The Krotons [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my 50th birthday spending money and my Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #117)

The Krotons

Starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.
Companions:  Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot.
Written by Robert Holmes.  Directed by David Maloney.

Format:  4 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  December 1968 – January 1969 (Episodes 19-22 of Season 6)

When I first started watching Doctor Who in the mid-1980’s, The Krotons was one of only five Second Doctor stories that were available to see. As such it was one of my first exposures with that version of the character, when I enjoyed it at a convention I was attending. I have just watched it again, I believe for the first time.

Spoilers Ahead!

The Krotons is a story that doesn’t have a great reputation. The impression that I used to always get was that it was one of the weak spots of the era. As I got started with the adventure, I couldn’t really see where this negativity was coming from. Of course, there are the normal weaknesses in the production effects which were always an issue on Doctor Who, but if one could suspend some basic disbelief (and if you are not able to do that, then really, this is not the show for you) there are some very interesting concepts on display.

The story is about a race of humans called the Gonds, whose lives are completely dependent on the mysterious and never-seen Krotons–an alien intelligence that live within a huge machine called the Dynatrope. For generations the Krotons have been keeping the Gonds subservient, controlling their technology and education, with the brightest Gonds each year being “rewarded” by being chosen to become companions of the Krotons for the rest of their lives. But as the Doctor soon discovers, the rest of their lives are very short…the Krotons take from the Gonds what they want, and then immediately kill the people themselves.

It’s quite a dark concept that goes along with the intense mood of the first couple of episodes of the serial. A lot of this comes through the early visualization of what is going on inside the Dynatrope–no alien characters or personalities are visible, just an enigmatic and analytical computer of some sort, with a creepy snake-like eye that comes out to examine people. It’s one of the most palpably alien presences the show has ever delivered, especially up to that point.

Unfortunately, it all goes a bit downhill once the Krotons themselves are revealed. Not only do they look like second-rate Daleks, but they are the second second-rate that the show had introduced that seasons (after the Quarks in The Dominators). The Krotons are interesting looking but not scary, and their slightly grouchy personalities are more funny than anything else. At the same time, the story introduces a power struggle amongst the Gonds that is so unengaging that they don’t even bother to resolve it before the story ends (rather, one of the characters simply says that they’ll deal with that later).

In spite of these problems, there is a lot to enjoy in The Krotons. There is some very fun interplay between the Doctor and his companions, as the Doctor and Zoe basically compete for the higher score in the Kroton’s intelligence test. Jamie gets a really good fight scene near the start, and then some good stuff later as the “non-brainy” member of the TARDIS crew. And there are some neat ideas at work about the Gonds needing to learn to stand on their own two feet as a people.

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