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26 December 2013

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

Day 360: Frontier in Space, Episode Four

Dear Diary,

Back in the very early days of The 50 Year Diary, during Season One, I spent a lot of my entries saying things along the lines of 'this is another episode carried only by our four regulars, giving them plenty of opportunities to shine'. As the programme evolved and changed, episodes with the bare minimum of guest cast became fewer and fewer. There's one or two examples in the Troughton era, but for the most part it's a practice that died away with those first few years of the programme.

But here we are, in early 1973, and something like twelve minutes of today's episode features only Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, and Roger Delgado. Everything from the Master's ship leaving the Lunar Prison up to the Draconians boarding towards the end is spent in the company of three regular cast members, and it's just like the old days.

You could almost get away with thinking of it as being a bit of a nostalgic treat in the programme's tenth year. Indeed, there's a lengthy section in which the Doctor recounts the events of The War Games Episode Ten and explains to Jo how he came to be exiled to Earth. Later still, he goes on to list the problems with Lethbridge-Stewart. It's a proper trip down memory lane.

And if Doctor Who can play to nostalgia from time to time… oh, go on then: this episode being mostly carried only by these three regulars, gives them plenty of opportunities to shine. All three are given some great dialogue, and a few minutes to take centre stage. For Pertwee, it's the aforementioned description of his trial (and his account of 'borrowing' the TARDIS in the first place). Manning gets to ton on at length with a monologue about being returned to UNIT, where she'll probably be court marshalled. Delgado gets to play the smooth Master again, sitting back with a book while he lets his prisoners chatter.

It's not all praise from me today, though. As great as it is to see the Master so relaxed, the flight deck of his spaceship is a terrible looking set. There's no charm or design in there at all, it's just very bland, and not very interesting to look at. One thing it does do is to reinforce how at home the character looked during The Time Monster - he needs the comfort of a high-backed chair! It's often been said that when working on Doctor Who, the design department always fared better with the historical stories. While that may be true to some extent, it's not often that I'm as put off by a set as this one.

They do succeed elsewhere, mind. There's a logo peppered throughout this episode (it may have been in earlier ones, too, but I haven't noticed) that simply screams 'Dalek'. A circle, which contains a single 'dot' at the top, and a series of lines underneath. The design looks like a Dalek eye and the neck rings. It could be accidental, but with this episode containing reference to the people the Master is working for… surely it's a subtle foreshadowing of the next tale?

I'm sad to report that I'm also less than impressed by the scenes of the Doctor climbing across the hull of the space ship. The wires are just that bit too visible, and once you've seen them, you can't un-see them. The whole sequence seems to only exist to A) kill time, and B) act as a set-piece for the episode (which makes the fact that it doesn't really work all the more annoying). The Doctor formulates his plan. We spend ages watching him make his way carefully to the flight deck…

…And then within a minute, he's back down in the prison and he's being held captive again. There's a fight with the Master thrown in for good measure, too.

It's nice to see three great actors given the chance to really prove themselves on screen with no other interruptions, but I fear that Frontier in Space just isn't grabbing my attention in the way that I really want it to…

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