DOCTOR WHO AC!DThis is another boring one that I didn’t really know how to evaluate. I feel like I’ve seen this sort of story before, pretty much exactly, and I also feel like I’ve said this about some other episode of Doctor Who before. I’m losing track of where I’ve seen things in pulp sci-fi before, which could probably give you an idea of how this series left me. But I’ll try to evaluate it anyway.
After the more interesting Cybermen invasion, we get a closed-off community of human aliens who are stuck in a situation not unlike Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Before we see the TARDIS arrive, there’s a choosing ceremony where the Gonds pick their best and brightest to send to the Krotons. We know that this is a Bad Thing because a terrible actor tries to stop his girlfriend from going inside the machine, where nobody’s ever come out. I really can’t overstate how awful this guy’s acting is, even if you lower your expectations based on how cheap the show can be. When he’s angry at how his girlfriend has to be sacrificed, he acts like he’s directing his anger at her, like it’s somehow her fault, which I hope was not the intent of the scene. None of the Gonds prove to be interesting in the long run, which is the first strike against the serial.
The second is that I thought, based on the first one or two episodes, that there was going to be a more interesting twist than what actually happened. The Krotons are keeping the Gonds in a state of servitude, but it’s very hands-off. No living Gond has ever seen a Kroton, since they’re holed up in their ship. They interact with the Gonds by giving them orders through printouts indicating who they want, based on results in a room full of testing machines. There’s a moment in the second episode when, after the Doctor starts disrupting normal life and reveals that the Krotons have been killing the people they ask for, a camera on a thick, worm-like hose comes out of the wall to look at him. It identifies the Doctor as the main threat, but kills a random Gond in the scuffle and thinks it did its job eliminating the threat. What I thought was going on at that point is that the Krotons were all dead or never existed to begin with, and that their machinery was automated to carry out a cruel charade on people who thought that they were giving up people for a greater purpose. But instead of that route, we get actual, living Krotons, looking like boring boxbots when they’re supposed to be tellurium-based life forms.
The Krotons become less interesting once they reveal themselves, but when they explain themselves to the Doctor and Zoe, they caught my attention again, though not necessarily in a good way. During a military engagement, their ship got shot down and two of the four-man crew was killed. Because of reasons, the ship requires four highly intelligent pilots in mental synchronicity, so their only hope of ever getting off the planet was to try and create smart people in the Gond population, training them in whatever scientific disciplines wouldn’t give them a way to fight back against the Krotons. It’s honestly not a bad motivation for screwing around with the lives of a different species at a lower tech level, except for the fact that the Krotons keep killing people when they fail to pilot the ship!
Why are there so many aliens in the Doctor Who universe whose attitude to other species is haughty xenophobia? It’s only gotten noticeable when, as is the case here, it leads directly to their downfall. If the Krotons had just let their experimental subjects go and told the truth about everything except that the pilots they choose would probably be abducted and disposed of off-planet, they could have avoided the conflict presented here. Without all of the deaths to cover up, there’d be no reason for the Gonds to hate the Krotons and rise up against them. The Doctor would have probably still gotten involved, but maybe they could come to terms. But instead they treated the Gonds like dirt, and got acid poured into their breathing tanks. What a way to go.
In a more benign point of interest, the point about how the Krotons need intelligent people finds another way to make use of Zoe’s genius. Granted, it’s specifically book smarts, and it mostly happens to put her in danger, but she still scored higher than the Doctor himself on the Krotons’ math test. So she comes off looking worse than in “The Invasion”, but it at least fits into the narrative better than I expected it to.
Next time, the return of some other aliens who shot themselves in the foot by not playing nice with others. I’m not looking forward to it.