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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part six)

The last part of “Frontier in Space” is one of the very few occasions in Doctor Who where major villains team up. The Master and the Daleks only get a few minutes together, and the neatness is overshadowed by knowing this was Roger Delgado’s final appearance in the series.

Delgado had told Who‘s producer that he was ready to move on. He and his agent had heard that the reason he wasn’t getting as many offers in 1971-72 as he might was that all the casting people assumed that he was a regular in Doctor Who and wouldn’t be available. So Barry Letts was beginning to put together ideas for a big finale for the character, which is why he doesn’t get anything like a sendoff this time. He just vanishes in the confusion of the Ogrons running around.

“Frontier” was made in September of 1972. Not too long after, Delgado flew to the south of France to shoot an episode of ITC’s fun little Mission: Impossible clone, The Zoo Gang, which would be shown in 1974. It would be his last English language performance. In June 1973, he flew to Turkey to appear in a small part in a French TV miniseries, La Cloche Tibetaine. On the 18th, while being driven to a location shoot, he was killed in a car crash along with two other men.

Our favorite six year-old critic hadn’t been enjoying this serial very much, but he perked up so much when the Daleks arrived that I genuinely felt bad telling him why this was Delgado’s final appearance as the Master. He listened to my story, a little glum, before saying “He was a great actor, because he played real bad at making the Master SO BAD!” That’s possibly not the most eloquent way to put it, but I agree with the sentiment. He certainly was a terrific, wonderful actor. It’s always a pleasure to watch an adventure show or ITC series from the late sixties or early seventies and find him in the cast. He never had all the major roles that he deserved, but every one of his appearances is worth tracking down.

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (parts four and five)

Resuming this serial with a double-bill tonight, our son still says that he isn’t enjoying it, but he does at least enjoy the gunfights. That is, I think he likes the idea of the shootouts, because what happens on screen is not all that thrilling. Honestly, I’m not taken with Paul Bernard’s prowess as a director of action sequences. This isn’t the only time in Doctor Who that the design of a set got in the way of a director who needs to stage a shootout – “The Claws of Axos” comes to mind – but it’s every bit as frustrating to watch. The scene where the Ogrons capture Jo is so sloppy. It doesn’t look like Bernard gave any thought at all to where his cameras should be.

For many reasons, I’m not as familiar with this story as I am most of the Pertwee years. Around 2002, when I was watching the series with my older son, circumstances forced me out of the room to deal with unpleasantness for the first five episodes, five nights straight of real life awfulness, and that hangs over this story for me. So it’s locked in my memory as going from prison cell to prison cell and me unable to enjoy even that. I had forgotten many of the details of my original copy, which I taped off air in the eighties and watched several times afterward.

WGTV had shown this during a pledge drive and interrupted the compilation movie at the approximate points of the original cliffhangers. This led to an interesting surprise tonight. At the end of part five, the Master turns on his fear box and the very last shot is Jo looking in horror at something that we can’t see yet. The next part will open by showing her a few of the most recent monsters in the show: a Drashig, a Mutant “mutt,” and a Sea Devil, and that’s the point where WGTV had faded to black, so I thought we’d be seeing them tonight.

Since I’m not as familiar with this as I could be, I had forgotten just how darn good Katy Manning is, especially in this climax. She and Pertwee and Roger Delgado carry almost all of part four with limited interruption from other characters, which is incredibly entertaining, and they dominate the critical scene in the throne room of the Draconian Emperor, played by John Woodnutt.

But at the end, the Master tries to hypnotize Jo again, and she is not having any of that. She is amazing! Delgado goes right into his party trick of “You. Will. Obey. Me!” and Manning stares him down with cold fury, reciting nursery rhymes in his face. He hypnotized her with ease on their first meeting, on her very first UNIT assignment, but she is not the same scatterbrained kid from “Terror of the Autons.” That’s a fantastic scene.

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part three)

Thank heaven Roger Delgado turns up this week, because otherwise this episode is like watching paint dry. It’s more and more and more of prison cells and Earthmen not believing the Doctor and Jo. It’s agonizingly repetitive. For those of you who missed the previous two parts, don’t worry, because the other characters are going to force Jon Pertwee to explain the plot twice this week. So when the Master arrives toward the end in the guise of the police commissioner of the dominion planet Sirius IV, it’s the best thing by miles.

Once again, though, the story doesn’t pause to consider an avenue that’s a million times more interesting than what it does give us: 26th Century Earth is an authoritarian hellhole. Michael Hawkins’ general tells the weak president that she is in danger of being replaced by a military dictatorship, but she already presides over a planet where political prisoners are immediately sentenced to life imprisonment on the moon. At this time in its life, Doctor Who was not afraid to depict nasty futures and, in the manner of some good science fiction, warn against taking the wrong avenue. But later on, the producers and writers of the 1980s and 2000s would do more with totalitarian governments and pit a more active Doctor against them.

