Friday, 19 April 2013

Story 67 - The Frontier In Space

In which the TARDIS materialises in another cargo hold - this time that belonging to a spacecraft from Earth, 2540. Unaware of the new arrivals, the crew are confronted by a vessel belonging to the Draconians. The reptilian beings have an empire which rivals that of Earth. The two races fought a terrible war two decades ago, and the peace between them is fragile. Recently, Draconian spaceships have been attacking Earth vessels near their common frontier. As the Doctor checks their whereabouts in the TARDIS, Jo hears a strange sound which causes the approaching spaceship to shimmer and change shape. They are boarded, and whilst the crew see Draconian warriors, the Doctor and Jo see that they are really Ogrons. The Doctor is knocked out, and the Ogrons take the TARDIS along with the rest of the cargo. An Earth security force ship arrives soon after. Unable to explain their presence here, and with the crew adamant they saw Draconians, the Doctor and Jo are accused first of being stowaways - and then of being Draconian spies. They are taken to Earth.
Here, the President is fighting against the growing call for a new war. Her chief military aide, General Williams - who was involved in the incident which sparked the last conflict - is one of those urging action against Draconia. The Doctor and Jo are not believed, thanks to the eye-witnesses. When challenged, the Draconian Crown Prince, who is ambassador to Earth, denies any knowledge of these human agents. Thinking them actually in the pay of General Williams to foment discord, the Prince orders the Doctor and Jo to be broken out of prison.

The Doctor escapes, but the incident enforces the impression that he and Jo are working for the Draconians. A further attempt is made to free them - this time by the Ogrons. The Earth people see them as Draconians, however. Jo is sentenced to prison on Earth, whilst the Doctor is sent to the penal colony on the Moon. A representative from Sirius 4 arrives to claim them both - informing the President and Willliams that they are known felons from his dependency. As Earth will need all of its allies should war come, it is agreed that they will go back to Sirius with the representative - who proves to be the Master. The Doctor is about to perish in a doomed escape attempt when he is saved by the Master's arrival.
As they travel to the Master's base on the obscure homeworld of the Ogrons, the Doctor tries to escape. As he reaches the flight-deck, a Draconian spacecraft arrives and they are all taken prisoner to their planet. The Draconians have also been suffering from acts of piracy of late - the Ogrons appearing to them as Earthmen. The Doctor reveals that he is a Knight of Draconia - an honour bestowed upon him by the 15th Emperor after helping to avert a plague. The Master has managed to send out a distress call, and soon an Ogron raiding party attacks. The Master escapes, but one of the creatures is left behind. The truth of what has been happening is revealed after the Ogron ship departs. The Master has been using a hypnotic device to engineer conflict between the two races.

The Crown Prince, recently recalled home, agrees to take the Ogron to Earth, along with the Doctor and Jo, to let the President know what is really going on. Unfortunately, the Master attacks and the Ogron is freed. Jo is also captured. The Doctor and the Draconians travel on to Earth and manage to finally convince the President and General Williams. The General is horrified to learn that the last war was triggered by a terrible misunderstanding. He agrees to lead a taskforce to the Ogron planet. When they arrive on the barren planet, they are captured in an ambush - and discover that the Master is working for another power. The Daleks want the two empires to go to war so that they can invade and conquer the survivors. A vast army is being assembled elsewhere.
After the Daleks have left the planet, the Doctor and his friends escape and use the Master's hypnotic device to scare off the Ogrons. Williams and the Draconian Prince have set off to warn their respective governments. The Doctor has been injured in the final struggle, and the Master has fled. He sends a message to the Time Lords - asking for their help in tracking the Daleks...

This six part adventure was written by Malcolm Hulke, and was broadcast between 24th February and 31st March, 1973. It was designed to form the first half of an epic tale involving the Daleks for the 10th anniversary season. The second Dalek-filled part would be written by Terry Nation.
The story holds the tragic distinction of marking the final appearance of the Master as played by Roger Delgado - something it was never intended to do.
Delgado had already asked to be written out of the series as, even though only making occasional appearances after his opening season, directors thought he was working full time on the series and therefore unavailable for other work. He wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, rather than be written out in such a way that the character could be brought back. A final battle was planned in which the Master would appear to sacrifice himself to save the Doctor (who may or may not have been his half-brother, depending on who you talk to). A car crash in Turkey on June 18th 1973 forever denied us this adventure.
Sadly, instead of a blaze of glory, Delgado departs our screens in a bit of a damp squib of a tale.
It is not Malcolm Hulke's fault by any means. He is lumbered with six episodes which are hard to fill. There is an awful lot of capture / escape padding.
It is a very intelligent, political script, with some fine action set pieces. It is the first "space opera" since The Space Pirates in 1969.
There is a strong anti-war message, and comments on political dissent.
A lot of the problems stem from the pedestrian direction by Paul Bernard - including a very shoddy conclusion. It is surprising that producer Barry Letts had re-employed him, after Day of the Daleks had run out of time and The Time Monster had been so disappointingly handled.

