Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Doctor Who: The Krotons DVD review

With the release of “The Krotons,” the short list of complete serials from the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who that can be released on DVD, have been. There’s very likely still fare like “The Ice Warriors” with animated missing episodes on the horizon (though that hasn’t been officially confirmed), and then there’s Episode Two of “The Underwater Menace,” which was found last year and has yet to see the DVD light of day. But as far as serialized storylines with all their pieces intact, this is currently the last of its kind. Yay? Many of the DVD reviews for “The Krotons” will likely be less than charitable. It’s not a particularly flashy story, and it will probably strike few as little more than filler between the lengthier, more epic stories featuring Cybermen and Ice Warriors that bookend it. And truthfully that’s precisely what it is, but that doesn’t mean “The Krotons” doesn’t possess a few merits of its own. For starters, it’s the first script to come from the pen of Robert Holmes, arguably the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time. This fact alone warrants that we cut “The Krotons” some slack.

The human-looking Gonds have been slaves to their unseen masters, the Krotons, for thousands of years. Every so often the Krotons call upon the best and brightest of Gond students to enter their massive “machine,” never to be seen again. What a way to keep your minions down; periodically remove the only people smart enough to someday mount any kind of revolution! But this is merely a side effect of the larger plan of the Krotons, who’ve been attempting to harness the mental power of those that enter their machine for generation upon generation of Gond. The TARDIS arrives on the unnamed planet, which smells of sulphur and sports two suns beating down on its surface. The Doctor (Troughton), Zoe (Wendy Padbury) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) come across a door, which opens on its own. Out stumbles the very same Gond - now clearly disoriented - that we previously watched enter the machine. Weaponry appears and within seconds the Gond is erased from existence. Our mortified heroes move on and into the Gond city, where they learn of the race’s horrific history with the Krotons, and how they’ve been trained to never go into the “poisoned” wasteland on the other side of the machine, and therefore are ignorant of what happens to those who enter it. Obviously, things have to be put right.

I think what really gets to me about “The Krotons” is the idea that this situation has been going on for thousands of years. Thousands! Actually, in one scene, somebody says “a thousand,” but what’s a millennia or two in a 90-minute sci-fi yarn? Either way it’s a preposterously long time for this society to have been operating under these conditions, and yet I find myself totally buying into the notion, to the point where Gond life is just plain depressing…and then one day this little man from the stars arrives and everything changes. The Gonds were likely so ill-equipped to deal with a world sans the structure forced upon them by the Krotons, it’s entirely probable they crumbled altogether after the Doctor quietly slipped away, but that’s another story entirely.

However, the real meat of “The Krotons” is not an imagined backstory, or even the one that might occur after it’s over. Most of the tale revolves around the power of intelligence, which the Krotons require for survival, and how the Doctor and Zoe come along and provide these bellowing creatures with the exact amount of “zing” they’ve been looking for all these centuries. Even if the Gonds are mostly cardboard, and the Krotons are mostly forgettable, the serial offers up many fine moments from our heroes. Troughton and Padbury really deliver some goods here, as if they realize the goings-on are all pretty mediocre, but if just they rise to the occasion, they may save the day in more ways than through the characters on the pages of the script they’re acting out. Frazer Hines gets some choice bits as well, but ultimately, in a story about intelligence, Jamie’s bound to be somewhat sidelined in comparison to his two co-stars. Indeed, this may even be Padbury’s finest hour during her time on the series.

The Krotons: Only menacing from the waist up!
“The Krotons” is an early effort from David Maloney, who, with fare like “The Mind Robber,” “Genesis of the Daleks,” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” on his resume, was clearly one of the greatest directors the series ever had; after Doctor Who, he would go on to be a major force in the world of Blake’s 7. Even with a script as frequently slight as this one, Maloney, like the actors working for him, makes the most of what he has to work with. Perhaps his best decision, though, was to make sure the Kroton creatures were largely shot from the waist up, lest viewers find themselves driven to distraction by the goofy Kroton skirts. As far as Robert Holmes goes, there’s not a whole lot in the serial that would ever really lead you to believe that one day he’d become one of, if not the definitive Who writer, although I’d make the argument that the Doctor and Zoe’s relationship here very much serves as the earliest example of the celebrated Holmes “double act,” which his scripts often featured. Also, it’s somewhat interesting to note that Holmes liberally stole from “The Krotons” many years later when he concocted “The Mysterious Planet” for the “Trial of a Time Lord” season. The two tales have numerous similarities that should be obvious even based on what I’ve written here. No doubt the Colin Baker serial works better, but then again it came at the very end of Holmes’s Who writing career, rather than this one, which kicked it off.

DVD Extras: A commentary track featuring Philip Madoc…great jumping gobstoppers! How did I write an entire review of “The Krotons” without ever once mentioning that the great Philip Madoc also made his Who debut with this story? Madoc, who passed away in March of this year, went on to play a substantial role in Troughton’s semi-swan song “The War Games.” Then in the ‘70s he achieved true cult status by bringing mad scientist Mehendri Solon to life in “The Brain of Morbius,” before his final contribution to the series in the “Key to Time” entry “The Power of Kroll” (which also came from the pen of Holmes). So anyway, the commentary features Madoc, with fellow Gonds Richard Ireson and Gilbert Wynne, as well as Assistant Floor Manager David Tilley, make-up designer Sylvia James, costume designer Bobi Bartlett, and special sounds designer Brian Hodgson, all moderated by the always amusing Toby Hadoke.

The standout extra here is a 52-minute doc entitled “Second Time Around,” which is a retrospective of Troughton’s era. Last month I took the “Resurrection of the Daleks” Special Edition DVD to task for its bitchy Davison-era retrospective. I’m happy to report that they get it just right here, with the proper mix of attitudes both reverential and realistic, featuring Anneke Wills, Debbie Watling, Hines, Padbury, Terrance Dicks, Derrick Sherwin (who, it’s revealed here, came up with the idea of the Time Lords [perhaps it was revealed previously on “The War Games” set or somewhere else; if so, I’m just now making note of it]), and maybe a few others I’m forgetting. For this doc alone, “The Krotons” disc is a must-buy for fans of this era of Doctor Who. Beyond that, there’s another entry in the “Doctor Who Stories” series; this time it’s an interview with Frazer Hines. As it is labeled Part 1, I can only assume there’s more of it to come on a future DVD (perhaps that potential “Ice Warriors” disc I mentioned earlier?) Also present is another entry in “The Doctor’s Strange Love” series with Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier…but without Josie Long! It’s almost as if someone in charge is reading my reviews. Heh. There’s also the usual photo gallery, Radio Times listings in PDF form, production notes subtitle option, and finally a swell coming soon trailer for “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” which will hit DVD in August.