Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Krotons

Previous viewings - one

The return of the four-parter couldn't have come at a better time, with the debut of future script editor Robert Holmes. This is a standard monster/robot story with the extra element of the oppressed docile race that we saw so often in the Hartnell era. Neither are anything to get excited about but if Robert Holmes seems to "get" anything right away, it's how to structure a four-parter to avoid using up the interesting ideas in the first episode as many other writers do, so we get a strong sense of beginning-middle-end and the quality is consistent throughout. Ah, but consistently good or bad?

The story begins by introducing us to the Gonds, as they select two of their people to join the Krotons. I usually prefer a story that starts with the TARDISeers, but when we meet the guests first this is the best way - a good scene that's about the plot, allowing us to get to know the characters later. We meet the Gonds, a race of badly dressed people who are choosing two of their teenagers to become companions of the Krotons. Only not all is as it seems, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find when one of the chosen ones is gassed and dies outside, with the Gonds unaware. As soon as we hear that generations of Gonds have been handed over to the Krotons, probably suffering the same fate, a fan should by now be able to suss the entire plot. It's revolution time!

Quite wisely, the Krotons stay out of sight until unusually late in the story. Early on, the pacing is rather slow (unfortunately that doesn't change) as after his relevation the Doctor has little to do except chat to the leader Selris, while some of the Gonds start smashing up the Krotons' machinery. You'd think people as quick to violence would have long ago changed the status quo that led to their deferral to the Krotons, especially since the Krotons themselves haven't been seen for years. However I was delighted to find the Gonds more individual and reactionary than what is probably their closest counterpart - the Xerons from The Space Museum. Not quite individual enough for me to remember their names without looking up Wikipedia, though!

Things get more interesting in the second episode. Zoe (looking gorgeous in this story) takes a test the Gonds take to measure intelligence, and gets the highest score ever, prompting the Krotons to immediately summon her as a companion. The Doctor is angry, but takes the test himself so Zoe doesn't face the Krotons alone. It's unclear whether this is because he's worried about Zoe or because he wants to use the opportunity to confront the Krotons, but it was a nice scene anyway, made entertaining by the Doctor's absentminded manner as he interacts with the test machine, resulting in him getting questions wrong. Yes, and the Doctor isn't perfect, isn't it brilliant? Unfortunately we missed an opportunity for the further comedy of having Jamie take the test and get the worst score ever.

In the Dynotrope, the Doctor and Zoe meet the Krotons, who are quite disappointingly nothing but the usual lumbering robots with "scary" mechanical voices. After a mind attack, the Doctor and Zoe are able to slip away quite easily. Jamie enters the Dynotrope to find the Doctor and Zoe, but is attacked by the Krotons, who question him and find out about the TARDIS. This story does a good job of keeping the Doctor and Jamie at their most entertaining but apart, while the Doctor and Zoe make a surprisingly good team - I enjoy the moments where Zoe is embarrassed when the Doctor shows he is her intellectual superior.

While all this is going on, the Gonds are arguing amongst themselves, with Eelek wanting to take control, replacing the more cautious Selris. Unfortunately one's as boring as the other so I couldn't care less who leads the Gonds.

The Doctor and Zoe return to the Gond city as the story moves towards its climax. The Krotons have been educating the Gonds through the years, but neglecting their chemistry studies - a clue, perchance? The Doctor knows that the Krotons and their ship (the Dynotrope) are susceptible to sulphuric acid as they're made of tellurium. Unfortunately the story doesn't become more exciting at this point, as I was hoping. The Doctor and Zoe are handed over to the Krotons by the less-than-grateful Gonds. The only entertaining aspect of the finale is the Doctor's attempts to stall the Krotons while he exposes them to the acid. The actions itself is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair.

The Krotons is a story that isn't as good as it should be. The direction by David Maloney is great at least, but it's all so dull - duller than The Dominators was reputed to be. Like I said though, great moments are scattered throughout, mostly involving the Doctor and Zoe, with Patrick Troughton once again making something out of nothing (I suspect there was some ad-libbing going on in some of his funnier scenes here, to liven things up). Jamie does nothing but wander around looking for the Doctor, being a few steps in the plot behind him, and despite my earlier comment I don't like Jamie being made out to be stupid or foolish, he's just from a less developed time period. The Krotons themselves are too familiar to stand out, with motives and voices lifted from half a dozen other Troughton stories. A decent story but lacks the sparkle that better stories have.

Horror quotient - When I look for the horror quotient, I try to think as a child, and it's difficult but I remember being scared by some rather non-scary things as a wee yin. I reluctantly submit the Krotons. The Gond city is quite dark too, which was a good design choice.
Comedy quotient - As ever, Patrick Troughton is on form, enough that he actually saves the story with his performance, and he doesn't even have Jamie tagging around with him for most of it. The Gonds are humourless and I could have done with less scenes of them arguing with each other.
Drama quotient - Drama is the main thing that should have been built upon. The repercussions of generations of the brightest Gonds submitting themselves to die is horrific but forgotten about right away, and the girl who survives might as well have died because she did nothing afterwards.

A standard Doctor Who featuring familiar story elements, but there are finer examples of such; if you showed this to a non-fan, they might not hate it but at the same time they'd probably wonder what all the fuss was about.


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