Category Archives: Doctor Who

Doctor Who Marathon: The Krotons

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Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 47
Number of Episodes: 4
Season: 6

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.

The Krotons (1)

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.

Doctor Who Marathon: The Mind Robber

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Writer: Peter Link
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 45
Number of Episodes: 5 (20 minutes each)
Season: 6

Since I first began this Doctor Who marathon mission of mine oh so many months ago, I’ve come to realize something maddening about story titles. Some of the most intriguing ones wind up being absolute rubbish (I’m looking at you Dominators). And that’s why I was cautiously optimistic when I found out the next installment was called “The Mind Robber.” Now doesn’t that sound damn cool? Well, I’m delighted to report that this one lived up to its namesake expectations—exceeded them actually. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say this is one of my favorite classic Who episodes to date.

The Plot: In order to escape a Dulcian volcano of doom (please get off that damn planet A-SAP!), The Doctor has to revert to rather unconventional measures and remove the TARDIS from “normal” time and space. He doesn’t want to do this because, you know, “normal” time and space is where everyone is most cozy. But he has no choice. If he doesn’t, he and his companions will wind up as little more than mummified remains in an intergalactic Pompeii exhibit of the future (or is it the past?).

The plan works. Kind of. The good news is that it gets them off Dulkis. The bad news is that The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie suddenly find themselves floating in a frighteningly empty void that explodes the TARDIS into a dozen pieces and leaves them clinging to the control console, terrified and completely alone. Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool.

The next few minutes unfold with dream-like perplexity as Jamie and Zoe suddenly find themselves surrounded by an unending white expanse where they are each beckoned by illusory temptations from their respective time periods. Then some intimidating white robots show up and escort our heroes into, well, we don’t know where.

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The robots! They’re so…white!

Meanwhile The Doctor awakens in a surreal forest of some kind, which he eventually comes to realize is a land of fiction inhabited by creepy wind-up soldiers, Gulliver (ya know, the one who had all the travels), Rapunzel, a smattering of mythological baddies, and a hoard of irritating school boys and girls who speak only in riddles (Are you my mummy?).

To make a long (and fascinating) story short, it turns out that this obtuse universe is presided over by a man known as the Master (no, not that Master…sadly). He’s an English writer from 1926 who is being controlled by something called the Master Brain. Anxious to free himself from the clutches of the Brain, the English writer has devised a cunning plot: Make The Doctor take over his compositional duties so he can get the hell home. Oh yeah, and the Master Brain wants to take over the Earth…but more on that later.

That’s about as far as I’ll go in explaining the plot, because half the fun of this episode is winding through the surreal mystery along with out heroes (and there is a lot of surreal mystery to be had here).

The Pros: Doctor Who is often at its best when the story puts its main characters in terrifying situations that bend everyday perceptions of time and space, especially when those situations are being controlled by an unseen and unknown, outside force. Sadly, I’ve come to realize there is a real dearth of this in the show’s first few seasons (with the exception of gems like The Edge of Destruction, The Time Meddler, and The Invasion). “The Mind Robber”, however, goes further in this regard than any episode I’ve seen thus far, and fans of the show’s modern-day manifestation will not be disappointed, as the story is an undeniable harbinger for contemporary classics like Amy’s Choice, The Girl Who Waited, and Midnight. The direction is fluid and surreal while the story itself (for the most part) employs some truly novel conceits that are at once suspenseful and thought provoking. One can even go so far as to ruminate on some potentially meta-fictive themes going on here. Consider: If The Doctor suddenly finds himself in a world of fiction, does that mean he too is a work of fiction? Because, well, he is…at least to us…I mean, in this world…but he doesn’t know it…I mean, in his world…oh you get the point. It’s a genuinely clever and entertaining story from start to (almost) finish.

The Cons: Well, I probably could have done without Karkus, a fictional (to us) cartoon character from the year 2000 (woah, future!). He’s an unnecessary bit of childish camp thrown into an otherwise taught, mature story.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

But even more frustrating than Karkus is the way the story ends. After everything we’ve been through we find out that the Master Brain is interested in luring everyone on Earth into this fictitious world, rendering them helpless and leaving the planet free for the taking. Ugh…really? It’s a disappointing and far-too-literal conclusion to a story that was, up to that point, thick, heady, and abstract in all the right ways. It kind of feels like Peter Link got to the last episode and was like, “Hm. I’ve painted myself into a pretty tight fucking corner here, haven’t I? Bullocks. Well, um, yeah. Takeover the Earth. That’s it!” In the hands of someone like Steven Moffat the conclusion would have been far richer and probably involved some kid of plot to make sure literary characters never died, even at the expense of the humans that created them. Or something. But the story’s lackluster denouement is certainly not enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. All told, “The Mind Robber” is one for the ages, and it’s one of the reasons a chap like myself marches on through such a daunting marathon.

