Though by no means a classic adventure, the release of the 1968 second Doctor adventure, The Krotons can lay claim to being a record of a landmark story in Doctor Who’s now 49 year history.
By the late 1960s Doctor Who was a show in crisis. With its ratings falling, a lead actor disillusioned and exhausted by the punishing filming schedule, and both its producer, Peter Bryant, and script editor, Derrick Sherwin, looking to move on, it seemed increasingly likely that the BBC might pull the plug.
A show which had always struggled to find usable scripts, this became even more of a problem during Bryant and Sherwin’s tenure. Although a talented duo, who oversaw some genuine classic stories during their reign, this production team were notorious for canceling scripts at the last minute and then scrambling to find replacements.
Having only just joined the show and seen these recurring problems first hand, junior script editor, Terrance Dicks, persuaded his bosses to let him commission and develop a back-up serial in case any of the upcoming scripts fell through.
Reluctantly Bryant and Sherwin agreed and, in the process, unwittingly opened the door for Doctor Who’s greatest ever writer, Robert Holmes, to gain his first commission on the show.
Working up a four-part serial together, Holmes and Dicks’ first writer/editor collaboration was soon pressed into action when the scripts for an upcoming serial, Prison in Space, were deemed not fit to go into production.
Despite Holmes’ legendary status amongst Who fandom it would be wrong to say that the writer was delivering great things from the start as, in many ways, The Krotons is a pretty standard example of late 60s Who.
There’s a seemingly poisonous wasteland, a sealed off-world community, a hidden enemy, an embarrassingly naff-looking bunch of robots, and far too many supporting characters standing in dark rooms pontificating just that bit too earnestly.
However, despite the reliance on these recurring tropes, there is something about The Krotons that marks it out as being just a little bit different. Unsurprisingly, that something is Holmes himself.
A veteran of various 60s police dramas for both ITV and BBC 1, and a former policeman and journalist in his younger days, there’s a much greater sense of intensity to Holmes’ drama than many of his contemporaries work on the show, while his dialogue is sharper and more interesting.
This is particularly evident at the top of episode one where we’re introduced to the oppressed Gonds, their relationship to the Krotons and the broader premise of the show in what could easily be a dull info-dumping sequence.
Admittedly, these opening scenes are fairly unsubtle, but with minimum fuss Holmes manages to establish the pertinent characters and their relationships to each other, before moving the drama on with admirable efficiency.
The same can also be said of Holmes’ first scene with the Doctor (Troughton), Jamie (Fraser Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) as they walk across the unnamed planets barren surface. Reminiscent of the opening of his own later Fifth Doctor serial, The Caves of Androzani, this scene is very much a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, but it instantly marks out Holmes as someone who just gets the show straight out of the gate.
Filled with neat, yet character-heavy banter between Troughton, Hines and Padbury, it also deceptively delivers all the pertinent exposition needed without ever feeling labored. Neat, efficient, and sharp as a tack, it feels like the sort of scene Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat would write for any of the contemporary Doctors.
Despite all this talk of the writer, The Krotons is also notable for featuring contributions from other leading lights of the show’s coming golden age.
In front of camera, playing the villainous Eelek is TV stalwart Philip Madoc, while marshaling proceedings from behind is soon-to-be-legendary director, David Maloney.
Madoc, who only recently passed away, would appear in a further three Who stories, most notably as the scene stealing Solon in the Fourth Doctor adventure, The Brain of Morbius. A powerful and potent screen presence, Madoc brings life, intelligence and menace to the part of Eelek, mining his duplicity for all its worth, yet never once slipping into pantomime villain mode.
David Maloney, who would cement his reputation as a Who legend during the Tom Baker era, had already directed the Troughton era classic The Mind Robber and again does a more than decent job within the scheduling and production limitations of late 60s Who.
Most of his shot choices here are strong, he makes a virtue of the moody black and white photography and all three cliffhangers are suitably effective. As a former actor Maloney also makes sure that the cast play their parts with intensity and believability throughout.
While not in the same class as his work in the 70s on the Holmes written classics, The Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng Chiang, Maloney’s work here is still sharp and incisive and no doubt played a major role in his being chosen to handle the final story of the Second Doctor’s era, The War Games.
A workaday adventure, illuminated by a few choice performances and some interesting scenes, The Krotons is a story that’s hard to imagine anyone would call their favourite. However, despite its flaws, there are still many things to enjoy within its relatively brisk 90 minute running time.
Chief among these is the chance to see the wonderful Patrick Troughton, in one of his few surviving complete stories, showing us once again why for many people he’s still the definitive Doctor.
As for Robert Holmes, he would go on to write one more adventure for Troughton’s Doctor, 1969’s The Space Pirates, before blossoming into the Holmes we know and love with the 1970 classic, Spearhead From Space.
That story ushered in both Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor and the dawn of colour. However, just as significantly, it also showed a great writer finally clicking with the show he was working on, and nothing would ever be the same again.
As with most 60s era releases, The Krotons has a number of very well put together extra features that are worth your time.
Hewing to the recently adopted ‘Round Robin’ approach to commentaries, the audio track for The Krotons features contributions from a wide range of cast and crew, including actors Gilbert Wynn and the late Philip Madoc. Moderated with his usual wit and brio by comedian Toby Hadoke, the commentary is an entertaining and informative way to pass 90 minutes.
Equally entertaining is Doctor Who Stories – Fraser Hines. Recorded back in 2003 for the BBC’s Story of Doctor Who, the repurposing of this interview for this DVD is a welcome addition. A short, but eminently watchable piece, it finds Hines in suitably lugubrious mood talking about his relationship with the show from his joining in 1966 through to his return alongside Troughton for The Two Doctors in 1985 and beyond.
However, the main reason for buying this disc is for the fantastic Second Time Around documentary. Taking an in depth look at the entire Troughton era, it features contributions from actors Anneke Wills, Deborah Watling, Wendy Padbury, Fraser Hines, Derrick Sherwin, Terrance Dicks and new series writer Rob Shearman.
While the early period relies heavily on archive quotes from the now deceased producers Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant, as well as script editor Gerry Davis, the latter part of the Troughton era is well served thanks to the on-camera contributions of both Dicks and Sherwin.