"They're vandals. Look at that!"
Robert Holmes makes his debut with a rather uncharacteristic hard sci-fi script, and we get to see Philip Madoc for the first time. What with Terrance Dicks on board as well, it's beginning to feel as though since the new recording block started with The Invasion a new era has made its first steps into being. Very much as things felt around the time of The Savages, in fact.
Some things are very much as they have been, of course- a quarry, a model city, mind control as the main threat and this Doctor's bugbear. But this story feels very new, our first real conceptual sci-fi since the John Wiles era. The central concept established in this episode, of the mysterious Krotons selecting and then vapourising the brightest of the Gonds, is fascinating conceptually and opens up the story immediately. It's noticeable how smoothly and quickly the TARDISeers are integrated into the main plot with the minimum of tiresome questioning. I also love the way the Krotons control the Gonds' education and make damn sure they don't learn anything dangerous. An excellent start.
"Well, Zoe is something of a genius, of course. It can be very irritating at times."
The picture quality of the unrestored video releases is generally bad, but for some reason this episode seems to be particularly awful. Still, although the picture quality may be poor and it may look cheap the big ideas and astute storycraft continue to impress. This is another great story for Zoe, with her being unable to resist the education machine, but the plot continues to zoom pacily ahead right the way through. This is great stuff...
...Although the design of the Krotons is, er, interesting. Also interesting is that they seem to have Sith Efrican accents.
"All weak matter must be dispersed. That is procedure!"
The first cracks in the story appear here as last episode's cliffhanger gets a particularly crap resolution, one of the Krotons suddenly deciding that Jamie could be valuable. And come to think of it, Jamie doesn't seem to actually do much in this story. Still, compared to the superficially similar The Dominators this continues to impress. It's noticeable that all of the human characters, including Philip Madoc's Eelek, are intelligent and have believable motives. Well, apart from the rather wet Vana. Who's the only female character aside from Zoe.
More of the cleverness in the story's central concept emerges in this episode; the tests are just a trap so the Krotons can use the brainpower of "high brains" to temporarily reanimate them from their liquid state. They're an interesting type of life form, crystalline and technically immortal as they simply revert to liquid once they "exhaust", capable of being reanimated later.
"We can only blow ourselves up!"
Sadly, after three excellent episodes the conclusion doesn't quite work, mainly because the Krotons are shortly due to "exhaust", thus depriving the story of most of its sense of threat. Why on Earth did Holmes choose to do this? Also eyebrow-raising is that we're supposed to oppose the democratically elected Eelek and support the restoration of what is basically absolute monarchy without the trimmings. But overall this is a disjointed and unsatisfying finale.
Overall, it's only the final episode that renders this story only a 4/5- although it never quite reaches the heights of the best stories, The Krotons benefits from great sci-fi concepts, some good character bits for the regulars even if the guest characters are a bit functional, and three episodes of tight, pacey plotting. a promising start from this Robert Holmes chap. I wonder if he'll turn up again?