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4.3 out of 5 stars40
4.3 out of 5 stars
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A piece of science fiction drama from the BBC comes to dvd.

It's set somewhen in the future. And it sees the last vestiges of the human race clinging to survival in a primitive colony they've established on a far flung planet.

They face threats that are natural. Internal. And alien.

But the planet in question is called Frontios rather than Carpathia. Because this is an older effort than a certain recent series, this being a Doctor Who story from 1984.

It features Peter Davison as the Doctor, with Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson as his companions Tegan and Turlough. All four twenty five minute long episodes are complete on a single dvd.

Frontios is not a world that the time lords will allow any interference with, so when the TARDIS is pulled there by a strange force, the Doctor is anxious to get away as quickly as possible. But he swiftly finds that the TARDIS isn't going to be able to get him offworld any time soon.

Caught up in the usual fear and mistrust with only a few allies that he usually finds in this situation, the Doctor has to solve the mystery of the meteors that constantly hit the colony. The disappearance of the former colonial leader. Who seemingly knew more about the secrets of the planet than he ever let on.

Turlough has to face a frightening memory.

But the real threat doesn't come from where they suspect....

A totally studio bound story, but Frontios does manage to make a virtue of that via some well designed sets that do create the illusion of a ramshackle and tightly knit colony. It does need the occasional long shot with a matte backdrop, but these are also quite successful.

As ever the military are not initially on the Doctor's side, but the scientists are most trusting. All the supporting characters on both sides are rather well drawn and played.

The greatest strength of the story though is that because it comes from the writer who wrote the first fifth doctor story, it absolutely gets his character right. Remembering that he's an old being in a young body. It really is one of the strongest scripts for Peter Davison from the second half of his tenure, and he seizes that opportunity.

It also gives Mark Strickson more to do than some stories as Turlough has to deal with a scary memory, and Mark Strickson has some good moments as a result.

Janet Fielding does get some decent lines but you do feel that Tegan's time in the TARDIS is coming to an end by this point.

The monsters of the story are an interesting idea but there were problems in the practicality of the costumes that mean that they aren't quite as effective as they could have been. Although their first appearance could well catch you by surprise [beware of the main menu screen because the clips on it do give a bit too much away. Such as this particular moment].

But Frontios is a fairly solid piece of Doctor Who, and well above average as a whole.

The DVD is fairly light on extras.

It has the usual:

Languages: English.

Subtitles: English.

English audio captioned.

Production information subtitles.

Photo Gallery.

Isolated score.

Radio Times listings for the story as a PDF file.

A trailer for the next release in this DVD range.

There's also a commentary from Peter Davison plus two of the supporting cast, and the script editor and the sound designer.

There's a thirty three minute [approx] long making of documentary which is good and in depth and does touch upon a couple of major problems that the production faced.

And there are sixteen minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes. They are of unfinished work and thus the visual effects and backdrops aren't always there and there's a time clock over most of them. Most are of people walking around but some do show interesting moments that didn't make it into the finished version.
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The Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Tegan are forced to land on the planet Frontios by a strange force that even the TARDIS cannot counter. The Doctor is keen not to land as it is apparently forbidden by the Time Lords (and when did he ever really care about them?) On the planet they find one of the last remnants of humanity, struggling to survive on a barren planet with strange meteor showers killing them off at an alarming rate. What follows is a great study of the small group fighting to survive, and starting to fight each other. This political study soon shifts and an altogether creepier tale with sci fi monsters comes to the fore as the reasons for the meteor attacks become clear.

This is a cracking script from Christopher H. Bidmead, and I remember it quite grabbing my attention when I first saw it on TV as a child. The study of the dynamics within the small colony, the great characterisations, and the use of real science concepts, added with the really scary idea of the earth just swallowing people up really got me hooked. I especially liked the way it is almost two tales in one, with a tale of intrigue morphing onto a hard core sci fi thriller.

While the story was well written, the realisation on the screen, as ever, was limited by the budget. The monster costumes were a bit of a failure. But that is looking through my grown up eyes. As a child (when this was the norm on TV, I doubt modern kids exposed to the CGI wonders of new Who would feel the same) the were really creepy, and made me really scared of woodlice. Actors were on good form here, especially Davison, who really delivers with the sense of rising panic that he does so well. Tegan is her usual annoying self, but Turlough, always my favourite of Five's companions, is given a lot to do and really gets some interesting character development. We see him transform from running scared to facing up to his deepest fears and being a proactive (though still very frightened) help in defeating the alien menace. Mark Strickson does an excellent job.

Good script, good acting, so-so production values. Four stars for this story. The release from 2Entertain is their usual excellent standard. The info text notes are fascinating, and the extras, especially the short series of interviews with cast and crew about the making of the story are worth while additions. The picture and sound are, of course, excellent.
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on 7 February 2014
I recall watching this story many years ago. The logic of Christopher H Bidmead's storytelling states a lot of sophistication. It still holds itself well, Davison is brilliant as the Doctor - why do people think the role has to be constantly played really over-the-top?

Only let down was the design of the aliens involved with the woes of Frontios but they did convey a little bit of menace.
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on 30 July 2014
I feel that 'Frontios' is a very undervalued story from Peter Davison's final series on Doctor Who. There is an unfortunate tendency to dismiss the story purely because of the Tractators. Admittedly, the Tractator costumes aren't brilliant but they are certainly no worse than the Wirrn from 'The Ark in Space' for example. And those costumes are the only significant flaw in what is otherwise an outstanding Doctor Who story.

