Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 237: The Krotons, Episode Three
There's a real sense of everything falling into place as we reach this stage of the series, isn't there? Barry Letts made his directorial debut last season, Douglas Camfield is at the height of his skills, the Brigadier and UNIT have been introduced properly, and the script for The Krotons (by future script editor Robert Holmes) was something of a pet project for Terrance Dicks, who at this point is working as a sort of 'sub-script editor'.
The reason that I mention all of this is because this story is also directed by a man who goes on to have strong ties to Doctor Who, particularly in the mid 1970s - Daivd Maloney. It's not his first directing job on the series (that was The Mind Robber a few weeks ago), but it is the first time that his work has stood out enough to really make me sit up and take notice.
There's a lot to love in the design of the story, here. The quarry is working very well for the alien planet, and looks fantastic as the Doctor and Zoe make their way across it (though it has to be said that it's hard to avoid simply staring at how short Zoe's skirt is in this one! Blimey!), and there's several shots chosen which really do help to make it look all the more alien. The Point Of View shot of the armed Kroton being directed towards his targets is simply fantastic, and so unlike anything else we've seen in Doctor Who that it really does stand out.
The one real downside to everything, sadly, is the design of the Krotons themselves. I've never been all that bothered by them before, and in photographs they can come across like a fairly interesting design (I'm thinking specifically of the VHS and DVD covers to this story, and the cover to the Big Finish story Return of the Krotons), but when they're shuffling around on the set, complete with poorly hidden legs beneath what can only be described as a skirt… They're far from being the best alien creatures that we've had in the programme.
They're quite interesting as a concept, though. I like the idea that they're effectively grown from crystals, and that you can never truly kill them - they simply return to their base components, ready to be reformed when the time is right. It's the perfect idea for a Doctor Who monster (or, really, any monster), that can just *keep coming back. Maybe Davros has a similar built-in defence mechanism?
THe voices are possibly the best thing about the creatures, and I have to confess that for some reason when I was reading all those Quark comics a few weeks ago, I kept reading them in the booming South African tone of the Krotons. I'm not entirely sure why - especially when the Quark's child-like voices would have so suited a comic! - but I think it may be another one of those hangovers from all the years I've spent confusing the two stories. Sadly, the voice is less effective during long scenes of exposition with Jamie, but it's at its best when booming orders unseen from a speaker, or issuing out short, terse instructions to its comrade.
Today's episode also sees the arrival of the HADs to the programme. Until Mark Gatiss made use of the feature in this year's Cold War, I always wondered why it didn't turn up very often. The Doctor does give a description here (that he needs to remember to switch it on), but it strikes me as an extremely useful feature to have, when you constantly find yourselves right in the middle of danger. It's certainly far more useful safety feature than the scanner showing you tempting pictures of nice places in the hope that you'll fly off somewhere else instead of stepping outside!