Defending The Krotons

If you ask Fraser Hines which of his stories he likes the least, he will say “The Krotons” (or “The Croutons,” as he likes to call it).  In the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, “The Krotons” ranked 207th out of the then 241 episodes, just above “Daleks in Manhattan.”  When I first saw “The Krotons,” however, I knew nothing about fandom’s (or Fraser Hines’) opinion of it. The episode that I watched was enjoyable and entertaining.  That’s why, even though it’s not perfect, I’ve decided to focus on the postives of the story.  Hopefully, I will inspire someone to reevaluate this underappreciated story.

Krotons

You have to admit they look cool from this angle…

I don’t understand the dislike of “The Krotons.”  Sometimes I wonder if part of the problem is that it is the first story written by Robert Holmes. Holmes went on to write some of Who‘s best stories; in the aforementioned Doctor Who Magazine poll, he has three stories in the top ten.  Perhaps that leads to higher expectations for “The Krotons?”  And, okay, maybe the design of the Krotons themselves is a bit of a let down.  True you can see the actors’ feet shuffling inside the costume when the Kroton has to walk, but its top half looks pretty cool.  While their arms seem rather useless, those spinning heads are quite something…

Basically, I find a lot to appreciate and enjoy in this story. One aspect that struck a chord with me was its emphasis on education.  Control of what the Gonds learned allowed the Krotons to control the entire population of Gonds on the planet.  While their goal was to create two more “high brains” so that they could pilot their ship and leave the planet, they didn’t want the Gonds getting too clever and thinking for themselves. The teaching machines presumably just taught the Gonds what they should know and didn’t encourage any curiosity or creativity (which seems as if it would be necessary in a high brain, so maybe that’s why the Krotons were still stuck after all those years). They were selective about what they taught the Gonds, in case any Gonds ever overcame their obedience conditioning and started breaking the laws the Krotons had given them.  The Krotons presumably taught them subjects such as mathematics and science, but omitted the areas that the Gonds could use against them, such as the study of chemistry.  This way they ensured that the Gonds would not have the necessary knowledge to defeat them if they ever tried to rise up against them. Control the education system and you can control the people.

While the focus on education is unique, the idea of the Doctor arriving on a planet to find one group dominating another is not.  While the previous story, “The Invasion” was a preview of the type of story to come, “The Krotons” is a new version of a classic format.  The second Doctor was in a similar situation (“The Macra Terror”) early in his tenure, but this plot is much more strongly associated with the Hartnell era.  The first Doctor has many stories in which the Doctor and his companions end up helping a group of rebels overthrow an oppressor (“The Space Museum,” “The Web Planet,” “The Savages”…). I didn’t feel that the second Doctor really fit into the format of “The Invasion,” but he is a perfect fit for the structure of “The Krotons.”

The first Doctor often begrudgingly helped others and was more of an authority figure. In his stories, circumstance or his companions generally push the Doctor into helping the rebels, or he ends up arguing with those in authority, trying to assert his own. While the situation is not unique, the completely different personality of the second Doctor makes a familiar format seem fresh. Unlike the first Doctor, the second Doctor actively wants to help people, but rarely wants to seem to be an authority figure.  Therefore, when the Doctor arrives on the scene, he doesn’t immediately take over; of course, that’s not to say that he doesn’t assert some influence over the Gonds. Remember, I said that the second Doctor doesn’t like to be seen as an authority figure; he still feels that he has to step in to deal with matters that others aren’t equipped to handle. In this case, he tries to show the Gonds that there is more to life than what the Krotons have taught them and to stop any further unnecessary deaths.  Continuing the theme of education, however, he acts more as a teacher, opening their eyes to new ideas and showing them that they can choose a different way of life.

Doctor, Jamie, Zoe-Krotons

The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive on a strange planet…and the Doctor remembers his umbrella because twin suns can make a place quite hot.

The final episode demonstrates the point at which the Doctor becomes “hands off.”  Throughout the preceding episodes, we have witnessed a power struggle between Selris, the older council leader, and Eelek, a younger man who clearly hopes to use the situation to seize power.  Selris sacrifices himself in the final episode, defying the Krotons to give the Doctor the sulfuric acid he needs, leaving the position of leader open.  Previously, the people have been following Eelek, but Selris’ son is clearly the better (and rightful) leader.  The Doctor, however, slips away before this conflict is resolved and offers no suggestion as to how this conflict should be resolved. He has helped the Gonds free themselves of their Kroton overloads, but he has no interest in sticking around to help them set up a society without the laws of the Krotons.  He has reason to believe that they are on the correct path, however. The Gonds figured out how to use sulfuric acid to dissolve the Krotons’ ship, showing that they are learning how to problem solve and think for themselves.  The ending is optimistic, even if we don’t see the ultimate resolution. The Gonds are free to learn, which will help them handle whatever problems may emerge.