Christopher H Bidmead's script is full of interesting and original ideas. The setting of the story in one of the last surviving human colonies in the far future is a nice change, and it was probably the inspiration behind 2007's episode 'Utopia'. The Tractators with their massive gravitational force are a great idea in principle at least. The end of episode one is arguably the ultimate Doctor Who cliffhanger, with the revelation that the TARDIS has been destroyed and Bidmead comes up with an inventive way of pulling the TARDIS back together at the end of the story.

There is some imaginative set design, the sets are superbly lit and the story is very well directed. Amazingly for a futuristic story, there are no serious wardrobe malfunctions (aside from the Tractators). The script caters well for all the regulars and all three actors rise to the occasion. Peter Davison gives one of his best, most confident performances and that is saying something. We get to see the Doctor's delightful half moon spectacles. Mark Strickson is on fine form in intense scenes where Turlough has a race memory about the Tractators and Tegan gets to be proactive for once, investigating some unexplained disappearances.

The guest cast, too, are very good. William Lucas gives a strong performance as Range, Lesley Dunlop is good as Norna and Jeff Rawle is superb as the young, out of his depth colony leader desperately trying to remain in control.

All in all, 'Frontios' is imaginative, clever, original and well made.

The extras include 'Driven to Distractation' the 'making of' documentary. The murder of Peter Arne, the actor originally selected to play Range, is covered. It is frustrating that the documentary places so much emphasis on the negatives of the story and so little on the many strengths. Annoyingly the narrator describes the excellent story 'Black Orchid' as being 'fairly undistinguished'.

There are also approximately 15 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes.
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on 28 January 2014
Again, I enjoyed this. Good performance by Peter Davison, and one of the most underrated Dr Who stories (in my opinion). Quality is very good, and the subtitles are very helpful. Storyline strong. Good to add to my collection ( I am trying to get all the Dr Who available from 1963-89, and I didn't have this on VHS, so DVD is a welcome addition to my collection. Subtitles very helpful. and quality excellent. Recommended.
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on 8 May 2013
It's a good story, really.

That is to say, the first two episodes work very well, and then it all gets dodgy.

It's well designed; there are good sets and uniforms (interesting that those Terran Federation helmets remained in use for so long...), and it's well acted. Peter Davison is at his best; 'Professorial' is a word much used in 'The Making Of', and Mark Strickson gets to do some proper acting - first time since Enlightenment he gets to do the real stuff, rather than just buttoning his blazer in an interesting way.

Peter Gilmore is a bit one note (and the note seems to be James Onedin in a bad mood), but that's OK because it's easy to concentrate on William Lucas, and Lesley Dunlop (I find it so easy to concentrate on Lesley Dunlop) and Jeff Rawle - it's nice that Plantagenet doesn't go bananas and the whole story just become about him, because it looks like it ought to, then (as CH Bidmead explains) 'it all turns upside down'.

We meet Tractators. How to ruin a Dr Who story with one ill-considered production decision. It really is one of those, 'It's going so well, but it's a JNT story so they've got to louse it up somewhere...' moments: This time with woodlice.

They employed dancers to play Tractators, because dancers can move so beautifully, and then they stuck them in rigid costumes that didn't move at all. I can only imagine what colour the dancers turned the air, because it's an absolutely moronic error - like it was taken by the Gumbies on Monty Python - it is in the same ballpark as chaining Anna Pavlova into a sack and then chucking her onto the stage at Covent Garden and demanding she perform the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. You can almost hear the 'Duh-uh-huh' of the dunce making the decision, and it's of such a fatal stupidity because if the Tractators had worked, the intrinsic cack-handedness of the concept might - just - have gone unnoticed.

Because that's the real problem; it's not just that Tractators *look* silly, they don't make sense. Man-sized woodlice that can affect gravity so that they can pull meteorites out of the sky? You what, Mr Bidmead? I don't believe that a creature of that size could exert that kind of pull - I mean, *physics*! Dragging people underground, that I can buy, maybe, but meteorites? No, and I don't believe in them pulling the TARDIS apart either.

And then there's the question of Tractator intelligence, the Doctor says 'These creatures must be really intelligent', blowed if I can see what evidence he's basing that on - are they curing the Common Cold? Writing 'Remembrance of Time Past'? Designing helicopters? Enjoying erudite conversation? The Gravis certainly isn't the brightest beetle in the box; 'Oh no, please don't pull my TARDIS back together' is neither a subtle nor an original gambit - Brere Rabbit uses it to very good effect in The Story of the Tar Baby but for 'Please don't throw me in the briars' to seem a Machiavellian stratagem, you really do need to be no older than about five.

So, good design, good acting, good direction, but silly monsters, and it's the monsters the whole story hinges on. Poor Mark Strickson; all that lovely 'Tractators!!!' acting, and then they turn out to be, well, Tractators.

I can only wonder that they didn't learn from this, so that when someone said 'Giant slugs' they'd have replied 'Oh no, not again', but as we all know, that's not what they said at all.
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on 3 April 2014
Paeter Davison was my Doctor and I've always wanted this episode. An excellent story which moves well and acted superbly by the well-chosen cast.
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on 3 October 2014
Superb Peter Davison story with a great and unusual plot, fantastic acting from all the cast especially Mark Strickson and Peter Gilmore. Even The Tractators seem to work even though they shouldn't!

Highly Recommended.

Very Very Good.
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on 2 June 2013
Peter Davidson is a great Dr WHO in this story as it's very like the story line of the one's with doctor's # 2 , 3 & 4 , with the side actors like all the others ham it up but I realy like this DVD .
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on 21 January 2014
Actually a better story than I remember.Decent extras included and enough to make it interesting.
Definitely a story for the true Doctor Who fan rather than a casual viewer.
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