02 Sep 2003Colony In Space, by Paul Clarke
11 Dec 2006Colony In Space, by Robert Tymec

‘Colony in Space’ is generally regarded as the low point of Season Eight, but not by me. Whilst I do have criticisms of the story, I consider its good points to outweigh its bad ones, and although it is perhaps padded I don’t find it particularly dull as some fans seem to. 

I basically have three criticisms of ‘Colony in Space’. The first is the immediate revelation of the Master’s involvement in the first scene of episode one. Admittedly, given that he has appeared in every story of the season so far, it would be more of a surprise if he didn’t appear, but as the story stands he doesn’t turn up until episode four. Unfortunately, the Time Lords’ discussion in the very first scene make it clear that he is going to put in an appearance at some point, resulting in three episodes of waiting for him to arrive rather than enjoying the events leading up to that point. To add insult to injury, there is a pointless appearance by the Brigadier in which he discusses the Master with the Doctor and Jo. 

My second criticism is slightly more obscure, and it involves the Doctor’s attitude to the colony. From the moment that he meets Ashe, he encourages the colonists to fight to save the colony, first against the harsh conditions on the planet and later against IMC. Fair enough, but at no point does he even raise the issue of the colonists’ right to have landed on an inhabited planet without the permission of the indigent population. He takes an interest in the Primitives true, and it is made clear that the colonists generally get on well with them, but I still get a nagging feeling that the Doctor should care more about this issue.

Finally, there is the problem of Norton. He turns up mysteriously from a hitherto unsuspected colony at a time when things are going especially badly for the colonists, and just before IMC arrive, and continuously encourages them to leave Uxarieus. And they never suspect him! Even when the Doctor warns Winton to be wary of Norton, his warning goes unheeded, as a result of which Norton’s last act is ruin the colonists’ ambush in episode four. He’s so clearly suspicious that it beggars belief that none of the colonists seem to suspect him at all. 

Anyway, on to the good stuff. I’m a sucker for ancient races, super weapons and mysterious powerful alien races, so the doomsday weapon plotline immediately biases me in favour of ‘Colony in Space’. Although we learn very little about the Uxarians, their city is well realized, and they generally look quite good, especially the bloated, misshapen faces of the Primitives, the weird appearance of the Priests, and the horribly withered looking Guardian. We learn enough to tantalize me at least, and the revelation about the Crab Nebula is enough to convince the viewer that it would be an extremely bad idea for the Master to have access to the Doomsday Weapon. 

The Colonists versus IMC is hardly original, but again works quite well. This is due largely to Malcolm Hulke’s skill at characterisation; whilst not up to the standards of that in ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, it is still sufficient to grab interest. Representing IMC, we have Caldwell, Captain Dent, and Morgan. Caldwell, excellently portrayed by Bernard Kay in his fourth Doctor Who role, is simply a miner who wants to do his job, doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt, and eventually gives in to his conscience despite Dent’s bullying. In stark contrast we have Morgan (an unfortunately wooden performance from Tony Caunter), a sadistic thug who is basically in it for the violence. Finally there is Dent, who unlike Morgan is motivated not by vicious glee, but by profit. I rather like Morris Perry’s performance as Dent, although his hair rivals Bill Filer’s for silliest of the season. Dent is cold, calculating and ruthless, but lacks the sadism of his underling. True, after repeated setbacks by the colonists, he develops a desire for revenge, but he retains an air of icy impassivity throughout. This is effective in itself, but doubly so when contrasted with the bombastic charm of the main villain…

The colonists are represented primarily by Winton and Ashe. John Ringham is incapable of crap acting, and gives a solid performance as Ashe, who is idealistic almost to the point of stupidity, but has a touching naivety that gives the character the air of a kicked puppy throughout. Ashe is a man whose dreams and faith in mankind’s better nature are soundly thrashed throughout, until he eventually sacrifices himself heroically to save the colony that he loved so much. Every cloud has a silver lining though; his death spares him from having to listen to his daughter, as played by Helen Worth, an actress whose voice could shatter glass. Then again, as one of only two female colonists we actually get to see, she probably has plenty to be shrill about. Winton is far more pragmatic than Ashe and is competently portrayed by Nicholas Pennell, although I find the character’s impact is lessened by a moustache that puts me in mind of Swedish porn films. 

