Doctor Who: Colony In Space (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros have brushed up on their Venusian Aikido to review this...
With the early part of Jon Pertwee's time on Doctor Who, the master-stroke of altering the tried-and-tested format to have the time-travelling hero exiled to Earth was seemingly starting to wear a little thin even into Pertwee's second season, and by the penultimate story of season eight, it was decided for The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) to have an extraterrestrial adventure.
Though the Third Doctor was still in exile on Earth, this did not necessarily mean that he could have his chain yanked by the Time Lords now and again; following a series of negative sightings of The Master, The Doctor and Jo are transported far into the future, to the planet of Uxareius, where they discover that a small struggling Earth colony is under threat from the IMC, a huge mining company who is determined to have the rich supply of minerals that an overpopulated Earth desperately needs and will stop at nothing to get it, irrespective of the feelings of the primitive indigenous life-forms, or the colonists, who are hoping that the timely arrival of an Adjudicator will help their plight. The Adjudicator is not all he appears to be, however, and the subterranean remnants of the ancient race on the planet are of far more interest to him than the comparatively petty land squabbles going on the surface...
Though it was written by the usually reliable Malcolm ("Mac") Hulke, Colony in Space doesn't really represent the Jon Pertwee era at its best; we have long had a negative opinion of the story, as it was one of the numerous ones that we watched during an extensive "mopping up" operation, which consisted of viewing the omnibus editions of Doctor Who stories about seven-odd years ago on UKGold (or whatever it was called back then) and seeing so many stories in such a ridiculously short space of time became something of a chore and certainly seemed to colour our opinion of Pertwee's time on the show. Doctor Who was originally broadcast in episodic form and omnibus editions rarely - in our opinion, anyway - do anything to improve the story. This is the first time that we have seen Colony in Space (a story that we had regarded as being amongst the very worst stories in the show's history) the way it was intended, has it changed our opinion of it?
The short answer is yes - the story could still have been told much more effectively in four episodes instead of six, but the extra two episodes do not seem to harm the story in the way that it has a detrimental effect upon many other longer stories in the Letts/Dicks era of Doctor Who. The cliff-hanger to episode two is almost identical to that of episode one, only with the additional threat of a weapon being aimed at The Doctor.
Though The Master's reasons for being on the planet are not explained until the final episode, it's a pretty good reason and it gives Delgado's character a greater sense of menace to the universe than he had previously been allowed to have; there are some wonderful moments between Pertwee and Delgado in episode six that really give the viewer a peek into the relationship that the two of them share. The Doctor is offered a sizeable share in potential rule of the universe and Pertwee really delivers the goods during this scene, almost being tempted by the offer, but ultimately rejecting it and spelling out precisely why he refuses - it's a combination of great writing and acting on Pertwee's part (not to mention the always-wonderful Delgado, who has a brand of evil that is wonderfully seductive).
When the TARDIS dematerialises for the first time in a good couple of years, it doesn't actually fade away, it just seems to pop off - it also pops into existence when it reaches its destination; could this have been because it was under the control of the Time Lords and not The Doctor? Could have it have been that the mixing desk was acting up when the studio filming took place? Or was it simply that it had been so long since the effect was last done, that they had forgotten how to do it?
Jo Grant gets to take her first trip in the TARDIS and sees the inside of it for the first time, having to honour the obligation about being taken aback by it being bigger on the inside than on the outside. The TARDIS interior looks fairly similar to how it did during the end of the Patrick Troughton era - including the backdrop with the painted roundels on it. What's interesting to note is that although Jo has been with the Doctor on several adventures and heard all about his time and space-hopping exploits, when she finally finds herself taken out of her own place in time and space, she acts as though she didn't believe him, as though he was some eccentric fellow human who told pretty detailed tall tales.
If we were to go nit-picking for inconsistencies, this is the only time (as far as we can recall, but we are sure there are some who will be able to confirm or deny this) that the TARDIS' inner doors open with the sound effect that was heard for other spaceship doors during the sixties (especially in Power of the Daleks). There is one moment where Pertwee comes perilously close to saying the Star Trek mission statement of exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations, but manages to carefully tap-dance around a potential lawsuit.
