A new Doctor Who Blu-Ray set has dropped and that means it’s time for a random review from it! Colony in Space was the story that I hadn’t seen in the longest, but was it because it’s crap? No, not really! It has a bad reputation among fandom for being boring, but I don’t know if it’s just my love for the Third Doctor era, but I really enjoy it. It may be missing the UNIT team but it does at least have some great Doctor / Master scenes! Let’s take a look…
The Time Lords discover that the Master has stolen their secret file on a Doomsday Weapon. They grant the Doctor a temporary reprieve from his exile on Earth to deal with the crisis. He and Jo arrive on the planet Uxarieus and becomes caught in a struggle between a colony and a powerful mining corporation.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“Yes it was a tiny wooden box that is actually larger on the inside and can travel in time and space. Why was that so hard to believe?”
The setup is quite simple, though made more “exciting” by being set in space. You see The Doctor and Jo are sent to an alien world for reasons unknown (to them at the time) and there they find a colony of human settlers, they’ve picked a planet and set down some prefab houses but are having trouble with crops. Seems simple enough, until some colonists are killed by a giant lizard (otherwise known as footage of a regular lizard blown up to look massive…) and a survivor from another colony called Norton (Roy Skelton) arrives claiming his entire population were wiped out by a combination of giant lizards and the local natives that up to this point had been pretty docile to “our” colonists. This starts causing a rift between the head of the colony Ashe (John Ringham) and one of his top men in Winton (Nicholas Pennell) but we soon find out this was the plan all along as the IMC (Intergalactic Mining Corporation) have arrived on the planet and found it rich in resources so they’re trying to scare the colonists off the planet so they can claim full mining rights (though the killing was going a bit far…) The giant lizards are robots with an image projector, and Norton and his story are all fabricated as he is actually working for IMC.
The Doctor soon figures things out and meets the main trio of IMC characters: the heartless all-business leader Dent (Morris Perry), the cruel and always up-for-a-killing Morgan (Tony Caunter) and the head miner who is actually a nice guy and very much against the whole killing thing in Caldwell (Bernard Kay). What follows is a good series of back and forth action, with Dent trying to force the colonists out, Winton leading a bunch of colonists to take control of the IMC ship and its crew and procure evidence, and then an Adjudicator arrives from Earth to officially sort the issue out… only the Adjudicator looks a lot like Roger Delgado! Yes, despite this being on another planet, The Master appears again, as he does for every Season 8 story. As he arrives The Doctor is actually away in the “Primitive Ruins”, where he has to rescue Jo and sees that the primitives in question were once a highly advanced race that must have undergone a massive societal collapse. They get permission to leave by the tiny, weird… thing that leads them and arrive in time to find their old nemesis hanging out in the human colony.
“Behold my greatest invention! A sonic beard trimmer.” “So that’s how you keep that goatee. Well done old chap!”
The Master stirs up the two sides and then watches as they trade attacks again, the colonists assaulting and disarming the IMC, and then the IMC assaulting them and getting their guns back, forcing them off-planet knowing full well the ship they want to take off on will most likely explode. After a short delay the ship takes off and explodes mid-air, but as this happens the IMC lot are taken by the colonists again, including the satisfying death of Morgan. Turns out Ashe had taken the ship up by himself, a sacrifice to give the IMC a false sense of security to the other colonists can take them. While all this is happening The Doctor is forced to take The Master to the Primitive Ruins, where the latter informs his adversary / old friend that the old civilization had created a weapon that can literally destroy the star of any planetary system it wants. The Master tries to get his old friend in on the deal, offering him “half of the universe” and even says he’ll be happy to use to power for good, to create peace and eliminate hunger (not sure how threatening star systems with total destruction would eliminate hunger, but sure?), but despite a few moment of hesitation, The Doctor refuses.
The weird small… thing in charge appears and tells The Doctor how to initiate the self-destruct of the entire facility and the two Time Lords leg it, meeting Jo and friendly Caldwell on the way. The Master flees in his TARDIS and we hear that it was the weapon and its systems that were causing the crops not to grow, and that a real Adjudicator will be along shortly, so all seems like it will be going well from now on. The Doctor and Jo return to Earth in the TARDIS just a few seconds after they left, making the Brigadier think that it hadn’t worked at all…
Erm…. Yeah. Don’t know about the other “primitives” but I don’t think I’d be able to bow down to his guy without laughing….
For six parts it does keep the story going, with a major incident or two each episode, even if a lot of them are either the colonists or the IMC guys getting the upper hand on the other, only for their fortunes to reverse in the next episode. A lot of the characters are pretty paper thin in terms of character depth, and there’s a punch up in some claggy clay-like mud that was both unnecessary and weirdly long, presumably only because the episode was running short. So it’s not perfect, but I honestly don’t get the negativity. There are far more boring stories, even in the Third Doctor era.
There is obviously some serious “Native American” vibes going on, some colonists dealing with “savage primitives”, learning to work alongside them until some more industrious people arrive and start killing. It’s not very nice, but it was the early 70s… I’ve seen worse portrayals of the poor native people of what became America, let’s put it that way.
Jo and Caldwell happily watch a ship full of colonist explode in mid-air…. (Seriously, I couldn’t help but laugh when I grabbed this screenshot of literal moments before they react in horror!)
The Time Lords force The Doctor on a journey for the first time since exiling him in the Second Doctor’s last story “The War Games”, making this the first Third Doctor story on an alien world, Jo’s first visit to an alien planet, the first time we see The Master on a planet other than Earth and the first alien landscape filmed in colour… even if it does look oddly like a quarry on Earth…
The key to The Master’s TARDIS The Doctor has is the same one he stole in the Master’s debut story “Terror of the Autons”. The Adjudicators reappear in the Seventh Doctor’s “New Adventures” time period, specifically his companions Roz and Chris who debut in “Original Sin”.
“Look! It’s a whole universe for us to conquer” “That’s a single galaxy.” “Why must you ruin everything?”
I really enjoy Colony in Space, it keeps the story going, has enough happen each episode that the six episode pace doesn’t feel too slow, and it has more great Doctor / Master interaction, especially seeing the latter try and team up with his old friend rather than straight up kill him. While it’s obviously not perfect, I’m still always happy to stick it on.