get captured by locals.
The two travelers discover that the sentient inhabitants of the planet Chloris are ruled by the cruel Lady Adrasta, who controls the extraction of the very little existing metals. Opponents are thrown into the Pit, where an enormous Creature lives.
This DVD edition has a limited amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Billings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by its protagonist Lalla Ward, director Christopher Barry, actress Myra Frances and special effect designer Mat Irvine.
Christopher Barry: Director. A tribute about 19 minutes long to director Christopher Barry who talks about his career that goes far beyond “Doctor Who”.
Team Erato. A documentary almost 15 minutes long on the problems experienced by the team that created the special effects for this adventure.
Animal Magic. A short clip in which Tom Baker talks about the strange creatures he encountered during his travels as the Doctor.
Extended Scene. A very short clip showing an extended scene from this adventure.
“The Creature from the Pit” was the first serial produced during the 17th season even though it was the third in order of transmission. After a season with a story-arc centerered around a story that embraced the whole cosmos with the search for the parts of the Key to Time, producer Graham Williams decided to return to the classic adventures of the Doctor, with autonomous plots focused on local problems discovered on the place he visited.
David Fisher had written the scripts for two serials of the previous season and was asked to write another one by Graham Williams and Douglas Adams, who had taken over as script editor for the 17th season. He was asked to write a story set on an alien planet that included an atypical monster.
In developing the role of Romana, David Fisher had to take into account that Lalla Ward had replaced Mary Tamm. In “The Creature from the Pit” she wears an outfit similar to the one from Romana’s debut to emphasize the continuity but Graham Williams asked to make her new incarnation more playful.
The big problem in the production of “The Creature from the Pit” came from making the Creature. The limitations caused by the low budget and the differences of ideas between director Christopher Barry and the head of the special effects team Mat Irvine caused various tensions. The hilarity generated during the first shots when the Creature’s costume revealed an appendage that was too phallic didn’t help. The costume was modified but the general result remained low quality even for the standards of the classic “Doctor Who” series.
The Creature is the most obvious problem and increases the sense of farce of this serial. In the first episode, a group of bandits is introduced but they seem far from dangerous. David Fisher developed the comedy element quite a lot and it’s paradoxical that it was Douglas Adams who tried to limit it. Tom Baker manages to make many surreal moments work, the problem is that there’s no balance in a story in which dramatic tones got quenched.
The problems in the script and in the special effects don’t mean that “The Creature from the Pit” is to be thrown away completely. The plot’s foundations are good and if they had been developed better to exploit the dramatic elements the result would have been better. Chloris’s world building, with its society and the problem of metal scarcity, is well done and the reproduction of the jungle deserves to be remembered more as a successful visual effect. The progressive discovery of Lady Adrasta’s secrets and in particular the connected to the Creature would have made far more effective twists. Even high level performances such as Organon by Geoffrey Bayldon and Lady Adrasta by Myra Frances would have been stronger with a more balanced script.
In all this the change of K-9’s voice gets almost unnoticed. John Leeson left his role as K-9’s voice at the end of the previous season because his performance was limited by the type of character but his replacement David Brierley sounds really different.
In the end the faults of “The Creature from the Pit” weigh too heavily in the audience’s memory. It was certainly not the only “Doctor Who” serial with mediocre special effects but in this case a number of circumstances made them memorable in an unfavorable sense since their production. It remains a serial with a predominantly negative reputation and it’s already positive that the DVD edition contains a couple of interesting extras. In my opinion, this makes it a product for fans of the classic series who want to have the complete collection.