The Time Lords are concerned. The Master has stolen files pertaining to a highly dangerous weapon, known as the “Doomsday Weapon.” Reluctantly, they agree to make use of the Doctor to investigate. Rather than sending a message, they take control of his TARDIS and temporarily release him from his exile, sending him, and unwitting passenger Jo Grant, to the planet Uxarieus. There the Doctor and Jo encounter a colony of people trying, and failing, to make a life for themselves away from the overcrowded and polluted Earth of 2472. To add to the colonists’ worries, the Intergalactic Mining Corporation is laying claim to the planet so they can excavate its precious minerals, particularly “duralinium.” Also there have been reports of giant reptiles, and giant claw marks on machinery. The Doctor is convinced someone is using trickery to scare the colonists away, but who’s responsible, and how can they be stopped, especially without evidence? When the colonists summon the assistance of an Adjudicator to settle the dispute between them and the IMC, the Doctor has high hopes the issue will be resolved–until he meets the Adjudicator…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
This six-part story was written by Malcolm Hulke, who weaves some hot political issues of the day into a story that thinly veils his left-wing politics. We have the colonists and their relationship with the “primitive” natives, clearly taking a jab at colonialism and the treatment of the natives. Then there’s the big, greedy, powerful corporation coming in to lay waste to the planet for its own profit, with no thought for the lives of either the natives or the newcomers. This won’t be the last time a writer uses Who as a vehicle for his or her social or political viewpoint. Thankfully, it’s usually done with a good story, so you can agree or disagree with the writer while still enjoying the show.
The Time Lords make their first appearance since “The War Games” to introduce the main story: the Master has stolen documents concerning the Doomsday Weapon. It’s interesting that for much of the story, this plot thread gets lost in the colonists struggle against IMC. The Doctor’s visit to the primitive city uncovers another layer, and a deeper history to the planet, that drops some subtle hints at what’s going on. Then the Master shows up, and, knowing what the Time Lords have told us, we know he has an agenda that involves the Doomsday Weapon. Another subtle hint is offered when the Master shows an interest in the old, primitive city. Of course, having stolen the documentation, he knows what he’s doing. Hulke draws the threads together when the Weapon is unveiled, and we find out it has been leaking radiation into the soil, which is why the colonists attempts at farming have been so disastrous. It’s a bit of a slow-burning plot, but if you stick with it, there’s a satisfying conclusion.
If “The Claws of Axos” was visually ground-breaking with its use of video effects, “Colony in Space” is quite the opposite. All the action takes place over a couple of sets, and there’s sparing use of video effects. It’s almost as if they blew the effects budget on “Claws,” and had to make do for “Colony.” But the story doesn’t demand a lot of video manipulation, though there are some good old traditional bangs and flashes, and plenty of action–particularly in the form of gun battles. It’s a little strange to see so much shooting and death (albeit bloodless) in Doctor Who, but this was the 1970s, and these were the kinds of games boys, especially, played in the school yard. I think we have a different sensibility about this kind of thing today which we have to suspend to appreciate Classic Who for what it was. All that to say, the show is pacy and interesting enough that the lack of effects doesn’t matter. The viewer can easily stay engaged for the entire six episodes.
The acting is good, though wonky at times–especially during the aforementioned gun battles. Maybe they played them down a bit so they would be more on the level of what kids would do at school, fearing kids would be traumatized it the battles were too realistic? I don’t know, but there’s no doubt the guns were firing blanks, and no-one was seriously hurt.
Overall, it’s a solid story, and worthy of a Whovian’s time. It’s Jo’s first adventure in the TARDIS–indeed, the first time Jo goes inside the TARDIS. She delivers the classic line, “It’s bigger on the inside,” and the Doctor gives the explanation: “It’s dimensionally transcendental.” When Jo asks what that means, the Doctor replies, “It’s bigger on the inside.” 🙂 So, not essential Who, but a fun way to spend a couple of hours that you won’t regret.