Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 300: Colony in Space, Episode One
It feels strange to be writing this one, because I’ve not actually watchedtoday’s episode yet. I wanted to capture this feeling, though, becauseColony in Space is one of those stories about which I know pretty muchnothing. I wanted to make a list of the things that I think I know about it, and see how close to the mark I get (or look like a complete idiot a few says from now if I turn out to be wrong on all counts…).
There’s only a few of these stories left in the marathon for me, because once we start hitting the late 1970s (and especially the 1980s and beyond), I know plenty about ever story, even if I’ve never seen them myself. I think that this and The Mutants represent the last two ‘black holes’ in my Doctor Who knowledge.
So, what do I think I know about this story? Well, I ‘know’ it’s the first time that this incarnation of the Doctor makes it to a planet other than Earth, and of course the Master is there (of course he is, that’s the only thing that I’m completely sure about). I think that it’s the first story of the 1970s to not feature Nicholas Courtney, and I *think*UNIT is absent, too. There’s a little voice somewhere in the back of my head that says this is the first time we actively see the Doctor sent on a mission by the Time Lords, but I don’t know how accurate that might be.
And that’s it! The sum total of my (potential) knowledge on Colony in Space. I could be entirely on the money, or I could be way off. That’s all part of the fun though – usually when I reach a story I know little-to-nothing about, I go though this ritual in my head where I almost test myself to see how close I can get, and I thought it might be fun to do this one in public so that you can all revere me. Or laugh at me. We’ll see how it goes.
Anyway, the DVD is loaded into the drive, my notepad is at the ready, and here we go…
Well… I was a bit right. Also a bit wrong. As things go, that’s not too bad. This is the Third Doctor’s first trip to a planet besides Earth, and the Time Lords have sent him (he doesn’t know that for certain yet, but he suspects it). I was expecting more of a meeting between the Doctor and his people, akin to the bowler-hatted messenger in Terror of the Autons, or the opening to Genesis of the Daleks, but this works. The opening scene here - where the Time Lords stand around in a dark room and discuss the using the Doctor to do their dirty work – feels like a great season opener, in which they recap the basic terms of the Doctor’s exile.
I was surprised to have the Brig turning up, but it makes perfect sense that he does. I thought the story simply opened with the TARDIS arriving on some alien world (or being taken there by the Time Lords), but having now actually seen it properly, of course you need the Brigadier to show his face. Way back during The Daleks’ Master Plan, I described my criteria for determining a companion to be that you’d have to explain their absence from a story. While I’d argue that the Brigadier isn’t a companion (as the Pertwee era goes on, there’s less of a need to explain the absence away), at this point in the narrative, wedo need to see him left behind.
It feels like this is the Third Doctor’s subtle arc – tinkering away with the TARDIS. We’ve seen him move from failed escape attempts inSpearhead From Space through to completing a new circuit and leaving the Earth behind today (with a bit of a hand from the Time Lords), and we need to see him making the departure for there to be any impact. I’m assuming now that we might get the Brig showing up again at the end of Episode Six, just to serve as a means of integrating the Doctor back into the ‘regular’ set up.
Opening on Earth means that we get to see Jo’s first reaction to the TARDIS, too. I’d sort of assumed that she already knew about it all (having decided that she’s been the Doctor’s assistant for something like a year now), and since the climax to the previous story hinges largely on the idea that the Doctor has used his Time Machine to save the day, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to her that everything he’s said is true.
But then, Jo was left completely perplexed by the Doctor’s explanation of a time loop yesterday (she wasn’t alone – the whole room was baffled!), and I wonder if he’s juts been loathe to let anyone else into the ship while he’s working on it? It’s a great scene, and we get the first ‘it’s bigger on the inside’ reaction that we’ve seen in some time. I love that she’s not jumping into it with both feet, but is more timid. Jo ended up rather thrust into the Doctor’s world when she joined UNIT, and now she’s even further out of her depth.
What was odd is that they seem to have forgotten how to do the TARDIS take off. Both when it departs from UNIT and when it arrives on Uxarieus, it simply cuts out of (or in to) shot. I’d say that it’s a case of them simply forgetting how it used to be (they’ve not had cause for a TARDIS take off in two years), but they got it right in the last story! It just looks a bit odd, which is a shame. I’m pleased to see the return of the view outside the TARDIS doors, though, with the planet right on their doorstep. The blow-up photo wall has been moved from the ‘lobby’ to the back of the console room to make its final appearance in the programme, having been around since the very first episode.