The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the planet of the Gonds. These people are living in subjugation to the Krotons, a conquering people whom they have only ever heard, never seen. Prevented from exploring the outside (“The Wasteland”) due to a poisonous gas released by the Krotons on their arrival, the Gonds receive all their knowledge from the Krotons in their Hall of Learning. As the Gonds use the Teaching Machines, the brightest of their students are summond by the Krotons to become their “partners.” They enter a doorway never to be seen again. Our heroes arrive in The Wasteland, though they suffer no ill effects. They also witness one of the students emerging from the door, only to be vaporized. Finding their way inside, they tell the Gonds what they have seen, and manage to convince them that the Krotons are not as benevolent as they have been led to believe. Angered by the deception, the Gonds want to strike back. But how can they fight an invisible menace when they have no knowledge of advanced weaponry, or even basic chemistry? It’s up to the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to either defeat the Krotons, or become their next “partners”…
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 four-part serial first aired at the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969. It has the distinction of being the first written by Robert Holmes, who went on to become arguably the best Who writer of the 1970s (maybe even of the whole Classic Series–I think so, anyway). It’s not a bad start, better than his next offering (“The Space Pirates”), but certainly not of the high caliber we will see from him later.
There’s some good world building and character development. The Gond society has a structure, and Holmes includes details about their way of life that the Doctor can use to help them. For example, he discovers there are significant gaps in the Gond’s knowledge. Given that they derive all they know from the Krotons, the Doctor suggests the key to defeating the Krotons is in what the Gond’s don’t know. In particular, chemistry. As it turns out, the Krotons are crystalline, made largely from tellurium, which is vulnerable to sulphuric acid. So there’s good reason why the Krotons haven’t allowed the Gonds knowledge of chemistry.
Conflict arises within the Gonds over how to rebel against the Krotons. There’s a power struggle, and one man, Eelek, played by the wonderful Welsh actor Philip Madoc, rises up to take control. At the beginning of the story, Eelek doesn’t seem to be that much of a threat, but as he gains support, his ruthlessness becomes apparent. He is willing to do whatever it takes, even hand over the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the Krotons, in the hope that this will save himself and his people. At the end of the story, the Krotons are dead, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have left, but Eelek is still alive. What to do with Eelek is a problem the other Gonds will still have to deal with–a loose end that Holmes is willing to let hang. Unusual for Who, but certainly more politically true to life.
There are great moments of dialog, and some good interaction between the Doctor and Zoe. The sequence when the Doctor takes a turn on one of the Learning Machines is funny, and so typically Second Doctor. As is the scene near the end where the Doctor and Zoe, captured by the Krotons, play for time by debating who stands where, and fiddling with headsets.
Initially, it seems this story doesn’t do Jamie’s self-esteem much good. His brain is considered “primitive” by the Krotons, and he is left to tend to one of the Gonds while the Doctor and Zoe go off to play brain games. But once again, Jamie shows his resourcefulness to escape the Krotons’ clutches, and inadvertently save the Doctor and Zoe. I also love the way the Doctor refers to Jamie’s mind as “undisciplined” rather than “primitive.” Not only is that less demeaning, it’s probably a lot more accurate. Jamie is far from stupid.
The biggest down-side to “The Krotons” is probably the Krotons themselves. The concept behind them is interesting: they only exist as a kind of crystalline soup in a tank until activated by the right kind of energy, which the Doctor and Zoe unwittingly provide. They then turn into these big, hulking geometric creatures with spinning heads. And South African accents. Frankly, not very intimidating (though, admittedly, they give the Quarks a run for their money). They would have been far more menacing, I think, if they’d stayed in their soup form with a disembodied voice.
I have to say, as I re-watch these episodes, I’m beginning to wonder if this TARDIS team might be one of the best the show has ever had. I wouldn’t count Zoe among my top five companions, but she really shines alongside the Doctor and Jamie. There’s such a good rapport between them, and their personalities balance each other well.
The DVD release of “The Krotons” comes with the usual commentary track and beautifully restored audio and video. It also includes a documentary retrospective on the Second Doctor, “Second Time Around,” which discusses the Troughton era, his stories, and both the fan and critical responses to them.
Maybe not an essential Who story, but certainly worth your time.