Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 47
Number of Episodes: 4
When I first started digging into classic Doctor Who last October (in preparation for the upcoming 50th Anniversary special) I scoured the web for blogs that could help point me in the direction of some of the series’ most essential stories. The goal was to watch at least one episode from every Doctor’s era (including the 1996 TV movie), and with 239 stories from which to choose I needed a little guidance. If you’re interested, here’s a great Doctor-by-Doctor guide from The Nerdist and another from WhatCulture.com.
What I didn’t understand at first was why some of these stories were so universally celebrated. For instance, everyone just raved and raved about “Tomb Of The Cybermen,” but when I got around to watching this Troughton classic I left the story feeling kinda…meh. I just didn’t see the big deal. Now, 43 stories into my marathon, I can officially say that I get it, and “The Krotons” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
This story marks the first effort from writer Robert Holmes, who would go on to pen a host of celebrated classics like “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Deadly Assassin”, and “The Caves of Androzani.” Holmes is widely regarded as one of the show’s most interesting and engaging writers, a fact that gave me a false sense of hope going into “The Krotons.” With Homles’ name attached to it I figured this one had to be pretty good. Alas, my expectations were left sadly unmatched by the story.
The thing is “The Krotons” isn’t a bad story. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot worse. It’s relatively taut (only four episodes long) and the plot moves along at a rather brisk clip. But on the whole it’s a more-or-less mediocre romp that, to my mind, serves to remind us why other stories in the classic Who oeuvre are considered to be veritable masterpieces by comparison. A story like “Tomb of the Cybermen” not only provides us with a haunting plot, menacing villains, and very clever direction, but it also gives us some intriguing new layers to the Doctor’s character and an internal conflict between saving the day and satisfying his insatiable lust for knowledge (a compelling conceit that is often a hallmark of what makes contemporary Doctor Who stories so fascinating). Consider, for instance, this brilliant bit of introspection from “Tomb of the Cybermen”:
“The Krotons”, by comparison, doesn’t have anything of the sort.
The Plot: Coming off a particularly harrowing Earth adventure (the most excellent “The Invasion“) the TARDIS appears on a planet inhabited by the Gonds, a somewhat primitive human-like race ruled and enslaved by aliens called Krotons. As legend has it, the Krotons’ ship—the Dynatrope—crash-landed on the Gonds’ planet thousands of years ago, and they’ve been in charge ever since.
I am a Kroton. If you make any jokes about putting me on a salad I will disperse you immediately!
But no Gond has ever seen a Kroton. Instead, the Krotons maintain control over the planet’s indigenous people by educating them through a mysterious computer that only teaches them as much as the Krotons want them to know (knowledge of advanced weaponry and corrosive chemicals, for instance, is strictly verboten). Every so often two of the best Gond students are chosen to become “companions of the Krotons.” They’re invited into the Dynatrope, which every Gond thinks is a pretty cool honor, but all it really means is that the chosen Gonds are drained of their mental energy and then killed with some kind of insidious gas. Bummer.
After some time The Doctor eventually figures out what’s going on. The Krotons are in a state of suspended animation and are only interested in absorbing mental power from the smartest Gonds. When they’ve built up enough of the brainy stuff they can re-materialize, fix their ship, and get the hell back to Krotonville. But of course their plan goes tits up when The Doctor arrives, eventually destroying the Krotons and their Dynatrope with sulphuric acid.
The Pros: Like so many classic Who stories, this one starts off with a promisingly mysterious premise. Why the hell is everyone so eager to be chosen for a one-way ticket to Kroton companionship? It’s a conceit that drew me in immediately, and it’s not until the third episode—once we get an actual look at the K Monsters—that the mystery unravels and is replaced by a more literal LET’S KILL ‘EM plot. Also, Jamie has a pretty bad ass moment in the first episode when he opts to fight one of the Gonds and dismisses the option to use a weapon. “I won’t be needing that, thank you.” Yeah Jamie. Rock on.
The Cons: I often fall into the trap of assuming these classic stories are going to unfold in a manner that I’ve come to expect from the show’s contemporary iteration. For instance, if this were a Doctor Who story being written today, The Doctor would not merely be content with destroying the Krotons. Sure, they’ve enslaved an entire race for thousands of years and throttled their intellectual evolution at the service of their own needs. But come on. All they want is to go home. Are they not even slightly justified? It would have been much more interesting if The Doctor decided to not only help the Gonds free themselves from bondage but to also assist the Krotons in their effort to get back to where they once belonged (everybody wins!), setting up a fascinating conflict between the Gonds’ justified need for vengeance and The Doctor’s more holistic view on every living creature’s right to survive (well, within reason). For an example of this you should check out the ninth Doctor story “Boom Town,” where The Doctor is forced to contemplate whether or not he has the right to sentence an enemy to death, no matter how grievous their actions.
Final Rating: 5/10 (It’s as middle-of-the-road) as they come.