Doctor Who: The Krotons by Robert Holmes (DVD review).

The TARDIS arrives in a rocky wasteland and the Doctor (actor Patrick Troughton), Jamie (actor Frazer Hines) and Zoe (actress Wendy Padbury) witness a dazed man being turned into dust outside of a huge machine.


Meanwhile, inside the town and on the opposite side of the machine, two more smart candidates have been selected to go inside to be companions to the Krotons, must to the dismay of other younger people there. Considering its announced only two people a year are sent into the machine, they must have had a good year.

The Doctor and his companions find their way there but are too late to rescue Vana (actress Madeline Mills), especially as Jamie had to fight and win against one of the now named local inhabitants, the Gonds. They think the wasteland is radioactive but the Doctor convinces them otherwise and a couple of them accompany him to rescue Vana when she comes out the other side of the machine. Taking her to Selris (actor James Copeland)’s house, the Doctor hypnotises Vana to sleep to enable her to recover.

Other younger Gonds attack the teaching machines but are warned to go by the Kroton voice which they ignore. The time travellers arrive and the Doctor dissuades them but is seen as a leader by the Krotons and a mechanised eye tube is sent to attack but failing when he realises it uses face recognition and instead dusts one of the Gonds instead.

Leaving Jamie to give Vana tablets should she waken, the Doctor and Zoe return to the teaching hall with Selris, learning about the Krotons war with the Gonds centuries ago. While the Doctor and Selris examine a chamber below the room, Zoe tries out the teaching machine and scores the highest score ever, much to the Doctor’s dismay and who does the tests himself so she doesn’t enter the machine alone. After being scanned and brain picked for mental energy, they escape and return to the TARDIS where the Doctor does a spot of chemistry.

When they both go inside, they are subjected to further tests but manage to escape outside. On the other side of the machine, Jamie learning what has happened, tries to break in but is instead let in and finds himself being attacked instead. The Krotons find him worthless for mental energy but for information about his companions, especially as they watch the Doctor and Zoe enter the TARDIS. Trying to escape later, when one of the Krotons goes to the TARDIS, Jamie is stunned rather than killed and manages to escape.

While collecting sulphur, the Doctor and Zoe face a Kroton but escape because of its directions are stopped with the other Kroton’s fight with Jamie.  It is also the first use of the HADS system, Hostile Action Defence System, where the TARDIS dematerialises to avoid attack and moved several feet. Returning to the town, the Doctor instructs the only Gond scientist in how to make sulphuric acid with a few little extras. Looking at this now, I have to wonder how this scientist was missed in the Krotons’ seek for intelligence.

Although much of it is off screen, there is also a change of power taking place when Eelek (actor Philip Madoc) gets the popular vote and takes over the council, much to the distain of Selris. Eelek wants to attack the Krotons rather than let any more people go to their deaths. Selris doesn’t think axes and firebombs would be effective and had a plan of his own with the few who still follow him.

At the Training Room, one of the Krotons comes out and offers Eelek the Gonds freedom if they hand over the Doctor and Zoe, who are currently in the basement trying to stop Selris bringing the roof or rather the floor of the Krotons’ spaceship down. The damage Selris does nearly kills the Doctor but when he and Zoe goes upstairs, they are taken by Eelek to the Krotons but more as prisoners. Selris chases after them with a sample of the modified sulphuric acid and well…it’s time for you to buy your own copy and find out what happens next.

Looking objectively now with a little more chemistry knowledge, I do wonder at the choice of sulphuric acid compared to, say, nitric acid which would have been more potent. Then again, having a supply of sulphur nearby probably made it the better choice and less likely to be copied by children, although they are careful not to show just how it as made.

Far more fantastical is the Krotons storage of mental energy as a means to power their spaceship. If the key to it all was in using educated minds, then surely they should have improved the education or better still, have a better breeding programme. After all, harvesting and killing the smartest people of each generation is going to reduce the IQ of this small population.

Audio commentary musical chairs controlled by Tony Hadoke with actors Philip Madoc, Richard Ireson and Gilbert Wynne, assistant floor manager David Tilley, make-up designer Sylvia James, costume designer Bobi Bartlett and special sounds effects designer Brian Hodgson.

Bobi Bartlett pointed out that Zoe’s costume was made out of compressed paper to stay within budget. Sylvia James cut Patrick Troughton’s hair. Of course, we should all know by now that Wendy Padbury was wearing a hair piece. The Krotons were also supposed to be like hovercraft but budget prevented that. Philip Madoc also holds the distinction of not only multiple appearances on TV ‘Who’ but also in the first Peter Cushing film version. I never knew that James Copeland was actor James Cosmo’s father.

There are three significant extras. The first part of an interview with actor Frazer Hines fills in more of his time on ‘Doctor Who’. The third, ‘The Doctor’s Strange Love’ has writers Joseph Lidster and Simon Guerrier discussing the story although both appear to have missed the discovery of the bone shapes outside of the machine in the first episode.

The real business is ‘Second Time Around’ looking at Patrick Troughton’s career as the Doctor, although it doesn’t go as far as the multiple Doctor stories much later on. It does however cover all the stories, including those lost, and companions and totally engaging.

As to ‘The Krotons’ story and my own feelings. I think I’m more aware of the implications, as seen by my comments on chemical and brain drain, than I was when I was young. As Robert Holmes first story adjusted to make it as a ‘Doctor Who’ story, one can see how a tight budget limited some things but it’s still pretty effective. The Gonds were ready for revolution, it was just odd that the Doctor was siding with the elders more than the students but then, they were pretty reckless. I blame their education.

GF Willmetts

January 2015

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD3480. 1 DVD 89 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £ 5.00 (UK) if you know where to look)

cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Philip Madoc, James Copeland, Madeline Mills

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