Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Serial 58: The Colony in Space

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Michael E. Briant

Background & Significance: After "The War Games", the Doctor Who production team very famously (and wisely) decided to confine The Doctor to Earth. Teaming him up with the international military force UNIT, the goal was to limit the cost and scope of Doctor Who in order to save money. In a way, you could think of it as them putting Doctor Who on something of a diet, with them being responsible about their boundaries and such.

But like every good diet, the production team would occasionally raid the fridge in the dead of night for some chocolate cake and take The Doctor away from UNIT and out into the cosmos for something a bit more gallivanty.

Let's call this their first chocolate cake.

Written by Doctor Who stalwart Malcolm Hulke (the only writer to contribute at least one story to each Pertwee season) and directed by Michael E. Briant (famous for such high points as "The Sea Devils" and "Robots of Death" and such low points as "Death to the Daleks" and "Revenge of the Cybermen"), "The Colony in Space" has something of a mixed reputation. Sure, it's notable because The 3rd Doctor FINALLY leaves Earth (although I'd hardly call that a problem), but beyond that...

I dunno. I think this first "cheat day" really gave them something of a bit of a stomach ache.

What I find most interesting is how long it took them to get us to this point. The 3rd Doctor is really only confined to Earth for about a season and a half before he's given permission to leave. Sure, he's on a leash by the Time Lords (how else would he get off the planet?), but it doesn't change the fact that this is the start of the end for the UNIT era in a lot of ways. Sure, there's plenty more great UNIT stories to go after this, but allowing The Doctor to go off and have adventures on his own is something of a betrayal of the core concept of his era if you ask me. And... well.. we should probably talk about how well it fares because... well... is it just a minor cramp or a full on flu virus thing?

Ugh. Enough with the metaphors.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

In which The Doctor leaves earth and goes to visit some colonists in a Colony in Space.

Malcolm Hulke is one of the strongest writers in Classic Doctor Who. He’s always reliable to do a good, solid structure and to slowly build a six part story towards good strong conclusions. His stories are always rather engaging and exciting, they have good, three-dimensional characters, and even when they’re impossibly wheel-spinny (“Frontier in Space”, which is six episodes of spinnin’ wheels) they’re nothing if not at least very entertaining.

I say this now because it’ll come into play more later, but it’s worth noting that Hulke does a relatively good job with this opening episode. As with his other stories, he always seems to give us “too much” information up front to the point where we’re not sure exactly where he could go with the rest of this story because (again) “we know too much.” You see that in “The War Games” where he’s constantly throwing new “Big Bads” at the screen for ten episodes, to the point where we think each and every character we meet is the main antagonist of the story, or in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” when he tells us in episode two WHO is responsible for the dinosaur attacks and even goes so far as to start giving them their own individual B-stories right in that very same episode.

That’s a strong, choice, though. And it gives us the illusion of more movement than there actually is. It’s also by releasing that information early that Hulke can sucker punch us with information later (in the case of “Dinosaurs”, the entirety of “Operation: Golden Age”).

Here it’s much the same thing. At the end of this episode, he introduces The Doctor to the very kind and wonderful lizard alien species who we’ll be seeing more of in the rest of the story. What makes it so subversive is Briant’s (very wise choice) of making them seem sinister and evil (the evil aliens of the story, if you will). Look at the way he shoots them sneaking around the colony looking at trinkets, or the way he portrays them looking at our heroes from afar. It’s deliberately playing with our expectations, teaching us to not trust the aliens because… well… let’s face it. We’ve seen Doctor Who a lot and we know when to not trust people.

So it makes the revelation that these aliens are relatively benevolent something of a pleasant surprise because it completely diffuses our nerves and tensions moving forward.

Which is also deliberate.

The aliens sneaking around the colony comes twenty minutes into the episode. We know we’re reaching the end and we half expect them to be our cliffhanger. But they’re not. That giant thrasher robot (that’s a thing, right? They go to raves?) appearing out of nowhere and attacking The Doctor is. But we’re not expecting it because we’re expecting it to be the aliens (there was an attack on one of the colonists, remember) and when that’s diffused the robot is something of a “WTF” surprise because it comes seemingly out of nowhere.

That’s good, strong storytelling. It plays with our expectations, subverts them, and manipulates them. It takes strong work to do that so effectively, and it works well here.

But let’s talk about other things.

