Doctor Who – The Krotons (1969)

krotonsEvery year a race who call themselves the Gonds select their two best students to become the “companions” of the Krotons, which is considered a great honor. Outside the Gonds’ city, the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive, seeing a desolate world with twin suns. Despite his companions’ reluctance, the Doctor insists they set out to explore. They stumble across a Gond being disintegrated in a machine. Next they come across a group of Gonds, where one, Thara, is struggling to stop his lover Vana from being sent to the Krotons. The Doctor recognizes the door as resembling the one that led into the deadly machine. Unable to stop Vana from going to the door, they and Thara rush out into what the Gonds call “the wastleland” to try to find her. They save Vana from being destroyed, but she’s in a catatonic state. After taking Vana’s unconscious form to the home of Thara’s father, a Gond leader named Silras, he explained to the Doctor and the companions that the custom of submitting two of their smartest young people to the Krotons started a thousand years ago, when according to legend the Krotons came from the sky and were attacked by the Gonds. The war ended when the Krotons brought down a poison rain that devastated most of the planet. The Gonds consider the Krotons to be their benefactors, who have set up machines that see to all of their needs and education, but no one has seen a Kroton in millennia. However, after explanation time the Doctor and Silras realize too late that Thara and a group of rebellious students have started smashing the Krotons’ machines in the city’s main hall.  The Doctor arrives on the scene, only to be terrorized by, well, a probe (there’s no way to make that sentence sound less than filthy).

Zoe tests herself on one of the machines and in a trance tells the Doctor that she knows the Krotons are “very pleased” with her. The Doctor is dismayed when the Gonds want to have Zoe sent to them and takes the test for himself to make sure he can accompany Zoe. After being assured by Silras that his people will “always remember him,” the Doctor and Zoe go to meet the Krotons. Inside the Krotons’ lair, the Dynatrope, Zoe and the Doctor find themselves having their mental energy siphoned off. Thanks to not being subjected to a lifetime of brainwashing like the Gonds, however, the Doctor and Zoe are able to rush through the Dynatrope, taking some liquid to analyze later, and escape. Jamie breaks in after them, only to wind up the Krotons’ latest test subject. Under the Krotons’ mental conditioning, Jamie blurts out about the TARDIS.

Jamie learns that there are only two Krotons. They are an immortal crystaline species who have been trying to collect enough mental energy into the Dynatrope, which is their ship. In a run-in with one of the Krotons in the wasteland, the Doctor figures out that the Krotons cannot see in the light and rely on directions from their partner inside the Dynatrope. Meanwhile a power struggle among the Gonds ends with the ambitious Eelek coming to power. Eelek agrees to the Krotons’ demands that they hand over the “high brains”, meaning the Doctor and Zoe. Forced into the Dynatrope by Eelek and his supporters, the Krotons demand that the Doctor and Zoe use their mental energy to help fuel and pilot the Dynatrope back to the Kroton homeworld. Unfortunately for the Krotons, the Doctor was able to analyze a way to contaminate the Krotons’ energy supply  with sulfuric acid and Zoe manages to do so while the Krotons are explaining why they need some “high brains.”  Thara and Vana use sulfuric acid to destroy the entire Dynatrope, while the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe slip away.

Choice Quotes

“Yes, well, Zoe is something of a genius.  It can be very irritating at times.”
-The Doctor

Continuity

It’s when the Second Doctor says “Oh my giddy aunt”, which still gets erroneously remembered as his catchphrase.

This is the first time an episode was written by Robert Holmes, who would go on to easily become the most famous scriptwriter who ever worked on the show besides Douglas Adams. Ironically enough, Holmes’ relationship with “Doctor Who” started as something of an accident. “The Krotons” was actually a heavily reworked idea he had for his own serial that he pitched to the BBC and got rejected. Someone suggested he take the idea to the producers of “Doctor Who”, who rejected it againuntil the script was found years later when an assistant script editor was clearing the script backlog. And even then it didn’t get produced until it was needed for an emergency replacement for an episode that got axed!

Comments

It’s the debut of “Who” legend Robert Holmes as the scriptwriter and it’s…okay.

From what I’ve read, the script got some major overhauling from whatever Holmes originally envisioned into a “Doctor Who” episode, but you can still see the scars from that surgery. There’s a complicated political subplot with the Gonds that suggests something deeper, but it all feels really compressed (especially when a couple of characters key to the plot seem to pop up out of nowhere) and ends up just being why the Doctor and Zoe get stuck on the Dynatrope. It has the effect of making these episodes, a short series by the standards of this era of the show, feel like they’re treading air.

A real missed opportunity was the monsters du jour, the titular Krotons themselves, who really bring to mind the giant Servo from MST3K. I get this was an emergency replacement so we couldn’t expect too much, but, given how many details the episode gives about the Krotons being truly alien, they’re really a missed opportunity. Instead of the sheer weirdness of the Animus from “The Web Planet,” we just get what comes across as yet another second-rate replacement for the Daleks.