Because this is a six-part story, there is a lot of twisting and turning in the fortunes of the protagonists, going through a lot of "the colonists have the upper hand", then "IMC have the upper hand", lather, rinse, repeat. a fair amount of this could have been cut out, making it a leaner story, but the emphasis was on keeping costs down during this time (hence the decision to exile The Doctor), and so longer stories were the norm, regardless of the fact that the length generally harmed the stories.
Nicholas Courtney is briefly on hand, giving bookend appearances that almost seem to scream out "contractual obligation", and when The Doctor and Jo disappear in the TARDIS, his somewhat lacklustre delivery of the line "come back here at once" seems to bear this out, but it makes sense later in the story.
The IMC machines are pretty impressive creations, being fairly manoeuvrable and more functional than the War Machines that came before them and the cleaner robots that came years later in Paradise Towers. The IMC machine cut a fairly menacing swathe across the landscape and are even pretty menacing, which is helped immensely because they are pretty nippy and agile; they're pretty sturdily-constructed and don't look as though they'll break apart if they bump into the set.
Whilst it's nice to see the interior of The Master's TARDIS - complete with restraining capsules capable of being flooded with deadly gas, not to mention the cool red doors - the exterior (disguised to look like the Adjudicator’s space-ship), is a bit of a let-down, mainly when it is seen landing as you can almost feel that there is a stagehand holding one of the wings off-camera to manoeuvre the thing into the final landing position.
The natives of the planet are an odd bunch, ranging from green-skinned, lizard-like primitives that have some telepathic powers (and looking like a bunch of the Havoc team in silly costumes waiting for Pertwee to do them in with his Venusian Aikido), to the elder, more ancient members that have evolved and are equipped with huge brains and highly developed telepathic abilities. The latter ones include one such elder that has evolved to such an extent that it now has a huge brain and a scrawny, useless body - much in the way that the human race is probably going to go with the continual development of internet and entertainment systems...
Jon Pertwee seemed to thrive when working from a script with a storyline to sink his teeth into, and the concept of standing up for the underdogs against a ruthless corporation certainly provides Pertwee with enough dramatic material to really do his thing; in the commentary for Day of the Daleks, Terrance Dicks said something derogatory about Pertwee's acting abilities - OK, he used the same gestures and mannerisms over and over again, but when he needed to display gravitas, he was more than capable of doing so, delivering suppressed rage in a manner that echoed William Hartnell. Pertwee really thrives in Colony in Space, allowing him to show the Doctor's humanity (don't get us started on the whole TVM "half-human" crap, please!), and defending those who have no possible way of defending themselves.
Roger Delgado gives another wonderfully knowing performance as The Master; Delgado was born to play the part and - in our opinion - no other actor has come close to properly combining that same mixture of sincerity, playfulness and downright evil that Delgado put into his performances. Here, The Master is masquerading as an Adjudicator and this adds an extra level to his character, as so much is at stake on the planet and both the colonists and the members of IMC are hoping that the Adjudicator will rule in their favour, with neither side really believing that the man might actually be an impostor. The reality is that The Master couldn't give a toss about the comparatively petty squabbles of the two sides, and the real reason for his appearance on Uxareius will pose a far greater problem than an argument over territory.
John Ringham returns to Doctor Who for Colony in Space - he had previously appeared in the cracking Hartnell story, The Aztecs; here Ringham plays Ashe, the leader of the colony, and the actor imbues the character with a mixture of world-weariness and almost foolish optimism. Ringham was a good actor and has Ashe honestly thinking that the visiting Adjudicator will rule in the colonist's favour over the vast mining corporation, irrespective of whether or not the Adjudicator is the Doctor's nemesis in sheep's clothing...
If there is a stand-out member of the guest cast, it has to be Bernard Kay as Caldwell, who stands head and shoulders above anyone else; OK, most actors worth their salt can play a would-be villain who starts to see a situation from a different perspective, but Kay avoids the usual hand-wringing that most thesps would use to convey such conflicted emotions and every moment he is on the screen, taking Malcolm Hulke's dialogue and complimenting it with an extra layer that only a damn good actor can bring to a part. There is so much going on in Kay's eyes and you buy every second of it; he's SO good that he is able to effortlessly show up any inferior actor around him. Kay had appeared in three previous Doctor Who stories ( The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Crusade and The Faceless Ones), but Colony in Space remains his finest performance.