One of the things I love about this episode is seeing the 3rd Doctor let out into the backyard to play. I love the way he interacts with Jo and how he becomes positively giddy at the possibility of freedom and exploring a new planet. Hell, it could be the worst planet in the world. At least it’s a change of scenery. And I love how Pertwee plays it. It’s a cautious, constrained optimism and it works really well for him.

Jo, on the other hand, is understandably afraid, and I really like the interplay between her and The Doctor as they prepare to explore this planet. She trusts him, but she’s also reticent and… it’s just lovely to see people be scared of their new surroundings. We haven’t had to see that in a long time (since probably Victoria’s joining the TARDIS crew for her first proper adventure in “Tomb of the Cybermen”) and I think Katy Manning does a good job of proving her mettle as an interstellar companion as well as a real, bona fide human being of a character. It’s one of the strongest things about this episode.

And then there’s the colonists, who are in a pioneering space western type situation. On initial viewing this is really what drew me into the story. I love that whole feel and taste (I do loves me some Firefly) and seeing these people rough it on the fringes of space is excellent. It’s made even better by Hulke’s standard, three-dimensional characters approach. The conversations about what these people are going to do is fascinating in the best of ways. None of these colonists (be it the ones who want to stay or the ones who want to leave) are entirely wrong, nor are they entirely right. Cutting and running is probably the most viable option (especially if The Doctor didn’t show up), but they also have put a lot of work into this place, so much that they have to ask if it’d be worth it to leave after investing so much time and effort into this new colony.

It’s a fair question and one that makes this episode a good starting point for the story.

Part 2:

Already, we get to the point where nothing happens.

As a writer, I find myself enjoying Hulke’s six part stories quite a bit, and it takes a deft hand to make a seven or even ten part story as engaging as he can make them. Of course, it takes a lot of tricks like a series of parallel storylines (at least three) and a myriad of set pieces to stretch out six parts effectively, and if you look at the rest of Hulke’s storylines, you can see that he does that all fairly well with those elements fairly often. Plenty of engaging storylines, plenty of good strong set pieces, throw in some good strong sci-fi elements and you’ve got yourself a standard Malcolm Hulke story.

The only caveat to these prerequisites is that they have enough to last a full six episodes of story, and I’m not sure this story has that.

See, there’s only two storylines in this episode. And fine. Sure. That’s exactly what should happen this early. He hasn’t had time to introduce later developments and storylines that come once the story has had enough time to introduce them. So in this episode, we get The Doctor carted off to the mining corporation’s headquarters (which is just a spaceship that looks way smaller on the outside than it actually is on the inside) and the implementation of Norton’s sedition and attempts to get the colonists to rebel against the lizard people, whom he actively reviles.

The Norton stuff is what’s interesting here. It’s interesting that he’s so against the lizard aliens to the point where he will out and out murder humans in an attempt to frame the lizards and sway favor against them. It’s a good character thing, I think, but it’s also questionable how much everyone (specifically Ashe) so readily accepts what Norton has to say about them despite having such a good, strong relationship with the lizard people. I could argue that they act this way “because the story demands it” but at the same time, I’m more inclined to believe Hulke a more competent and capable writer than that. I think Hulke is making a very astute comment on the bigotry inherent within people.

See, I think Ashe believes Norton not because he wants to, but because he feels compelled to. In his defense he did lose two of his men to the lizard people, and while he thinks they’re not exactly evil, per se, I’d argue that he’s hard-pressed to pit himself against a member of his own species. It’s like race relations in the United States (or anywhere else), specifically in The South. Say there’s a white dude who’s empathetic towards the blacks because of the way other whites treat them. But then we have a To Kill a Mockingbird situation. Because of existing cultural tensions, I’d argue that the white guy in question wouldn’t be predisposed to side with the blacks given the option, instead choosing to side more towards (to use a rather vulgar turn of phrase) “his own kind.”

So Hulke here provides something that’s fairly true to life, I feel. And because of that, this storyline is engaging and interesting because of the way Norton turns Ashe against something he believes in by preying on his own cultural insecurities and vulnerabilities.

On the mining, though, I can’t be so kind.

The biggest reason I know this episode was a wheel-spinning, expository waste of time is because The Doctor starts the story in one of the Colony domes and ends the story in that exact same dome, facing the exact same cliffhanger only there’s now a gun pointed at him and the Thrasher Robot (he took some ecstasy) now has giant monster hands on him (which is nothing short of mind f*ckingly hilarious and looks like he's about ready to dance to "Thriller").

