Friday, 1 February 2013

Story 58 - Colony In Space

In which the Time Lords have a mission for the Doctor... The Master has stolen secret files relating to the planet Uxarieus. At UNIT HQ, the TARDIS suddenly becomes active and takes the Doctor and Jo to the bleak rocky world - in the year 2472. They meet a group of Earth colonists who are struggling to survive in these harsh conditions. Though the planet is categorised as suitable for colonisation, plants are failing to grow. Reports are now coming in of a large reptile creature, seen by farmers staying in outlying areas. One household is attacked and the family killed. Uxarieus is believed to have only one indigenous lifeform - the primitive descendants of an ancient civilisation. They have not harmed anyone so far, and often barter with the colonists for food.
A stranger named Norton turns up, claiming to be from another colony which was destroyed by the reptiles. He also states that others in his group were killed by the Primitives.
A spaceship arrives belonging to IMC - the Interplanetary Mining Corporation. Captain Dent claims that the planet is actually designated for mineral exploitation. Both colonists and miners refuse to give ground, so an Adjudicator is called in.

The Doctor investigates the farm which was attacked and finds that a large monster could not have been responsible. A geologist named Caldwell takes him to see Dent. After failing to get the miners to withdraw, he is taken back to the farm by Morgan. Morgan controls a large mining machine which has been fitted with fake animal claws. If the Doctor interferes, he will be killed. Jo is captured by the Primitives and taken to their underground city. There are other beings here - small creatures who act as priests. The Doctor goes to the city to find her. They are both taken to an inner sanctum where they expect to be sacrificed. There is a third creature here - the Guardian - who is the last of the super-race that once ruled Uxarieus. It agrees to let them go - on the condition they never return.
Arriving back at the colonists' main dome, they find that the Adjudicator has arrived. This proves to be the Master, using a stolen uniform and credentials. His TARDIS is disguised as a spaceship. The Master finds in favour of IMC, but appears to change his mind when he learns of the Primitive city from the colony leader, Ashe. Important archaeological remains might prevent mining operations taking place.

The Doctor and Jo break into his TARDIS to find out what he is up to but are captured after a gas booby-trap is triggered. Jo will be held captive, whilst the Doctor will take him to the city. The Master reveals that he has learned from the stolen Time Lord files of a powerful weapon which is hidden on this planet. It was created by the super-race before it died out. Armed hostilities break out between the colonists and IMC. Norton is unmasked as an IMC agent, and is killed in a gunfight. The colonists lose the struggle and are forced to leave the planet - despite their spaceship being in no fit state to make another journey. Only Caldwell is sympathetic to their cause. As the Doctor and the Master go to the city, the colonist ship takes off and explodes - apparently with everyone on board. The Master tries to seize the alien weapon but the Guardian intervenes. It was radiation from the device which helped cause the decline of the super-race (and has been stopping the colonists growing their crops). The Doctor convinces the Guardian that the weapon will always be a potential force for evil, and the Guardian agrees to sacrifice itself to destroy it. The Time Lords flee before the city is destroyed. Only Ashe had been aboard the colonist ship when it took off, and the others reappear and ambush and the IMC men. Morgan is killed. The Master escapes. A real Adjudicator is called for, and Caldwell decides to join the colonists. The Doctor and Jo return to UNIT HQ, only seconds after they left.

This six part adventure was written by Malcolm Hulke, and was broadcast between 10th April and 15th May, 1971. It is the first story to be directed by Michael Briant (with future director Graeme Harper as Assistant Floor Manager).
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had been desperate to get the Doctor back onto alien planets after nearly two years of Earthbound stories - and the idea of the Time Lords giving him a mission allowed for this to happen. We get a brief scene of the Time Lords on their (still unnamed at this point) planet at the beginning of the story.
Malcolm Hulke was probably the most politicised writer for the programme, and he used real ecological concerns as the basis for his story. We have lots of concerns about globalisation and big business, and the industrial ruination of the Earth, today - and in the late 1960's and early 1970's these worries were just as prevalent. Significant numbers of people were choosing to "opt out" of the rat race and live a more natural life. Hulke also looked to the Western genre for inspiration. The colonists are the homesteaders, the Primitives Indigenous Americans and IMC the railroaders (or some other capitalist enterprise).

