Doctor Who episode 340: Frontier in Space – Episode Three (10/3/1973)
There’s a criticism of this story that the Doctor and Jo spend most of it about to be locked up, being locked up, or escaping from being locked up. Which feels slightly harsh given that sounds like the description of quite a high proportion of Doctor Who, but especially misplaced so far given each time the Doctor and Jo are incarcerated it helps to advance the story, introduce a new location or set of characters, and enables a space opera to be told on a BBC budget. It’s also interesting how, after their adventures in the miniscope destabilised the political situation on Inter Minor, the Doctor and Jo are acting as catalysts just by being present and telling the truth, as if the world they’ve arrived in has to change to accommodate them.
Here, General Williams’ paranoia and militancy are reinforced by the arrival of the two rogue elements. He has to try to force fit them into his spin on events. As the next Doctor points out, the very powerful alter the facts to fit the views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering. The Doctor’s stubborn insistence on being honest, which amusingly blows up the mind probe, drives Williams demented, causing him to threaten the President with a military coup and compelling her to take action to shore up her “strong and stable” credentials.
The power play between Williams and the President is quite fascinating. They almost behave like former lovers:
WILLIAMS: We used to be friends once. I know what’s happened has changed all that, but do you really think I’d betray you?
PRESIDENT: No. No, I’ve never doubted you. I’m sorry.
The episode shifts between Williams gaining the upper hand and forcing the President into breaking off diplomatic relations with Draconia (and maybe the scenes of anti-Draconian riots on the rather snazzy CSO viewing wall helped too), and then later the President using her knowledge of the constitution and the difference between Earth’s colonies and dominions enabling her to get one over on Williams.
The Commissioner of the Dominion of Sirius IV is, of course, another rogue element: the Master. Delgado swaggers in demanding that the Doctor and Jo are handed over to him – it doesn’t suit his own plans for them to be free to cause chaos. It’s quite fun that Delgado and Pertwee don’t meet in the episode. Instead, and in another mark of her increasing importance, it’s Jo who gets to confront him, quiz him about his plans, and finally prompt him to lose his temper (and go full-on Cockney heavy: ‘Do you really wish to vegetate in this hole for the rest of your natural?’).
The Doctor, meanwhile, has been deported to the Moon. Apparently, in the 26th Century political prisoners can be incarcerated without trial. The Doctor and Jo are stripped of their identities and their clothes, and stuck in bland judo wraps (‘Who are you fighting tonight? asks the Doctor), which is all very totalitarian. Expectedly, as soon as he gets to the Lunar Penal Colony the Doctor works out who’s the chief dissident, gains his confidence, and plots an audacious escape across the Moon’s surface. This is moving along as nicely as The War Games, and I’m really enjoying it.
Next episode: Frontier in Space – Episode Four