Because really, all The Doctor does is shuttle over to the miner camp, take a tour, exchange some words, get a big info dump, and leaves.  So we accomplished nothing except learning about a new storyline.

In it we do get some interesting stuff, like the things about the mining company having powers to black list you from work and the way the gaunt looking Captain Dent has no time for insubordination. He, as it turns out, is a really bad dude who cares about nothing except profits and power. It’s the sorta really evil bad guy that works in Doctor Who, especially in Malcolm Hulke stories because he’s not so black-and-white evil that he doesn’t have some dimensionality to him. And that makes him scary.

The scene between him and his underling is a great one. Dude with mustache (who knew a dude with a mustache could be a good guy? Brigadier excepted, of course) has a moral core that’s pretty strong and I really like watching him wrestle with the situation. It’s a good moral quandary and a great sorta “what do I care more about” that really gives the character depth and dimension and provides intrigue to an episode that really does end up going nowhere. It's for those sorta moments that I love watching these Classic stories. It's perhaps rarer than it should be, but it's the sorta gem that really makes an otherwise weaker episode sparkle perhaps more than it normally would.

Part 3:

So there’s progress…. But…

One of the tricks of Hulke’s stories is how he economically and efficiently parses out information. It’s an extremely delicate balance that he needs to get just right, somewhere between “too much information such that the story will have to slow down around episode four or five” and “not enough information, such that this story feels like a total waste of my time right now.” And then within these extremes the information we get has to actually be quality information (i.e. not a waste of time). Likewise, the level of action and movement of the plot needs to be enough that we don’t feel bored but not so much that we’ll end up getting bored later.

Unfortunately, I think Hulke quite misses the mark here. The entire plot of this episode features Jo getting captured and the various attempts to rescue her from the clutches of the evil mining corporation.

As a result, it’s a lot of running around and not much movement. The rescue of Jo should not be the sorta thing that takes too terribly long (then again this is Doctor Who, so I shouldn’t be surprised). But there’s a lot of time spent arguing about how exactly the colonists are going to rescue Jo. Do they do a full-out assault (which is foolish; they really should know better; they are outgunned) or go for something different? Likewise The Doctor spends a lot of his time trying to convince them of the “something different” option, but his motion in this story is largely arrested in its development.

The big surprise, rather, is that it’s not The Doctor or the colonists who “rescue” Jo, but rather the weird alien lizard people (who, by the way, murder the good part of this story, which I’ll get to in a moment).

This is a good development, and a strong direction for the story to take, especially that this episode marks the halfway point. It introduces a new, otherwise neglected storyline that we’ve not really focused on so much in this story: what’s going on with the lizards. And who knew early on that they would end up being a force like this later in the story? It’s inevitable in retrospect, but it’s a good, strong, new direction for the story to take, especially after being such a wheel-spinner for the past two episodes.

I’m also really into the various dynamics of this plot. The Doctor dressing up like one of the miner people is a highlight, as is the actual rescue mission itself. While it is a bit simple in the end, it is a rather engaging and fun set piece (as it should be).

But the main highlight of this episode for me is the guard named Allen, who works for the mining corporation. Allen, as it turns out, is something of an awesome dude who goes turncoat and starts helping out the colonists because he cannot abide by the ruling principles of the mining corporation. He manages to save one of the colonists by faking an execution and he helps Jo escape when the time comes.

What’s interesting is the fact that he’s killed at the end of this episode by the lizard aliens when they attempt to steal back Jo. It’s an interesting choice and one I have to say I support if for no other reason than because it throws aside all we believe about “comeuppance” when it comes to characters. More often than not the good characters survive and the bad characters die, but this guy (who is, for all intents and purposes “a good guy”) is killed for no other reason than because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did the wrong move when he shoulda gone for peace.

It’s always subversive to see such nihilistic judgment doled out, especially in a story or era in which that’s not the prevailing wisdom (I will bet you anything the mining corporation loses), but it’s used here to raise the stakes and make everything just that more dangerous and subversive. We’ve already seen that the Uxarieans ARE friendly when you let them be, but the fact that they murder this guy in (more or less) cold blood only goes to make Jo’s position as their captive that much more wild cardy and unknowable. In that, the cliffhanger here works. What happens next? We don’t know, because the Uxarieans are an unknown force and power, something we can’t anticipate or predict.