This brings me to something else I like about this story: its use of science.  Unlike “The Invasion” in which all problems were handled with missiles, bombs, and guns, the Krotons are defeated with science.  The Doctor figures out that they are made of a crystalline substance which sulfuric acid dissolves.  Therefore, the Gonds and the Doctor use sulfuric acid to destroy the Krotons and their ships.  It’s quite satisfying to watch the Doctor outsmart the Krotons, who obviously have a high opinion of their own intelligence.

Another aspect of the story that Holmes gets right is that he makes good use of all the regular cast members.  Even though the Doctor and Zoe are more in the fore for this story, Holmes does a good job of finding ways to keep Jamie involved in the action.  For instance, when the Krotons are hunting down the Doctor and Zoe, much of the suspense comes from Jamie watching helplessly as the Krotons close in on his friends.

Holmes also manages to be true to the characters as we’ve seen them up to this point.    We see Jamie as impulsive, but he’s brave and loyal and has a lot of heart.  He never thinks twice about his own safety; his only concern is making sure that his friends are okay.   Holmes emphasizes Zoe’s intelligence throughout, but we also see her cleverness and her bravery. And as for the Doctor, well, I’ve already discussed his characterization so I won’t repeat myself here.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the story are the interactions between the Doctor and Zoe. I don’t feel like most writers knew what to do with Zoe.  Her characterization in the series is a bit inconsistent; one minute she’s taking down the Karkus and out thinking computers, the next she’s hysterical and screaming.  Holmes’ Zoe, however, is my favorite, and I love the relationship he creates between her and the Doctor.  They are both so intelligent that the Doctor doesn’t even always need to explain his plan to Zoe; she just picks up on it and plays along, as she does in the final episode. Instead of the Doctor putting her down for her intelligence (as he, unfortunately, has done in the past), there is a good-natured competition between them.  Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton play the scene with the teaching machines perfectly, with Zoe not being able to resist trying the machine to show off her intelligence, the Doctor getting nervous and making mistakes when taking the test, and finally Zoe needing to point out that the Doctor only scored higher than she did because he answered more questions.  The two have rarely had the opportunity for a double act, and this story shows how good their chemistry could be.

On a more random note, this episode also introduces the H.A.D.S. or hostile action displacement system, which has popped up again from time to time in the new series, most recently in “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.”  As an extra bonus, Patrick Troughton uses the phrase “oh my giddy aunt” in the third episode, so what more could you want?

Kroton Teaching Machine

The Doctor uses the Krotons’ teaching machine, while Zoe despairs of him getting the answers right.

While “The Krotons” is not Robert Holmes’ best story, it’s much better than its reputation.  It’s a great fit for the Doctor and both of his companions.  I actually enjoy it more than the previous, much more highly regarded story, “The Invasion.”  The second Doctor is best when he’s playing the fool, not working with a military organization. I was quite surprised at Frazer Hines’ dislike of this story, since I think it’s a pretty good story for Jamie overall.  Perhaps one of the reasons that Frazer Hines doesn’t like this story is because the Krotons regularly insult Jamie’s intelligence.  They refer to him as a “low brain” while the Doctor and Zoe are “high brains.”  I’m actually not sure that there’s another story where Jamie is so regularly insulted.  Alternatively, maybe it really is just because of the rather unfortunately designed bottom half of the Krotons…

 

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Cybermen in London: The Invasion

Following on the heels of the wildly inventive “The Mind Robber,” “The Invasion” is a more typical Doctor Who story.  It is the fifth appearance of the Cybermen on the show and shares some similarities with their previous stories.  Despite its familiar feel to the modern viewer, however, it was in many ways a departure from the stories up to this point.  It features the first appearance of U.N.I.T. headed by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, who would become an integral part of the show the next season.  It builds on what was started in “The Web of Fear” and becomes the first real attempt at what would become the format for much of the Pertwee era.  While I can’t say that they nailed the format out of the gate, the episode is still enjoyable.

