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Review of The Krotons (#47)
DVD Release Date: 10 Jul 12
Original Air Date: 28 Dec 1968 - 18 Jan 1969
Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoë Heriot
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story: The Invasion (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: The Seeds of Death (Two, Jamie, Zoë)

It's amazing how different a Doctor Who story looks when comparing the picture in your head whilst reading a synopsis to the picture on the screen as broadcast. The Krotons certainly looks nothing like I envisioned it, but I don't think that's altogether bad.

When I first read that synopsis, I was also unfamiliar with several parts of the Whovian mythos that make them items of interest here. First, I really didn't know beans about Robert Holmes. The Krotons is Holmes' first stint as a writer for Who, but certainly not his last. He penned more than a dozen stories before he was done, was script editor for a goodly chunk of the show's "heyday" (depending on which fan you ask about the definition of heyday), and introduced a vast number of important characters and concepts to the Whoniverse. In retrospect, then, it's interesting to see how he makes his start.

Similarly, Krotons is the first story in which eventually-iconic Who villain Philip Madoc made an appearance. Madoc (who passed away this past March) is perhaps best known for his role as Solon in The Brain of Morbius, but his Eelek here is just as oily and commanding. He is perhaps the strongest of a fair-to-middlin' batch of supporting cast here (though the Vana character is utterly useless, and in my opinion not well portrayed).

From the beginning, Holmes provides a suitably creepy ambience, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" or similar dystopian tales. The mysterious metal overlords of the realm are also nicely ominous, especially before we actually see them (those wacky, spinny, perfume-bottle heads of theirs are certainly... iconic, shall we say).

Certain plot elements are pretty clichéd, though. The party is split so Jamie can do manly, physical labor tasks, and Zoë can get her genius self into trouble so the Doctor can find ways to bail her - and everyone else on the planet - out. The overall "science fiction" vibe is quite strong, too, what with the sentient robots and teaching machines and whatnot.

But there are some lovely little moments, too. The snarking between Two and Zoë is classic, and Jamie - once again classified as merely a "primitive" rather than a "high-brain" - gets to show he's not really as dumb as everyone thinks he looks, coaxing the Krotons into monologuing. (One of those Krotons, by the way, sounds suspiciously like Terrance Dicks. It's not, but it amuses me to envision Dicks reading out those lines.) There's also the bit when one of the Krotons gets disconnected, and sounds much like an even-more-petulant version of a distressed Dalek: "Direction point. Direction point. I have lost contact. ... Direction point required immediately!"

I can't really fault the cliffhangers, either. There are a couple of relatively ominous ones that make for a nice way to end an episode. One gets a suitable sense of peril each time. Overall, I have to say while it's not the scintillating best of Who, neither do I find it the worst. I've seen stories that made me cringe more.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Second Time Around: The Troughton Years
Rather than a "making of," this time we get a one-hour documentary about the Second Doctor's entire tenure. Presented chronologically, it gives not only an overview of each story, but puts them in the context of production decisions by the various teams involved. I particularly enjoyed the observation at the end about how Two's time was bookended by some truly show-changing concepts.
 
Doctor Who Stories: Frazer Hines (Part 1)
In 2003, the BBC broadcast a 40th anniversary special comprised of interviews with various actors. This piece of that special allows us to hear Frazer Hines give his take on Jamie's character as well as various stories and monsters, as he shared recollections of his time on set. It's worth watching just for his description of the TARDIS' dematerialization sound.

The Doctor's Strange Love
Unlike previous installments of the Strange Love series, this time it's just Simon Guerrier and Joe Lidster (no Josie Long) discussing the story and showing us why it's really not as bad as all that. It ends with a sort of verbal dance-off as they try to decide what the title of this one "should" have been.

Of course, the best part of any story from this period is Two himself. Once again, he displays his tendency to act the clown in order to mask his extremely sharp intellect and cunning plan. And he manages a toss-off comment about one of the best never-heard-from-again tricks of the TARDIS, too (the HADS: Hostile Action Displacement System, which when activated will allow the TARDIS automatically to dematerialize if under attack), with an air of, "Oh, that? Old news; thought you knew..." that reminds me of certain individuals in my own life. (With such a useful narrative tool, it makes one wonder how long until the HADS sneaks back into play.) So hang your hopes on Troughton, and even The Krotons can't disappoint.

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Comments

This story probably also has some resonation with UK viewers who are old enough to remember the BBC 2 strand "The Five Faces of Doctor Who" transmitted in the Autumn (h-rumph) of 1981. Krotons, aparently, was the only 4 part Troughton story available at the time. I remember feeling very underwhelmed by this story but I may have still been recovering from the brilliance of the first episode that had been transmitted the previous week

Nerd alert - HADS gets a mention in the novelisation of the execrable (Waste of my) Time and The Rani which somehow managed not to be the worst story of Season 24. That accolade (for me) went to Delta and the Bananamen, which, like the Giant Rat of Sumatra is a story for another time.....

By sweeneyged (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

That's why I love getting comments from Long-Term Fans - you all have a totally different take on things than I do, so it's interesting to see where we differ. :)

I can certainly imagine being underwhelmed. It's certainly not a "yea! The Krotons!" kind of story. As for Season 24, that's definitely a rant for another day, but I'll admit I'm not fond of many Seven/Mel adventures.

By mrfranklin
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