And that makes them dangerous, the story more intriguing, and the rest of us pumped to see the next episode.

That is, assuming you’re still on board for the ride.

Part 4:

So I’ll be honest: I’ll tell you what this story didn’t need….

To continue on the vein of talking about Malcolm Hulke first, I think it necessary to point out yet another thing about his style that… isn’t necessarily the best of things. I mean, sure, if you wanted to model yourself after a Doctor Who writer, you couldn’t really pick a better or more consistent one than Malcolm Hulke, but a lot of what makes him good (as we’ve said previously) involves treading a fine, fine line between boring and engaging. This story, I’m convinced, isn’t nearly as engaging as it could or should be.

Take, for instance  the first half of this episode, in which The Doctor makes a valiant attempt to rescue Jo from the Uxarieans.

As with your typical, usual Doctor Who story, this involves both Jo and The Doctor being captured by an enemy force. As a result, they affect their escape as they always do (in this case with some sleight of hand trickery by The Doctor). As usual, they are re-captured and brought back to their holding room…. And this is like… it’s fine, I guess. We find out some stuff about the Uxarieans, but the problem with the Uxarieans is that they’re…. how do I say this… they feel rough and undefined.

It’s not something that I talked about back in the beginning, but there’s a noticeable disconnect between the way the production team interprets the TARDIS taking off and how it takes off in every other story. Like with the strange portrayal of the Daleks in “Day of the Daleks”, this probably comes down to a lack of practice on the part of the production team. The TARDIS does not dissolve as it materializes and dematerializes (as it does in just about every single other story), which is probably down to the fact that the TARDIS hadn’t rematerialized since… well gosh. MAYBE "Spearhead from Space"? But if not then, "The War Games" before that.

The aliens here are much the same. There hasn’t been nearly as many aliens in the Pertwee era as you might expect (especially because of the basic story premise of “aliens invade and UNIT fights them” so inherent to the UNIT era), and this is the first appearance of real aliens on an alien planet since… gosh. Maybe “The Dominators”, and if not, then going all the way back to… “The Macra Terror” maybe? (Can’t count stories starring Daleks, Cybermen, robots, or stories set on Earth; you actually gotta go far back). So this is still fairly new territory for both Hulke and Terrance Dicks (who wasn’t really creatively overseeing anything during “The Dominators” or before ) and the rest of this production team, so we get to have a little fun with it.

Hulke’s decision in this is to shroud the Uxarieans (what a bitch to spell; what a dumb, generic name for aliens for that matter) in mystery and intrigue. At the end of episode three he promises to give us a little more information on these aliens and in episode four…

Well… he denies it a bit, doesn’t he? And yet he doesn’t do that at all. He gives us information about the aliens, but he does it without spoonfeeding. We get pictograms. We get cave walls. We see the history and we extrapolate what’s going on through a narrative of pictures (in other words: comics), but beyond that we’re left out in the cold to figure it out. We also don’t know… or at least I don’t. Okay, fine. I don’t know which way this is going to go, or at least, it’s kept specifically shrouded in mystery. I’ve watched enough Doctor Who to know that the show tends to go for an “aliens are usually good but horribly misunderstood” approach. In another word: benevolent.

But the Uxarieans.... I am unconvinced. The first episode set up this design by which we assume they are evil and then learn they are not. But here we are dragged through the same thing, only it’s more pronounced. Are they evil? Well they want to kill The Doctor and Jo. But they also let them go. And yet they are super alien and we’re not exactly sure what we’re supposed to think of them. We don’t trust them, and yet because they are Doctor Who aliens we want to believe in them. It’s a great balance Hulke and Briant manage to strike up and it leaves me wondering where the hammer’s going to drop on the rest of this story.

Unfortunately, because we didn’t even make it a whole episode dealing with the Uxarieans, I can’t say that they’re doing a great job. They’re holding the cards too close to the chest too far into the game… And it’s hard for me to get more invested…

The rest of this episode features the revelation that the promised Adjudicator is The Master, come to do something or another and plot plot plan plan mystery mystery blah. It’s an interesting development, but I can’t help but feel it’s a little too out of left field to be throwing in in the back half of the story. Doesn’t help that The Master’s been in every story so far this season, and his appearance here (opposite The Doctor AGAIN) is something of a convenience and contrivance… and I can’t say I’m a fan of all that, especially because it’s one more obfuscation on the pile of this story, arguably something this story does not need.

