Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

Part One

“Will there be strawberry jam for tea?”

Our first scene introduces us to our group of miners, among whom are John Leeson taking a break from K9 to play Dugeen, the ever-splendid Philip Madoc as Fenner and the extremely impressive Neil McCarthy as Thawn. He’s superb as our villain of the piece, a cold-hearted personification of corporate evil. All of which is to say that already this is shaping up to be our finest cast of the season, and John Abineri hasn’t even appeared yet.

It’s a familiar set up- an anti-colonialist morality tale at heart, although perhaps with a more up-to-date flavour of corporate activity in the Third World rather than evocations of pith helmets and mem-sahibs. It’s all quite strikingly political though. The humans want to mine this world’s mineral resources, they refer to the natives dismissingly as “Swampies”, they work for a “company”, and there are apparently activists known as the Sons of Earth who oppose this kind of thing. All of which is quite efficiently exposited by Robert Holmes’ script in a scene which gives us a basic impression of what these characters are like.

The TARDIS lands in what is, it must be said, an excellent location, and we’re told this is the third moon of Delta Magna. The mercenary Rohm-Dutt, meanwhile, is busy gun-running with the Swampies. Both TARDISeers are soon captured, the Doctor by the human miners and Romana by the Swampies and Rohm-Dutt. How very traditional. As is the obvious model oil rig which brings back nostalgic memories of Terror of the Zygons. This is all very hard-boiled, especially for this season, but the setting is extremely well thought out. I love the Swampies’ use of the term “Dryfoot”.

We eventually learn that the humans intend to create ten mines here, which will lead to the inevitable destruction of the Swampies’ habitat. Something tells me it might not work out that way…

Part Two

“Well, he probably looked more convincing from the front.”

The perfect cliffhanger resolution- it really is just a man in an unconvincing rubber costume. Brilliant!

The Doctor and Romana disappear into an underground passage- of which there have been quite a few this season- to do some reading up on Swampie mythology and the mysterious Kroll, who apparently just pops up every couple of centuries; “A sort of Holy Writ” says the Doctor of the book they find. “I think it’s atrociously writ.” says Romana. Groan. It seems the proteins the human colonists are after are part of Kroll’s enormous bulk, and that in mining right into his tentacles they’re not being entirely wise.

The cliffhanger’s odd- the Doctor, Romana and Rohm-Dutt are to be executed by one of the Swampies’ seven deadly rituals, yet we end with one of the baddies in danger.

Part Three

“I’m not going to be stopped by lily-livered sentimentalists wailing about the fate of a few primitive savages!”

What a very long reprise. And what a very nasty means of execution- being slowly stretched until your spine snaps as the sun dries out the vines. Our heroes are extremely fortunate that the storm turns up when it does so the Doctor can save them all in a rather nifty fashion.

Kroll’s getting rather more active now, and he’s fulfilling a useful role in getting rid of characters, like Rohm-Dutt. Who have served their plot purpose.

Part Four

“”I’m reporting you for murder!”

We now have dissension in the refinery ranks, as Dugeen and Fenner object to Thrawn’s plan to fire depth charges at Kroll- Dugeen because he’s an apparent sympathiser with the Sons of Earth, Fenner because he’s cynical but realistic. This is paralleled with the Swampies as Varlik and the others come to question more and more Ranquin’s insistence that Kroll is a god and not just a mindless predator. It’s not surprising to see that Ranquin’s fate is to be Death By Kroll.

It ends nicely, with the Doctor in Kroll’s clutches but just managing to reach for the tracer to turn Kroll back into the fifth segment. The humans now have no protein to mine and the Swampies are presumably safe. Hooray! There’s a note of unpleasantness after this though- a lot of people mentioned in their reviews to The Sun Makers that the fate of Gatherer Hade was a little too nasty and undermined the moral rightness of the Doctor’s friends, something I entirely failed to spot at the time. Something similar seems to happen here- just as the Doctor and Romana leave, the remaining Swampies start to advance on Fenner. No doubt some vines will be drying out shortly.

This is probably the biggest pleasant surprise of the marathon so far- I wasn’t expecting to like this much and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, but actually I find myself giving it 4/5. It was well-written, admittedly hard-boiled but with enough humour to leaven things, well characterised, very well performed and on the whole well made. It just loses a point for Holmes allowing the political subtext, fine in itself, to overwhelm the story at times.

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