When you ask the average ‘classic’ Dr Who fan who the best writer in the show’s history is, there’s a good chance the response will be Robert Holmes. He was the script editor during the highs of the Tom Baker era, the writer of stories like Ark in Space, Talons of Weng Chiang and the Caves of Androzani and the man who invested such popular enemies as the Sontarans and the Autons.
The prevailing wisdom is that the man is a genius who could do no wrong.
And yet the first two stories to come from his pen – The Krotons and the Space Pirates – are not held in high regard. It’s like people don’t want to attribute them to Holmes.
We’re still couple of stories away from the Space Pirates, but today’s review will deal with The Krotons.
It’s an odd story. It’s not that people think it’s *bad*, but rather it’s just that people can’t seem to take it seriously.
But why? It’s a story written by the great Bob Holmes and guest starring Philip Madoc in his first appearance for the show.
What’s the problem?
Doctor Who – The Krotons Review: What’s This One About?
I’m nicking this straight from Wikipedia because after a few minutes trying to find the right words, I couldn’t do better than this…
“On an unnamed planet, a race called the Gonds are subject to the mysterious Krotons, unseen beings to whom they provide their brightest intelligences as ‘companions’.”
Of course, there’s more to it than that (although not much, I’ll grant you). As it turns out, anyone not intelligent enough for the Krotons needs (they need two ‘high brains’ to help man their four-man spacecraft, The Dynotrope) are – unbeknownst to the Gonds – killed.
The Doctor & Zoe are intelligent enough though. The Krotons want them and it’s up to the Doctor to stop them.
Thoughts – Why Do People Not Take This Seriously?
The biggest positive and negative about the Krotons is the Krotons themselves. In most shots they look very impressive as life forms made from a sort of crystalline substance…in most shots.
You see, it would appear that at no point in the design phase for the Krotons did anyone tell the costume designers that the Krotons would need to be seen in full profile or walking around. The imposing costumes seem to have been made for close up or above waste shots only because it only comes down to the actors knees (I suppose to allow them to walk about on set). And so, to fix this problem these intimidating and mysterious monsters appear to be wearing skirts.
Not exactly menacing!
And then there are the voices.
Dr Who has had some great monster voices, like the ring modulated Daleks, the robotic sounding Cybermen, the Luvvie Crabs of the Macra Terror and the whispering snake-like Ice Warriors.
Well of the two Krotons, one is pure Brummie and the other has an accent that sounds like a mix of Brummie and South African. So instead of saying “The Dynatrope will expire in 30 minutes” they say “Theee Doweyatraope weell expoyar een therteee meeneets”. And rather than menacing people with cries of ‘Exterminate’ they threaten people with “You weeel be deeespersed my son”
What I find strange is that one of the voice artists is the reasonably accomplished Roy Skelton, so playing them that way was a conscious decision. Mind you, they wouldn’t have suited sounding like Zippy.
I call this the biggest positive and negative because they’ve become a sort of iconic monster that just for how ridiculous they are. You just cannot take them seriously, and as a result the entire story is compromised.
The Plot and the Acting
The problem though is that it doesn’t take much to compromise this story, because it unfortunately has a rather dull plot.
It’s not that it’s bad or doesn’t make sense – indeed the premise of the Gonds only learning what the Krotons want them to learn is actually quite clever and interesting – but it just plods along.
If I was to say one thing about the plot, it would be that it seems to be a story you would expect to feature the First Doctor, Steven & Vicki and as it happens the original premise of the plot was suggested for that period of the show’s history. It doesn’t really suit the Second Doctor all that much. It’s a bit like having a 7 week historical story involving the Fourth Doctor.
As for the acting…well some of it leaves a lot to be desired.
Why they hired James Copeland as Selris I’ll never know. This is a man with a broad Scottish accent trying to adjust it for BBC English, and it just doesn’t work. As he tries in vain to speak in Received Pronunciation he ends up almost unintelligible. And it’s not a one-off either. I recently watched Operation Kilt – an episode of Dad’s Army in which he is the guest star – and I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying either…and I’m Scottish.
But even beyond his struggle with his accent, he’s also a terrible stunted actor. Just crap.
The rest of the cast are unremarkable too. Even Philip Madoc – who is only a few months away from returning as the brilliant and sinister War Lord – fails to light up the screen here.
By a considerable distance the star of this show is Patrick Troughton, who puts in the sort of comedic performance that the Second Doctor is perhaps unfairly remembered exclusively for.
- This is the only existing Second Doctor story yet to be released on DVD and so I think it’s the only black & white story not yet to have been ‘cleaned up’ by the Restoration team. The quality of episode 2 in particular is horrendous. The scene where the Krotons are formed out of the crystalline fluid is so poorly lit on this copy of the tape that you can barely understand what’s going on. Maybe when it comes out on DVD it’ll look better.
- The fact that it’s not out on DVD says a lot.
- Episode 3 sums up the sort of nonsense that Doctor Who is wrongly dismissed as always being like. The Doctor escapes at the same time as Jamie is captured, and so decides he must go back again into the Dynotrope. Or in other words they just spend an episode killing time until the final episode.
- One thing I always dislike in any form of drama is when a character is just killed off for the sake of it. There’s no good reason for Selris to be killed, and it’s done as such an afterthought that nobody even bothers to ask about him when the Doctor emerges from the Dynotrope. Really sloppy.
- It didn’t go unnoticed that this is the second story of this season to make a big thing about there being a forbidden zone on the planet where people are supposedly unable to go. But at least in the Dominators there was a good reason for why it was no longer dangerous. Here it’s just an excuse used for why the Gonds didn’t bother to ever go round the back of the Dynotrope and see the ‘companions’ being killed. And really, when the Dominators does something better than another story, you know there’s a problem
- Here’s a random thought but a relevant one. On this unnamed planet, how can the Gonds sustain a society? This is another one of these small-scale planets that is home to a community of about 35 people. Are there no other cities/cultures/races on this planet?
- Episode 3 ends with a roof caving in on the Doctor’s head. Numerous large pieces of rock land on him as he is crushed under it. He gets up as if nothing as happened at the star of Episode 4. The Sixth Doctor is killed because he bumps his head off the TARDIS console. Think about that.
Doctor Who – The Krotons Review: Final Thoughts
I’ve decided to dispense with the ‘Should You Watch…’ conclusions to the reviews because I found I was just saying yes to most everything. I would even have said yes here for the simple reason that the Krotons themselves are worth seeing for the reasons
But this is not a good story. It’s dull. Very dull.
At the start of this review, I noted that people don’t seem to want to attribute it to Robert Holmes, but I think it’s because he is the writer – and because it co-stars Philip Madoc – that it is considered above a story like The Dominators. The truth is that both stories are poor but it would be fair to say that there isn’t a performance in this story that touches that of Ronald Allen in the Dominators, and that the this story actually does some things worse than it.
In my opinion, the only saving grace of the Krotons are the Krotons themselves – and most people blame them for the quality of the story as it is.