Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 235: The Krotons, Episode One
Oh, I tip-toed into this one with a real sense of trepidation. For years - having never seen either of them - The Krotons and The Dominators have been pretty much interchangeable in my head. They both take place on a random alien world, they're both part of Season Six, they both introduce a new robot making their first and only appearance in the television series, and they both have something to do with how intelligent people are in relation to their potential as slaves. Having come close to tears trying to wade through The Dominators, I think it's fair to say that I wasn't exactly thrilled by the prospect of starting out with this tale.
I thought it was odd that the process of the TARDIS turning up on an alien world in The Dominators reminded me so much of a Hartnell story, but the same is true here. I wonder if it's just that the Troughton stories have so confined themselves to contemporary or futuristic space stations and bases that the sight of a quarry seems - excuse the pun - totally alien to me?
The establishing shot of the planet here is simply brilliant, and I was in the middle of scribbling a note about how well the scale of the rock face was done, when the TARDIS appeared even smaller than I was expecting! It gives a real sense of size to the proceedings, and actually makes this world work quite well. In many ways, the rest of the planet (or as much as we've seen so far) is simply standard fare, so it's nice to see things off to such a great start. I do enjoy the attempts to make this world seem different to anywhere else, in the form of Jamie's complaints about the smell and the Doctor noticing the two suns in the sky, but these points are thrown at you so quickly that they fail to make all that much of an impact.
That the similarities to a Hartnell-era tale are so clear shouldn't come as much of a surprise for today's episode, since it was originally submitted for consideration way back during Season Two. It marks Robert Holmes' first steps into the programme, and it's perhaps odd to think of him trying to get involved way back when Ian and Barbara were still a part of the TARDIS crew. There's a lot here that wouldn't feel out of place in that set-up, though, such as Jamie's spur of the moment fight with a guard (this sort of thing happened quite a lot to Ian, though I was specifically put in mind of his fight from The Aztecs). We've also got Zoe describing herself and her friends as being 'from another planet, another world', which is almost word-for-word the way Susan describes herself right back at the very beginning, in An Unearthly Child.
You'd think that it might feel like a real step back to see so much on display that was devised way back when, but it all holds together rather well. Certainly, I found myself far more invested in things than I did in The Dominators. It helps that the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are really gelling with each other now (I said during the last story that I've never really understood the love for this team, but if they carry on like this for the rest of the season, then I think I'll start to see what everyone else does!) and they bounce off each other brilliantly throughout.
We've also got a cast of guest characters who really should simply be there to fill the screen. They're typical generic Doctor Who characters who live on some far-flung world (though they're particularly susceptible to the Doctor's presence; having spent several generations being told that they can't go into the 'wastelands', the Doctor manages to convince them otherwise in a matter of seconds. Twice!), but I'm finding myself interested in them. They could well fall back into the trap of being simple ciphers before the story is out, but the idea of only having four episodes gives me hope - it's an absolute age since we last had such a compact story!
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