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Serial 5G:
The Creature From The Pit

Plot

The planet Chloris is plentiful in vegetation but barren of metal. When the Doctor, Romana and K-9 arrive, Chloris' leader, the wicked Adrasta, has the Doctor thrown into a pit at the bottom of which an enormous green monster is supposed to dwell. The Doctor discovers that the monster is actually Erato, an ambassador from Tythonus who came to Chloris to trade metal for agriculture and was banished to the pit because Adrasta feared losing her monopoly on metal. But this revelation may come too late, as the Tythonians are en route to Chloris, ready to ravage the planet to avenge Adrasta's treatment of their envoy.

Production

With the Doctor having saved all of time twice in the past two years (in the Season Fifteen finale The Invasion Of Time and again throughout the Key To Time arc of Season Sixteen), producer Graham Williams decided to refocus Doctor Who's seventeenth season on smaller-scale stories. To this end, it was decided that the TARDIS would be equipped with a Randomiser to evade the dreaded Black Guardian. This device would effectively reestablish the Doctor as someone who wandered into adventures accidentally rather than by design. At the same time, new script editor Douglas Adams was keen to take the opportunity offered by more personal tales to tailor the Doctor's character more closely to Tom Baker's own personality.

To write the first such serial, Williams and Adams approached David Fisher, who had expeditiously contributed two adventures -- The Stones Of Blood and The Androids Of Tara -- to Season Sixteen. For his new scripts, Fisher was asked to set a story on an alien planet which would feature an atypical monster. Fisher felt that it would be interesting to write about a creature which was fundamentally “good”, and committed monstrous acts by accident or misunderstanding. He also decided that the main villain should be a woman, in keeping with this confounding of expectations.

This lead to Fisher's conception of the Lady Adrasta, whose name was inspired by Andromeda, a figure in Greek legend who attracted a sea monster which plagued her homeland. Fisher's creature, in turn, also drew its name from Greek mythology. Erato was one of a group of goddesses called the Muses, specifically the Muse of erotic poetry; significantly, her name means “lovely”. The story's setting, Chloris, came from “chlorophyll”, the green pigment found in most vegetation.

As originally devised, much of Fisher's tale -- entitled The Creature From The Pit -- was concerned with Adrasta's attempts to claim the TARDIS for herself. K-9 eventually takes Adrasta away in the TARDIS, returning her -- cowed and defeated -- at the story's conclusion. Upon initially being thrown into the Pit, the Doctor is attacked by Hellyn, a former member of Adrasta's team of engineers. In the final episode, a battle fleet from Tithonus (later spelt “Tythonus”) arrives, threatening to destroy Chloris with a photon missile. Erato and the Doctor travel into space in Erato's ship, and the Tithonian weaves a spacesuit for the Doctor, enabling him to reach the missile and disarm it.

Fisher's scripts were commissioned on November 16th, 1978. The title “The Creature In The Pit” was used at this point, although it soon reverted back to the original phrasing. To revise his climax, Fisher sought the assistance of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University -- a process made easier when it was discovered that some of the faculty were fans of Doctor Who. They offered a neutron star as a potent weapon, and suggested that one way to avert the threat would be to encase it in aluminium. Meanwhile, Fisher drew upon the crooked Fagin of Charles Dickens' 1839 novel Oliver Twist to create the bandit leader Torvin.

In devising his scripts, Fisher incorporated a preponderance of comedy elements, in the style Adams had favoured in both his own Doctor Who serial, The Pirate Planet, and his successful radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Although Adams attempted to restrain the jokiness to some extent, The Creature From The Pit nonetheless invited criticism from McDonald, who felt that the scripts' sophomoric humour sabotaged the programme's credibility.