Now granted this does lead, of course, to the sudden conflict between the colonists and miners getting arbitrarily complicated. Sure, the colonists had the upper hand, but now the Adjudicator (re: The Master) makes it such that the colonists are slapped down and they’re forced to hand the world over to the miners. It’s a nice development, I think. But it’s…. it’s just an odd choice. Was the conflict not enough? I suppose not. AND IN HULKE’S DEFENSE, it does lead to some great work with the big action set piece in the dome at the end of the episode. It’s the sorta thing I like to see. A big ol’ shootout. Who doesn’t love that?

So I guess I can forgive it. I just question the need to arbitrarily raise the stakes? Hope they have something equally or more interesting coming up to justify not putting off the big showdown till episode six.

Part 5:

Oh right. That’s why that showdown happened then. So we could get the exact opposite here.

So it’s by this point that I can comfortably say that "Colony in Space" is something of a failure. It’s one of the few times that Hulke manages to drop the ball and drop it so completely. I understand what he’s done in this, and there’s been some well-done structure. The problem is that… when you come right down on it, this structure has not worked for this story. There is, quite simply, not enough going on. It’s too much back and forth with not enough forward momentum towards any story.

Cuz like… here’s the thing. I’m not saying The Doctor needs to be the keystone in any given story (he’s a mucker in “Caves” for example, caught in the middle of a private little war), but the fact that in this story he’s been working a lot on different things, it’s hard for me to get too invested in what seems to be the MAIN thrust of this story: that is to say the conflict between the miners and the colonists. For me, that feels like where the main interest of the story is when it comes to Hulke and Briant, and the story suffers for it. I feel like I should be interested in what The Doctor’s doing or what exactly the Master is plotting but… there isn’t anything on that in this story and it’s all foggy and muddled, which it shouldn’t be this late in the game.

The vast majority of this episode (the penultimate episode of the story, by the way) is all about the colonists vs. the mining corporation as the mining corporation does a double cross and takes the upper hand, preparing to exile the colonists from their planet.

Unfortunately, by this point it feels like this story has been doing this for too long and I’ve actually lost interest. Sure it’s bad that the colonists are about to be shoved in their about-to-explode spaceship and killed. And sure, the captain’s response of “Let’s make sure none of our men are near that ship when it takes off” is a moment of dark humour and bleak outlook, but it’s still… It’s just not that interesting. AND it doesn’t help that I’m fairly certain this is not the conflict of the story, or at least…. Not the main conflict.

For more clarification, lemme take you all the way back to episode one.

See, in episode one we got a scene with some Time Lords talking about some doomsday weapon on some planet and how they were going to outsource the work to The Doctor so that he can do some cool stuff with it and implement what would be a “Time Lord solution” to what’s going on on the planet. Unfortunately, this so called Doomsday weapon has not made any sort of impact on the plot as far as we can see, nor is it the sort of thing that’s driving us towards some big climax (again, as far as we can tell). And it seems (in this episode) that The Doctor and Jo are onto The Master and some cool thing that might happen with him (and possibly probably The Doomsday Weapon SPOILER SPOILER) in the future.

But instead of focusing on that, the story gives us the Colony, and while I’m usually one to attempt to interpret what this has to do with the larger metaphor/allegory of the story and the Doomsday Weapon, I can’t say I care enough to parse it out.

It’s a shame, too, because Pertwee and Delgado are electric (as they are here, although it’s not the best of them, to be certain) and I really want to be invested in what they’re doing… but it’s… It’s just not enough, and I want more out of this story, but it’s not giving it to me. This Hulke structure just ended up not engaging enough with the main plot, muddying it with the [easier to wheel-spin] colonist subplot, and to be honest, I don’t watch Doctor Who for its subplots. I just don’t.

Proof that this story isn’t working as well as it should? The cliffhanger is poor. Really poor. Sure, it’s a “oh how are they going to get out of this one” moment, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is in no way climactic or emblematic of any sort of major storyline this story has going for it so far. Jo in The Master’s clutches and about to be killed is an episode three or four cliffhanger. Not the cliffhanger to episode five of a six part story. That’s bush league and Hulke should know better than to do that. It doesn’t engage me. It doesn’t make me ache to know how the story ends. It just… happens. And it’s… it’s not special.

