Tag Archives: FLX/WordCount Blogathon

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.

The Generalist’s Dilemma (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Write What I Love)

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When I first began freelancing seven years ago, I kept stumbling upon a nagging word in many of the books I read and the conversations I had with fellow scribes (both digitally as well as in the flesh). The word was niche, and for many months I labored under the false assumption that unless I had one—as though it were a thing to be grasped and put in my back pocket—I would, essentially, be doomed. To wit, I believed that a freelance writer’s niche (neesh?) was his lifeblood. His path to success. His only reason for being. And that was unfortunate, because I was no closer to having my own niche than I was to hosting next week’s episode of Saturday Night Live.
Niches niches everywhere. Some of my most admired fellow freelancers had corned markets that included everything from the Jersey Shore to buying suits with a $100 budget. I was envious of these niche hoarders, because they offered potential editors something I couldn’t: A go-to presence on myriad, specialized topics. I, meanwhile, was starting to fear that I’d sink further and further into the cliche mold of that notorious jack of all trades, master of none.

Well guess what? It’s been seven years and I’m still without a niche. But I don’t care. In fact, I’ve come to embrace my status as a generalist. Not only has it lead to a prosperous and rewarding career as a freelancer, but it’s why I got into this writing gig in the first place, way back when I first starting reading Edgar Allen Poe in seventh grade and suddenly had the marvelous realization that writing could transport me—and my readers—anywhere. And I wanted to write about everything. Aliens who experiment with humans by sending them back in time. An elderly woman who makes some extra money as a pet assassin. Or maybe a machine that lets you experience life as a wild animal for hour-long intervals. (all DiUlio original ideas from notebooks of years gone by) Nowhere in my projected life as a writer did I weave in fantasies about cornering a niche and plying my trade like someone selling funnel cake at the local carnival. Writing for me was—and remains—an exceptionally unique gateway to infinite possibilities, and that’s why I’m still here.

Don’t get me wrong—there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a niche (or two). Those writers I alluded to earlier—the ones I admired and looked to for advice in my earliest years as a freelancer—have done a wonderful job making a living at this writing thing, and their work is always top-notch, entertaining, and multidimensional. And if embracing a niche is what brings them fulfillment—fiscally and intellectually—then way-to-fucking-go. I dig it. Keep on keepin’ on.

But that’s not me. Try as I might, I know I am never going to be the next go-to dude for articles or blog posts about dog whispering or baseball card curation or travel tips for the 65-plus set. I am just too damn interested in the variety of life that I know I will never have a niche…which, I suppose, is a niche in an of itself.

I mention this because I am currently two-days deep into the 2014 FLX/WordCount Blogathon, a 30-day challenge to write at least one blog post every day in June. I’m really excited about the opportunity, especially since Twenty Pounds of Headlines has lately felt more like Twenty Pounds of Collected Dust. (No posts since April 2011…SRSLY DiUlio?!) But when I began thinking about what to write  over the next month, I started getting minor waves of dread that only a niche-less life can inspire. What the hell would I blog about? Well, how about a little bit of everything

And so, while I ponder over tomorrow’s post, why not take some time to click around and read the wide variety of topics I’ve covered over the years, which include everything from a world renowned glass artist to a profile of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., an explanatory feature about the country’s first Internet Addiction recovery retreat, and an inside look at the world of Philadelphia taxi cabs. Here’s to the generalists, and all of our wide-eyed variety.