Doctor Who: Frontios (parts one and two)

“Frontios” is the story with the big ugly monsters that look like wood lice. We may get a clear shot of them for the picture in tomorrow’s post. Our son was doing an admirable job being quite surprisingly freaked out and bothered by what’s happening on the far distant colony planet in this story, so I turned to look at him as the beasts are revealed. You know that scene in so many science fiction movies where the heroes wander right past the pile of rocks that turn out to be a walking rock monster as soon as their backs are turned? Well, that happens here, as two of these big insects helpfully hide their faces against a wall leaving their shells facing toward Mark Strickson and one of this story’s co-stars. The humans leave the frame, and the big bugs turn around and follow them.

I was expecting a gasp, or a cry, or the shielding of our son’s trusty security blanket. Instead he went “Bleugh!” and didn’t stop with the “yucks” until several minutes after the show. “This is terrible! Those Tractator things are disgusting!” Oh, to be seven again!

“Frontios” is… okay. It’s another one of those stories where the running time would be halved if the besieged good guys would just accept the Doctor’s help instead of thinking he’s the villain. This is often a bore, but never more so than here, when in order for the Doctor to be the villain, he’d have to had started bombarding this colony with meteorites literally three decades previously. I mean, at some point in the last thirty years, the theory that the meteorites are just a softening-up technique before the invasion would have gone back on the shelf.

The besieged people are all stupid and unsympathetic, and guest star Peter Gilmore is stuck playing the far-future version of some dumb general like Thunderbolt Ross. Writer Christopher H. Bidmead came up with an interesting scenario and it’s nice to see the Doctor dig around and investigate things, but he really wants to leave this planet as soon as possible, and who can blame him?

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy rereading Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood’s About Time series of Who guidebooks, well, the first six of them anyway, and I give each story a preview look in their books to remind myself what to watch for. That’s especially important with “Frontios,” which I’ve always remembered as a middling-to-mediocre story that doesn’t hold my interest. I was surprised to read that both writers are extremely complimentary toward this adventure and hail it as a really unique and original story. Two episodes in, and honestly the most memorable things about it, in no particular order, are the Doctor’s “brainy specs,” Janet Fielding’s leather miniskirt, and the silly bug-monster costumes. Then I read a little further and the authors went on to make the quite mad claim that Doug McClure wasn’t in Warlords of Atlantis with Peter Gilmore, when he most emphatically was. Writers! Never trust ’em!

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