We’re back in middle-episodes-of-“The Dominators” territory this time. It’s mainly men in pajamas saying “We must attack now” and “No, we must wait.” At its best, Doctor Who has interesting planets-of-the-month, with fun cultures and engaging guest stars. But this is a story where the native population has had its ability to learn restricted by the Krotons. They’re all very boring people, and the talented Philip Madoc* can’t save the story.
It’s an inauspicious start for Robert Holmes. Impressed by his talent and speed, the production team asked him to tackle another serial in this frantic season, as two that they had been working on were not coming together. This would be “The Space Pirates,” and it’s almost entirely missing, unfortunately. In time, Holmes would become one of the very best writers to work on Who, with an absolutely effortless ability – matched only by Douglas Adams – to conjure up entire civilizations with a single line of dialogue. That is not in evidence here. We learn a lot about the Krotons’ tech and physiology, but it’s only by Jamie asking a lot of questions and forcing out the answers. I have not listened to the “Space Pirates” audio, but I understand that’s much more like the talented Holmes that we all know and admire, full of interesting and eccentric characters.
By far the most interesting scenes involve the Doctor and Zoe talking about minerals and chemicals, tellurium and sulfur, looking for weaknesses in the Krotons’ crystalline makeup. Patrick Troughton could make any discussion, whether about physical science or anything, absolutely sparkle, so he’s a joy to watch, and having Wendy Padbury around to be intelligent and practical while also getting into trouble is just wonderful. She is such a great character.
So what did our son think? He was a lot less restless than I would have expected, considering the guest stars talking around and around in circles, and was shocked when it appears that a Kroton may have destroyed the TARDIS. He dropped to the floor in surprise when it looks like the Doctor is crushed by falling rubble at the cliffhanger, too. For a story with such a poor reputation, it’s going over very well with him.
*Weird coincidence: Last night, Marie and I saw Philip Madoc, along with Peter Cushing and Jacqueline Pearce, in the fourth episode of the hugely fun The Zoo Gang. Told you Madoc was in everything.