Special mention must go to Roy Skelton, who plays a character seemingly from another colony that had been ravaged by a huge lizard-like monster; for those people who only remember Skelton for his voiceover work as either Daleks or Zippy and George, this demonstrates that Mr Skelton was a bona fide actor, giving an impressive performance as a man even more slippery than an eel dipped in Vaseline and more dangerous than a freshly-oiled roller-skate at the top of a long flight of stairs.
Oh, and there's also What's-Her-Face from Coronation Street in a supporting role...
Episode six is far and away the best episode in this story, but - as mentioned earlier - the whole reason for this story is only revealed in the final episode (we won't say what it is, but if you check out the title that the novelisation went under - Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon - it gives you a pretty big clue...); it would have been better to have revealed The Master's motivation in episode five at least, maybe even earlier, as this was infinitely more interesting than the story involving a bunch of colonists. There are also some nice twists and turns during the last episodes, with deception and noble self-sacrifice amongst other things.
Even into the seventies, Doctor Who stories were not immune from being wiped by the BBC and Colony in Space was one such title that met with the flying eraser head. Though it not longer exists in PAL, an NTSC copy was returned to the BBC from Canada in the early eighties, making it possible to watch this story in colour and the Doctor Who Restoration Team have worked their usual magic upon it.
There is only so much that can be done to NTSC copies of stories; the Reverse Standards Conversion has obviously been applied, along with the usual fixing of flaws and print damage on the film sequences. There are some curious jumps (albeit very slight) in quality during the film sequences - we imagine it would be because some of the superior quality footage from the film trims was used where possible. We wish we could be more positive about how the resulting image looks - we will say that it is certainly better than the copy we watched on UK Gold several years back, and better than the version released on video - but this is probably one of the weaker-looking Doctor Who releases on DVD.
The audio certainly fares better than the video, with no real problems to report; the mono soundtrack is perfectly audible and problem-free. We initially thought there was some problem with sibilance, but quickly remembered which Doctor it was...
IMC Needs You!: Every bit as informative as other Doctor Who documentaries, this takes a look at the mixed bag which was Colony in Space, and the creative forces at work behind it. While the contributions from such production luminaries as Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts are brief, they are certainly informative, but it’s when the rest of those involved start talking that the funs begins.
Katy Manning details that Colony in Space made at about the time when revolutions of the sixties revealed that it wasn’t politicians or even the public whom ruled the world, but large corporations, playing to the “left-wing” sensibilities of Malcolm Hulke, a name which sat on the bookshelves of many fans before they even got a chance to see the stories he wrote. The depiction of women in the world had changed, and even though Jo Grant was essentially a happy-go-lucky dimwit, there were plans afoot to balance things out in the feminist world…
Well, we all know that some of the most ruthless types in business are women, and those behind the cameras recall how Hulke originally planned to utilise Women’s Lib and have the role of the vicious, cold-hearted Morgan played by a woman. This was all well and good until Ronnie Marsh (Head of BBS Serials) told Dicks that having a woman parading around and unleashing bloodbaths was “kinky”, and the role reverted back to being a man. This is the same projection of ones’ own sexual proclivities as was exhibited by the infamous former head of the BBFC John Trevellyn: if it turns him on, it’s out! Noble intentions of equality obviously mean nothing to censor with a boner, it seems. Polly - get us a cuppa, love…
Being ordered about by those in charge was to be a breeze in comparison, as the perils of filming in the St Austell quarries in Cornwall are rolled out, with the production choosing the worst month to film in location: February. The rains came and turned the ground to a clay-like substance, leaving everyone whom ventured into them stuck fast, to the point where Manning recalls how Pertwee would go dashing off during a scene, only to find his faithful assistant rooted to the spot behind him, making flatulent noises as she fruitlessly effected her escape.
Director Michael Briant notes that he wanted to keep away from all recognisable cars and trucks for the IMC crafts, rather than resorting to the easy option of Land-Rovers. Once and future Doctor Who legend Graeme Harper (at that time floor manager) came to the rescue with the brand new Haflinger vehicles, which looked genuinely like other-worldly, industrial machinery. Only managing to snag a couple of them for the production, they were given the trucks on the proviso that they come back without a scratch. One huge, careless boulder smashed against it later cost the BBC a fortune to put right, but we all knew that was coming. “But it does look good,” assures Briant…
The ever-reliable Manning is a riot as she remembers the first time she and Pertwee saw the Mark 3 mining robots, as they both experienced the weird combination of amusement and befuddlement, turning to each other and simultaneously exclaiming: “What the...????” More damning tales of the ‘bots are to be found, but we won’t spoiler them for you. As for the attack of the killer port-a-loo, well it’s clearly a monster which should have had its own story at some point during Pertwee’s earthbound adventures.