Cybermen St. Paul's

The iconic image of the Cybermen

Much of what works in this story is familiar.  Several ideas are “borrowed” from the best Cyberman story, “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” I am a fan of the 60’s Cybermen, but I feel that they work best as an antagonist when the story uses them sparingly.  In this era in particular, they are often difficult to understand, so the less dialogue they have, the better. For this to work, the story needs another antagonist who is working with the Cybermen.  Just as “Tomb of the Cybermen” had Eric Klieg, “The Invasion” has Tobias Vaughn.

Much like Klieg, who was trying to awaken the Cybermen to help his Brotherhood of Logicians seize power, Tobias Vaughn wants to use the Cybermen for his own purposes: world domination.  Similarly, Vaughn both Vaughn and Klieg believed that they could manipulate and use the Cybermen.

Vaughn is already a successful man; he is the head of International Electromatics, a company that has a monopoly on the electronics business. What he wants, though, is to rule the world, and he thinks the Cybermen are the tools he needs to do so. The megalomaniacal Vaughn is reminiscent of the James Bond villains of the time; it might have been interesting to see him facing off against the James Bond of Doctors, the third Doctor.  Still, he’s a fun villain to have, regardless of which Doctor he encounters.

Vaughn colludes with the Cybermen, using his electronics to help them invade the earth. Of course, since Vaughn is a power-hungry egomaniac, he has no plans to obey the Cybermen once they successfully invade. Therefore, he is simultaneously kidnapping scientists and forcing them to come up with a way for him to subjugate or destroy the Cybermen.

His role throughout most of the story is to bark orders at the Cyber Controller and his evil henchman, Packer (because every megalomaniacal villain needs a henchman he can order about and yell at when things go wrong).  Rather than a flamboyant James Bond henchman, Packer is pretty much your basic, sensibly attired henchman, trying his best to satisfy Vaughn.   Vaughn is the star of the show here, and Kevin Stoney knows that.  He embraces the over-the-top villain and gives a memorable performance, if not a nuanced one.  Vaughn always thinks that he is the smartest man in the room and expects everyone to obey his orders.  Therefore, Vaughn basically displays two emotions throughout the story: smug condescension and rage.  Despite this, he remains one of the more unforgettable human antagonists the Doctor has ever faced.

Vaughn and Packer

Vaughn in one of his condescending moments, with Packer.

The other notable new characters in this story are Professor Watkins and his niece, Isobel.  They are clearly fulfilling the role of Professor Travers and his daughter Ann from “The Web of Fear” (they are even living in the same house).  Professor Watkins is just there to develop his machine, and is less memorable than Jack Watlings’ Professor Travers.  Isobel receives more development and drives the story a bit more.  Isobel is very much the image of the perfect 60’s girl: former model, fashion conscious, fun-loving, and slightly feminist.  I say slightly because she speaks about feminism, but it seems to be more lip service than actual belief.  True, she takes the Brigadier to task for being anti-feminist when he tells her that his men will go take the photo that she wants to take, but her going down to the sewers to get pictures feels more like a little girl in a fit of pique then a woman doing her job.  Unlike Ann Travers, who actually was the equal to the men in terms of scientific knowledge, Isobel feels more frivolous. However, this frivolousness is key to understanding her real narrative purpose, which emerges in her interactions with Zoe (which I’ll get to in a moment).

The story is a good showcase for the new characters introduced.  U.N.I.T. has plenty of screen-time and, indeed, controls most of the action.  Even at this early stage, the personality of the Brigadier comes through; he’s an excellent leader who remains practical and unflappable, even in extraordinary circumstances. Even before the Doctor arrives, U.N.I.T. has targeted the right person and is on their way to uncovering the truth.

The problem with this story is that this new format does not fit the regulars particularly well.  Part of this is because both Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines got their vacations during this story, so both Zoe and Jamie disappear for an episode.  In particular, Jamie has little to do but go along into some dangerous situations.  Even after just watching it, I’m hard pressed to say exactly what Jamie did.

Zoe, however, fares better.  The first time I saw this story, I wondered why she was so silly in the beginning: posing for pictures, running around in that feather boa…  Once I had seen “The Wheel in Space” though, her behavior here made sense.  Zoe’s journey is to learn how to feel things and have fun; she wants to be more than just a human computer.  Perhaps because Derrick Sherwin was the script editor, he was the only writer to actually make use of that journey in a story.  Isobel is probably the first “regular” girl with whom Zoe has ever spent time. Therefore, it makes sense that she would enjoy some time to be silly.  Additionally, she is spending most of her time with two men, so it might be nice for her to have a bit of “girl time.”    

