Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's text anxiety has just been given new life.
"We only know what the Krotons tell us. We don't think. We obey."
The Doctor has had lots of companions, but in "The Krotons," The Doctor becomes one of the many companions to strange alien life forms. That wouldn't be too bad, except that The Doctor has discovered that none of the Krotons' companions make it through the experience alive.
Doctor Who: The Krotons features four episodes from the original series featuring Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor. Former story editor Terrance Dicks and actor Frazer Hines don't sound impressed with "The Krotons" or the monstrous Krotons themselves, but the serial has its moments and the Krotons do have an imposing art deco look to them.
Facts of the Case
On a distant planet, two brainy young Gords have passed a test to become "companions of the Krotons." They're sent into a machine from which no one has ever returned. Meanwhile, The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have landed, just in time to see one of the Krotons' companions vaporized and save a second from the same fate, at the cost of The Doctor's umbrella. The survivor is catatonic and thus can't tell our heroes much. Eventually, though, Zoe decides to play with one of the Krotons' gadgets, passing the test. Soon, The Doctor and Zoe will be headed into the strange machine…
While I've seen better from Troughton's era recently, "The Krotons" does have some scary moments. One that finds Troughton and Padbury facing a force generator uses close shots and lots of cuts between the actors and the strange device effectively to create a nice, hallucinogenic sense of fear. As an added bonus, there's some nice discussion of hydrogen telluride between Zoe and The Doctor which provides an educational angle (although the pop-up text corrects the comments on the smell of the substance).
Troughton's Doctor isn't quite in control of the TARDIS (something his companions whisper about), but it's occurred to me that The Doctor's varying levels of adeptness doesn't mean much to the basic story: The Doctor lands and immediately gets into trouble. A scene in which the Krotons appear to destroy the TARDIS hints at the police box's sentience.
As for the characters, The Doctor is showing some daft scientific method, tasting "primordial soup," and does some pantomime comedy as part of his escape from the Krotons. Zoe tells the Gords that "The Doctor is almost as clever as I am," but can't resist a Kroton gadget. Jamie has an "untrained" mind, according to his companions, since he was plucked out of 1746 Scotland, but still has the sort of improvisational cleverness seen in The Doctor himself. Their unimpressed affection for The Doctor at times sounds like something you'd hear from Amy and Rory in today's series. There's more of an emphasis on story and cliffhangers than the characters, but Doctor Who will still look familiar to the new series' fans.
As with other Troughton serials I've seen, the production is low-budget, but looks and feels just a tad better than what I've seen from the William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee eras. The black-and-white picture is faded and has a lot of flaring, but doesn't seem scratched up. I'm sure the BBC has put a lot of effort into making it look as good as possible.
The extras package is dominated by one gem that many viewers will enjoy as much as the serial: "Second Time Around: The Troughton Years," which takes nearly an hour to dissect the Doctor Who tenure of Patrick Troughton. There's some interesting history that fans of the new series will want to check out, including clips and backstory on the first regeneration—which doesn't have a name yet when William Hartnell is replaced by Troughton—and the introduction of the Time Lords (and a good chunk of The Doctor's bio) in "The War Games," which ended Troughton's era. It also mentions that the series faced cancellation during Troughton's stint. That's kind of odd because the show could have died before the writers bothered to explain who The Doctor is; current story runner Steven Moffat has promised still more on this later. It also notes that Troughton's Doctor had a thing for hats, a personality trait that has suddenly reappeared in Matt Smith's portrayal. Robert Shearman, a writer for the current series, notes the Troughton era's reliance on "the base under siege," still one of the most paranoia-inducing story angles in Doctor Who. A heavy infusion of clips—including some from serials mostly missing—makes it worth a look for fans of the original series, especially if you've seen a couple of Troughton's serials.
The serial's remaining stars—Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury—don't show up for the commentary, but there are quite a few guest stars, including Philip Madoc (The Last of the Mohicans) and Gilbert Wynne, who was a regular on a then-popular show called Softly, Softly (a name for a detective show that sounds absurd in today's loudly, loudly age). Wynne (who has appeared on Torchwood) recalls that even in the '60s a Doctor Who gig drew more comments than anything else. Some comments from guests on the Doctor Who experience hint that working on a serial, rather than a regular one-off assignment, helped make it a fonder experience, even without the show's eventual cultural impact.
"Doctor Who Stories: Frazer Hines (Part One)" features the actor reminiscing about his stint. He recalls that he was originally only signed for one story, "The Highlanders," and notes that "the ladies loved" Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. There's also a photo gallery to round out the Who history lesson.
As with other weaker episodes, "The Doctor's Strange Love" finds two fans—Simon Guirrier and Joseph Lidster—defending and occasionally mocking the story. They come to one conclusion: "Even though it's not brilliant, there's still plenty to like in it."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A pop-up text points out a commercial break, an anomaly on the still commercial-free BBC, no doubt for U.S. sales. While you may wish that someone had bought the early run in the States—and thus kept that part of the series from the trash can—it's also just as likely that an earlier U.S. deal could have meant a faster cancellation. Perhaps the circumstances that led to those mystical lost episodes are the same ones that led to the upcoming fiftieth anniversary. That's an interesting point to ponder for would-be time travelers.
Doctor Who: The Krotons presents a decent old-fashioned serial, combined with a documentary that can help fans of the new series catch up on the show's early years. Patrick Troughton's portrayal may move up a bit in your estimation, especially if you note the things that have carried over from these years.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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