Doctor Who: Behind THE MUTANTS

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First broadcast from April 8th 1972, Christopher Morley looks back at the real world issues behind The Mutants...


Although the title could be read as a bit of a give-away, The Mutants is about so much more than the divide between the human Solonians & mutant Mutts.



Much like The Savages & Colony In Space before it, here the Doctor's off-Earth travels are used as a forum to reinterpret the big issues doing the rounds in our particular corner of the solar system, which by the time of The Mutants itself his Third incarnation could finally escape when the need arose- his exile having been finally lifted by the Time Lords.

Galactic yo-yo no more, you might think! But it would seem those who passed sentence on him back when he was considerably scruffier need him to do a little job for them. He's going to become an intergalactic postman of sorts, delivering a message to Solos........its the end for the Earth Empire of the far future as we know it. And a form of racial infighting sees its inhabitants attempting to work out how best to deal with the Mutts. No easy task when the insect-like creatures are actually just the same inside as the humans, some of whom would gladly see them dead!

For you see, the Mutts are but the pupae, a transitional form between the comparatively more human Solonians who seem to detest them & a more advanced, almost godlike if similarly human-like in appearance final state. Little wonder then that there's such fierce debate/argument over their exact status-
VARAN: My people are warriors. It is honourable to fight.
KY: Where is the honour in hunting down unarmed creatures?
VARAN: It is their duty, Ky. They are diseased.
KY: If it is a disease, what has caused it? Once we were farmers and hunters. The land was green, the rivers ran clear, the air was sweet to breathe. And then the Overlords came, bringing Earth's poisons with them, calling it progress. We toiled in their mines, we became slaves. Worse than slaves!
VARAN: Liar!
KY: Murderer! You have nothing else to hunt, so you hunt your own kind.
Of course there have been many instances of similarly utterly shameful/needless conflicts throughout human history. The writing team of Bob Baker & Dave Martin chose to offer their own take on South Africa's apartheid policy, as Ian Stuart Black had drawn on for elements of The Savages. Director Christopher Barry, though, actively downplayed the political elements of their efforts- choosing to focus purely on the science fiction. Series producer Barry Letts gave/forced upon them the idea of a mutant species changing form inspired by the life-cycle of the butterfly based upon The Mutant, his own ultimately unused submission for Season Four, Patrick Troughton's first as the Second Doctor. Having submitted it to Gerry Davis in November 1966, it was turned down. But as A Brief History Of Time Travel later noted
"Bob Baker and Dave Martin had earned their first Doctor Who scriptwriting credit with Season Eight's The Claws Of Axos, and continued to submit ideas to the production office thereafter. One of these dealt with the colonial oppression of natives on an alien planet, inspired by Martin's concerns about South Africa's segregationist Apartheid policy.

This caught the eye of script editor Terrance Dicks, who wanted to do a story about the British Empire's nineteenth-century colonialist ways. Producer Barry Letts suggested that the storyline could incorporate the concept of an alien species which evolved in stages like a butterfly, something he had introduced in his unused 1966 Doctor Who submission, “The Mutant”.

Dicks elected to take a patient approach to the new storyline, which was given the title “Independence”. He, Baker and Martin developed the idea over the course of several weeks, following which Dicks commissioned the first episode on May 20th, 1971."
Something of Dicks' desire to reflect upon this imperialist mindset survived, too...
DOCTOR: According to the TARDIS's instrument readings, we are now in the thirtieth century empire.
JO: I see. What empire?
DOCTOR: Your empire. Earth's empire. Yes, great colonists, Earthmen, you know, Jo. Once they'd sacked the solar system, they moved onto pastures new. Solos is one of them. One of the last. Did you ever read Gibbon's Decline and Fall?
JO: No. Is it good?
DOCTOR: Jo, this is like that. You see?
JO: No.
DOCTOR: Oh. Well, empires rise and empires fall. And if this is their idea of a reception, this one has obviously crumbled.
Of course, Gibbon was talking there about the Romans. But Earth's future is in a bit of a state too! Perhaps it might be prudent to take a look at just what apartheid meant for those who lived through it for a little context. As Michael Gallagher wrote for BBC News of its earliest manifestation-
"In 1948 South Africa had a new government, the National Party. Elected by a small majority in a whites-only election, its victory followed a steady increase in black migration to the country's towns. This migration had led to a fear of black domination among the minority whites - the Afrikaners, and the English-speaking community, mainly of British descent."
And South African political commentator Stanley Uys believes the rise of the National Party marked the beginning of what would come to be known as apartheid- literally the Afrikaans dialect translation of ''the state of being apart''. As Uys said:
"Faced with an immense problem, the National Party came up with an immense solution. Although there wasn't a single administrative district in South Africa in which Africans did not outnumber whites, the party's 'social engineers' started to draw the dividing lines. And among the first measures were statutes to separate the residential areas, not only of Africans and whites, but also of mixed race people and Indians."
And Hendrick Verwoerd, who served as Prime Minister during the process of South Africa's transition to a republican state in 1961, is seen by many as its architect, having said that...
"... the white man, therefore, not only has an undoubted stake in - and right to - the land which he developed into a modern industrial state from denuded grassland and empty valleys and mountains. But - according to all the principles of morality - it was his, is his, and must remain his."
Starting to sound all too depressingly familiar now, no?

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