Doctor Who: Colony In Space DVD review
A six-part Doctor Who story from the early 70s gets a DVD reissue. Here’s James’ review of Colony In Space...
A six-part adventure from the pen of series stalwart Malcolm Hulke, Colony In Space, like the recently rereleased Day Of The Daleks, is a story with a somewhat battered reputation among fans. However, whereas Day was given the benefit of an updated special edition, Colony hasn’t been quite so lucky, and what we get here is pretty much what was shown on BBC 1 back in 1971.
Certainly, as with most six-part Who tales, Colony In Space is somewhat overlong, and that’s a flaw that no amount of sprucing up could ever gloss over. However, when viewed as single twenty-five minute episodes, Colony makes for an entertaining and diverting serial.
While it lacks the deft dialogue and memorable characterisation of a Terrance Dicks or Robert Holmes script, Hulke’s story has a consistent tone throughout, and features a number of key moments in the show’s history.
First, we have the Third Doctor going on his first off-world adventure since his exile to Earth at the end of The War Games in 1969. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the Doctor’s exile was always going to be a short-term measure, but for viewers at the time, this maiden outer-space adventure would have seemed like a massive break from the norm.
Up until this point, Pertwee’s very patrician Doctor had mainly spent his time grumping around on Earth, foiling alien invasions and mad scientists plots, while generally being a bit of a know-all to the Brigadier and the various civil servants who crossed his path.
Interestingly, going off world seems to loosen up the Third Doctor considerably, and allows him to engage with an adventure in a way that hadn’t been seen since the Patrick Troughton years.
However, this isn’t just a simple turning back of the clock as, for the very first time, we’re seeing the Doctor go off on an outer-space adventure with a single, female companion. Again, in 2011, this probably sounds trivial, but it’s the first time this simple yet effective template is put into practice.
What this means is that we get to experience the world of the Doctor through the eyes of a single, clearly identifiable audience surrogate. Through Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, we get to see the joy and wonder of a police box being bigger on the inside, apprehension as someone takes their first tentative steps out onto an alien world, and a tangible sense of relief when everything works out in the end.
It’s a full blooded, unapologetic and intensely human approach, and one Russell T Davies would use to even greater effect in his relaunch of the show in 2005. As for the story itself, Colony is, in many ways, a standard colonialists-in-space story, albeit one suffused with Hulke’s strong left-wing politics at its core.
The planet of Uxarieus contains a rich deposit of minerals that the ruthlessly expansionary Interplanetary Mining Corporation are desperate to get their hands on. Unfortunately for the IMC, their path to a claim on these mineral deposits is blocked by the small matter of a bunch of Earth colonists who’ve already settled there, and have made a claim of their own on the deposits.
Locked in a bitter stalemate, these two groups are awaiting the arrival of an adjudicator from Earth, who will broker the dispute and decide whose claim will be upheld.
To complicate matters further, the Doctor and Jo have been sent to the planet by the Time Lords to deal with the Master. It turns out that the Doctor’s arch-enemy has stolen secret files revealing the location of an ancient doomsday weapon buried beneath Uxarieus, and it’s up to the Doctor to try and stop him before it’s too late.
Despite its very by-the-numbers story, Colony is enlivened by a combination of confident direction by newcomer Michael Briant, the excellent use of a Cornish quarry as the surface of Uxarieus, and the sterling work of a uniformly strong cast.
As ever, Pertwee and Manning are on strong form throughout, while the always reliable Roger Delgado is hugely watchable as the brilliantly seductive Master. However, it’s the supporting players that Colony employs which give the story added weight.
Actors of the calibre of Bernard Kay and Morris Perry, who are terrific as IMC employees Caldwell and Dent, give the production a real edge and earthiness, which more than makes up for some of the dodgy effects, slack pacing and stodgy dialogue.
While Colony In Space is not at the level of the stories that Briant would go on to direct (his work on The Green Death and The Robots Of Death are two of the classic series’ absolute highlights), it’s still an enjoyable story which showcases many of the strengths of this era of the show, despite being hamstrung by some of its weaknesses.
The extras here are somewhat on the meagre side compared to recent releases, with only an audio commentary and a behind-the-scenes documentary offering any real added value to the disc.
Thankfully, while the quantity of extras is small, the quality is high. The documentary, IMC Needs You! is a fun and entertaining piece, while the commentary track is one of the finest that 2Entertain has ever put together.
Featuring contributions from Michael Briant, Katy Manning, Terrance Dicks, assistant floor manager Graeme Harper, and guest stars Bernard Kay and Morris Perry, it’s pithy and pointed, and expertly moderated by comedian Toby Hadoke. It’s well worth a listen.