Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Krotons - "Oh, Doctor, you've got it all wrong."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Krotons - Details

Season 6, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #47) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Love and Liberty
Robert Holmes is going to go on to write some great stories for Doctor Who the twenty years following this story, but you might not have guessed as much from this, his first for the series. Some of the elements are here: a society warped by the self-serving laws of the rulers (usually a powerful alien brought low, trying to get its mojo back), enabled by opportunists who really ought to be struggling for independence instead of settling for lapdog's spoils. We'll see variations on this theme from Holmes several more times. At his best, cracking dialogue and rich characterization are doled out generously, so in addition to the TARDIS crew he introduces memorable characters like Garron & Unstoffe, Jago & Litefoot, Irongron & Bloodaxe, Solon & Condo, and iconic villains like Morbius, Magnus Greel, and Sutekh.

Only Philip Madoc, who'll make his mark later as Solon in "The Brain of Morbius," shines here as the sinister Eelek. The rest of the Gronds are unremarkable, at best. The Krotons are mildly successful from the waist up, but laughable down below. It's a typical of the production values for this story that the Krotons (my son, watching with me, made the same joke I think everyone makes about the Krotons -- he calls them "the Croutons") are basically wrapped in some kind of skirt to hide the actors' legs, as if they either forgot to finish the costumes, or just ran out of money. Likewise the Grond city is one of the worst attempts to sell a bunch tinker toys strewn about as alien architecture you'll find anywhere. First shot of episode one shows an actor reaching behind some sliding panels to receive a note from the Krotons, but one of the panels sticks and doesn't open properly. Compounding that shoddiness, the actor then proceeds to struggle through his lines as if reading them for the first time off cue cards he can barely see.

The highlight scene is the one where Zoe, having aced the Krotons' brain game (it's how they find the smartest Gronds, so they can suck their mental energy to re-crystallize themselves, natch), tries to help the Doctor through it, becoming progressively more exasperated and he gets flustered and makes silly mistakes. Troughton and Padbury have great chemistry and are delightful to watch together. Unfortunately, that's about all you can give as a reason search this one out. Frazer Hines has one lackluster bit of hand-to-hand combat with one of the Grond schmucks, but otherwise doesn't get to do much here except be 'the dumb one' and pull a face when the Krotons observe he is not a "high brain." It's not that this one ever breaks down terribly as a story, it just never rises very high and is let down a little more than usual by the effects and costuming departments.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the only time in the history of the series we hear the Doctor exclaim, "Great jumping gobstoppers, what's that?" We're fortunate no attempt was made to make that a catch-phrase going forward.

For the trivial minded/continuity obsessed, the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) makes its debut here though. We'll see that again in "Cold War."



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