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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part six)

Over the last week, I didn’t stop to praise Morris Perry for his terrific, all-business performance as the nasty Captain Dent of IMC. I love everything about his work here. He’s obliged to be a very different kind of villain than the charming and fun Master, and so he’s ruthless, unsmiling, and straightforward. He simply doesn’t care that he’s sending the colonists to their certain deaths. Alive or dead, as long as they’re out of his way, it doesn’t matter.

The other high point to this story is one of the definitive examples of the Master trying to tempt the Doctor into joining him. This happens several times throughout the series, but it’s usually kind of rushed. Here, Delgado and Pertwee get a lot to chew on, and it’s a really great scene.

It’s a little undermined by the frankly bonkers climax to the problem, as the strange little alien who lives inside the doomsday weapon just decides to have the Doctor destroy the weapon, and, with it, their entire city, rather than let the weapon fall into the Master’s hands. Maybe they spent so much time with the lovely Doctor-Master interplay that they didn’t have any room to develop this decision, which also seems to involve recalling all the primitives and priests to their deaths as well.

I mentioned a few days back that Malcolm Hulke’s eventual novelization of this story, renamed Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, was one of the great triumphs of the line of books. In the US, this was one of ten titles licensed by Pinnacle Books and given very weird new cover artwork and a glowing introductory chapter written by Harlan Ellison. I found the first four books in Pinnacle’s line in a nearby Starvin’ Marvin’s convenience store and gas station and reread them until they fell apart. I loved Ellison’s introduction – he apparently greatly preferred the Doctor to either Luke Skywalker or Kimball Kinnison from Lensman, though why he singled those two characters out for abuse, I couldn’t tell you – in part because it gave this odd-looking show that we watched late at night on PBS a really impressive seal of approval.

The first three of those books, the others being the novelizations of “Day of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” were adaptations of stories that our PBS station, WGTV, hadn’t yet purchased. It’s an understatement to say that the visuals I concocted in my head, helped by that dopey artwork, were far wilder and just plain better than what the BBC could create in 1971. I think that Hulke described the primitives as having six fingers on each hand, and this was reflected on the cover, where the basic, spear-carrying primitive was a shirtless Tarzan dude and the mole-like priest became a rat-faced monk. The story was just amazing, real Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff. Of course the BBC couldn’t match it, but what they did really wasn’t all that bad.

It really could have used Susan Jameson, though.

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part five)

“Colony in Space” is another of those Doctor Who six-parters that is at least one episode too long. This one’s the turkey in this serial, and I think it and the next part really should have been combined into one, “Dominators”-style, for a leaner five-parter.

There are a few interesting points in this one. I’m not sure why, but I like that the episode spends so much time inside the Master’s TARDIS, and I like that the real adjudicator from Earth, whose identity the Master stole, is actually given a name, Martin Jurgens. Poor Martin probably got dumped out an airlock or had his tissues compressed and eliminated.

But having the IMC people come right back to the area of the colony after being forced off the planet gives this half-hour its repetitive feel. The episode begins with the wrap-up of the shootout from episode four, and then climaxes with another one. The entire installment is just about turning the tables with the supporting players, while the real meat of the Doctor and the Master going to explore the primitives’ city is pushed back to part six. It would have been more interesting, and less of a dull runaround, if the mining corporation had left the narrative completely and two of the colonists found the key to the Master’s ship instead of Caldwell and Morgan.

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part four)

Our son has picked up the phrase “Oh, come on!” to punctuate any plot development that he doesn’t much like. The arrival of the Master warranted one. I don’t agree. The Master turning up is precisely what this story needed.

“Colony in Space” features one of the very few times that we ever get to see the Master putting his schemes together without the Doctor’s involvement. Usually, we meet the character in the narrative at the same time that the Doctor does, but here, he lands on Uxarieus using the forged identity of an Earth government adjudicator, and he casually and delightfully plays the role in order to further his interests. If you were paying attention at the beginning of part one, you may recall that this has something to do with an ancient Doomsday Weapon.

And if you’re putting two and two together, you might figure out that the ruined underground city, where the Doctor and Jo spend most of this episode, houses this infernal device. There are three alien species on this planet: neither the green and brown primitives nor the white, mostly-blind priests can speak, but there’s a third bunch, represented by a shriveled and tiny little guy who lives in the core of some power room, who warns the Doctor to leave and never return, under pain of death. You don’t suppose these are all connected?

