Our son was so adorably outraged at the cliffhanger ending to this episode. We’re on an alien planet just as some students have become sick and tired of their benefactors, the Krotons, taking two of their number every generation to serve as “companions” and never be seen again. The party starts smashing the Krotons’ “teaching machines” and the Doctor and his friends arrive to stop the vandalism. Inside the strange spaceship, the aliens’ computers show the Doctor’s face, and then our hero is targeted by a weird, long, snake-like probe. Our son didn’t quite understand that the unseen Krotons are intrigued by this stranger; he thought the Doctor was being targeted because of the destruction. “That’s not fair! The Doctor didn’t break their machines,” he shouted.
“The Krotons,” a four-part adventure which originally aired in December 1968 and January 1969, has never got very much respect from fandom, but it’s not a total disaster. I quite like the imagery of the Kroton computers and their strange pinging noises. It’s got Philip Madoc in it – he was in everything in the seventies, including three further Who serials – and he’s always fun to watch. The director is David Maloney, one of the most reliable hands working on the show. Still, something’s definitely missing in this story, and I think it has a lot to do with the poor set design. There’s no sense of scale or place to any of this, including the Krotons’ ship, but especially the concept of a dangerous “waste land.” Where do the people live in relation to this “waste land,” and what physically prevents anybody from going there? It’s a badly executed production, but not necessarily a bad script.
About which, I’ve mentioned that season six of Who was plagued by script issues. Derrick Sherwin isn’t actually credited with any involvement on this story for the first time in a while. He was working ahead, trying to salvage the back half of the season after three (three!) serials fell through. “The Krotons” was a very late replacement for one of these. Initially not having anything to do with Doctor Who, this story was originally written as a six-part serial called “The Space Trap,” and was rejected by the BBC in 1965, but a copy made its way to the Who production office. Three years later, script editor Terrance Dicks found the copy, contacted the writer, Robert Holmes, and they worked to adapt it into a Who story.
This was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened for Doctor Who. We’ll be seeing a lot more of Robert Holmes in the future.