Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit
(4 episodes, s17e09-e12, 1979)
With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe, “Death! Any death but that of the pit!”
On a jungle planet, a group of people sacrifice a man by tossing him in a pit. On the TARDIS, Romana is decluttering, K9 is reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit with the Doctor, and WHAT THE FRESH HELL IS THAT VOICE?
No joke, that’s exactly what I wrote in my show notes. I grew to accept it – I didn’t get used to it, but merely accepted that as much as I want to, I cannot change it – but can we have John Leeson back now? Please?
After the emergency transceiver picks up a distress call and the TARDIS diverts to the jungle planet. The Doctor and Romana venture out and discover an enormous eggshell made of metal. The shell is transmitting the signal that the TARDIS detected. The Doctor is trapped by vines under the control of a group of men. They release him and order his execution, but a woman stops them. She explains that the vines are wolfweeds, and that they are in the “place of death,” aptly named because anyone traveling there is sentenced to death.
The Doctor and Romana are taken to see Lady Adrasta, and en route the Doctor warns that they are being followed. The group is ambushed by men who fight the swordsmen with clubs. They take Romana, but the wolfweed group refuses to pursue. The lower-tech group seem interested in metal content, and since Romana has none, they decide to kill her. As they deliberate, the wolfweed group arrives at Adrasta’s palace, where the Doctor attempts escape before being confronted by Adrasta. She discusses the egg with the Doctor, and agrees to search for Romana in the meantime. Back at the bandit camp, Romana logics her way out of the situation and takes charge of the men, tricking them into signaling K9 with the dog whistle.
The Doctor takes interest in a plate in Adrasta’s throne room as she asks about the egg shell. He presumes that it is screaming in pain for help, and disagrees with the Lady’s engineers about the source of the egg. Since one of the engineers failed to make the observations that the Doctor did, he is taken to the pit for execution. The Doctor is taken as a witness.
K9 arrives at the bandit camp, stuns the lead bandit, and rescues Romana. Together they track down the Doctor, arriving just after the execution. K9 stuns one of the guards into the pit, but is quickly overcome by the wolfweeds. The Doctor escapes by the most unthinkable way: He jumps into the pit. Romana notes that the Doctor is just below the edge of the pit, hiding from Adrasta. The Lady takes Romana and K9 (who is wrapped in a guaze cocoon) back to her palace. As Adrasta leaves, she kicks dirt into the pit, unwittingly knocking the Doctor from his perch.
Back at the palace, Adrasta reveals that metal is valuable and precious on the planet, and orders K9 disassembled for his parts. Romana agrees to help Adrasta if she doesn’t harm K9. She claims that K9 holds the information Adrasta seeks about the egg, and that only Romana can operate him.
In the pit, the Doctor explores the caverns and finds the creature. The creature is a large cube with a tentacle, and I assume that the production budget was blown for a trip to Paris and the Dalek premiere. Anyway, as he evades it, he discovers a man in hiding. The man, astrologer Organon, takes the Doctor to a safe space. He was once thrown into the pit for a mistake, but escaped and has been surviving on scraps intended for the creature.
The pit used to be a network of mines, but they are now abandoned. The only remaining mine is owned by Adrasta, and she owns all the metal on the planet. The creature closes in on the Doctor and Organon as they discuss their options. Organon uses his candle to burn the tentacle, and the creature retreats. They decide to explore the caverns to examine the creature.
Romana attempts to escape with K9, but she is stopped. Adrasta interrogates K9, and the robotic dog reveals what he knows of the TARDIS. They decide to use it to control all of the metal, and plan to press Romana into service as a pilot. Adrasta decides to destroy the creature first since she no longer needs it, and she takes K9 to destroy it. Everyone in Adrasta’s court, including the Lady and her prisoners, enters the mine on the hunt.
Everyone in the caverns converges on the creature, and as the Doctor gets a closer look, it attacks him. The guards attack as they fall back, but the creature seals the chamber. The Doctor is unharmed, and Organon and the guards attempt to break through.
