The Krotons

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 47, starring Patrick Troughton)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • directed by David Maloney
  • produced by Peter Bryant
  • music/atmosphere tracks by Brian Hodgson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe visit a planet whose inhabitants regularly send their two brightest students into a crystalline machine to serve their unseen masters, the Krotons. Although the Doctor is suspicious of this process from the beginning, his concerns escalate when Zoe becomes the next new servant called into the machine....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Philip Madoc (Eelek), Gilbert Wynne (Thara), Richard Ireson (Axus), assistant floor manager David Tilley,
    make-up designer Sylvia James, costume designer Bobi Bartlett, and sound/music designer Brian Hodgson.
  • "Second Time Around" documentary (52 min.) on Patrick Troughton's Doctor, with Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe),
    Deborah Watling (Victoria), Anneke Wills (Polly), writer/script editors Terrance Dicks, Derrick Sherwin, and Victor Pemberton,
    and Troughton's debut director Christopher Barry.
  • 2003 interview of Frazer Hines, part one (17 min.)
  • "The Doctor's Strange Love - The Krotons" fan appreciation featurette (7 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Writer Robert Holmes often manages to elicit widely different opinions about many of his stories among fans of the show, and his debut story "The Krotons" is perhaps the most famous of all for this. There seem to be as many fans loving this one as there are denouncing it. For me "The Krotons" is a fairly average offering for season six, but if I have to jump down off of the fence, I would have to say that I'm among the fans who like this one. It most closely parallels "The Dominators" (story no. 44) as a straight hero story set on a distant planet, yet this slightly tighter production has greater repeat-viewing potential.

The opening shot is well-conceived, but the execution falters when the panel won't open correctly and Selris bumps his hand into it, a bad omen that must prompt many a viewer to keep a keen eye open for what else may be wrong with the story. Seek and ye shall find, for the acting appears a trifle stilted throughout the first scene. One must be fair, though; Robert Holmes has scripted the authoritarian ceremony of the first scene to be stiff and lacking in wisdom on purpose. The former policeman begins here to speak out against blindly accepting authority, a theme that will weave itself through many of his stories. Possibly drawing on his experience, the conflict is as raw as would be in any real situation when the heat of the moment gets the better of a person's reason; Holmes has yet to learn to inject this with deeper layers of character and make the conflict sing with the glow of fine art. The first scene works best in beginning a major theme and setting up the thrust of the main story beat for episode one.

The TARDIS materializes on location to the same sound as in "The Dominators", but thanks to the pre-filming having its own allotted week in the production schedules, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have a chance to come out and explore the gravel pit.... er, planet..... in a much more realistic way. The Doctor's curiosity is highlighted by the script and is enjoyable to watch as Patrick Troughton gives it his best, and Frazer Hines turns Jamie into the perfect upturned-nose foil. Brian Hodgson's electronic tones introducing the Gond City work much better than the corny model.

The plot comes together as our three time travellers first discover the back entrance to the Kroton machine. Robert Holmes gives this story its edge as a wonderfully crafted sci-fi mystery, and it is not just the Doctor's curiosity that gets him into this one, but his heroic impulse, and that of his companions. The answers to the mystery are also quite alien and unique, allowing the story to remain fresh longer than offerings on most other shows, or 60's Doctor Who. This is the concept that fuelled much of 70's Doctor Who, and won the program many of its awards for best TV writing. Holmes crystallizes it here first, literally. By the time the first heroic story beat has run its course, the Gonds and the time travellers have bonded and are focused on solving the mysteries of the Krotons, discovering their motives, and the audience is equally keen to get a look at them and the insides of their machine, and find out what sci-fi process happens there. The David Tennant story "Midnight" (story no. 201) can eat its heart out; this exploration of crystalline life blows it out of the water.

Some of the biggest drawbacks in the story are the arguments among the numerous humanoid characters.... very often these seem to be getting in the way of the story. The characters aren't quite drawn compellingly enough to understand what motivates their arguments half the time, and they often don't seem to have a point to make that doesn't feel contrived. The acting also tends to get overly theatrical and feel forced during such moments, and I can't help feeling "The Krotons" might have worked a bit better had the actors not always been in each other's faces so much, or so loudly. Mind you, these bits are balanced by some absolutely wonderful and witty ones, and with Philip Madoc and our three regulars giving really good performances, along with a nicely paced story with plentiful interaction, the adventure remains rich and varied. This is much better than "Midnight", whose arguments were more understandable but threw the investigations and plot right off the rails.

Jamie is once more needlessly obstructive in his part of the travellers explaining themselves. Why assume that the Gonds won't believe the travel potential of the TARDIS and the origins of the three regulars, particularly as this isn't a typical Earth society anyway? They've already accepted the alien nature of the Krotons. Jamie did better in "The Faceless Ones" (story no. 35). At least Zoe is more open-minded.

The character of Eelek seems to be scripted to be as obstructive as possible, whether it makes sense or not, but thankfully the role was masterfully played by Philip Madoc, making his first appearance in the television program itself. The mannerisms and emotional styles that he adds go a long way to fleshing out Eelek and hinting at hidden motivations that we will not have time to discover during this one story - very good job. James Copeland does a solid, okay performance of Selris; we can believe that he is well-meaning, often thoughtful, yet happiest when everyone fulfills their "proper" role in society. The character is capable of wrestling with new ideas for change, which is an enormous credit to him and the script. Copeland himself seems ready to wrestle in a more physical sense, maintaining the posture of a Monty Python Gumby through most of the story. The Krotons must have done a good job educating this one.

Gilbert Wynne's Thara is quite energetic, threatening to go over the top on a few occasions, but thankfully held in check most of the time. James Cairncross makes scientist Beta very watchable and enjoyable - ultimately my favourite performance amongst the Gonds. It's too bad he couldn't have got a more inspiring character name though.

The Gonds only provide half of the character exposition in this one. The Krotons and their technology are also investigated with lots of screen time, allowing BBC set, prop, costume, and audio-visual effects designers to showcase their work. The sound goes a long way to setting the atmosphere in this one, from Brian Hodgson's Kroton machine sounds, to a startlingly new and attention-grabbing pair of Kroton voices by Roy Skelton and Patrick Tull that bring a much needed menace to our new crystal villains. The Kroton machine and its various surprises work well, particularly the main one bridging episodes one and two which could have flopped badly under a less inspired director. Much criticism has been laid on the rather clumsy design of the Kroton costumes and their disproportionately sized weapons, but David Maloney really does make the best of this with careful camera angles and suggestive direction, and by the time the Krotons finally crystallize, the story is moving forward too well for them to be any hindrance.
Music by Brian Hodgson
"The Learning Hall",
"Entry into the Machine", "Sting",
"Machine and City Theme", and
"Kroton Theme" are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who
at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Volume 1:
The Early Years 1963-1969

More info & buying options

The conclusion of this one works fairly well, employing a number of often-used dynamics. In particular, the final confrontation does a nice job of revealing a few wonderful final clues and using humour to good effect while the drama remains suitably tense. For a more detailed discussion of these and other later plot developments, see the in-depth analysis version of this review.

It's easy to dismiss the innovations of "The Krotons" in light of later stories when these same dynamics became more polished, which is a bit of a shame, but let's face it, the story isn't perfect either. As Who goes, it's good, and there's much to enjoy and appreciate about it.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Seeds of Death"

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