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24 December 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 358: Frontier in Space, Episode Two

I’ve praised before the way that the Pertwee stories seem to exist in their own very distinct ‘future’ that remains consistent from tale to tale (similarly, the Troughton stories take place in their own self-contained future, too). Frontier in Space keeps this trend up – even going so far as to reference previous events (The Doctor explains to Jo that Solos and the events of The Mutants came at the very end of Earth’s empire, while the period we’re visiting this time around comes at the very start).

It seems silly, but this kind of consistency really does appeal to me. It even means that I can be a bit more lenient with the story than I might otherwise have been. What I should be saying at this point is ‘the future looks an awful lot like a hideous 1970s building’ (or, more accurately, ‘the future looks a lot like the architecture from the University of East Anglia’), but actually, I’m impressed that it’s in keeping with the kind of less-than-attractive buildings we had in Day of the Daleks.

And we’ve got plenty of opportunities to get a good look at the buildings, as large chunks of this episode are given over to typically-Pertwee chases and fights, up-and-down flights of concrete stairs and across open walkways. At one point, we even get to see him have a fight in the gardens of the Draconian embassy – where he’s up against some of the most incompetent guards we’ve ever seen in the series. Even UNIT could take on this lot!

It really does hammer home the fact that this story spends a lot of time ferrying the Doctor and Jo from prison cell to prison cell. Yesterday saw them locked up twice, today they’re shuttled from one to another to another… No onder we have to have these scenes of them running around outside – they need the excuse to stretch their legs from time to time!

As ever, it sounds like I’m complaining, whereas I’m actually rather enjoying things with this story. I love the idea that someone is playing both Earth and Draconia, and setting them against each other, and I really love the idea that the Doctor and Jo have arrived at just the wrong moment, leaving them under suspicion from both sides of the rising conflict. I’m guessing that it turns out to be the Master who’s pulling the strings (possibly in turn working for the Daleks? I know they turn up at some point in the final episode, so I’d imagine it’s one of those ‘aha! Look who the real brains fo the operation are!’), and I sort of like the idea that he may be operating somewhere in the background. This story marks Roger Delgado’s final contribution to the series, so it would be nice to see him bow out with a more audacious plan than usual.

It may be hitting harder simply because I know I’m little over a fortnight away from her departure, but once again it’s the relationship between the Doctor and Jo which serves as the real highlight of this episode for me. The opening scene in their prison cell sums up Jo for me. She paces the cell, coming up with all these clever plans to escape and get back to the TARDIS, while the Doctor simply sits back and makes the occasional quip.

Katy Manning turns in another fab performance while she plans to burst out of the prison, take control of the situation and force their captors to return them to Earth before the Doctor reminds her that they’re ‘already heading for Earth’. As the episode continues, the pair carry on shining. I particularly love the Doctor’s description of a Mind Probe (‘They’re only a sort of computer with extra knobs on’), and his description of how he got away from similar questioning before (‘They had to let me go eventually. They ran out of Mind Probes…’). I’ve found myself completely won over by this TARDIS team, and despite my love for the Brigadier, removing him (and the rest of UNIT) from the equation and letting the Doctor and Jo shine on their own has been one of the best moves in the series for some time…

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