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part three)

Our son constantly surprises us with the things that he finds frightening. These primitives, about whom we’ll be learning much in subsequent episodes, are the top of the list right this minute. He doesn’t see them as extras in camouflaged body stockings and plastic faces at all. They are unknown, silent, hideous and unreasoning. He was pretty pleased by the Doctor leading the colonists on a revolt to seize control of the IMC ship – the colonists don’t know that an adjudicator from Earth is due to arrive very soon to settle the problem – but Jo being taken to the primitives’ secret city is utterly horrifying. What are these creatures and what are they going to do? We’ll learn more in a few nights’ time!

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part two)

Last week, when my son and I were watching the Bionic Woman episode “The Deadly Missiles,” I paused to explain, in terms appropriate for a six year-old, a little about politics. I explained that Forrest Tucker’s character was what we would call a typical right-wing character, and tried to give him a simple and balanced view of what that meant.

Tonight, our son really impressed us. We learn that IMC is the Interplanetary Mining Corporation, and that they’re running a scam where they land on planets that have been approved for colonization, chase all the colonists off one way or another, and then suck the rock dry while they’re passing as the innocent victims of some bureaucratic mistake back on Earth. Captain Dent thinks that the Doctor is a colonist, and they have a brief debate about whether Earth would benefit with people leaving to start colonies, or bringing back minerals to build new homes.

Our son listened to their discussion and said “The Doctor is left wing and the other man is right wing.” Mom, who wasn’t here for the Bionic Woman episode, did an amazing double take. We’re very proud of our son retaining that information and correctly applying it. Malcolm Hulke, this episode’s writer, was as left-wing as they got, and had the most cynical and negative view of a future Earth empire that Who has ever shown, with the Doctor shown as strongly opposed to it. Both in this story and in 1973’s “Frontier in Space,” the Earth is run by a totalitarian government in thrall to corporations, where political dissidents are jailed. That’s one reason these two stories are a little hard going; they’re incredibly grim.

But the other political component of this story was a production one. In the photo above, that’s Tony Caunter as Morgan, Dent’s second-in-command. He’s the guy who killed the colonists in the remote dome and staged it as an attack by giant lizards. But Caunter wasn’t originally cast in the part. Susan Jameson was.

Here’s Jameson from the 1969 BBC series Take Three Girls. The actress had been contracted to play Morgan, but at the last minute, some high muckity-muck at the BBC decided that it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to play a ruthless murderer in black leather. So Jameson was paid for five episodes’ work and thanked for her time. The decision not only robbed the show of a strong female villain at a time when it really could have used one, it would have given this particular story some badly needed presence. The only other female characters that Jo and the Doctor meet are colonists who all fade into the background as quite unimportant.

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part one)

Back to 1971 – or forward to 2472, as it were – for “Colony in Space,” a six-part serial written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Michael E. Briant. It is nobody’s favorite Doctor Who adventure, but, weirdly, Hulke’s novelization, called Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, is among everybody’s favorite novelizations. It’s a great story to chew on and consider, but as a piece of television, it’s a little rough going.

Famously, it’s the first story to let the Doctor leave Earth since being stuck there. The Time Lords hijack him and dump him on the barren planet Uxarieus without telling him why. There, he meets a group of self-sufficiency enthusiasts who’ve left the polluted, overcrowded, and corrupt Earth, but their crops bizarrely disobey all known thought about agriculture and refuse to grow. After a year, they’re becoming anxious and desperate, and then some giant lizards are said to turn up.

My favorite part in the first episode is Jo’s very real fear and worry about exploring this planet. I really appreciate how believable her reaction to being dumped on another world is. All the previous months she’d been working for UNIT, she thought she’d been indulging an eccentric genius with his stories of time travel. She didn’t even look inside his TARDIS. Just the sight of Uxarieus frightens her.

Her fear was contagious. Our son was alternately bored by all the farmers talking about crops and frightened by everything else. The green-and-brown-skinned primitives made him jump, the giant iguanas that are strangely too large to fit through the doors of the small domes sent him out of the room entirely, and while the first robot that we saw on this planet – a small “rover” with a crane – was amusing, the great big clawed thing that traps the Doctor against a wall was another thing entirely. I wonder what those letters “IMC” on the robot might mean?

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