It’s another winner from the guys, and all in the usual pleasing style, and is something which assures each Doctor Who release gets an equal shake of the stick upon release - those brought out too early are “re-visited”, anyway. There are revelations and japes to spare, as well as the final anecdote which involves Briant and an emotional screening of Hello Dolly! Watch and enjoy…
From the Cutting Room Floor: A chunk of this is taken up with Petwee’s battle with the Primitives, with many different shots, angles and unused takes, including when the Bouffant’d One has trouble trying to keep at straight face during a close-up during the scrap. Vehicles not starting up on cue, Roger Delgado accidentally firing his gun as he gets out of said IMC vehicle, quarry trucks accidentally driving into shot, it‘s a potent combination of illuminating, hilarious and fascinating. Ever wanted to see the close-up of Episode three’s off-camera line: “Don‘t bother, I got him for you…”? Well, here’s your golden opportunity. This is pretty damn good, and offers another peek behind the curtain in a way which seems more valuable than always tripping over episodes of Doctor Who Confidential.
Audio Commentary: Gathering together an impressive selection of those involved, this happy track includes (at various stages) actors Katy Manning, Bernard Kay and Morris Perry, along with director Michael Briant, Terrance Dicks and Graeme Harper. Keeping this motley crew together is none other than Toby Hadoke, so sit back as Colony in Space is dissected four decades later.
The subject of making sure you cast the right cast is discussed, coming across as something of a safety-net for anything on the project which is less-than-certain. Briant puts it both bluntly and succinctly: “…when you book quality actors, it actually lifts the show…the ability to say some sometimes dodgy lines with great sincerity and conviction.” Bernard Kay chips in with the very essence of just why thespians hate science fiction: “I think this is one of the things all actors have to do all the time, is to make rubbish sound reasonable”.
There is a real camaraderie among the various combinations of players on the commentary track, which is evidenced by when Manning gets an attack of the munchies at the start of Episode three. How about this: “Hello everybody, this is what Toby Hadoke sounds like when he’s hoping Katy Manning’s finished her biscuit…”. The erstwhile Miss Grant counters with: “Listen, whenever there’s food… I am an actress, therefore if there is food, I eat it while I can get at it, because you never know where the next meal‘s coming from!” It’s hard for actors to be pretentious when discussing a show with the Mark 3 mining robots, and the edge is taken off perfectly by a very happy gathering.
Whenever you listen to a commentary with Graeme Harper, you just can’t help coming away with a real appreciation for his abilities in the field. There have been many tales of how he’s a very hands-on director, but here he expounds how he lets the actors do what they need in order to get the best result, in effect allowing them do their jobs. It’s no wonder that he not only made the transition from Doctor Who to Nu-Who, but has been one of the very best directors on both version of the show. Oh, and he also earns extra points for taking the time to express how much he likes the original opening titles during the Pertwee era.
Pat Troughton fans are even catered for when an incident during the filming of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is revealed. Whilst on location in Spain, the opulent unit catering was the stuff of dreams, and to make the caterers happy, it was suggested to Troughton that he at least say “gracias” as a polite thank-you for such a glorious repast. The bull-headed former Doctor bluntly refused to do so, determined to speak only English: “…or not at all”.
There is much to enjoy here, and the fun is as infectious as a TB sanatorium; Hadoke makes a good job of keeping the most meandering of thespians firmly on track, something which is needed less with the technical staff, but then you really wouldn’t expect a floor manager to verbally wander off into an anecdote about sharing a dressing room with Larry Olivier. He fights the good fight against foggy memories, disinterest and derision, metaphorically poking them with a stick to keep things on topic. Turn on, tune in and have a damn good time.
Subtitle Production Notes: Ah yes, it’s always so poetic a pleasure to engage the Info Track and get another shot of the potent cocktail perfectly mixed every time, with a hefty shot of anecdotes from shooting, a glug of changes made during the various drafts, a zesty dash of the creative processes, and a delicate lacing of humour which has flavoured every other track. Not that we wrote this when needing a drink, of course…
One of the funniest items comes when endeavouring to explain the concept of Jim’ll Fix It - upon mention of the same combination of words in the script - to an audience whom might not have come across the show before. How about this: a request programme hosted by peculiar disc-jockey Jimmy Saville who fixed it so that viewers could fulfil their fantasies (on a BBC budget). Brilliant!