What really makes ‘Colony in Space’ stand out in my mind are the Doctor and the Master. Firstly, the Doctor alone is worth the price of admission; the change in his demeanour once he steps out the TARDIS onto an alien world for the first time since ‘The War Games’ (probably – there is a time and a place to discuss the Season 6B theory and this isn’t it) is noticeable and worth pointing out to Jon Pertwee’s detractors. The Doctor has been increasingly bad-tempered since the start of the season and his sheer delight at being able to step out onto another world is charming. There is a wonderful scene between the Doctor and Jo, who is understandably nervous at the thought of being on an alien planet for the first time, in which he explains how much it means to him to be able to visit other times and places. Whereas in other, Earthbound, stories the Doctor might have snapped at Jo or been generally short-tempered, here he is bubbling with infectious enthusiasm as the pair of them stand before the open TARDIS doors. It is a marvellous moment as his exile is briefly relaxed by Time Lord decree (the first time we get to see their manipulative side) and it is also crucial to Jo’s acceptance of what the TARDIS really represents; despite her anxiety, he convinces her to explore and she quickly befriends colonists and stands up to IMC thugs as well as she would have done on Earth.

As in the previous three stories, the relationship between the Master and the Doctor is particularly interesting. I’ve noted before that the Master keeps allowing himself to be easily distracted from killing the Doctor and often seems to almost want his approval, whereas the Doctor is far less tolerant of his foe. Here, this trend reaches its peak, as the Master offers the Doctor a half-share in the universe in one of my favourites scenes of the season in episode six. Significantly, there seem to be no strings; the Master has the upper hand and holds the Doctor at gunpoint. He simply does not need to bargain with the Doctor and therefore his offer is clearly genuine. Suddenly, what was suggested in the previous stories is laid bare here; for all their enmity, the Master really does want the Doctor’s approval and even, perhaps, his friendship. The Doctor on the other hand does not return the sentiment, as he makes clear by exasperatedly explaining that he only wants to see the universe, not rule it. The look of sheer fury that crosses the Master’s face at that moment smacks of disappointment and speaks volumes about just how highly he secretly regards the Doctor. It almost suggests that everything he’s done since ‘Terror of the Autons’ is attention seeking more than anything else; he might want power, but he wants the Doctor’s respect far more. 

That pretty much sums up ‘Colony in Space’. I have one or two minor criticisms that I didn’t mention above, but these are very trivial; Jo’s surprise that the TARDIS can move is one, since this story follows ‘The Claws of Axos’. Another is the fact that the Master took several security precautions after the Doctor stole his dematerialization circuit in ‘Terror of the Autons’. So why didn’t fit a lock with a metabolism detector like the one the Doctor’s TARDIS has in ‘Spearhead From Space’? The Doctor could probably break in anyway, since the Master broke into his TARDIS in ‘The Claws of Axos’, but it might slow him down a bit. Overall, ‘Colony in Space’ is generally regarded to be a bit of a turkey, but I really like it. This is almost ironic, given that the following story is often considered to be a true classic and the highlight of the Pertwee years, but for me is the Pertwee era’s equivalent of a steaming pile of horse manure.

Filters: Television Series 8 Third Doctor

It's odd that I enjoy Malcolme Hulke's work as much I do. "The Silurians" and "War Games" are great stories. Whereas "The Sea Devils" is not a story I'm all that fond of and "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" is, pretty-well, one of the worst stories of the Pertwee era. So, even though he's written two pretty bad stories - he's probably my second favourite writer in the whole series (Robert Holmes being my, and probably your, all-time favourite).

So, with all these "peaks and valleys" in Malcolme's submissions to the show, where does "Colony In Space" fit in? Very nicely in the middle of things. 