If there is one strong element to the story it is the Draconians - brilliantly realised by the writer, the make-up department, and the actors. Hulke makes this a believable, three-dimensional alien race by giving us a sense of how their society functions. They are an honourable - but shrewdly political - species.
The masks are by John Friedlander, who also created the Ogrons. As half-masks, they allow the actor to act. They certainly help the performances of Peter Birrel as the prince, and John Woodnut as the Emperor. Pertwee cited the Draconians as his favourite alien. He had been chatting with Birrel on location and for a moment, in the middle of a bleak quarry, he felt he was actually talking to a real alien being.
Of the rest of the cast, Michael Hawkins is excellent as General Williams. It is very easy to turn this type of character into a stereotype, but he gives the part some depth. Vera Fusek gives the President some gravitas, as she struggles with foes on all sides.

Michael Wisher voices the Daleks for the first time, and of the Ogron performers, Stephen Thorne's vocals are distinctive.
A big let-down (especially if you had read the novelisation first) is the Ogron-eating monster. A savage dinosaur creature in the book, it is a blobby bouncy castle on screen.
Episode ending for this story are:

  1. The Doctor and  Jo are accused of being stowaways - and of being spies for the Draconians.
  2. An alarm sounds as the Doctor and Jo are held in the cells. The door bursts open and they are confronted by an Ogron.
  3. The Doctor and Professor Dale find they have been tricked by the warder of the lunar penal colony, who had offered to help them escape. The air tanks of their spacesuits are empty - and the warder starts to pump the oxygen out of the chamber in which they are trapped.
  4. The Master seems strangely unperturbed at being held prisoner. He has secretly activated a distress signal.
  5. The Master attacks Jo with his fear-inducing hypnotic device.
  6. Jo helps the injured Doctor into the TARDIS and the ship leaves the planet.

Overall, a disappointment of a story - impossible to watch without thinking about Roger Delgado's untimely death. The dreadfully directed ending is a particularly cruel twist of fate - with Delgado simply disappearing.
There was an attempt to repair the damage by filming additional scenes at the start of The Planet of the Daleks production block. However, Delgado wasn't available to add to these scenes.
Read the ending of the book. His plans in disarray once again thanks to the Doctor, the Master resignedly packs up his belongings. There will be another opportunity to get his revenge, more plots to lay, more schemes to hatch...
Oh, if only...
Things you might like to know:

  • The film which Delgado was in Turkey to make was "Bell of Tibet". It was never completed.
  • Roger's full name was Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto. His mother was Belgian and his father Spanish, though he was born in Whitechapel, in London's East End - so a true Cockney.
  • There's an in joke on the plot as the Master is seen reading HG Wells' War of the Worlds.
  • There is quite a bit of Gerry Anderson model-work on show - after it had been cannibalised by the BBC. Ian Scoones had bought a job lot of miniatures for about £50 when Anderson's company had closed down.
  • One particular costume disaster to look out for is that of the lady operating the Mind Probe - unless there is a cut scene where she explains she was just on her way out to a dance...
  • There are cameos of a Sea Devil, a Mutant and a Drashig when the Master uses his hypnotic device on Jo.
  • On broadcast, the end credits for episode one were put over the ending for episode two by mistake - meaning a couple of people get credit for episodes they didn't appear in, and a couple of others missed out on credits all together.
  • And for the fifth episode on the VHS release, an edit that was not intended for public viewing is used.
  • Whilst Pertwee cites Delgado's death as a reason for leaving the programme, it did not influence Katy Manning's decision. She had already filmed The Green Death at the time of his accident.
  • It has been commented upon that Babylon 5 features a war that was triggered by an identical misunderstanding as that which led to the first Earth - Draconia conflict. Coincidence, or is Mr Straczynski a fan...?

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