The Power of Kroll

DVD NTSC
Special Edition!
1-story disc
Region 1


for North America
DVD PAL

6-story set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC
NTSC
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 102,
5th adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • directed by Norman Stewart
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ ~25 minutes each
Story: Deep in the swamps of the moons of Delta Magna, natives struggle to maintain their claim on their land against the encroachments of space-faring Earthlings. The Doctor and Romana soon find the natives' legends may hold the secret to the identity of the fifth segment of the Key to Time, as the Doctor comes face to face with the biggest creature he's ever encountered...
The Key to Time
Special Edition!
6-story set
(7 discs)
NTSC Region 1


Special Edition and Region 2 DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Tom Baker (The Doctor) and John Leeson (Dugeen / Voice of K9).
  • "Variations" goes behind the scenes on location during the making of "The Power of Kroll" (6 min.),
    with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm (Romana), and a Delta Magnan native extra....
  • Doctor Who career retrospective interview of Mary Tamm (10 min.)
  • Doctor Who career retrospective interview of Philip Madoc (Fenner) (9 min.)
  • raw BW studio footage (11 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles by Richard Molesworth
  • Photo Gallery (5 min.)
For more details, visit the Key to Time DVD Comparison Chart.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


At last we come to the final story in Robert Holmes' great creative streak on Doctor Who. This compact four-parter is elegantly simple and fast-paced, yet also brings us some interesting social commentary on usurping native people from their lands, not to mention an entertaining monster antagonist with an intriguing backstory mystery.


Like many 1980's stories, this one is inexplicably bizarre in not beginning with the obvious exterior establishing shot that we need. It starts in a small metal room with three people in unknown uniforms, forcing one to listen closely to their dialogue to glean bits of information on who they are, where they are, and what they are all about. There are plenty of model shots of the refinery in the rest of the story, and there is plenty of time to kill in filling out the 25-minute episode, so one of those shots should have been brought forward to establish the setting. This is just one of those little things that contribute to Doctor Who not being as accessible and understandable to those outside of its protective public bubble in Britain and groups of die-hard fans around the rest of the world.

The TARDIS introduces the Doctor and Romana to the scene with a good materialization on location in the swamp. Since we've seen the interior in every story since "Horror of Fang Rock" (story no. 92), and since this is the fifth tale in the Key to Time arc, "The Power of Kroll" can easily get away without any TARDIS interiors. The "TARDIS-exterior-only" style of story always works much better as a variation than a norm.

K9's absence is also easy to get away with in the swamp setting, as none of the elements of this story really beg for his presence. And he did rather complain about being stranded in a boat at the end of the last story. It also gave John Leeson an opportunity to take on a different role, which is enjoyable to see. It is strange, however, that during the few scenes that he and Tom Baker have together, Leeson keeps his back to him and ignores the Doctor altogether, and then when the Doctor's not there, Leeson's character apparently seems to know the Doctor and his values well enough to stand up for him and defend him.

A few easy points for effects are lost: The model shots of the refinery obviously should have been overcranked to make it appear more like it was sitting in a large body of water instead of a bathtub, and to make it appear that it was made of something heavier than cardboard when Kroll whacks it with a tentacle. And the much-maligned all-too-obvious split screen effect could have been improved upon by using a soft-edge video wipe - Dave Chapman seems to have been good at these around this time, and the horizon of the swamp is flat enough that one should be able to get away with it, even if the top half of the film footage had already been accidentally masked off.

It is Dave Jervis who is in charge of electronic effects on this story, and although his minimal effects do not include the visual beams of laser fire that I usually look forward to, these are not critical to the telling of story. Jervis gives the story what it needs most, and apart from missing one opening establishing shot, "The Power of Kroll" has excellent visual literacy to make its story clear and entertaining.

Norman Stewart deserves an award for being the director who made the most significant and rapid improvement since working on the show the previous year, directing "Underworld" (story no. 96). In addition to his already great visual skills, he made sure to hire first rate guest actors, many of whom had proven themselves on Doctor Who before. With the return of Neil McCarthy, Philip Madoc, and John Abineri, and excellent new faces like Carl Rigg and Glyn Owen, coupled with a dialogue-rich character-based script from Robert Holmes, "The Power of Kroll" can easily boast the most serious acting performances of the season. Thoroughly enjoyable, even with only a little humour sprinkled on lightly.

Episode three sees the Doctor and friends occupied with the old prisoner dynamic almost all the way through, but the pace remains high thanks to the Doctor's continuing investigation into the history of the fifth segment, the uniqueness of his death-defying escape, and the cut-aways to the refinery that highlight the Kroll problem and the land issue with the swampies. Norman Stewart's decision to produce shorter episodes with extended reprises also helps keep the pace up a lot.

But in the end, I find myself wishing there had been more interaction between the Doctor and the refinery crew, who do not meet outside of the first and last episodes. Note also that a lot of the time the Doctor does have at the refinery is spent sneaking around behind the crew's backs - another unfortunate Holmes trait.

Despite the fact that the "People of the Lake" have a culture and religion that are fleshed out far more believably and interestingly than most of the boring black-arts cults of the Hinchcliffe era, the refinery crew ultimately prove to be more interesting and have more intrigue going on amongst themselves. Robert Holmes perhaps left too many interesting on-screen plot developments until the final episode, where there is no longer quite enough time to do them all justice. In particular, Thawn's confrontations with Rohm Dutt and Ranquin's tribe are too curtailed to have much impact or indeed be worth anticipating; we get just barely enough to satisfy the needs of keeping the plot clear. Don't blink, or you may miss something important. A lot happens in episode four, almost too much too fast.

In effect, Kroll does upstage the human villains in the final episode, and the Doctor is extremely busy putting out fires and solving problems, making up for some of the lack of action he might have suffered in earlier episodes. This busy pace works well, and the conclusion of this tale is one of the more exciting and striking ones of the season. And nicely, the Doctor himself gets to undertake the final, heroic, climactic act.


Ultimately, I think I prefer "The Ribos Operation" (story no. 98) for its higher level of humour, more grandiose costumes and set design, and for the nostalgia it brings me in kicking off the Key to Time arc and my own personal history of watching Doctor Who. Although I like "The Power of Kroll" a lot, I'm afraid it is only going to achieve second-last place in my rankings, beating "The Androids of Tara" (story no. 101) by its faster pace and by being more interesting repeat-viewing.



This story is the 5th adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest. It has become available on DVD and VHS video.

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
2009 Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.:
See boxed set below.
VHS Video
NTSC in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.
DVD NTSC Region 1
2002 release with limited extras
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

6-story full season boxed sets:
The Key to Time
2009 Special Edition
7 disc boxed set
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
The Key to Time
7 disc boxed set
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K., limited edition
for the U.K., 2009 re-issue
The Key to Time 6 DVD boxed set
2002 release with limited extras
NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada


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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next and final story
of the Key to Time season: "The Armageddon Factor"



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