In 1981, just as Tom Baker was leaving Doctor Who, the BBC launched a season of repeats called “The Five Faces of Doctor Who”: one four-parter a week for five weeks. The second of these, representing the Second Doctor, was The Krotons. (The others were the very first serial An Unearthly Child, The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters and Baker's swansong Logopolis.) Although the very first episode from 1963 had been repeated a week later due to widespread power cuts during its original transmission and The Evil of the Daleks had been repeated between Seasons Five and Six, as part of the series continuity to bring new companion Zoe (Wendy Padbury) up to speed as to what she might expect when travelling in the TARDIS. But apart from those, in the days before video recorders (which did exist, but were mainly rich men's toys) and certainly before VHS or even DVD allowed you to purchase your own copy, the expectation was that you watched Who when it was broadcast or you missed it altogether. In the Seventies, with shorter seasons, repeats became more frequent, either as cut-down omnibus versions (you can see an example on the DVD of Planet of the Spiders) or as the original episodic versions during the summer breaks. However, the BBC was bound by its agreement with the actors' union Equity, which permitted repeats only within a two-year window unless with Equity's permission. In 1974 this was changed, so that a certain number of “out of time” repeats were allowed without needing specific consent, at first so that a season of archive programmes could be shown as part of BBC Television's fortieth anniversary celebrations in 1976. For Who fans who knew the history of the show through books such as the tenth anniversary special from 1973 and through Target novelisations, the 1981 season of repeats was the first time we had had to watch Sixties Who. And as The Krotons was the only surviving Troughton four-parter in the archives (The Tomb of the Cybermen would not be recovered until the next year), it had to be the one to represent the Second Doctor.
The story has not had a great press ever since, being thought of as dull and drawn out, part of a two-story learning curve for writer Robert Holmes who would go on to be one of the show's best writers in the Seventies. As with the Hartnell story The Gunfighters, for example, fans tend to be down on it because it has the temerity to survive complete when some (apparent) all-time classics have just a single surviving episode if any at all. Many would happily swap it for a chance to see the five missing episodes of The Web of Fear or the completely absent, clips apart, Fury from the Deep.1981 was a significant year for another reason, as that year an issue of Doctor Who Magazine made public the sorry state of the BBC's archive holdings. So those stories we had read about, and read the novelisations of, were gone, probably forever. And it was the Troughton era which had been particularly badly hit. So. The Krotons had to represent the entire Troughton era, and it wasn't up to the task.
The TARDIS lands on a planet, with two suns in the sky and an atmosphere with the bad-egg smell of hydrogen sulphide. A humanoid race, the Gonds, are subject to the rule of the metallic Krotons, voiced by Roy Skelton and Patrick Tull in South African accents, apparently.as an attempt at political comment. (Lots of planets have a South Africa.) The Gonds who win an intelligence test are sent to the Krotons as “companions” - and are never seen again. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are in time to find out what actually does happen to them: execution. They save one Gond, Vana (Madeleine Miller) from her fate and try to persuade Gond leader Sekris (James Copeland) of their true situation.
The Krotons was a late replacement for Prison in Space a Dick Sharples script set on a planet where women rule, the Doctor and Jamie were imprisoned and Zoe brainwashed by the ruling women's libbers (to use the phrase of the time) and at the end having to be spanked by Jamie to her senses. It's no doubt merciful that this fell apart and script editor Terrance Dicks produced Robert Holmes's script in its place. Dicks had been cultivating Holmes, recognising his talent, and The Krotons became Holmes's first work for the show. Later in the same season, he wrote the six-parter The Space Pirates, of which only one episode survives and is usually reckoned as a deeply tedious space opera. The remaining episode (the second) can be seen on the Lost in Time box set and does little to belie the story's reputation. However, two stories and a show reboot later, he introduced the Third Doctor to the world in Spearhead from Space and the run of Holmes classics began.
Watching The Krotons now, thirty-one years later, being more used to Sixties Who thanks to video and DVD, it's possible to reassess it. It's certainly not an overlooked classic, but it has its merits. It's just under the middle rank, being decently made and acted but just not especially exciting. In retrospect it feels a little out of place. The previous serial The Invasion had started to put in place the producer Derrick Sherwin's plans to revamp Who for the next decade (exile to Earth, working with UNIT). The Krotons seems to be marking time for four episodes until that was able to happen. It was and is a middling serial in between two strong ones (it was followed by The Seeds of Death). One for the completist fan rather than the neophyte, then, but the DVD is as ever up to the usual standards.