Zoe and Isobel

Zoe and Isobel laugh maniacally after Zoe destroys the computer

Zoe’s portrayal is not all silliness, however.  She also shows off her incredible logical, mathematical brain.  She is able to outsmart a computer, and her biggest moment comes at the end of episode 7.  When the roomful of men at the military base are not sure how to take out all the Cybermen’s transport ships, Zoe steps up.  To the Brigadier’s credit, he tells the men to listen to this young girl.  She does the complex calculations in her head in minutes and figures out how to launch the missiles so that they will take out all of the ships.

While Zoe manages to find a role in this story, the Doctor does not fit comfortably into this story.  As you will know if you’ve read anything else I’ve written about the Troughton era, I love Patrick Troughton; I think he manages to make just about any moment that he is on the screen entertaining, which is still true here.  He plays well off Vaughn, not letting Kevin Stoney’s scenery chewing upstage him.  Indeed, it is in these moments that the Doctor really shines because it is Troughton’s Doctor in his traditional role: the underestimated opponent to Vaughn’s overconfident villain.

He is less comfortable in his role with U.N.I.T.  It feels a bit strange to see the Second Doctor in charge of a military force.  It’s also unusual to have someone in the Brigadier who, having encountered him before, takes him seriously right from the start.  While this is exactly the relationship Pertwee’s Doctor would have with U.N.I.T., it’s a bit more of an uneasy fit on Troughton’s Doctor.  His clowning is not well suited to having a military force behind it. It requires a much more serious take on the material, which again is more in line with Pertwee’s take on the Doctor rather than Troughton’s.  Troughton does find some ways to inject humor into the proceedings, such as his rather comical fleeing from the firing Cybermen in the final episode, followed by his “reluctant” posing for Isobel’s photos.  Still, the story is a bit short on comedy, which is where Troughton really shines.

The fact that this story was particularly ill suited to the second Doctor’s era really emerges in the final episode.  The story sidelines the Doctor and his companions as U.N.I.T. takes over.  It feels as if the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie could have gotten into their invisible TARDIS at the end of episode 7 and things would have played out in almost exactly the same way.

The Doctor and Vaughn

The Doctor and Vaughn face off

Despite my feeling that “The Invasion” is better suited to the Pertwee era than the Troughton, it is still enjoyable. I know Derrick Sherwin padded the story to stretch it out, yet it never drags. At the point of its recording, you could count the number of episodes set in the modern day on one hand. The Doctor spent most of this time abroad in either space or time. An episode set in then contemporary London was unusual; it is fun to see the Doctor and his companions in recognizable surroundings (U.N.I.T. dating controversy aside). It proves that an earthbound Doctor in the modern age could still be interesting to watch.  And, who knows, maybe this episode sets up the Pertwee era in ways we haven’t yet discovered.  Could Isobel have slipped the Doctor some more fashionable clothes?  Her fashion sense seems like it would compliment that of a certain dandy…

Not a String of Sausages: The Mind Robber

“The Mind Robber” was always destined to be an oddity in the long history of Doctor Who. The fact that it has the shortest episodes of any story make its structure unique, but that is not all.  Peter Ling, with an assist from Derrick Sherwin, came up with a very unusual premise; “The Mind Robber” is a story that is not set in the past, present, or future.  It is a story set outside of time and space as we know it, set in the Land of Fiction, populated by fictional characters.  The main antagonist is “the Master,” but it has nothing to do THE Master, since he doesn’t debut for two more years.  It’s a story that I enjoy and have seen many times, yet I’m still not sure I could completely explain the Master Brain’s plan. All I know is that installing the Doctor as the new master will allow the Brain to branch out from the Land of Fiction and take over the entire Earth. However, since “The Mind Robber” has its own kind of dream logic, details aren’t important, so I just go along for the ride.

TARDIS crew with Gulliver

The Doctor, not-Jamie, and Zoe try to obtain information from Gulliver.

As an avid reader, I’m predisposed to enjoy “The Mind Robber’s” celebration of fiction.  Who hasn’t imagined an opportunity to enter into your favorite stories?  I’d love to visit the garden with Mary Lennox, have tea with Elizabeth Bennet, and then attend a party at Gatsby’s mansion.  While none of those scenarios arise in this particular story (because, sadly, this story was not written specifically for me), it’s still a bit of a fantasy land for people who love the written word.  It’s a celebration of all fictional creations from the Greek myths to the comic strips of the future (although we’ve all been enjoying the adventures of the Karkus for a while now…).  From the cleverness of having a Gulliver who only speaks the words written for him by Swift to watching Cyrano de Bergerac battle it out with D’Artagnan, there’s much for fans of literature to enjoy.