And that’s the problem with this. It just hasn’t done anything special. The only thing “remotely special” about this story are the Uxarieans and they’re not even in this part (except to drop a boulder, which is funny). They’ve been sidelined (probably because this story would work better as a four-part story to give them (ironically) relevantly more time to develop.

Sigh. Thank goodness there’s only one more part.

Part 6:

See, I can tell this story didn’t work because of the way this final part plays out.

Like the other episodes, this story is split between two storylines: The Doctor and The Master infiltrating the Uxarieans’ City and the final uprising of the colonists against the evil mining corporation. Unlike the other episodes, the Doctor/Master storyline is given the majority of the focus and the colonist storyline is mostly backgrounded as the mining corporation prepares to load all the colonists up into the ship so they can take off from the planet and (subsequently) explode.

I’ll be honest with you, though. Neither of these stories work here, or at least… they don’t in the context of the six-part Doctor Who story medium.

The Doctor and Master storyline doesn’t work because (quite honestly) it’s too much too late. Most of the first leg of this story involves The Master essentially info-dumping what the cave paintings from episode whatever-that-was (four?) actually mean. You remember those? Oh yeah. Right. The ones that happened two episodes ago? Well they get explained because it’s time for that to happen, and they’re explained by The Master who basically crib-noted all of The Time Lord’s records of this planet.

The Master himself is on the hunt for this Doomsday Weapon so he can hold the universe ransom and (by proxy) rule it with an iron fist. This is far from unoriginal (this early in The Master’s run, anyways) because previously The Master’s plans have been specifically Earth.

Here, though… it’s just too damn big and way too damn abstract. The Master suddenly says he has a machine that can eradicate and destroy the sun because… it can. But because there’s literally never a demonstration of its power, the story suffers as a result. Compare what happens here to what The Master does in “Logopolis”, in which he harnesses the power of Logopolis and holds the entire universe ransom. It’s basically the same thing, only in “Logopolis” The Master out and out starts destroying entire solar systems (including, most famously, Traken).

The conflict in this story, though, is different. We see The Doctor and The Master team up to defeat whatever it is that needs defeating, culminating when The Master offers The Doctor an entire half of his universe, on the condition that The Doctor join forces with him.

There’s two reasons why this doesn’t work: for one thing, how is The Doctor going to be content with only ONE HALF of the entire universe? Clearly he should be out there to do more, especially if his one goal is exploration and seeing the rest of the universe. How will he ever see the half he doesn’t control? That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The Master should know better. It’s either all the universe or none of the universe. Maybe they could co-rule or something.

But seriously, there’s two reasons why this won’t work: one, it’s ludicrous to think The Doctor would even be seriously tempted by the  promise of “all of the power”, and it’s a poor move for him to be tempted by it for a second.

The other is the fact that we JUST SAW THIS in the last story. In “The Claws of Axos” The Master offers The Doctor to team up and take over Axos. The Doctor betrayed him then, saying it was a weak move to consider that he would even think about helping him. Now, inherent problems to “Claws of Axos” aside, it’s worth it to mention that trying to make the same problem twice in the span of two stories is a poor move. It’s redundant and it doesn’t really fool anyone. Honestly, it’s a waste of my time.

Oh, and then the story ends because the High Priest randomly decides that he wants to blow up the city. Which The Doctor seems perfectly okay doing. Because… that’s a thing he does (yay sacrificing innocent lives!).

But none of this holds together. Like I said, it’s too little too late, and it’s unclear if this is the point of the story, especially when you consider that the vast majority of this storyline didn’t kick in till episode four and was only a sidenote in episode five. There’s no development of the Uxarieans and we never really get any sort of empathy for them or what they’re doing. It’s… it’s less than good and not the sorta thing I expect from Malcolm Hulke.

The colonist story is just as problematic, but for a different reason.

At the end of the last episode, the colonists are defeated and the Captain orders them onto their ship so they can leave. This will destroy the colonists, of course, but no one seems to care.

This is fixed in the end. The mining corp only leaves one dude in charge of the rocket, pulling all his men away (because he doesn’t want to lose any in the resultant explosion). This allows Winton (who was left behind) to do a knock-down, drag-out fight in the mud against the lone guard in a brave attempt to stop the launch. But he doesn’t. The ship takes off, explodes, and everyone dies.

