Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: Colony in Space

Part One

"That's an alien world out there, Jo. Think about it."

Time Lords! I feel as though I should be privileged for this rare glimpse, but it has to be said they're a bit, er, dull. This is important, though: it's the first time the Time Lords are using the Doctor for their own ends, and in allowing the Doctor to travel in the TARDIS, albeit by remote control, it's a blatant admission that the Earthbound format of the programme is too restricting and can't go on much longer.

The scene between the Doctor, Jo and the Brigadier is probably there only to satisfy the requirements of Nick Courtney's contract, but it's a nice character piece all the same. But the following scene is simply magical- I love it when people are introduced to the TARDIS for the first time, and Jo's reaction of wonder mixed with foreboding is great to see. This is the point from which this Doctor / companion pairing really clicks, and it's extremely satisfying to see this Doctor on his travels at last. It's a shame the TARDIS dematerialisation (it disappears suddenly rather than fade away) is crude and disappointing, and admittedly their destination is a not particularly exciting looking quarry. Interesting that a mere glance at the scanner tells the Doctor that he's heading for the planet Uxaerius. If he knows the planet's name, how come, as the rest of the story will show, he seems to have no prior knowledge of the place?

Oh, and the TARDIS doors have now become the latest thing to sound exactly like the doors to the Dalek city in Skaro! That's a sound effect with staying power and no mistake.

Jo's reaction to her new surroundings is nicely plausible- a mix of excitement and nerves. And the Doctor is notably in a much better mood when on his travels- he may be sure of himself, even arrogant at times, but he's never unnecessarily rude to anyone throughout this story.

It's admirable how in the last few minutes of this episode an entire society is sketched out very well; pioneer types, reminiscent of the American West, versus the threat of corporate exploitation.

Part Two

"What's good for IMC is good for Earth."

It's Bernard Kay! Between him and John Ringham it's quite the Hartnell era guest actors reunion. Caldwell is an interesting character- clearly working for corporate bad 'uns IMC but conscience-stricken to hear that two people have been killed. We get introduced to the IMC crew, establishing the rest of the story's main cast; the ruthlessly acquisitive Captain Dent and the sadistic Morgan. Alongside this is some more excellently done world building. At no time does the exposition feel unnatural. It's made very clear that IMC is a big, powerful and politically influential corporation that invariably gets its way and the little man has no chance. I like the scene where Dent shows Caldwell the size of his potential bonus- it's a nice character scene emphasising the conflict for the debt-stricken Caldwell between greed and conscience, but also establishes the enormous resources of IMC. Of course, all this tells us a lot about Malcolm Hulke's politics.

I like the little fight between the Doctor and the "Primitives". I do believe this is our first "Hai"?

Interesting line from Mary Ashe: "Don't worry, Jim'll fix it."

Part Three

"Ah, Caldwell. Working out your future bonuses?"

More good stuff this episode, let down only by the visual dullness of the setting. Although it must be said the amusing moustaches of several characters (especially Winton) do tend to distract from this. But whatever this story's faults, they're generally not the fault of the script.

This episode largely focuses on the character of Caldwell and his moral dilemma. He shows again, in helping Winton, that he's troubled by his conscience, but at this stage he's actualy no better than any of his IMC colleagues. He can make as many cheap and easy gestures to his conscience as he likes- they're nothing but small gestures, not affecting much in the larger scheme of things. He's still motivated chiefly by greed. It's only when he commits "professional suicide" by insisting Jo is removed from the bomb that he starts to redeem himself.

So, Dent has a 70s style tape recorder? In 2472? There's an explanation for this- retro design! Just as today's DAB digital radios are designed to look like old-fashioned wooden radios, all sort of apparent dodginess in old Doctor Who stories set in the future can be explained away.

Suddenly the story moves off at right angles as Jo is kidnapped by the "primitives". This new focus helps the story to justify its length- which it arguably does throughout.

Part Four

"Although the creature with you is of no value, I will let you both go."

Some obvious modelwork is in evidence as the Adjudicator lands. But, more importantly, the Adjudicator is the Master! At last- something actually relates to the first few minutes of the first episode! And it's an interesting new slant to the Master for him to be in a position of authority.

For this episode the focus shifts towards the "primitives" and their ancient civilisation. Not a lot happens plotwise (the Doctor and Jo get captured and escape) but we learn a lot about Uxaerian history and culture which will become important later, and it's never dull.

I love the Doctor's silly magic trick distraction- a rare chance to see another side of Jon Pertwee. Also good is the meeting between the Doctor and the Master. There's a state of stalemate between them; the Doctor can't expose the Master as an impostor without being exposed as someone who has no ID and so no official existence- yet another topical political issue turns up in this story.