The best way to illustrate why I enjoy this story so much, however, is to direct your attention to a particular cliffhanger. No, I’m not talking about the most famous cliffhanger, the one that created the memorable image of Wendy Padbury sprawled on the TARDIS console in that sparkly catsuit.  Actually, the characterization of Zoe is one of the weak points of this story; one moment she is physically besting the Karkus’ super human strength, the next she is hysterical and so illogical, like she is in the cliffhanger with the Medusa at the end of episode three, that I kind of want to slap her (but, I digress…).

Instead, the cliffhanger that I’m talking about is the ending of episode two. At its most basic level, it’s a cliffhanger like many others; a terrifying creature is menacing the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe.  The fearsome beast is charging at them and we cut away moments before certain doom for our TARDIS crew.  Except, this being “The Mind Robber,” Frazer Hines is not playing Jamie and the terrifying creature…it’s a unicorn.

The Doctor and not-Jamie

The Doctor is about to create not-Jamie.

In reality, Frazer Hines had the chicken pox and was unable to work on episode two. Normally, this would have required a rewrite of the script that allowed Jamie to be trapped somewhere for the duration of the episode. The fact that this happened during such a surreal story allowed for an incredibly creative solution; they simply gave Jamie a new face for an episode. On how many shows would this even be an option?  Yet, it fits into this story perfectly.  Earlier in the episode, the Doctor attempted to reassemble Jamie’s face as if he were assembling a puzzle. Of course, the Doctor did it incorrectly, giving Jamie the wrong face. As a result, Hamish Wilson plays Jamie for the entire episode. The adventures continue with not-Jamie until the Doctor has a second chance to reassemble Jamie’s face in episode three (and he finally gets it right with a bit of assistance from Zoe).

That not-Jamie isn’t even the strangest thing about this cliffhanger  and says a lot about this story. The most head scratching moment in this whole story is the fearsome unicorn.  In episode one, Jamie mentions dreaming of a unicorn that was charging at him, so the end of episode two is his dream come to life. The interesting thing is that everybody in this story simply acts as if that’s what unicorns do.  Of course a unicorn would randomly charge at unsuspecting people, I mean, what else would you expect from a unicorn?

I know that the stories about unicorns have changed over the years, but I don’t remember reading a lot of tales of the savage unicorn.  It’s true that Marco Polo though that he had found a real life unicorn when he encountered a rhino, so that kind of unicorn, yes, might charge and kill you.  The white-horse-with-a-horn type of unicorn, however, seems much less prone to unprovoked attacks. What kind of storybooks have they been reading? Did I miss out on a whole genre filled with tales of death by unicorn?  Perhaps we just missed the moment in the Battle of Culloden when the leaders sent out the unicorn brigade to maim and kill, but I’m left wondering why Jamie is so terrified of unicorns. They’re even the symbol of Scotland, for crying out loud!

img_2693

The Doctor flees a terrifying unicorn.

Needless to say, the TARDIS crew escapes a bloody and brutal death at the hands of a bloodthirsty unicorn by stating that unicorns don’t exist, so no one actually ends up gored or trampled by a unicorn. Still, for a moment the possibility was there. And that, to me, sums up “The Mind Robber;” something that logically shouldn’t exist, but, nevertheless, there it is.

Just Act Stupid: The Dominators

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland they had brotherly love-they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”  The preceding quote ran through my head as I watched “The Dominators” as I realized that this serial is essentially arguing the same point as Harry Lime in The Third Man, just far less successfully.  The second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe encounter a civilization that is living through an era of peace and has stagnated.  Which is unfortunate, because the pacifists are ill-prepared for their encounter with the aggressive Dominators.

The Doctor and Jamie play dumb with Rago.

The Doctor and Jamie play dumb with Rago.

The sixth season of Doctor Who starts out with an episode the familiar season five template; this is a planet under siege story, instead of a base under siege story.  Two Dominators land on the planet Dulkis, looking to find fuel for their ship.  Dulkis is a peaceful planet whose occupants, the Dulcians, have long ago given up any kind of fighting or war.  The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe arrive to find the planet in peril.  The Dominators want to use the planet to create the fuel they need and will ultimately kill or enslave the natives.  The problem is that the peaceful Dulcians cannot fight to save themselves and their planet.  The TARDIS crew, along with Cully, the troublemaking son of the Director of Dulkis, must find a way to save the planet before it’s too late.

