Again, whenever Holmes focuses on the regulars the story just works. The Doctor telling Jamie, stuck under a door, that he’s getting fat, and their little comic exchange:
DOCTOR: How are you feeling?
Is wonderful. As is the moment where Zoe asks the Doctor if she can borrow his braces to strap Thara’s Leg. As is Jamie and Beta having fun making gallons of sulfuric acid. As is the climactic confrontation with the Krotons, where the Doctor and Zoe play for time by mucking around discussing where they want to stand as the increasingly irate Kroton leader loses its patience.
Sadly, whenever the elderly teenage rebels like Eelek take centre stage the script dies on it’s backside. This sub-plot is sub-par, seemingly just there to move the regulars into the right positions for the showdown with the Krotons. Holmes doesn’t even bother to give it a proper conclusion. Eelek just wanders off, and never reappears. The Gonds are among the most generic of all Doctor Who aliens – they don’t even have a half-baked culture like the Dulcians.
The Krotons, for all the flaws in their design, are quite fun. They live on soup, use mental power to fly their spaceship, and are much chattier than most of the second Doctor’s opponents. Later Holmes scripts generally pit the Doctor against talkative villains like the Master, Linx or Sharaz Jek whereas this era has mostly featured monsters that, if they talk at all, can barely string two hisses, buzzes or roars together. So it’s nice that Troughton gets to actually have some dialogue with the baddies rather than just blowing them up – even if it does turn out that the Krotons basically have the same backstory as the Dominators (and even fall into the same characterisation in this episode: the lieutenant keen to destroy, the leader to conserve power). Troughton’s performance is a bit evocative of Hartnell’s in these final scenes as well: defiant, and vaguely gesturing at the Krotons’ machinery (‘What is this thing?’).
The serial ends, in classic Troughton style, with the regulars slipping away, leaving the Gonds to contemplate their new reality. It’s sometimes called generic, but aside from Ian Stuart Black’s stories (planets ruled by elites that exploit the population from within their citadels) there hasn’t really been anything much like this before. Holmes will get much better, his scripts will get wittier, his secondary characters more vivid – but the elements that lead to his later classics are mostly present, in more than embryonic form, in this.
Next episode: The Seeds of Death