Structurally, Malcolm Hulke is trying to pull off the same trick with Colony in Space that he and Terrance Dicks managed brilliantly in The War Games: materially advance the plot each week, gradually peeling back the layers, and keeping things interesting through a series of reversals. The problem is that The War Games was melodramatic, with vivid characters, locations and fairly momentous revelations. Whereas Colony in Space has characters like David and Robert, a muddy quarry and some caves, and a very serious moral about corporate exploitation.
The other issue is that the reversals are too frequent, and don’t seem to be escalating enough. The IMC goons menace the colony; the colonists invade the ship and steal IMC’s weapons; IMC break into the colony and steal them back. As soon as the scales tip one way, they tip back the other. The Master hints he is going to find in favour of the colonists (so they show him the Primitive city), and Captain Dent investigates and almost immediately discovers he’s an impostor with none of the sizzling tension that made the War Chief and Security Chief’s relationship so fun.
Having introduced the Master and hinted at his plan, the episode would have worked better in focusing on him this week, and going light on the colonist/IMC plot. Instead, he slowly makes his way towards the Primitive city, pausing to pick up the Doctor (and take Jo as a hostage). There’s some business in the Master’s TARDIS (Jo and the Doctor have to wriggle under a security beam, which looks like imitable, playable fun for kids) but it only reiterates what we already know (although it’s quite fun to see inside another TARDIS and to be reminded they can change their shape).
Again, it’s not a washout, there is a sense of steady build up (the colonists are going to be forced off the planet in their decrepit spaceship, which adds to Caldwell’s increasing uneasiness about his own complicity), and lots of fun moments (like the Primitives waving their spears like they’re Tusken Raiders), but I get the sense there’s a much better story just out of Hulke’s reach.
Next episode: Colony in Space – Episode Six