Interesting tidbit about “The Mutants”: Salman Rushdie mentions it in his famously controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, although not by name, but rather by bringing up the Mutts from the story and offering up a few observations. Some fans have derided Rushdie’s brief commentary as misinterpreting the messages of the story, but that’s a debate for another forum. What’s noteworthy, though, is that Rushdie was paying close enough attention to see any kind of message at all. It’s not that the messages are muddled, so much as they’re covered in enough layers of sci-fi that they don’t dominate the story. Ostensibly, “The Mutants” is something of a metaphor for colonialism, Apartheid and xenophobia, although one can hardly claim the story beats you over the head with any of these ideas. Certainly the messages are no more prevalent than in dozens of other similarly structured Who stories, but if somebody wants or needs to see them, they’re definitely there.
The action unfolds in the 30th century, and the Doctor (Jon Pertwee), with Jo Grant (Katy Manning) in tow, has been sent on a mission by the Time Lords to deliver a message to an unknown person on the planet Solos. Solos has for hundreds of years been under the rule of the Earth Empire and the indigenous population has long since grown not only restless, but rebellious even. But something else is happening to the Solonians – they’re mutating into a new race, which the humans refer to as Mutts, and they look something like giant cockroaches that walk on two legs. Why is this happening? Does it have anything to do with the poisonous atmosphere on Solos, or is it just a natural stage of their evolution?
Maybe the real reason this story gets singled out for its political content is because it feels more mature than not only other stories from its era, but also much of classic Who in general. The characters are complex and layered, but not always in the most engaging of ways. Likewise, the story either takes numerous needless detours to get where it’s going, or it’s a genuinely multifaceted piece of work. After two full viewings, I still can’t decide which, but I’d imagine much of one’s take on it would depend entirely on how much enjoyment one gets out of it. The tone of it frequently doesn’t feel as much Doctor Who as it does another great ‘70s British sci-fi series, Blake’s 7, and while viewing “The Mutants” I kept imagining Blake, Avon and the rest of the crew from the Liberator in charge of fixing the situation.
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