Since the palace is empty, the bandits decide to distract the guards and ransack the place. In quick succession, the bandits assault the palace, Adrasta orders K9 to destroy the barrier, and the Doctor explores the mines and attempts to befriend the creature. The creature draws a picture on the wall, and it has the same symbol as the barricade and the plate in Adrasta’s throne room. Simultaneously, the bandits raid the throne room, including said plate, but are forced to retreat into the mines as more guards approach. They are soon hypnotized by the plate as it glows, and they carry it into the depths, which is fortunate because the Doctor agrees to retrieve the plate for the creature.
Romana, Adrasta, and K9 arrive at the barricade. Adrasta is surprised to see Organon, but maintains her attention on the task at hand and orders Romana to kill the creature if K9 can break the seal. Unfortunately, K9’s efforts only result in strengthening the seal. Fortunately, in Douglas Adams fashion, the Doctor breaks through from the other side.
Adrasta holds the Doctor as the Lady sends Romana, K9, and some guards to attack the creature. They cannot find the creature, and when they report back to Adrasta, the Lady inadvertently reveals that it is a Tythonian. The Doctor tricks Adrasta by stunning the guards with K9 and a mirror, and as she attempts to escape the oncoming creature, the bandits arrive with the plate and place it on the creature. The plate enables anyone touching it to communicate with the Tythonian. It’s name is Erato, and it is the Tythonian ambassador to the planet Chloris. It arrived fifteen years prior to negotiate a deal to exchange metal for chlorophyll, which is the Tythonian food source. The egg was its spaceship, and since Adrasta hoarded the planet’s metal, she cast the ambassador into the pit.
Hearing the truth, Adrasta’s people turn on her and force the Lady to communicate with the ambassador. It corroborates her story and then settles the score with her.
The Tythonian’s starship’s engine is concealed in the fragments in the mines, of which the Doctor stole a piece to prevent the ambassador from escaping before negotiating a deal and saving both their worlds. The bandits, fearing that a sudden influx of metal will reduce the value of all metal on the planet, plan to corner the market by stealing everything they can find. The Tythonian reveals that, as a failsafe if the ambassador did not return, her people have sent a neutron star to obliterate the planet. The ambassador plans to build a new ship within the hour, which prompts the Doctor to devise a plan to stop the neutron star and save the planet.
Wait, what? That doesn’t seem like a good negotiation technique at all. I get the impression here that the writers didn’t know how to wrap this up so they threw a neutron star in the mix for fun.
Adrasta’s adviser, Karela, hides the shell, kills the bandit leader, and tries to convince the rest of them to join her as she takes Adrasta’s place. The Doctor arrives and reveals the truth of the matter, and when Karela refuses to surrender the shell, the Doctor forces her hand by destroying the metal. With the shell returned, Erato constructs a new ship and works with the Doctor to construct an aluminum shell around the neutron star. The TARDIS is nearly destroyed, but the neutron star is neutralized and sent hurtling into deep space.
The Time Lords return to Chloris and deliver a trading contract, pushing the planet into a mutually beneficial future with Organon as its leader, before whisking away to the next adventure.
Hopefully it’s better than this one. It was lacking all around, and not even Douglas Adams and his trademark humor could save it.
Also, I’ll ask again: Can we have John Leeson back now? Please?
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
5 thoughts on “Timestamp #106: The Creature from the Pit”
For whatever reason, I really liked this episode and yet I agree with your critique: the ending was that of a whimper and not a roar (my words, not yours). I do really like your critiques and agree with most of them. Plus, it’s a neat way to relive some of these great episodes. Thank you for posting!
Thank you for reading and leaving feedback! One of the things that I have been enjoying about this journey is how differently I see some of these stories, and how accepting long-time fans are of those differing views. It’s nice to see.
Sorry, you’re not getting John Leeson back until Season 18. There was a dispute on pay and producer Graham Williams thought that people just liked the K-9 prop and wouldn’t care about the voice. How wrong he was. When new producer John Nathan Turner takes over he makes sure that they make things right with Leeson.
I’ll be curious to see what you think about the rest of season 17. I feel like Douglas Adams was to inexperienced to be a script editor at this point in his career.
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