On January 24th, 1979, Lalla Ward was cast as a new incarnation of Romana, replacing Mary Tamm. Romana had originally been devised as an attempt to pair the Doctor with a more assertive, independent companion, but upon Tamm's decision not to return to Doctor Who, Williams came to the conclusion that this had not worked well. He and Ward decided to make the new Romana a more playful character who would be appealing to children. By this time, Fisher had written The Creature From The Pit with Tamm's Romana in mind, but revised his scripts to account for the new portrayal. By now, it had been decided that The Creature From The Pit would be the first story recorded as part of Doctor Who's seventeenth production block -- earning the designation Serial 5G -- but that Destiny Of The Daleks would be broadcast first, and hence would introduce the new Romana. At this stage, it was expected that The Creature From The Pit would be the season's second story.

In addition to the change of lead actress, Williams also attempted to effect a change in his production team. The producer had been badly ill during the autumn of 1978, and many of his duties had been assumed by production unit manager John Nathan-Turner. Williams now advocated a promotion for Nathan-Turner to the post of associate producer. However, his request was denied by Head of Drama Graeme McDonald. On the other hand, McDonald was becoming concerned with some of the decisions that were being made on Doctor Who, and asked former producer Barry Letts to keep an informal eye on the programme.

The director assigned to The Creature From The Pit was Christopher Barry, whose last Doctor Who credit had been on Season Thirteen's The Brain Of Morbius. Both Barry and visual effects designer Mat Irvine became concerned about the feasibility of the enormous Erato; another colossal Doctor Who monster, the giant squid Kroll, had been a notable failure in the previous year's The Power Of Kroll. Irvine suggested realising Erato using a combination of puppets and model sets, but the director did not feel that this was the right way to proceed.

One of Barry's tasks was to help Williams cast a new voice for K-9, as John Leeson had decided not to return for Season Seventeen. On March 16th, David Brierley reluctantly agreed to take the job. Brierley had turned to acting when a leg injury at a young age put an end to his aspirations of becoming a ballet dancer. Brierley had mostly worked in theatre, but had also earned credits on radio and television, including Coronation Street and Armchair Theatre. He was not keen to voice K-9, but was convinced to accept the role by Barry, who was a longtime friend of his. Brierley would be formally contracted on March 28th. Also cast in The Creature From The Pit was another veteran Doctor Who director. Morris Barry (only distantly related to Christopher) had helmed three serials in the Sixties (most recently The Dominators) and was now hired to play Tollund.

Work on Doctor Who's seventeenth production block began with filming on Serial 5G at the Ealing Television Film Studios. This was originally scheduled to get under way on March 20th, but was delayed by a day due to union activity over a complaint about a wrongful firing. Filming lasted three days, until the 22nd, and dealt with scenes at the Pit head, in the forest, and at the clearing where Erato's ship was found. Modelwork for The Creature From The Pit was also completed at this time.

As Serial 5G's studio dates approached, tensions continued to rise concerning Erato. Work was proceeding very slowly on the prop, which meant that it would not be available for rehearsal. Barry now changed his mind, and resurrected Irvine's original suggestion of using a puppet version of Erato, but there was no longer sufficient time to accomplish this. Barry then argued that the monster should be completely reimagined, but Williams felt that he could not authorise such a significant change at so late a date.

The first studio session for The Creature From The Pit took place on April 9th and 10th in BBC Television Centre Studio 6. When the Erato costume arrived, a new problem was identified: the monster was unmistakeably phallic, and changes would have to be made to avert this impression. In the event, April 9th was used for scenes in Adrasta's palace from episodes one and two, as well as some material in the mine passages and in Organon's cavern. April 10th involved the remaining palace sequences, together with those in the bandits' tent.

By this point, Barry had discovered that there were serious problems with the model filming conducted for the serial, such as the strings on the miniature TARDIS being visible. This forced Williams to authorise a remount, which was held at the Visual Effects Workshop on April 17th and 18th. Inflation in 1979 was soaring almost out of control, and every penny spent unnecessarily like this was a huge blow to the Doctor Who budget.