Part Five

"Whoever that man is down on that planet, he isn't the Adjudicator."

In a nice bit of continuity, the Doctor still has the key to the Master's TARDIS that he nicked in Terror of the Autons. And so we finally see inside the Master's TARDIS for the first time. And it's exactly the same as the Doctor's except it's got some filing cabinets in it. Oh well. There's another possible first as well: I think this is the first time the Sonic Screwdriver is used for a purpose other than, er, screwdriving.

Part Six

"I am offering you a half share of the universe!"

Another possible first: the Master mentions the High Council of the Time Lords. He also states the Crab Nebula to have been caused by the testing of the Doomsday Weapon- a very effective way of illustrating its deadliness! And also a nice little lesson on the life cycle of a star for all the kids. Well, our Sun won't exactly "explode", but still...

For the first time the Master asks the Doctor to join him in his megalomaniacal playpen. This says all sorts of interesting things about the Master's motivations, and how central the Doctor is to them.

The Doomsday Weapon plot strand ends in what may be our first ever Deus Ex Machina ending, but I don't really mind as this has never been more than a sideshow. The colonists vs IMC main plot gets a much more satisfying ending- we're made to genuinely think the colonists are all dead until its revealed at the end that only Ashe sacrificed himself. And it's nice that Winton survives to become leader- the impetuous young man made good. Admittedly there's more than a whiff of dodgy science to the fact that suddenly the soil is no longer being poisoned by the radiation from the Doomsday Weapon, but I'll let that pass as it works dramatically. It's also nice that Caldwell, denied his promised wishes, is allowed to redeem himself by joining the colonists. And there's another nice touch in that the TARDIS returns mere seconds after leaving.

Overall... well. I haven't read any of the other posts yet, but I voted just before writing this, and by the look of the poll results I'm one of an elite few to rate this 5/5. I thought it was great, with rich themes and complex characters, and more than enough substance to justify six episodes. There's a potential criticism, mind; this story essentially centres around the conflict between the colonists and IMC over possession of the planet. But what of the indigenous Uxaerians, or "primitives", as they're called? Why should anyone other than them be allowed to colonise the planet without their position? still, I think the script treats them with enough respect to get away with it. But it's a valid criticism all the same. And it's a little ominous that the first story to get a 5/5 from me since Spearhead is the one which ignores the new format. Perhaps the new format is outstaying its welcome?


The Massacre 5/5
The War Games 5/5
Spearhead From Space 5/5
Fury from the Deep 5/5
The Evil of the Daleks 5/5
The Myth Makers 5/5
The Aztecs 5/5
The Tomb of the Cybermen 5/5
Marco Polo 5/5
The Crusade 5/5
Inferno 5/5
The Highlanders 5/5
The Daleks’ Master Plan 5/5
The Time Meddler 5/5
The Invasion 5/5
The Power of the Daleks 5/5
The Mind Robber 5/5
The Web of Fear 5/5
The Rescue 5/5
The Reign of Terror 5/5
An Unearthly Child 5/5
Colony in Space 5/5
The Macra Terror 5/5
The Savages 5/5
Mission to the Unknown 5/5
The Ambassadors of Death 4/5
Doctor Who and the Silurians 4/5
The Gunfighters 4/5
The Claws of Axos 4/5
The Tenth Planet 4/5
The Moonbase 4/5
The Dalek Invasion of Earth 4/5
The Romans 4/5
Terror of the Autons 4/5
The Krotons 4/5
The Ice Warriors 4/5
The War Machines 4/5
The Smugglers 4/5
The Abominable Snowmen 4/5
Planet of Giants 4/5
The Daleks 3/5
The Seeds of Death 3/5
The Enemy of the World 3/5
Galaxy Four 3/5
The Space Museum 3/5
The Chase 3/5
The Space Pirates 3/5
The Sensorites 3/5
The Edge of Destruction 2/5
The Mind of Evil 2/5
The Faceless Ones 2/5
The Ark 2/5
The Wheel in Space 2/5
The Dominators 2/5
The Web Planet 1/5
The Keys of Marinus 1/5
The Celestial Toymaker 1/5
The Underwater Menace 1/5

Season Five: 4/5
Season Seven: 4/5
Season Three: 3.9/5
Season Four: 3.889/5
Season Six: 3.857/5
Season Two: 3.778/5
Season One: 3.625/5

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I'm putting together a new book that reprints reviews of Classic Doctor Who episodes and I'd be interested in using this (or another of your reviews). Email me at and we can discuss the details.


    - Robert Smith?