I must confess that I had a review all written and ready to go about this episode and my overall opinion on this serial was that it was dull and difficult to watch.  However, I wrote it before I went back and watched all of the reconstructed episodes, so I decided to re-watch the episode.   Upon my re-watch, an unexpected thing happened; I found myself enjoying the episode. Don’t desert me yet, though, I’m not going to argue that this is a great serial, just not as bad as it’s reputation.  This new attitude was mainly due to a shift in my opinion about one aspect of the story, the Dominators themselves, but I’ll get to that later.

Looking at the way the different characters function in the story will help illustrate my point.   The main reason the story has a bad reputation is because of the Dulcians.  Dulcians are aptly named; except for Cully, they are incredibly dull.  Cully claims that they have no curiosity as a people, but they also seem to have very few emotions as well.  Even when confronted with a possible danger, the council does nothing but get into a debate about the issue on an intellectual level.  They are not a stupid people; in fact they seem to value intelligence.  They also have had to respond to natural disasters, like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, so they have not lead a completely sheltered existence. So why do they have to be so passive?  They are pacifists, but pacifists don’t have to be wimps.  There are ways of resisting that don’t require the people to take up arms.  The concept could have been an interesting one, it was just poorly executed.  There were times when the Ducians’ passIvity was so maddening that I wasn’t sure they really deserved the Doctor’s help.

Zoe and Cully show off the latest in Dulcian fashion.

Zoe and Cully show off the latest in Dulcian fashion: bathing suits with sheer skirts for the women and togas with mantles for the men.

Small robots called Quarks help the Dominators in their domination.  These Quarks are another flaw in this story because they just aren’t scary.  They can kill people by shooting them with some kind of energy or laser, and they can temporarily paralyze people.  Despite this, they seem cute, not terrifying.  Their voices are far from intimidating, as their high-pitched voice makes them sound like children.  They trundle along when they walk and seem incapable of chasing anyone at a high-speed. Their “arms” also seem fairly useless in most situations and it’s quite ridiculous the way that they flap them to recharge their power (it seems like it would use up power).  They are also very easily fooled and destroyed; at times they even seemed confused or panicked by attempts to destroy them.  For the second serial in a row, Jamie disarms a robot by throwing a sheet over it; the result is that the Quarks seem quite helpless.

In terms of the Doctor’s companions, the episode is a mixed bag.  It’s a pretty good episode for Jamie.  He is very involved in the action, running around and destroying Quarks with a glee that we don’t often see from Jamie.  He feels like he is fighting the redcoats back at home, so he is really in his element and allowed to operate quite autonomously from the Doctor for much of the episode.  Zoe, unfortunately, doesn’t fare as well.  It doesn’t feel like the writers knew what to do with her yet.  She has moments when she shines, like when she comes up with the plan to take out the Quarks that are guarding them or when she shows her that her knowledge of robots and spacecraft can rival the Doctor’s.  However, for much of the story she is in the background.  Given that she is someone who believed that logic would provide the answer to any problem (until she met the Doctor, that is), it seems like a missed opportunity to not have her interact more with the Dulcians who are coming from a position that isn’t completely dissimilar from hers.

On point strongly in the favor of this episode is the fact Troughton’s Doctor acts more like himself in this serial. The Doctor is not sidelined in this story. He is coming up with plans on the fly and putting them into action.  He is also up to his old tricks, playing the fool so his enemy will underestimate him.  He very explicitly does this during the Dominators’ tests; despite the fact that the tests are causing pain to the Doctor and Jamie, Troughton’s performance keeps the scene funny.  Continuing this train of thought, this episode had a few other scenes in which Troughton got to show of his comedic skills.  The scene in which the Doctor needs to divert the travel capsule in mid-flight is classic second Doctor; te banter between him and Jamie shows of the great chemistry between the actors.

Now for the Dominators themselves; I must admit that they really aren’t much better developed than the Dulcians and have equally ridiculous costumes.  Nevertheless, it was amusing to watch the relationship between Navigator Rago and Probationer Toba.  I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s like watching a comedy duo performing a very subtle routine.  Ronald Allen’s Rago is the straight man; he simply wants to get the job done and move on.  Unfortunately for him, his colleague on this mission is Kenneth Ives’ Toba who just wants to blow things up and destroy people.  It’s hard to miss the glee with which he says “total destruction!” to the Quarks.  It’s almost as if Toba doesn’t really care about the mission at all.  For instance, he wants to send the Quarks after Jamie and Cully when they are blowing up the Quarks, but then he remembers his orders and can’t; the look of frustration and disappointment on his face says it all.

