Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
Sixties Soup with The Krotons
on 31 July 2016
The Doctor’s intelligence gets him and his friends out of trouble week after week. But this time his cleverness lands them all in the soup - with the Krotons. Can he scoop them out again - or are they toast? 4*
It’s fair to say this isn’t the most popular Second Doctor story, but it’s much better than its reputation and I enjoyed it. There are certainly off-moments (the main one being the Krotons, unfortunately) which tend to overshadow the rest, but there’s also a clever, satirical science fiction plot, some great acting among the guest cast and Patrick Troughton at his typical best.
If you are new to this Doctor then I wouldn’t start here because there are many better stories, but if you already know how fabulous he is, then dive in with the Krotons and float on a soup of Sixties social satire and the Second Doctor at his most playful –and most ruthless; in the end, it’s the Krotons who are toast…
Robert Holmes would go on to write many of the greatest (I’d say *the* greatest) stories in the classic era, but this was his first. If it sometimes seems like standard science fiction plus the Doctor, that’s because (according to the Notes) it began as a (rejected) non-‘Doctor Who’ script, but was spotted by Terrance Dicks and used to plug a gap in the Doctor’s busy schedule. The Krotons=croutons and soup jokes are as old as this story and I’m guessing Robert Holmes intended it so from the beginning; exactly why, you will discover as the story unfolds.
I first saw this story in a (very rare) repeat season early in the 1980s and it was like watching through fog due to the quality of the surviving recording. It wasn’t an impressive experience. But the great news is that now we can see the story properly for the first time thanks to this excellent DVD release. It’s clear, contrasty and sharp and looks and sounds far better than it could possibly have done when first broadcast on the televisions of the late 1960s.
On the surface the story is quite simple; the Gonds are ruled by convention and the orders of their (unseen) masters, the Krotons, who teach the Gonds all the knowledge they *are told* they need. All other knowledge is forbidden. At intervals, the cleverest Gonds are chosen to join their masters in the vast machine which is their home – and are never seen again… The Doctor and his friends turn up just as revolt is stirring and make events boil over into crisis, before defeating the Krotons through knowledge they had denied their repressed subjects.
As always with Robert Holmes there’s more to the story, which seems to be full of social comment on the 1960s, showing a society undergoing far-reaching change. ‘The Krotons’ depicts youth protests, demand for freedom of thought and education, a hereditary leadership under threat but adapting and surviving and a revolutionary leader who turns the freedom movement into a personal power-grab, before being defeated.
There are also very good science fiction ideas, moments of pure science and pure comedy and a great twist as the Doctor makes things much worse, before he can make them better. Some of the elements don’t always live up to the script’s intentions but the regular stars and the lead guest actors are excellent.
Patrick Troughton is very possibly at his best, given the impact he makes in this relatively unspectacular story. From the moment he steps out of the TARDIS twirling an umbrella and prances off across the boulders of another (impressive) quarry, you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s a magnetic performance of sheer brilliance, from his shaking up of Gond society, to his ruthless scientific scheme to defeat the oppressive Krotons, to perfectly timed comedy with loyal companions Jamie and Zoe.
Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are definitely part of a team of three in this story, their characters playing off each other perfectly and very well written, especially considering this wasn’t originally a ‘Doctor Who’ script. The Doctor’s and Zoe’s genius-level minds are part of the problem (as well as the solution) while Jamie’s steadfast loyalty is also central to the plot. The Doctor and Zoe share two splendid comedy sequences and a moment when Jamie thinks his friends have left without him really grabs the attention.
For me, four excellent performances stand out in the guest cast. Philip Madoc plays his first ‘Doctor Who’ villain of many, as a seemingly ordinary man who seizes power for himself, while claiming ‘democracy’. James Cairncross is the honest Gond scientist Beta, surely a rather biting name given by Robert Holmes to emphasise that Beta is clever, but not the best – if he was ‘Alpha’, the Krotons would have taken him. (He has a great comedy chemistry lab scene with Jamie where they’re trying to follow the Doctor’s instructions without either of them really knowing what they’re doing!) James Copeland plays the Gonds’ hereditary leader, upholder of societal conventions but noble and good, while Gilbert Wynne plays his son, who offers a renewed but stable future when the Krotons’ control has been defeated.
This wasn’t a cheap story; per episode it cost more than ‘The Invasion’ and has good sets and good effects within the limits of studio television, made almost ‘as-live’. The production subtitles are full of information as always and only by reading them will you realise how technically (as well as artistically) excellent Patrick Troughton and co. had to be to fit the multi-camera technique. This was one of director David Maloney’s earliest ‘Doctor Who’ stories and you can see why he also directed some of the all-time classics.
Unhappily, the one place where for me this story fails badly is – the Krotons. They are crystalline creatures based on tellurium (for very good plot reasons) and Robert Holmes’ script envisaged glittering humanoids, presumably not unlike one of the forms of Eldrad in the much later ‘Hand of Fear’. It’s said the budget wouldn’t stretch to it, so we got (in the words of Terrance Dicks, who actually script edited this story) “possibly the worst monster in the history of ‘Doctor Who’”! And they are on screen and very visible for long periods. Would it really have cost more or been worse to have had two large actors with masks and close-fitting suits sprayed with heavy glitter and some ‘crystals’ stuck on?
Their voices don’t help either; they sound too much like Daleks and one (but, bizarrely, only one) has a South African accent, adopted by the actor (according to the commentary) to make a personal political comment against apartheid! I sympathise with the intention but it wasn’t in the script and in this context it sounds faintly ridiculous.
For all that, I’m still giving ‘The Krotons’ DVD four tellurium crystals. The script has a lot to be said for it with its theme of freedom of thought against ‘forbidden knowledge’, the regulars are superb, the leading guest actors give it the same respect and quality they would have given Shakespeare, there’s a great DVD Extra and the restoration is excellent.
It certainly could have been worse – in fact, it almost was: this story was a last-minute replacement for the planned ‘Prison in Space’. But even in 1968 they decided a ‘comedy’ about men imprisoned on a planet ruled by domineering women (wearing eye-catching costumes) might just possibly be out of order for ‘Doctor Who’… Thank ‘The Krotons’ for forbidding us that knowledge! 4*
DVD Special Features:
An interesting commentary looking back at this story and the classic era in general, thanks to the wide range of contributors including long-time ‘Doctor Who’ villain Philip Madoc and several leading members of the production team covering costumes, make-up, sound etc.
‘Second Time Around’ (52 min) – a superb feature about the whole Patrick Troughton era from his casting to his departure in ‘The War Games’. With contributions from Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Wendy Padbury, Christopher Barry, Derrick Sherwin, Terrance Dicks and more, plus insights from BBC memos etc. giving the views of those key production team members who are no longer with us. It’s fascinating viewing for Troughton fans but it will inevitably leave you fuming (along with some of the contributors) that the tapes of so many of those great stories were needlessly destroyed. Thankfully, several more episodes were, near-miraculously, found after this documentary was recorded in 2011.
‘Doctor Who Stories – Frazer Hines (Part One)’ (17 min) – fun as expected, from an interview recorded in 2003. Part Two is on ‘The Ice Warriors’ DVD.
‘The Doctor’s Strange Love – The Krotons’ (7 min) – ‘Doctor Who’ writers Simon Guerrier and Joseph Lidster discuss the many good points of this story – and the slightly less good points too.
‘Photo Gallery’ (5 min)
At the start of this adventure, the Krotons don’t actually exist and are later ingeniously formed out of a chemical ‘soup’ using mental power taken from the Doctor and Zoe. Hence (at a guess, given the writer was Robert Holmes) the croutons.