For all that, there is a certain weight to the story that makes it believe that this still came from one of the best writers to work on the show. The setting has a little more depth than what we usually see, even if the characters can’t agree if the Krotons had been around for a thousand years or thousands of years. Appropriately enough for Holmes who would become famous for hammering in a message into his episodes, there does seem to be an interesting theme in here, about a society that literally sacrifices its brightest for the self-interest of a couple of war-loving goons it wrongly sees as its benefactors. I bet it’s no accident that you can easily read all of that into the Doctor’s struggle against two bulky cousins of Tom Servo.

Trash Cultural Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapter 16

So Barbara becomes Batgirl, and it’s as random in the book as it is in the movie. There’s no explanation about why Alfred’s AI clone would bother with recruiting Barbara, especially since she doesn’t really have that much training. I mean, it’s one thing to be good at gymnastics and racing motorcycles, it’s another thing to have the ability to defend oneself from gunfire. The thing that I can’t help but keep harping on is that Barbara just doesn’t fit into the story at all.batgirl2

It doesn’t help that Batgirl doesn’t have much of a personality. Really, she comes out of the proud tradition of ’80s/’90s female characters who, forced into a narrative that’s a sausage fest, are just generically “strong.” To Friedman’s credit, he does flesh out Batgirl a little bit more by having her rail against Bruce and Dick’s apparent neglect of Alfred (of course, even with the reader having the privileged information that Bruce and Dick are vigilantes, she still looks kind of justified).

Really, the best way to make Batgirl fit at all would have required a total rebuilding of the script, having Batgirl as a bigger part of the narrative, an outsider POV who gets dragged into the world of Batman and Robin. Maybe she just starts out as an amateur vigilante inspired by Batman’s heroics, or she has a loved one who needs a cure to Poison Ivy’s poison, or she happens to have an item or information that Mr. Freeze wants. Let’s face it, most options would be better than “An AI clone of her dying uncle arbitrarily decides she should have her own Bat-costume.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze and Bane take over Gotham Observatory, which does lead to one of my favorite moments in the book, even if it highlights all the just complaints fans have about Bane’s portrayal in the movie:

[Freeze] looked up at Bane.  “Big family?”
Bane just stared at him through the slits in his mask.
“Like pets?”
Still no answer. Just that stare.

Sure, it’s jokey, but who wouldn’t love a scene of supervillains making awkward small talk?

To distract the heroes away from Mr. Freeze’s preparations, Poison Ivy has unleashed a Robin signal leading to her hideout. We think Robin has taken the bait, but of course Batman was able to invoke the Power of Friendship to convince him of the painfully obvious fact that he’s been brainwashed by Poison Ivy. Another point in Friedman’s favor is that he manages to make it not just about Batman and Robin being equal partners like in the movie but about Batman’s own trust issues, but…well, it’s still Batman & Robin.

Robin sets up Poison Ivy with rubber lips, which, well, always struck me as an unnecessary risk that has no point except setting up a dumb cliffhanger. Did Robin really need the confirmation from Poison Ivy loudly bragging that she had just murdered him after their kiss? Well, actually, I can see this incarnation of Robin being that dumb, so point taken, Batman & Robin. Rubber lips or not, Poison Ivy is still able to pretty effectively slow down Batman and Robin with her mutant vines. She’s about to rejoin Mr. Freeze, when Batgirl pops in and delivers a pretty smug speech, even by the standards of superhero-contra-supervillain screeds.

“Using feminine wiles to get what you want,” the newcomer snapped. “Trading on your looks. Exploiting men’s weakness for sex. Read a book, sister. That passive-aggressive crap went out twenty years ago. Chicks like you give women a bad name.”

Harsh words from a character who totally benefits from the Smurfette Principle, Batgirl.

For some reason, in this version Batgirl dispatches Poison Ivy by pulling her hair and giving her a knee to the face, rather than just kicking her in the midsection like in the movie. Either way, Poison Ivy is pretty easily defeated, a fitting end to a completely declawed classic member of Batman’s rogues gallery.

Potential (or Actual?) Ways I Can Be Like George Costanza

georgecostanzaFor us neurotic, unsuccessful, unhappy people, George Costanza is a realistic role model. But how much am I really like Costanza, or how much can I be like George?

The result of much honest soul-searching, here are the top things George Costanza has done that I can easily imagine myself doing (or…that I have already done?):

  • Buy a used car just because the salesman suggested a celebrity owned it
  • Eat a block of cheese half-naked (or, let’s face it, naked)
  • Pretend an argument and a rage-quitting with my boss never happened (in fact, I think pretending an argument never happened is why one of my romantic relationships ended!)
  • Encourage my parents to move just to get more of a buffer zone
  • Urinate in a public place
  • Cheat on an IQ test
  • Alternate between thinking I’m a failure as a writer and wondering why I’m not as successful as, say, Thomas Pynchon
  • Fake a religious conversion for personal gain
  • Stay in a bad relationship out of spite toward someone who said it wouldn’t last
  • Get upset when a friend takes credit for a favor I did
  • Try covert tactics to passive aggressively get out of a relationship
  • Have a sexual relationship with an erotic component based entirely on the history of warfare and violence between our nationalities/ethnicities (oh wait, that’s Larry David…)