The ending left me with a few questions, which isn’t surprising in a story that was so rewritten that the actual writers (Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln) had their names taken off of it.  The Dominators get blown up with their own nuclear seed device at the end, but what about the other Dominators?  Rago and Toba are in constant contact with the rest of the Dominators.  Are we sure that Dulkis is really safe now?  And what about other planets?  I guess we’re just not supposed to dwell on that.

Toba and his Quarks

Toba and his Quarks

I’m not going to argue that “The Dominators” is a great story.  What I will say is that there are aspects of the story that are entertaining.  The entertainment value of the Dominators themselves was greatly increased after I read Bill Evanson’s clever “blog post” from Toba in the book Outside In.  If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do because he captures exactly what I imagine is going on in Toba’s mind. It makes the story far more amusing when you picture Toba thinking things like, “all Rago wants to do is drill, drill, drill.  What a bore.”  While some people, including me from the past, would say that about this story, I have had a slight change of heart.  While it doesn’t succeed in its goal of being an insightful examination of pacifism, it has entertaining aspects.  They are often unintentionally entertaining, but they are entertaining none the less.

Thoughts on The Wheel in Space

“The Wheel in Space” is a decent episode; it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either.  There’s quite a few things wrong with it, but it does a few things perfectly.   It was written by David Whitaker, who wrote some great episodes for both Hartnell and Troughton (and one for Pertwee, but we’re not there yet).  This, however, is Whitaker’s only story featuring the Cybermen (he adapted it from a story by their creator, Kit Pedler), and it’s not one of his best efforts.  Considering that Whitaker wrote two of my favorite Troughton stories, “The Power of the Daleks” and “The Enemy of the World” perhaps I was hoping for too much.

Zoe is hard at work as some Cybermen dance behind her...okay, that's really their menacing pose.

Zoe is hard at work as some Cybermen dance behind her…well, at least that’s what it looks like to me..

After the Doctor and Jamie say goodbye to Victoria, the TARDIS materializes on a rocket drifting through space.  The TARDIS’s fluid link is malfunctioning, and vaporizing mercury forces them to leave the TARDIS; the Doctor grabs a small rod, the vector generator, on his way out.  Much like in “The Daleks” the TARDIS need mercury before she can continue on her way.

Jamie and the Doctor carry the entire first episode, as it is just them and a non-speaking robot.  They do not interact with the crew of the wheel until they are rescued from the rocket in the second episode.  Well, the Doctor doesn’t interact with them in episode 2, since Patrick Troughton was on vacation, but Jamie does.  The commander of the wheel is Jarvis, a man who seems incredibly ill-suited to running a space station.  He can’t accept that there are unknown elements to life, things that might require him to go beyond his training.  He is exactly the wrong kind of man to run a space station, especially one that is part of an elaborate plan by the Cybermen to take over the earth and exploit its mineral wealth.  One of the most interesting parts of the story was watching how he slipped further and further into denial as the evidence for a Cyberman attack mounted.  He even seized on the idea of Jamie and the Doctor being saboteurs/terrorists early in the story since that was the only possibility he could understand; I wished more had been made of the storyline of Jamie essentially becoming a saboteur to stop the wheel crew from destroying the TARDIS.  Of course the story had to move on to focus on the Cybermen and their evil plot…

The story starts out well.  I enjoy the chemistry between the Doctor and Jamie, so I didn’t mind the first episode containing just the two of them, and it ends with a nice cliffhanger as the wheel crew are about to blow up the rocket.  The rest of the story basically held my interest, but it did drag on a bit too long for me; there was a lot of padding in the story that slowed it down.

The main reason that I felt the story was slow-moving was that I didn’t really care about the people on the wheel.  It felt like each crew member was assigned a trait or two and that was it.  Basically, until I learned their names this is how I thought of them: there was condescending, chauvinistic guy (Leo), alert but ignored Russian woman (Tanya), woman who clearly should be in charge of the wheel (Gemma), plant-loving guy (Bill), and feisty Irish guy (Flannigan).  Their characters weren’t developed beyond that.  I know this is true of other stories as well, but a good episode at least introduces some interesting dynamics or conflicts between the supporting cast.  Except for Jarvis’ mental collapse, there wasn’t much going on with the crew besides simply doing their jobs.  This was disappointing since Whitaker had done a great job at keeping the supporting cast interesting in stories like “The Crusades,” “The Power [and ‘The Evil’] of the Daleks,” and “The Enemy of the World.”