Except not really. The colonists all show up and over power the guards. They are all safe and sound. Winton (in a scene we did not see) pulled everyone off the ship before it took off and saved everyone’s life. We find this out later when the colonists show up and ambush all of the mining corporation employees. So yes. Everyone lives. Everyone, that is, except for Ashe, whom we find out after everything is said and done died when he took the rocket into the air. He knew it would explode. He sacrificed his life to save the colony and the colonists so the mining corporation wouldn’t know the ruse would be up.

So this… this this this. Okay. So. There’s this thing about character deaths, where if you insist on doing it you need to make it count. If you just throw bodies onto the pyre willy nilly then no one’s gonna care about who lives and who dies.

The trick to a good character death is you have to make it count. You have to make it resonate and you have to make people care about the death. Ashe’s death is not that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s not that at all. Not even close. It’s literally mentioned in the last five minutes in a “oh man doesn’t that suck” sorta way, which hardly does justice to such a cool, noble character. I understand why it happened (because it needed to; and it brings Ashe’s character full circle; he dies to keep everyone alive and on the planet, which is rather beautiful when you get right down to it), but that doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s poorly handled or what have you.

And… none of this holds water after six episodes. It’s just too much crazy insanity happening at the end that makes me wonder what the hell they were wasting my time with with the middle four episodes.


Final Thoughts?: So this goes down for me as possibly the only time Malcolm Hulke has legitimately let me down.

To be perfectly frank, I'm not sure this is entirely Hulke's fault. One of the things that makes Hulke so gifted as the writer of a six-part story is the way he's able to constantly change up a story, to look at it from all angles and really get all the meat off the bone when it comes to the story he's telling.

Part of that comes down to keeping it interesting, and sure, Hulke does an admirable job of keeping this story interesting week-to-week what with all of the miner-colonist struggles. Sure it's a bit lumbering at times (episode two in particular), but that is an admirable attempt to keep the flow going. The only problem is this storyline of colonists vs. miners has little to nothing to do with the given conceit of why The Doctor's on the planet in the first place. As such, the story suffers because the ending of the story IS what's set up in the opening minutes, but has little to do with what's been the main thrust of the previous five episodes.

Now, this could work in theory. The only problem is the two stories are completely separate and Hulke has no idea how to stretch out the story of the Uxarieans past what's already on the screen because (quite frankly) there's not a whole lot there.

So what we're left with is jumbled and uneven and not nearly what it probably should be. But that happens, I think. Hulke probably didn't know there wouldn't be enough to maintain the story by the time this story was approved and it wasn't until he was too far into it that he realized it didn't work (if he even realized it at all). Then again, a little integration was all it needed to make it stronger. Or, it could have been reduced to four parts. That probably would have helped it as well.

Unfortunately it's not, and this story ends up being a bit naff. That's okay, though. No one bats a thousand in Doctor Who (except Neil Gaiman, it seems) and all these six part stories were bound to catch up with Hulke at a certain point, it's just a shame it's this one.

So really, this story falls somewhere in the range of "staunchly mediocre". It's by no means the worst Pertwee story I've ever seen (cough "The Mutants" cough "The Time Monster" cough cough "Monster of Peladon" cough") but it is definitely in the "not great" pile. How unfortunate, I think. I wish the story wasn't, especially because it's The 3rd Doctor's first journey off world and that should be something special. This... this isn't anything special ("Curse of Peladon", though....) and while it has some cool stuff (the colonists have this cool western/hippies vibe that I rather love; it's a cool pioneers-in-space feel, as I said earlier) it ultimately just isn't what it probably could/should be.

Ah well. Can't win them all, and even if only this one and "The Faceless Ones" are Hulke's weakest stories and they're total washes, Hulke's still at a solid 75% in terms of stories hitting, and for a guy who did so many stories that were so impossibly long, that's no mean feat.

Next Time!: 1st Doctor! Insecticide intrigue! Telephone antics! GIANTS! Evil sinks! And a kitty kitty kitty cat! (Kitty three times because it's big....) "The Planet of the Giants!" Coming Next Tuesday!


  1. Interesting... I haven't seen this one yet, not sure if I will now...

  2. Agreed, on pretty much everything (mins the Mutants and the Faceless Ones, I liked them both). Bit of a letdown all-round... but at least the review wasn't! Nicely analyzed and discussed!