It’s difficult to square the way this Doctor treats future Earth as just another setting for adventures, albeit an ugly one, with the way the Doctor of “The Happiness Patrol” overthrows the government of a corrupt Earth colony, or the way the Doctor of “The Christmas Invasion” decides that Harriet Jones shouldn’t actually be the UK’s prime minister after all. Looking back at nineties fandom, I recall the way that older, Pertwee-loving fans of the show would praise Malcolm Hulke’s political edge while dismissing the show becoming “silly” in the late eighties. But Hulke’s stories, while sometimes brilliantly constructed and full of nuance and question around the issues of corruption, might have been even wilder if he had been allowed to position the character of the Doctor against the horrible corporations and government of the Earth he showed in “Colony in Space” and in this story. In a couple of weeks, we’ll watch “The Green Death,” where the Doctor is pitted against a corporation set on present-day Earth. It’s a shame that he never got the chance to similarly bring down the IMC, or this horrible president.

Meanwhile, I should point out that our son is just barely hanging on to this story, and the whole lot of nothing that doesn’t happen this week didn’t thrill him one bit. He certainly loved “The Three Doctors” and says that it is tied with “The Power of the Daleks” as his favorite adventure, but after the confusion and horrors of the last story and the frustrations of this one, he really, really needs something big to turn things around. But we’ll see that something big in a few days, after taking a little mid-story break.

One other thing to note this week is that Ray Lonnen’s character has left the narrative after two weeks. Episodes one and two were the only Doctor Who credits for this fine actor. Richard Shaw is in this part, and the next, as a trustee in the moon prison. Shaw had appeared in the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and would appear in Who again five years after this, but we “remember” him best as Ryan, one of the recurring criminals in series five and six of Freewheelers. I use air quotes around remember because our son has watched series six of Freewheelers twice and remembers the character but, of course, doesn’t recognize the actor!

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part two)

The Doctor and Jo spend most of part two of “Frontier in Space” in one jail cell or another. It’s a very frustrating episode, since I have never cared for stories in which our hero is a prisoner, but also because the Doctor has a really believable story and nobody wants to listen.

“Frontier in Space” was written by Malcolm Hulke and it follows “Colony in Space” from two years previously in depicting a future Earth that’s really unpleasant and awful. Earth and Draconia are poised on the brink of a second galactic war and some third party is causing trouble. Earthmen, represented by a president who seems mostly ineffective and a general whose bloodlust is visible from space, believe the Doctor and Jo are Draconian agents, and the Draconians, who briefly capture the Doctor, think that the general is using them as patsies to justify his gearing up for war. Michael Hawkins has a terribly thankless job in playing this general. Ray Lonnen, who would later star in the amazing spy series The Sandbaggers, has a small role as an Earth soldier.

So yes, there’s a lot of back and forth in this story so far, but I’m surprised that the Doctor didn’t follow an interesting lead that the Draconian ambassador suggested. The Doctor knows that some third party is employing Ogrons to raid Earth freighters, and the Draconians think the general is behind everything. Who’s to say that the general didn’t hire the Ogrons? Obviously he didn’t, but since Hawkins’ portrayal is spelling the man out as a baddie, it’s odd that the script didn’t even start to consider him as a suspect.

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part one)

We had an unhappy surprise last night as we were putting our son to bed. We told him about the plans for today and that we would be watching the next episode of Doctor Who, and he looked at the ground and said that he didn’t want to watch it. Now, back during “The Seeds of Death,” he threatened to stop watching the show for a month if the Ice Warriors ended up winning, but this was new.

So a little later, after he was tucked in, I went back in his bedroom and sat on his bed with him and asked “Is there something about Doctor Who that’s bothering you?” He seemed reluctant to say beyond a quiet “…yeah.” Then I got it. “Are you afraid of the Drashigs?” His eyes got wide and he nodded firmly.

I assured him that the Drashigs would never again appear in the show, except as pictures, or, in a couple of moments in this story, hallucinations. He confirmed that they are the scariest monster that he’s ever seen anywhere and worried that there would be a monster in this new story. I told him that we’ll be meeting a new race of aliens called Draconians, but that they are not monsters. And that’s the core of this story, oddly enough. The frightened soldiers of the expanding Earth empire refuses to see them as anything but monsters.

The Draconians are, no joke, one of the very best designs for aliens in the entirety of Doctor Who, and it really is surprising that these guys never returned to the series, because they’re incredibly successful both as visuals and as interesting alien characters. They showed up in comics and novels but I don’t think they’re even mentioned in passing in the TV show again until the 2010 story “The Pandorica Opens.” This story also features the return of the ape-like Ogrons – Paul Bernard also directed their previous appearance – and darned if they didn’t vanish from the series completely after this one as well. Lots of good comics and books use them – Gareth Roberts’ novel The Romance of Crime is a favorite – but the series moved on.

