I wouldn’t say that the production of Season 16 has been a great leap forward for the show. It’s a massive improvement over Season 15, but there’s been nothing that looks quite as impressive as a Douglas Camfield or David Maloney serial. But there’s been a shift into that late 1970s BBC space opera aesthetic – capes, frocks, tunics, blouses – perfected by Blake’s 7 but very evident on Ribos, Tara, and even Zanak. Strangely, the first thing I notice about The Power of Kroll is it looks like a Pertwee story, with the occupying Earth Empire in space uniforms and the native “Swampies” green and loinclothed like refugees from Uxarieus. Even the Doctor and Romana are dressed less exotically than usual (the Doctor’s new coat, presumably a replacement for the grey tweed one, is very nice but it’s got no swirling velvet tails) Only Rohm-Dutt brings a bit of Han Solo to the party, and he’d still never make it as one of Blake’s crew.
This might be Robert Holmes’ least funny script. The crew of the refinery are a pretty dour bunch, debating the politics of the Sons of Earth as they practice apartheid on the relocated Delta Magnans. As K9 isn’t in this, John Leeson gets to actually be on camera, as the very earnest Mark Hamill lookalike Dugeen. Philip Madoc looks sour, and Neil McCarthy gets to play Thawn as the unashamed imperialist (eliciting a look of disgust from the Doctor when he talks about wiping out the Swampy settlement). All of this sounds like something from a Malcolm Hulke script. I like Malcolm Hulke a lot, but I suspect he would have enjoyed writing this more than Robert Holmes did.
So far, though it feels like a throwback, at least it’s a throwback to something that’s worked well in the past. I’m just not sure what the point of making it in 1978 is. It looks fine so far; there’s some night filming on a boat (which is only slightly undermined by the fact that we saw exactly this in the last episode of The Androids of Tara), there’s a hovercraft. The huge skies of Suffolk are very nice. They’ve made some effort to create a King Kong village on a Doctor Who budget.
Next episode: The Power of Kroll – Part Two