The Krotons is released on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only, and has an audio-descriptive menu option. The serial itself carries a U certificate: the extras (probably a few scary clips in the "Second Time Around" featurette) up the package to a PG.
By the time The Krotons was made, Doctor Who had upgraded from 405-line to 625-line video, though still being produced in black and white. The first episode was one of the unusual ones to be recorded by video cameras but captured and edited on 35mm film. (Location work was shot on 16mm film as usual.) The remaining three episodes were transmitted from two-inch VTR tapes, which were wiped in July 1969, only six months after transmission. However, these episodes have always survived as 16mm telerecordings, used for sales overseas. All has been restored and the telerecordings have been VidFIREd to restore a video “look” to them. The result looks very good, better in fact than the 1981 broadcast which was from the telerecordings.
The soundtrack is mono, as per the original broadcast, clear and well-balanced as you would expect.. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. Also available are the invaluable information subtitles, provided here by Martin Wiggins.
The commentary is moderated by Toby Hadoke and begins with actors Richard Ireson, Philip Madoc and Gilbert Wynne, and make-up designer Sylvia James. Gilbert Wynne continues in Episode Two where he is joined by Brian Hodgson (sound effects), Bobi Bartlett (costime designer) and David Tilley.(assistant floor manager). Ireson and Madoc return for Episode Three (as their characters were offscreen in the past episode) where they join Bartlett and Tilley. The lineup for Episode Four is Hodgson, James, Madoc and Wynne. Hadoke does his usual able job of keeping ensuring such a large cast are able to have their say and to prompt forty-three-year-old memories. It's particularly valuable to hear Philip Madoc, as the commentary was recorded shortly before his death. The only obvious omissions are Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, who have featured on previous commentaries and presumably were not available this time. Then again, it was never Hines's favourite story. He'd been quite looking forward to Prison in Space...
There is no making-of featurette on this DVD. Instead, with only one other Second Doctor story yet to come to DVD (the incomplete The Ice Warriors) there is “Second Time Around” (52:23), an overview of Patrick Troughton's three years as the Doctor, beginning with the need to replace William Hartnell and ending with Derrick Sherwin's reboot of the show with the Doctor's exile to Earth. This featurette tends to fall into a story-by-story overview and is hampered slightly by two things: the fact that many of the key participants are dead and the fact that a large number of Troughton's episodes are missing from the archives. The former is overcome by text screens from past print interviews (with voiceovers). The latter is covered by the use of surviving material, including some shot-from-the-TV screen 8mm material. Interviewees include companion actiors Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Wendy Padbury, producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Terrance Dicks. Troughton appears by means of an archive interview (in which you can glimpse Jon Pertwee) and director Christopher Barry, writer/fan Robert Shearman, later script editor Gary Russell say their pieces. While this was in production, two previously lost Who episodes were rediscovered, one of them being a Troughton. So unless you were at either of the two (so far) public showings of the found episodes, or unless you watched it on its original broadcast, this is your first chance to see a clip from The Underwater Menace Episode 2, prior to its eventual release on DVD.
“Doctor Who Stories” is an occasional series of reminiscences (recorded in 2003) with key actors. This time it's Frazer Hines's turn (17:28). This is Part One, so presumably Part Two will follow when The Ice Warriors is released. Hines is a polished raconteur, and while you probably won't learn anything you didn't already know about his role in the show, it's a very pleasant listen.
“The Doctor's Strange Love: The Krotons” (7:18) features Simon Gond and Joe Gond (Guerrier and
Lidster to their nearest and dearest) who offer up a brief appreciation of this story and conclude that it's not as bad as it's made out to be. They don't like the title and suggest some replacements, though somehow, especially not in 1968-69, I can't see Doctor Who broadcasting a story called Kill the Students, can you?
The extras are concluded with a photo gallery (5:27), the Radio Times listings from the original broadcast in PDF format and a Coming Soon trailer for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1:05).