Final Rating: 8/10 (points lost for Karkus and the conclusion)

Doctor Who Marathon: The Dominators

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Writer: Norman Ashby
Director: Morris Barry
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 44
Number of Episodes: 5
Season: 6

Well, out of the 24 classic Who stories I’ve seen so far, The Dominators may be the worst (and that’s saying something when you consider that I’ve suffered through such gems as The Gunfighters and The Sensorites). And I have to say, I’m stunned that this is how the BBC saw fit to kick off season six. Really guys? This was the best you could do?

The Plot: The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive on the peaceful planet Dulkis. The Doctor’s been here before, and he’s delighted to return. Pulling a beach ball and folding chair from the depths of the TARDIS, he and his companions expect to enjoy a nice restful holiday on a planet inhabited by a society that has “outlawed war.” What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just around the bend two dour chaps in ridiculous, swallowing shoulder pads land their spaceship. These are The Dominators, a race that apparently only respects “the authority of superior force” (and enormous shoulder pads). But don’t be fooled. These guys may come armed with a menacing name (and did I mention the shoulder pads?) but they’re almost as dull and tedious as the planet on which they’ve arrived.

Hey, um, do my shoulder pads look smaller than yours? Be honest now.

Hey, um, do my shoulder pads look smaller than yours? Be honest now.

And why are The Dominators here you may ask? Well, apparently Dulkis experienced a nuclear catastrophe almost 200 years ago, and there is now an uninhabitable island that is highly radioactive down to the core—and The Dominators just love radioactivity. It’s what fuels their ship. So yeah, they want it. All of it.

Oh yeah, and The Dominators also brought some friends with them—small robotic servants called Quarks. I’d rather not waste too much brain power describing the Quarks ridiculous design, so here you go:

Man, I thought we were auditioning for Daleks!

Man, I thought we were auditioning for Daleks!

In the end The Doctor must attempt to save the planet because the Dulcians are a bunch of bureaucratic, pacifist weenies who can’t be bothered to so much as leave the couch let alone raise up arms against an invading alien force (they’re the ones who outlawed war, remember?). They’re pretty much the worst. Nonetheless The Doctor, being the righteous dude that he is, decides to save them anyway, even though I’m kinda sure intergalactic Darwinism pretty much demands for their extinction.

Let's uh, just sit this one out. I'll get the Funions.

Let’s uh, just sit this one out. I’ll get the Funions.

The Pros: It’s so maddening when Doctor Who misses the opportunity to delve deeper into a particular plot point or intriguing aside. So is the case here with the Dulcians. At first their pacifism seems like a noble aspect of societal evolution, but it quickly becomes clear that even too much pacifism is, well, bad. There are a handful of delightful scenes involving the council of Dulcian something-or-others debating what should be done about these Dominators (who are hell bent on eradicating the entire planet). In the end they basically decide to just sit it out. “Even non action is a form of action,” declares one Dulcian jamoke. And that’s what they do. They sit. And then they debate some more. And then they sit some more. It’s an intriguing device that forces one to consider the maddening ills of both bureaucracy  and extremism (no matter how seemingly noble the pursuit). Sure, outlawing war and guns and violence sounds great. But when someone comes knocking on your doors and says, “Excuse me, but I’m going to burn your fucking house down if that’s okay,” you should probably step into Plan B. Oh yeah, and Troughton rocks (as per usual).

The Cons: Ugh…I don’t want to waste too much time here because for anyone who has seen this particular story knows all too well what it lacks. The direction is stiff. The villains (both The Dominators and their trash bin servants) are quite possibly the least intimidating and tedious that I’ve seen so far. They don’t seem all that menacing, clever, or even adept at their namesake task. You could probably topple a Quark with a hearty exhale blown through a straw. I’d rather watch Sensorites read the phone book than sit through one more scene involving The Dominators arguing about whether or not they should kill the Dulcians. Also, as is the case with so many Troughton-era stories there are too many episodes. This could have easily been whittled down to three or four at most.

Final Rating: 2/10