Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Colony in Space"


Aired April 10 - May 15, 1971

6 Episodes

Story 58

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Michael E. Briant



Synopsis


Upon discovering that the Master has stolen a secret file regarding a Doomsday Weapon, the Time Lords decide the use the Doctor as an unwitting agent. They will allow him to travel in time and space for the first time since he was exiled to Earth and use him to stop the Master's scheme. The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Jo to the planet Uxarieus in the 25th century. They encounter a group of colonists who are barely surviving on the planet. Their crops refuse to grow, they have a shaky relationship with the primitive indigenous people, and they are worried that the Interplanetary Mining Corporation may try to chase them off. 

Sure enough, the Doctor soon uncovers a plot by the IMC to do just that, as the company has discovered a plentiful deposit of duralinium exists on the planet. The mineral will provide much needed building material to a dangerously over-populated Earth. The IMC ship's crew will do anything, including murder, to force the colonists off-planet. However, the colonists don't have the resources to survive moving on, if they leave, they'll likely die. 

As he tries to resolve this conflict, the Doctor also learns that the indigenous Primitives and their High Priests worship a large machine tended by a creature called the Guardian. The primitives were not always so, they apparently at one point had a technologically advanced society. 

The colonists are pinning their hopes on the arrival of an Adjudicator from Earth to resolve their conflict with the IMC. When the Adjudicator arrives, however, the Doctor is shocked to discover it is in fact the Master. After hearing both sides, the Master rules in favour of the IMC, who promptly take over and begin the process of forcing the colonists off-world.


As the conflict between the colonists and the IMC gets more and more violent, the Master offers the colonial side hope in that, should the planet be classified as being of historical interest, he may have to reverse his decision. The colonists inform him of the Indigenous People, and the Master suggests that their society may qualify, as long as he can investigate. Learning that the Doctor is the only person who has been to their secret city, the Master forces him to take him there.


Once in the city, the Master tells the Doctor that the machine tended by the Guardian is in fact the Doomsday Weapon. The Master's plan is to seize the Weapon and rule the galaxy, even going so far as to offer the Doctor a role as co-ruler, tempting the Doctor with the idea that he could be a benevolent force. 


In the end, the Doctor convinces the Guardian to destroy the Weapon rather than let it fall into the Master's hands. The two Time Lords get clear just in time as the machine explodes, and the Master then escapes in his TARDIS. The colonists, meanwhile, attack the IMC men and force them to surrender. It is discovered that the ambient radiation from the Weapon was what was causing the failure of the colony's crops, and with its destruction, the colony should prosper.

The Doctor and Jo return to Earth, their brief adventure in time and space over…..for now.

Analysis

There are a handful of classic Doctor Who stories that I hadn't seen when I began this journey, and Colony in Space is one of them. It's hard to temper my excitement at seeing a new (to me) story and remain objective, but thankfully, this story made it easy.

Colony in Space is the Doctor Who equivalent of eating your vegetables. There's some worthy things going on in this story, and Malcolm Hulke was not only one of the best writers for the classic series, but also perhaps its most socially conscious. But this is the first story in over a year that sees the Doctor leave Earth and head off to an alien world, and this is the story we get? 

Once again, we get a Hulke story where, the Master aside, the motivations of the villains are relatable and multi-faceted. We get Morgan, the cruel thug who nonetheless is only capable of cruelty when protected. We get Dent, the greedy opportunist who hides behind the appearance of legality, and we get Caldwell, a good man trapped by weakness. Their villainy is variable, but it's never unrealistic cartoon super-villainy. These are people, and IMC is a company, that is totally recognizable to modern viewers. They can rationalize any behaviour, as long as it's in their interest. 

Their conflict with the colonists is representative of the power of corporations to bully and overpower the little people. And that's clearly a resonant theme. And Hulke is clearly passionate about it. If there's anything that is enjoyable about this story it's the issues that Hulke wants to tackle.

But none of the colonists are interesting at all. Winton is two-dimensional, and never given the fiery passion he needs by Nicholas Pennell. The superb John Ringham does what he can with Ashe, and manages to imbue him with a quiet decency , but it's a waste of that talent. Everybody else is a wet fish, frankly. The primitives are designed well, and that Guardian puppet is kind of awesome, but they're a device not characters, and never become interesting. 

The conflict itself may be dull and drab, but at least there's ideas there. Once the Master arrives, all that goes out the window, and Hulke's skill at creating complex motivations is sidelined in favour of the Master's typical villainy. It's not like the story was especially captivating before this, but once the Master arrives, anything that was interesting hits the back burner, and the story really becomes dull.

Jo doesn't do anything of much narrative importance, so she seems completely forgettable here. This is her first trip off-Earth, and they chose to send her to this crushingly drab place? I'm not sure what the production team was thinking.  

But even in a story this downright boring there's a glimmer of greatness. And that comes from  the performance of Bernard Kay as Caldwell. Just a few weeks before this post will be published, Kay passed away. He wasn't a famous actor by any stretch, but he was one of those actors who graced television screens for decades, giving great performances week in and week out. Actors like Kay are the backbone of television, their mere presence giving a project authenticity. His understated brilliance graced four Doctor Who stories; The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Crusade, The Faceless Ones and Colony In Space. He was amazing in each appearance. In this one, he gave this story the heart it needed. Caldwell goes on a real journey here, from reluctant company man to rebellious colonist. He plays a man who cannot rationalize anymore, who rediscovers his morality. That's the best thing about Colony in Space.

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