In which the TARDIS materialises in a desolate wasteland, on a remote and obscure planet. Exploring, the Doctor and his companions come across a hexagonal doorway built into the rock. It appears to be made from some crystalline material. A young man emerges and is killed by a highly acidic gas. Nearby lies the city of the Gonds, dominated by a huge spherical structure. Each year, the two brightest students enter this - the Teaching Machine - where it is believed that they are transported to work with the Krotons. These are semi-legendary beings who visited the planet in the past. They created the wasteland, which is a forbidden zone for the Gonds. The Krotons departed - leaving the Teaching Machine, from which they gain all their knowledge. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive in the Hall of Learning just as the second of that year's students enters the machine - a young woman named Vana. They race back to the wasteland and rescue her from the gas. Examining her, the Doctor learns that her mental energy has been drained.
The Doctor must try to convince the Gond leader, Selris, that his brightest young people have been systematically destroyed by the Machine for generations, rather than transported to a better life. The only way to enter it is to pass the tests. Zoe sits the test and succeeds - forcing the Doctor to follow suit in order to join her. Anyone who fails to heed the summons is destroyed by a snake-like probe. They discover that the Machine is actually the Kroton spaceship - the Dynatrope. The creatures never left the planet. They went into hibernation, reverting to a liquid crystal state, until the mental energy of the Gonds could reanimate them. When their ship crashed, two of them were destroyed, and the craft needs four to pilot it. The mental energy absorbed from the Gonds should compensate for the loss of the missing crewmembers. The Doctor and Zoe have inadvertently reanimated them, and they appear as huge robotic creatures. The Doctor learns they are composed of tellurium. He and Zoe escape.
The Krotons demand their return or they will destroy the Gond city. Selris' rival for leadership, Eelek, decides to hand them over. The Doctor has realised that the Krotons have deliberately withheld certain knowledge from the Gonds - such as chemistry. He has the scientist Beta create an acid which acts against tellurium. He and Zoe are forced to return to the Dynatrope. Selris sacrifices himself to get the acid to them, and they introduce the liquid into the Krotons' systems - destroying them. The whole Dynatrope dissolves. The Gonds are now free to develop naturally, without alien influence.
This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and was broadcast between 28th December, 1968, and 18th January, 1969.
The only significant thing about it is that it is Holmes' first contribution to the programme. The story was originally a submission for the Out of the Unknown series (titled The Trap). As The Space Trap it was then submitted to Doctor Who in 1965 - again rejected. Script Editor Terrance Dicks found the script and thought it worthy of further development - mainly as a reserve in case another story fell through. This turned out to be the case. Dick Sharples' The Prison in Space (which would have seen a world dominated by leather-clad women, and Jamie in drag) was pulled, and The Krotons was a last minute replacement.
The story has never been held in very high regard - but perhaps we were saved from something much worse...
To be honest, it isn't terrible - just a bit workaday. Its biggest let down are the titular monsters. They are supposed to be creatures made of crystal, but appear on screen as lumbering 1950's B-movie robots - of the sort that could be home-made with egg cartons and cardboard boxes. The bases are just skirts. Indeed, it was a popular myth that the design derived from a Blue Peter design a monster competition. They can be impressive, however, when filmed in the gloom of their ship and shot from below. The voices (by Roy Skelton and Patrick Tull) have often been commented upon - as they appear to originate somewhere close to West Bromwich.
There are actually some quite good performances. It is a very good story for Patrick Troughton and Wendy Padbury. The scene in the Hall of Learning where the Doctor has to hurriedly pass the tests in order to join Zoe is a particular joy. Jamie is mostly side-lined.
Of the guest cast, it should be noted that this marks Philip Madoc's first appearance in the programme. He plays the treacherous Eelek. Other guest performances are nothing to write home about.
Selris is James Copeland (proving that all planets have a Scotland) and Beta is James Cairncross (who had been Stirling / Lemaître in The Reign of Terror).
Episode endings for this story are:
- Young Gonds are smashing up the Hall of Learning as the Doctor and Selris arrive. A snake-like probe emerges from the Teaching Machine and homes in on the Doctor.
- Jamie has been captured and subjected to the mind draining process. If he is not as intelligent as the Doctor and Jamie, it will kill him.
- Gonds are trying to undermine the foundations of the Dynatrope. The Doctor tries to stop them, but is buried by falling debris.
- With the Gonds now free to determine their own future, the Doctor and his companions depart.
Overall, an okay story, and we should be thankful that any of the Troughton stories survive complete. The Krotons has been looked at more closely in recent years when put into the context of the student riots of 1968.
Things you might like to know:
- Had The Prison in Space gone ahead, it would have been Frazer Hines' last appearance. He would have left, to be replaced by a new character named Nik.
- In this story we see the only deployment of the TARDIS "HADS" - Hostile Action Displacement System. This relocates the ship a safe distance when attacked. It also appears to put it back again later, as the travellers leave from the landing location rather than half way up a mountain.
- Despite their rather poor reputation, the Krotons have returned in both book form and audio - but never on television. They feature in Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies, and the BF audio imaginatively titled Return of the Krotons.
- There is a rather obvious gaffe at the end of part three, when Beta is both in his laboratory and under the Dynatrope at the same time.