My biggest problem with an individual chaacter was with the character of Leo.  He was so chauvinistic and condescending that I kept hoping he would get killed by the Cybermen.  When the women were against blowing up the rocket FOR NO GOOD REASON, without making sure there was no one on board, he basically said they were being a stick-in-the-mud.  When Tanya cautioned him, he said, “if you get scared, I’ll let you hold my hand.”  How condescending is that?  And did his attitude towards them change when they were proved right time and time again? No.  I know “The Wheel in Space” was written in the 1960’s, but come on.

Leo probably making some condescending, sexist comment to Tanya.

Leo probably making some condescending, sexist comment to Tanya.

Of course Leo was not the only character having problems with women in this episode.  Jamie begins the story missing Victoria and spends the rest of it sparring with Zoe.  I did like the touch of having Jamie mention Victoria several times in the first episode, since they were very close.  He and Zoe, however, get off on the wrong foot when Zoe basically says that he is wearing female clothing.  He then threatens to spank her (really, Jamie, you should know better by now) and they spend the rest of the story trying to one-up the other.

Of course, Zoe’s introduction as a companion is what makes this episode notable and is the best thing about it.  I have to admit that watching this episode gave me a great deal more insight into and appreciation of Zoe’s character.  It was easy to see why she ended up trying to sneak aboard the Doctor’s TARDIS.  She is a “librarian” on the wheel.  She is a parapsychologist and essentially seems to be used as a walking computer; she provides information and does difficult calculations in her head.  She never seems to interact with the others in a human way.  Leo even calls her a robot and says she’s “all brain and no heart.”  After getting into a debate with the Doctor about pure logic being the best solution for everything (the Doctor argues for common sense and says, “logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority”), she begins to question her role on the wheel.  Her training has tried to eliminate emotional reactions, but Zoe realizes that she wants to experience emotions as well.  All this provides her with a clear motivation for wanting new experiences with the Doctor and Jamie.

What I haven’t spent much time on is the actual plot.  As usual, the plan of the Cybermen is rather convoluted.  Their speech was also still a bit difficult to understand; there were a few times I had to play a scene multiple times and I’m still not sure I understood everything that the cybermen said.

As far as I could tell, their plan was to use the rocket to get near the wheel and send the cybermats aboard (I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure how they got on the ship, but I’m not going to dwell on that).  The cybermats would then corrode the Bernalium needed to run the x-ray laser.  The cybermen had also managed to make a star go nova, ensuring that the wheel crew would need to use the laser to protect themselves from meteors; therefore, they would have to send crew members to the rocket to look for extra Bernalium.  This allowed the cybermen to control the mind of the men and sneak aboard in the box containing the Bernalium.  Once they were on board, they disabled the transmitting portion of the radio and let the crew protect the wheel from the meteors using the laser. After this they were going to kill the crew and use the radio signal transmitted to the wheel from earth to enter earth’s atmosphere and invade the planet.

It was nice of the Cybermen to politely wait for an invitation to enter the room and kill the Doctor.

It was nice of the Cybermen to politely wait for an invitation to enter the room and kill the Doctor.

Overall, however, “The Wheel in Space” is not a bad episode.  As I mentioned, it does a good job of introducing the viewer to Zoe, which is its main purpose.  My main complaint would be that Troughton’s Doctor just felt a bit off for me in this one.   Perhaps if I could actually see more of the episodes I would feel differently, but he just felt rather subdued in this one.  At times, I saw shades of the first Doctor in him; he seemed to spend most of the episode sitting on the sidelines, out of the main action.  I also wasn’t thrilled with how callously he seemed to send Jamie out into space to return to the rocket.  For all the people complaining about Capaldi’s Doctor’s unfeeling nature, all the Doctors have always been willing to make sacrifices.  The Doctor here states that it is worth risking the lives of Jamie and Zoe to save the lives of many.  In this case, unfortunately, the scene plays as if the Doctor is avoiding going himself which doesn’t match with the second Doctor’s personality.  The story felt a bit like it was leftover from Hartnell’s time on the show, which doesn’t make it a bad episode, just a poor fit for the Troughton era.