It is a painfully pedestrian story. It's not so much full of padding as it is just moving very slowly in places. Which isn't an entirely bad thing. We get a lot of nice characterisation in these slower moments. Particularly with Jo's first few moments in the TARDIS and the Doctor's excitement at being able to travel again. A very rich scene and probably one of the best "companion enters the TARDIS for the first time" moments that the show has ever created. This carries on throughout the story as we meet various colonists and IMC men. All the characters are given nice chances to develop and we become connected to them because of those moments. As slow as they may sometimes be. Even the cantankerous old engineer who's always fixing up the generator is someone we feel close to - even though he's barely around for an episode. And his tragic death affects us all the more because of well Hulke writes his characters. 

Quite naturally enough, the actors that were cast in these roles latch on to the rich characterisations quite well and give us some great interpretations because of it. Although I feel the leader of the colonists and IMC turn in the best performances in this one. Especially Captain Dent. In the wrong hands, he could have been a totally over-the-top mustache-twirling villain. Instead, there's some gorgeous subtlety to his villainy. He has a very cool exterior that makes him seem all the more menacing. He's manipulative and mean-spiritted, but this is all kept very much below the surface and only displayed ever-so-slightly in the delivery of his dialogue. Even in his moment of triumph in the final episode, he tears down the map on the wall with one quick snatch and then returns to his calm state. Very well-portrayed. 

It's also interesting to note that this is one of the few Hulke stories were the lines between "good" and "evil" are very clearly drawn. With most of his scripts, we saw a lot of humanity on both sides and the bad guys aren't so much bad as they are "misguided". Not so here. Things are even a bit "stilted". Particularly in the way Hulke has the Doctor take the colonist's side so quickly. It's interesting note that his villains are, of course, very indicative of "big corporation mentality" and it makes me think that Hulke obviously has some issues with big business since these are the only "true villains" he's ever written into a story. Still, even in this characterisation of evil, he gives us Caldwell - an IMC man who eventually finds his conscience and does the right thing in the end.

Now, we get to the Master. 

Okay, yeah, the Time Lords give away in the opening scene that he's involved in this whole thing, but I like that it was done that way. Especially since we've almost completely forgotten about the scene by the time he makes his appearance. And the way his appearance is set up makes it a very nice surprise. Probably one of his better surprise appearances in the history of the show. And given how often the Master does this, that's saying something! 

Here's where I diverge alot on popular fan opinion: I don't generally like the Delgado Master much. Yes, Ainley's Master does some wildly inconsistent things now and again but so does this incarnation. And, at least in the case of Ainley's Master, we can see that extending his life artificially has made him a bit nutty and we can justify some of this behaviour. In the case of the Delgado Master, we don't have that excuse. Still, even though his recurring appearances are getting a bit tiresome this far into the season, Hulke does one of the best jobs of crafting the Doctor's arch rival. It seems a little of out of place for him to suddenly offer a partnership to the Doctor for universal domination but, otherwise, I find the portrayal very smooth and consistent. Very much the way this particular incarnation of the Master should be conveyed even though that's not what we always got in the Delgado Master stories. I particularly like the way Hulke gives us a genuine look into the Master's philosophy of life during the final episode as he speaks of "either leading or serving". Very much the sort of thing Hulke does with his characters. He allows us into their heads. So that, even if we don't agree with them, we, at least, understand them. 

So, apart from the story moving just a bit too slowly in places, I have very little complaints. Some of the props are a bit too silly like having a tear-away calendar in the far-flung future or an entertainment screen aboard the IMC vessel that has curtains that draw back. Or the way all the guns are old-fashioned rifles or machine guns. But, really, this sort of thing is far too commonplace in the classic series for it to really merit much objection. It's one of those things a fan learns to "look past" in their overall evaluation of a story. Cause if a few silly props are going to mar your enjoyment of a Doctor Who story then you're watching the wrong T.V. show! 

So, in the final evaluation, I find myself agreeing very much with the other reviewer of this story. "Colony" is very much a gem in this season whereas I too, think "the Daemons" is a huge load of manure. Maybe I should get in touch with this guy - we'd probably have some very interesting chats!

Filters: Television Series 8 Third Doctor