THE TRAP &
THE SPACE TRAP
'THE KROTONS' DVD (BBCDVD3480) RELEASED IN JULY 2012.
WHEN THE TARDIS ARRIVES ON THE PLANET OF THE GONDS, THE DOCTOR, JAMIE AND ZOE DISOVER A WORLD RULED AND ENSLAVED BY THE KROTONS. THE BRIGHTEST GONDS ARE ALWAYS CHOSEN TO SERVE AS COMPANIONS OF THE KROTONS AND ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. THE DOCTOR AND HIS FRIENDS DECIDE TO PUT A STOP TO THEIR RULE - BUT IN DOING SO, INADVERTENTLY UNLEASH THE TRUE POWER OF THE KROTONS INSTEAD...
20TH DECEMBER 1968 - 18TH JANUARY 1969
Developed by script editor Terrance Dicks on the sly as a potential stand-in for one of the series’ many beleaguered sixth season scripts, The Krotons was brought off the bench to replace Dick Sharples’ Prison in Space when it ultimately proved to be too ambitious. As actor Frazer Hines lamented the loss of the opportunity to work with the scores of scantily-clad lovelies that Sharples’ script promised, little-known writer Robert Holmes seized the chance to start down a path that would eventually lead him to Who immortality.
However, while The Krotons is generally remembered as Holmes’ first (arguably slightly underwhelming) script for Doctor Who, to me it’s always been the one with the Brummies. The Krotons are nothing if not distinctive, their simple, building block structure reflecting their extraordinary crystalline-based physiognomy; their strangely-shaped heads conjuring up imagery of medieval knights; and their Black Country accents making for a refreshing, if slightly surreal, change from the inarticulate Cybermen voices used in the preceding story.
The storyline may not be up there with Holmes’ finest, but it’s solid nonetheless, breaking away from the ‘base under siege’ mentality that typified the second Doctor’s era and teeming with the sort of well-formed characters that would exemplify the would-be script editor’s most noted works. The narrative is centred on the Krotons’ suppression of a race known as the Gonds. The Krotons rest inside their Dynotrope in suspended animation, emerging sporadically to feed off the mental energy of the two most intelligent Gonds, who are brought to the machine to be their “companions” – or unwitting, post-modern sacrifices. When the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive they are appalled at this “self-perpetuating slavery” and its holding back of the Gonds, and so they resolve to put paid to it.
The resultant tale is more humorous than terrifying. It’s hard to believe that The Krotons was initially conceived as an independent science fiction script as it fits the second Doctor and Zoe’s comic rivalry like a glove. Inevitably, the Doctor wants to get inside the Krotons’ machine to confront them, and so he puts himself forward to take their teaching machine’s test, as does his über-bright assistant. However, while Zoe aces the test, achieving its highest score to date, the shambling Doctor makes a hash of it, prompting Wendy Padbury’s deadpan delivery of the defining line: “I can’t understand it. The Doctor’s almost as clever as I am.” Brilliant.
At just four episodes (the shortest story of the season), The Krotons feels fast and succinct; never in danger of exhausting. Inevitably though, The Krotons lacks the polish of Holmes’ later works. Whereas a decade later he’d have taken a wonderful notion like the TARDIS’s “Hostile Action Displacement System” and used it to turn the apparent destruction of the Doctor’s ship into a powerful plot point or cliffhanger, here the idea is wasted in the middle of an episode; the audience quickly reassured that the ship is safe and sound after just a few seconds. The story’s climax, similarly, lacks the finesse of Holmes’ usually dextrous manoeuvrings.
Above: Simon Guerrier and Joseph Lidster critique The Doctor's Strange Love
The DVD’s bonus material, by contrast, is incredibly polished. Whilst there is no centrepiece documentary that focuses on the production and reception of The Krotons, we are treated to a more sober than usual, comedienne-free edition of The Doctor’s Strange Love, in which writers Simon Guerrier and Joseph Lidster stow themselves away in the eaves of Sarah Jane’s attic, where they spend an edifying seven minutes praising “monster peek-a-boo” cliffhangers and inferring “futility of war” undertones from the script. Frazer Hines then shares almost twenty minutes’ worth of yarns about his time on Doctor Who in the first instalment of his 2003 interview shot for The Story of Doctor Who, while an impressive array of surviving bit-part players share their recollections of making this four-parter in the Toby Hadoke-moderated commentary.
Above: Second Time Around looks at an era bookended by “show-changing concepts”
As if this weren’t enough, we are treated to an hour-long documentary that, in itself, makes this DVD an obligatory purchase. Second Time Around provides a detailed overview of Patrick Troughton’s tenure, from his first tantalising appearance in the final moments of The Tenth Planet to his terrifying tumble into darkness at the end of The War Games, even pausing briefly to bring up unmade scripts such as Prison in Space and Aliens in the Blood. As most of the second Doctor’s era is unlikely to ever appear on DVD, at least in its original form, many of the serials covered here might never form the focus of their own featurette, and so it’s an unexpected joy to hear the likes of Gary Russell and Robert Shearman discuss the underrated comic melodrama of The Underwater Menace, or see Terrance Dicks blame his producer, Derrick Sherwin, for The Space Pirates.
Above: Frazer Hines shares his Doctor Who Stories
More than that though, Second Time Around revels in trivial titbits and arcane anecdotes that even the most ardent enthusiasts won’t have encountered before. It was news to me, for instance, that Anneke Wills was Pat Troughton’s self-appointed coiffeuse, or that Jekyll and Hyde had inspired the decision to have Bill Hartnell’s Doctor “renew” himself. Perhaps best of all though, we get a fleeting glimpse of an episode of Doctor Who long thought to have been lost in time, as a teasing clip from the recently-unearthed second episode of The Underwater Menace – now Troughton’s earliest surviving episode – punctuates Shearman’s musings on the Beeb’s notorious archive clearout.
The Krotons is thus an enjoyable, if atypical, Patrick Troughton adventure, and the same can be said of its DVD’s bonus material (if you throw in an emphatic ‘very’).
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