The Master makes his fourth consecutive appearance, and for the first time he is entirely superfluous to the plot. His theft of the Time Lord files might trigger the story (and flag up his inevitable appearance a few episodes in) - but the threat to seize the alien weapon could just as easily have come from some other source. We are engaged enough with the colonist / IMC / Primitive city goings-on that we forget at times that he was even mentioned at the start - especially when you consider the programme was never intended to be viewed in one sitting via VHS or DVD.
UNIT is still represented by the Brigadier, who tops and tails the adventure. Freed from the UNIT confines, it is a very good story for both Pertwee and Manning. Jo finds kindred spirits in the colonists, and the Doctor naturally leans towards their cause as well. Even if the planet had been legally intended for mining, he would still have sided with them.
The guest cast is uniformly strong. Colony leader Ashe, who refuses to condone violence against the IMC thugs, is played by John Ringham, who had earlier impressed as Tlotoxyl in The Aztecs. His opposite number on the IMC side, Captain Dent, is played with a calm, business-like malevolence by Morris Perry. Their respective seconds-in-command are played by Nicholas Pennell (fiery young colonist Winton, who does believe that violence can be justified) and Tony Caunter (the sadistic IMC man Morgan). Caunter had appeared briefly in The Crusade and would go on to find fame with a long-running Eastenders role. The man in the middle, the IMC man with a conscience who eventually joins the colonists - Caldwell - is played by one of the programme's best guest artists, Bernard Kay. This was his fourth and final role in the programme - having been Tyler in The Dalek Invasion of Earth; Saladin in The Crusade; and Inspector Crossland in The Faceless Ones. There is also an early appearance by Helen Worth, as Ashe's daughter Mary. She has played the same character in Coronation Street (Gail Platt nee Potter) since 1974.

Episode endings for this story are:

  1. The Doctor is alone at the dome which was attacked. He is menaced by a robot.
  2. As above - except we see that the robot is controlled by Morgan and has been fitted with fake claws.
  3. Jo is taken into a darkened cave which leads to the Primitive city.
  4. As the colonists and the IMC men fight, the Master decides that the Doctor is about to become the unfortunate victim of a stray bullet...
  5. Seeing on a video link that Jo is about to be rescued by Caldwell and Morgan, the Master prepares to kill her remotely by releasing a deadly gas...
  6. The Doctor and Jo are back at UNIT HQ after their alien excursion. The Brigadier points out that the TARDIS has only been gone a few seconds...
Overall, quite a good story, with a message to impart. There is a wee bit of capture / escape padding. The Master turning up does help to maintain momentum - though it could have been some other villainous character, as I've already pointed out. The Primitives and the diminutive priests are well realised, and their civilisation is given context and history. The puppet-like Guardian is less effective.

Things you might like to know:
  • One of the Time Lords in the opening section of the story is played by Graham Leaman - who is also a Time Lord in The Three Doctors - or the same Time Lord...
  • Regular extra Pat Gorman plays three different roles in this story - an IMC guard, a colonist and a Primitive. I'm surprised there isn't a scene of him shooting himself. He was also credited with providing the commentary for the IMC propaganda film which the Doctor views, but this was actually provided by director Briant. Pat will be getting his own post shortly.
  • Morgan was originally going to be a female character - to be played by Susan Jameson. This was vetoed by Letts' superior, Ronnie Marsh, who was effectively the programme's executive producer. Jameson had already been contracted, so was still paid in full.
  • The novelisation of this story - The Doomsday Weapon - has the Doctor and Jo meeting for the very first time. It is Jo's first ever sight of the TARDIS interior, and she does admit she didn't think it could really travel - despite seeing it dematerialise in The Claws of Axos.
  • In this story, TARDISes quite literally pop in and out of sight, rather than use the usual roll back and mix process. Michael Briant owned up to the fact on the DVD commentary that he was none the wiser as to how they should behave.
  • One of the colonists wears an Ambassadors of Death space suit.
  • Barry Letts was taken to task for using up the BBC's entire annual quota of false beards in this production, leading to incongruous clean-shaven characters in a number of high profile Dickens adaptations. Lord Mutton-Chops in The Adventures of Pip Pipkins, for instance, had to be remodelled as a female role - played by Susan Jameson. Or maybe not.

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