And how did the episode go over? Well, every night, as one of my parts of the bedtime ritual, I tell him what we’re having for supper and what we will watch. So tomorrow, Marie’s making this really terrific sausage and potato skillet meal and we’re watching part two of this story. He made a face, because he’s really not fond of the skillet meal, and grumbled “Yay for Doctor Who, but nuh-uh for that skillet…”

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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (part four)

In 2011, “Day of the Daleks” was released on DVD with a really interesting bonus feature: a complete special edition of the story with new special effects, several additional Daleks, some new footage for the climactic battle scene, and proper Dalek voices provided by Nick Briggs instead of those guys that did the original work forty years previously and sounded wrong. Unfortunately, the well-meaning team behind this otherwise entertaining upgrade also decided to cut the hilarious bit in episode one where an Ogron actor forgets to talk like an Ogron and just mumbles “No complications” in his regular voice. For shame! I love that part!

We switched over to watch the special edition for part four. It might be fairly accused of having one or ten too many bells and whistles, but it does improve what was originally a pretty tame battle scene. The director, Paul Bernard, did his best, but he just didn’t have the resources to make this important sequence shine. Worse, the human part of the conflict is ridiculous. Sir Reginald absolutely refuses to evacuate. Nobody thinks to say “There is a bomb in this building and terrorists are attacking.” You’d think that would get people back in their cars. But with lasers all over the screen and smoke in the air and bullets ricocheting off Dalek armor and lines of bullets vipping along the ground and UNIT soldiers getting either exterminated or vaporized, there’s so darn much to look at.

Our son loved it. This is the second story in a row to end with a big explosion. “Now you know the meaning of the word Dalek-explosion!” he shouted. This was after a little hiding behind the sofa and worry. He’s at the perfect age where the Daleks are both exciting and scary. He did clarify that they are meaner than both the Ice Warriors and the Master. Funny that he should think of those villains…

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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (part three)

The third part of “Day of the Daleks” gets a little stick because of this silly bit of runaround where the Doctor and Jo escape only to get recaptured. It’s there because the plot needs a little action, which happens a lot in this kind of program, but it’s incredibly egregious here because the runaround is on the back of an ATV three-wheeler. These were only a couple of years old at the time and still unfamiliar enough to possibly look “futuristic” to the TV audience of 1972. I think that if anybody from our day and age were to find themselves running from eight lumbering Ogrons, they wouldn’t pause to jump on an ATV, they’d just keep running.

But never mind the runaround, Jon Pertwee is on fire in this episode. He’s full of righteous fury about the criminal government of the Dalek-occupied Earth, while Aubrey Woods tries to deflect with a load of nonsense about how the enslaved planet really just puts their hardened criminals to work in labor camps. It’s a really great scene, though I think it’s an underrated one.

There’s a very effective cliffhanger too, surprisingly. I never thought much of it myself – the Daleks put the recaptured Doctor under a mind analysis machine that shows, weirdly, promotional photos of the previous two Doctors against the background of the show’s title sequence – but once again our son was riveted and frightened and hid his face. The Daleks are, “of course,” the show’s meanest enemy. How will he possibly get out of this?!

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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (parts one and two)

Back to January 1972 and the ninth season of Doctor Who opened with the return of the Daleks to the series for the first time since the summer of ’67. They’d been retired while their creator, Terry Nation, unsuccessfully tried to sell the American networks on a series in which a Space Security Agent foils a new evil plot by the villains every week. I sometimes wonder about that show, and kind of think that it would have been a fondly-remembered series, but not a very successful one. Still, when they do invent transportation between parallel universes, that’s on my list to check out. I wonder who would have been in the cast*.

Anyway, so the Daleks conquered Earth some time in our future, and in the 22nd Century, some fanatics have got their hands on some time travel equipment and have traveled back to “the 20th Century time zone” (just call it September 13, 1973, it makes sense) to kill a prominent politician for an as-yet-undisclosed reason. The Daleks mainly stay in a room in their future city where they yell at a controller character played by Aubrey Woods. But at the end of part two, the Doctor chases after the guerrillas and just about runs smack into a Dalek in a dark tunnel, which frightened the bejezus out of our son. Any pleasure that might come from seeing the Daleks back – he wanted to talk and talk and talk between episodes about how many there were in 1966’s “The Power of the Daleks” – came crashing into the scary reality that creepy dark tunnels are not where you want to find a Dalek.

The Daleks were apparently a late-in-the-day addition to this story by Louis Marks, who had last written for the show in 1964. He had the story about fanatics from the future trying to change history, and the ape-like Ogrons who do all the gunfighting, but the Daleks came on board to boost the marketing push. It’s the first Who serial directed by Paul Bernard. He did three of the ten serials in seasons nine and ten.

Part one of this story features a scene that I absolutely adore. The Doctor and Jo are staying in this big country house waiting for another visit from the time travelers, and the Doctor has helped himself to the cheeses and wines. Jo takes some to feed a hungry Sergeant Benton, only to have Captain Yates order him to get back to work so he can take a snack for himself. “RHIP. Rank has its privileges,” he tells her.

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