BBC Video // 1971 // 146 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 27th, 2011
"The Doctor resents his exile bitterly. Do you think he'll cooperate with us?"
For a good chunk of Jon Pertwee's stint as the Doctor, Doctor Who was earthbound, with the renegade Time Lord holding down a job with UNIT, a United Nations outfit that looked into situations that weren't exactly covered by the U.N. charter. You know, the situations that involved Daleks and Autons and a certain evil renegade Time Lord. The TARDIS' status as a prop in the corner of the UNIT lab set didn't sit right with the series' brass, so Doctor Who: Colony in Space was the beginning of the end of the Doctor's exile.
It's also a historic serial because a more recent Doctor, David Tennant, was born during the weeks Colony in Space first aired on the BBC in 1971, a reminder that The Doctor has been traveling over airwaves in Britain for half a century.
The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, Bullseye!) is hunting the Master (Roger Delgado, Sir Francis Drake) -- and recently arrested the Spanish ambassador (which, the commentary notes, is the role Delgado played in Sir Francis Drake) by mistake. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee, Carry on Cowboy), as usual, is trying to get his TARDIS working again, and Jo is taking a tour of the "dimensionally transcendental" police box. Unusually, it works this time -- with the help of the Time Lords, who are also concerned about the Master. Some reptile creatures cart off the TARDIS, but the Doctor isn't worried; that leaves him more time to get involved in the conflict between starving colonists and a mining firm over the rights to the planet.
Whatever the plot is, Colony in Space is really about the Doctor's joy in finally being in space himself. Even though, ironically, he finds himself stranded on a planet much less comfortable than Earth (he realizes straight off that the colonists are starving, with the soil unable to provide crops to feed them), he's eager to take their part against the mining interests, do battle with a giant monster, investigate a long dormant civilization, and generally splash around in the muddy clay. His assistant Jo (Katy Manning, When Darkness Falls), on the other hand, seems intimidated at first by the unearthly surroundings, wanting to go home immediately. She didn't even believe that the Doctor ever could travel in time and space!
Jon Pertwee goes at the Doctor's new freedom with great zest, his voice carrying enough enthusiasm you might actually believe he's an alien just stranded on our planet. He also gets to show his heroic side, standing up to the mining officials and investigating the apparent monster that menaces the colonists. Jo also eventually gets heroic, sneaking into the miners' ship to conduct her own investigation (and get kidnapped, of course). Katy Manning's acting is up to the challenges provided by a Malcolm Hulke script in which Jo bounces between timidity and toughness. The Master's appearance here, when Roger Delgado finally turns up, actually seems like a long-awaited bit of comic relief rather than a menace.
The reptile creatures pretty much look like actors in costume and the model spaceships are obvious, but otherwise, the particulars of Colony in Space make the most of the show's low-budget quirkiness. The idea of the Time Lords giving their good-hearted renegade a push provides a handy explanation for the usual situation of everything coming to a head just as the Doctor pops in, the colony is supposed to be rather makeshift, and the script even provides an explanation that makes the cheesiness of the monster seem appropriate. It's obviously not perfect, but it looks about as good as vintage Doctor Who -- and low-budget sci-fi -- ever looked.
The six-part serial features a commentary by director Michael Briant, script editor Terrance Dicks, assistant floor manager Graeme Harper, and actors Katy Manning, Bernard Kay (Carry on Sergeant), and Morris Perry (The Debt). That's enough of a crowd that they work in shifts, which takes a little steam out of the commentary, but it's still fun and interesting. One high spot was the tidbit that Susan Jameson (New Tricks) was originally cast as the villain, but replaced with a male actor before shooting; info text notes that she gets a cameo, though, in the form of a photo used as a prop. They also point out Coronation Street star Helen Worth and discuss the hazards of shooting in a muddy Cornwall quarry. There's a lot of more general commentary about television in the 1970s, including thoughts about how good actors handle "dodgy lines," the director's greater role in the 1970s, and a lament about the promos that go over credits today.
You can also get tidbits of information about the episode from the info text option. It includes Radio Times listings (also available on the DVD-ROM), the ratings for each episode, and tidbits about the multiple roles played by Pat Gorman in this episode. Most interestingly, it points out that while the starting scenes of each new episode are the same as the closing scenes in the previous episode, the actors just do it over again, something that never would have crossed my mind, even if I live as long as the Doctor.
A making-of video, "IMC Needs You!," starts off with a mock ad for the evil mining company of the story before talking about the Cornwall location shoot. Most interestingly, it asks you to take a close look at the appearances and disappearances of the TARDIS. Outtakes include Jon Pertwee's smile during a fight scene, an indication of the scale of the spaceships, and problems with a futuristic vehicle. A brief photo gallery is set to wheezing TARDIS noises. Admittedly, I've seen better extras packages on Doctor Who serials, but it's still very good.
My favorite shortsighted element, one I'm considering as I check the date on my computer screen, is the wall calendar that tells the Doctor and Jo that it's 2472.
Amazingly, one of the fun facts mentioned was that the current Doctor Who has shot episodes for a million pounds. That's less than $2 million U.S., which I think would make Doctor Who's budget about rock bottom for a science-fiction series today. Although it's barely noticeable now, the series is still doing a lot on very little money.
The best part about Doctor Who: Colony in Space is Jon Pertwee's performance as the newly liberated Doctor, showing a little more of the Time Lord's personality than usual.
Not guilty. I'd better go; the year 2472 just popped up on my computer screen
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Text Feature
* Official Site