Directed by David Maloney
Written by Robert Holmes
After a lengthy serial on Earth that would presage the next era of the show, it was time to head back into outer space. It’s a much shorter serial this time and that’s greatly appreciated. Partly, it is because as I have harped repeatedly, the bloat tends to weigh down these plots that so rarely need to be any more than four episodes (and many show signs of strain even there). Partly, it is because I am writing this down to the wire before September ends and my writing schedule (including all new episodes of Doctor Who!) becomes unmanageable. Mostly, it is because I don’t think I could have taken a six-episode version of this tripe.
It opens with candidates of Gonds being selected to be companions of the Krotons. It is not lost on me that the alien race’s name is one letter off from being the race of Gonads and the serial is much more enjoyable if you mentally change their enemies to the Croutons. It’s the little, silly things. They must all do the will of the Krotons, who they can’t even see and yet follow the will of blindly. Of course, “companions” here just means that they are made catatonic and then turned to dust.
The serial really does suffer by not being sure of whether it wants to commit to the “it’s an honor to be sacrificed idea” or “they all know it is a death sentence”. Even after it has been explained that the Krotons use learning machines to enslave the populace, implanting positive thoughts about themselves in the minds of the Gonds, it still seems to have mixed success on how effective it is, removing any creepiness from it. The Krotons killing off the two smartest of the Gonds (using their mental power to power their craft, the Dynatrope), leaving them in a limited state technologically and mentally also offers a promising premise, it’s one that falls apart with any bit of thought since they have constructed a confederacy of dunces and never adequately explain the learning machine’s use in the ultimate scheme besides finding smart people.
Their planet is one of two suns and smelling terribly of ozone and sulfur. However, most of the plot takes place inside the city of the Gonds which seems to be one building. For much of the serial, the action is broken up into The Doctor and Zoe in one group, with Jamie on his own. The scientific pairing of The Doctor and Zoe is probably the most interesting use for Zoe, as the show has been inconsistent in letting her flex her knowledge, too often regulating her to the role of girl. Instead, it allows them to play off each other and I loved seeing The Doctor so insecure about his knowledge and yet struggling at first on the test that Zoe aced.
The Krotons though are absolutely pathetic. I’ve mentioned that their plot is garbled nonsense, but I’ll save my biggest complaints for them. They are diamond-headed (they spin too!) generic looking robots who frankly aren’t capable of much of anything. They get fooled far too easily, their sensor fooled by The Doctor turning his head, their execution chamber stopped by putting rocks in it, their propensity to get lost at the slightest disruption, etc. The first episode cliffhanger of The Doctor being menaced by a tentacle light is just impossibly lame. Their biomechanical nature of their machine is only played for a weakness, instead of anything actually cool. I wasn’t expecting H.R. Giger, but something to make them stand out would have been nice.
The serial doesn’t drag, but there’s really nothing here. There’s some decent ideas buried here and The Doctor-Zoe pairing contrasted with Jamie who is mocked by the Krotons for his lack of usefulness in brains, proving his worth in creativity in fighting back, but they are sunk by a lackluster villain and from repeating the race of essentially human aliens divided into two approaches for taking them down that it has been doing ever since “The Daleks“.
– This was the first script by Robert Holmes who would later become script editor from 1974-1977 after Terrance Dicks left the show
– This serial was originally intended for season two (called “The Trap”), only to be rejected for having robots too similar to those from “The Chase“. It was revived as “The Space-Trap” for Season 6, however, shooting was pushed up when another proposed story, “Prison in Space”, failed to come together. I do wonder if that explains the length.
– Philip Madoc who played Eelek would later appear three more times on the show but also is one of the few actors on the show to have also appeared in one of the movies, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
– The first episode exists in as 35mm telerecording/kinescope negative while the final three only remain as 16mm negatives. I tend not to note these facts in this space, but since I don’t believe I have discussed it before in this space so with a shorter story, this is as good a place as any. When Doctor Who serials were shipped overseas, the episodes, which were recorded on video, often needed to be delivered in another form so the various broadcasters could actually play it. The easiest and cheapest solution was to just point a film camera at a screen playing the episode and call it a day. That is a telerecording (known as kinescope in the US). Since many of the recovered episodes have been ones that were shipped overseas, it’s the form many of these episodes have been preserved in.
– The TARDIS apparently as a Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS) that automatically protects the TARDIS and seems like something you would always want to have on and yet was only used once in the Classic era before the Eleventh Doctor rediscovered it
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Once again, nothing really. They just give the Gonds the Irish goodbye, leaving them to take on Eelek and rebuild as the TARDIS takes off for an unknown destination.
Next Up: The next episode of classic coverage picks up with “The Seeds of Death” on November 26th, however coverage of new episodes of Doctor Who will continue every Sunday.