This is in no way sycophantic stuff, always willing to point out the goofs and flaws in the production, with a prime example being from the point where the Doctor and plant to infiltrate the IMC and when they actually make their way in. The track notes that the time has magically jumped forward to dawn, missing out the night, someone clearly not keeping tabs on when each scene is supposed to be set. “Doesn’t this story move fast?“, it practically sniggers.
It’s not all chuckles and picking out the flaws, as we’ve come to expect an IMC truckload of contextual information to put the story and the various points into context, and the supplies come through on times once again. It notes that “drumhead” proceedings (military courts) were a theme in Malcolm Hulke’s scripts, and explains some of the more reprehensible actions of the IMC personnel are based on the ways of the Old (Wild) West, where corrupt governors could make up their own laws, neatly disposing of opponents under the guise of legality. With the popularity of the western genre sinking back into the abyss again, it’s a blessing to have pertinent information like this for those who want to know more.
Remember that the IMC Needs You documentary told how Morgan was going a woman, but was vetoed? Well, as expected, the Info Track manages to dig out much more info on the subject, and reveals that 29 year old Susan Jameson was actually cast in the role, but was dismissed after Ronnie Marsh cracked a fat one over the issue. As a way of tipping the hat to the done-over actress, a photo of her appears on Ashe’s desk in the show.
There are acres of little bits about the production, and if anyone claims to already know every thing on here, they’re either a compulsive liar or desperately in need of natural light. It always niggles us that in the Press Release, these wonderful, scholarly companions to Doctor Who are merely described as “Production Subtitles” or some variation thereof, which much have caused confusion among some, mistaking them for the same thing as selecting page 888 on Ceefax or any other of the remaining teletext services. Other such text-based information options at least have the dignity of being called “Fact-Tracks”, and we feel that an update of the current description on the 2Entertain releases is more than overdue.
Photo Gallery: There are a number of portraits of the main cast, including a rather fetching one of Nick Courtney without that caterpillar crawling over his top lip. Plenty of Pertwee pics are there, with the obligatory ones of him doing something deeply heroic and athletic, and it’s interesting that a number of photos show inside the TARDIS, but this was probably a publicity drive to get back viewers whom had gotten tired of the lack of interstellar adventures. Alien species, goofy mining robots and a lot besides are to be found here, and all set to appropriately creepy sounds from the show. The standards are predictably upheld once again.
PDF Materials: Not just the episode listings from the Radio Times, as we are pleased to reveal that out suspicions were correct: they have also thrown in Frank Bellamy’s beautiful Colony in Space comic-strip which appeared in said publication. These are truly stunning, and it’s great that they will be seen and appreciated by fans far too young to have seen them first time around. One of us got an original copy of the book Timeview: The Complete Doctor Who Illustrations of Frank Bellamy as a present recently (thanks, Ham!) and now have even greater appreciation of the man’s work. View, enjoy, print, frame and cherish.
Coming Soon: After much speculation on the internet, the UNIT boxed set is not only confirmed, but on its way, and is handsomely promoted by this terrific trailer. Many have been very surprised to find that Invasion of the Dinosaurs has been included, with the troublesome episode one causing havoc to the releasing plans, but it’s accompanied by The Android Invasion, and will no doubt have the fans trying to rip a hole in time to get at set before it comes out! Wouldn’t it be deeply cool if the first 100 copies came with a free stick-on moustache?
If ever there was a Doctor Who story that was ripe for reappraisal, it's Colony in Space; when we first watched the story, we loathed it with a passion that was as unearthly as The Doctor himself, but viewing this restored version as it was originally intended, we were able to appreciate Colony in Space for what it was - an interesting (if slightly overlong) story, with good performances, especially Roger Delgado, and a satisfying climax.
The video quality may not exactly be up there with the best of the restoration work performed on Doctor Who stories, but this can be overlooked.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 3rd October 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: IMC Needs You! Audio Commentary, From The Cutting Room Floor, Info-Text, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Briant
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, John Ringham, Zippy & George
Length: 150 minutes
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