Recording on The Creature From The Pit then concluded with a three-day session in TC6 from April 22nd to 24th. The Erato costume had now been altered, with arms added to detract from its phallic appearance. All three days were concerned with scenes in the mines, while the TARDIS sequences were also taped on the 24th. By now, Baker and Ward had successfully rekindled the good working relationship they'd enjoyed on The Armageddon Factor, finding that they had a similar philosophy about what made Doctor Who work. They also shared a propensity for rewriting their lines in order to better fit their visions of their characters. Indeed, it was becoming clear that Baker and Ward's affection for one another was growing deeper than that of mere coworkers.

Ward was less happy about how The Creature From The Pit catered to Romana: she disliked the fact that her white costume was an intentional echo of Mary Tamm's original outfit from The Ribos Operation, and also felt that Fisher had done a poor job of rewriting his scripts for her incarnation of Romana. Williams agreed that, in the future, Ward should have more say in her character's portrayal.

The Creature From The Pit was ultimately broadcast third in the Season Seventeen running order (after City Of Death, which was made between Serial 5G and Destiny Of The Daleks). This marked the final Doctor Who credit for Christopher Barry. The Creature From The Pit had been an entirely frustrating experience for the director, exacerbated when Barry and Williams were called upon to confront the Visual Effects Department over the issues which had arisen during recording. Barry went on to helm episodes of All Creatures Great And Small, Juliet Bravo and The Tripods. Barry was largely retired by the late Eighties, although he did agree to direct the Doctor Who video spin-off Downtime, made by Reeltime Pictures in 1995. He passed away on February 10th, 2014 after a fall.

Sources
  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #304, 30th May 2001, “Archive: The Creature From The Pit” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #9, 22nd December 2004, “One Step Beyond” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #41, January 1993, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 27th Oct 1979
Time 6.02pm
Duration 23'32"
Viewers (more) 9.3m (43rd)
· BBC1 9.3m
Episode 2
Date 3rd Nov 1979
Time 6.07pm
Duration 24'03"
Viewers (more) 10.8m (23rd)
· BBC1 10.8m
Appreciation 67%
Episode 3
Date 10th Nov 1979
Time 6.02pm
Duration 23'55"
Viewers (more) 10.2m (36th)
· BBC1 10.2m
Episode 4
Date 17th Nov 1979
Time 6.04pm
Duration 24'08"
Viewers (more) 9.6m (36th)
· BBC1 9.6m


Cast
Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Romana
Lalla Ward
Voice of K-9
David Brierley
(more)
Adrasta
Myra Frances
Karela
Eileen Way
Huntsman
David Telfer
Torvin
John Bryans
Edu
Edward Kelsey
Ainu
Tim Munro
Doran
Terry Walsh
Tollund
Morris Barry
Organon
Geoffrey Bayldon
Guardmaster
Tommy Wright
Guards
Philip Denyer
Dave Redgrave


Crew
Written by
David Fisher
Directed by
Christopher Barry
Produced by
Graham Williams
(more)

Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Production Assistant
Romey Allison
Production Unit Manager
John Nathan-Turner
Director's Assistant
Carol Snook
Assistant Floor Manager
David Tilley
Film Cameraman
David Feig
Film Sound
Doug Mawson
Film Editor
MAC Adams
Lighting
Warwick Fielding
Sound
Anthony Philpott
Senior Cameraman
Rodney Taylor
Vision Mixer
James Gould
Visual Effects Designer
Mat Irvine
Electronic Effects
Dave Chapman
VT Editor
Rod Waldron
Costume Designer
June Hudson
Make-up Artist
Gillian Thomas
Script Editor
Douglas Adams
Designer
Valerie Warrender


Working Titles
The Creature In The Pit


Media
DVD Release
Doctor Who: The Creature From The Pit (2010)
Buy: Canada< · UK · USA
Audio Release
Doctor Who and The Creature From The Pit narrated by Tom Baker (2008; novelisation talking book)
Buy: Canada · UK
Novelisation
Doctor Who and The Creature From The Pit by David Fisher (1981)

Updated 10th February 2014