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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks

Doctor Who 3rd Doctor

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#1 Virgil Vox

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Posted 09 September 2019 - 08:35 PM

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I’m reviewing these two stories together because they do form one giant story, albeit with a very tenuous connection.

The Doctor and Jo arrive in Earth’s future, specifically the 26th century. Earth has a sprawling empire amongst the stars and exists in a state of cold war with the Draconian Empire. Tensions between the two empires are high because both sides believe the other side is attacking their ships.

The Doctor and Jo soon realize that it is the Ogrons, using technology that makes them look like humans or Draconians, that are attacking the ships. Their problem is that they can’t get anyone to believe them.

There is a lot to like in this story. The world building for Earth and the tensions with the Draconian Empire are well thought out and realized. Earth seems one step away from a military dictatorship and a lot of freedoms seem to have been curtailed. Political dissidents are sent to a prison colony on the moon with no hope for parole. Earth seems to have a tight grip on its colonies. Through news reports we see that citizens are itching for a war against the Draconians.

The Draconian design is rather good. Their society reminds me a bit of the Klingons, being based on honor with little bit of Vulcans mixed in since Draconians apparently never lie.

The political aspects of the story were engaing. We the audience know why the two empires are on the brink of war and can see why the Doctor is having such a hard time convincing anyone that they are being duped. Each side expects duplicitous behavior from their enemy and so aren’t willing to look beyond their own prejudices to see the true enemy.

It should come as no shock that it is the Master doing the duping. He has employed the Ogrons to start a war between the two empires and his plan is proceeding quite brilliantly. He employs his usual tricks like pretending to be an important official and using that position to get people to unwittingly do his bidding.

What makes this Master plan unique is that here the Master himself is simply a pawn. In a twist that I’m sure was shocking when it aired it is revealed that the Master is working for the Daleks. They want the war to weaken both empires and make it easier for their future conquest.

Roger Delgado is once again great as the Master. He brings his A game here and has some wonderful scenes with the Doctor and Jo. This is the last time Delgado would play the Master as he died a few months later.

I do want to praise Delgado and his portrayal of the Master. The Master was a brilliant creation since he gave the Doctor an equal to fight against. I think that is really appropriate for the 3rd Doctor, who hates authority figures and believes he is the smartest man anywhere he goes and he is usually right about that. Faced with the Master though he has someone who is a true equal, and in some ways better than him.

Delgado played the Master perfectly. It was a mixture of genuine menace, camp, and humor. You never quite knew what the Master might do next.

It is sad that he died when he still had a lot of life left in him.

The Daleks don’t have much to do here since they are introduced at the very end of this story.

The Doctor and Jo spend a lot of time in various cells in this story. They are locked up on two different ships, locked up by both the humans and Draconians, and locked up by the Ogrons.

There is a sweet scene between the Doctor and Jo where Jo is afraid of being mind probed. The Doctor tells her that as long as she tells the truth the probe can’t do anything to her and explains how he knows this. It is a nice scene that exemplifies the relationship between these two.

The Doctor goes for a spacewalk here and it looks rather good considering when it was made.

Jo shows just what a good companion she is in this story. The Master tries to use various forms of mind control on her and she is able to shrug them off. She is done being tricked by the Master.

The last episode of this story ends on a cliffhanger with the Doctor being shot in the head by the Master and collapsing in the TARDIS as it dematerializes to who knows where.

This leads us to the next story, Planet of the Daleks. The TARDIS has landed on a jungle like planet. The Doctor is out of commission so Jo takes the initiative to leave the TARDIS and try to see where they are and to see if she can find help.

It turns out they are on the planet Spiridon, which is under Dalek control. There is also a group of Thals there as well.

Long story short there is a giant Dalek invasion force in cryogenic suspension on the planet. The Daleks are planning to unleash chemical warfare on the universe using a bacteria found on the planet. It is up to the Doctor, Jo, and the Thals to put a stop to it.
This was an okay story. I found it weaker than Frontier in Space and not as strong as Day of the Daleks.

Part of that is the fact that the Daleks don’t seem like a big threat here. When Jo and some random Thals can grab a Dalek and shove them about and knock them over with the Dalek unable to do anything about it than your main enemy has lost a lot of menace.

The story also feels padded. It is probably a four episode story stretched out into a six episode story.

Then there are elements that make no sense. I don’t see why they had the natives of Spiridon be invisible. It doesn’t really add anything to the story. Heck, they walk around with giant purple fur coats for most of the story so it isn’t like the invisibility plays a large role. I guess it makes it easy on the budget since they don’t have to design a new race.

Invisible Daleks are introduced which could add an air of menace to the pepper pots but they are forgotten about pretty early on. It made me wonder what the point was. This felt like something that could make the Daleks an even bigger menace but they don’t factor into the plot at all.

It is also strange that the Master isn’t included in this story. He shoots the Doctor at the end of Frontier in Space and then just leaves. We never get to see him working alongside the Daleks which would have been awesome.

The Thal characters are interesting. They are for the most part pretty fleshed out and help the story instead of hindering it. I came to care about several of them over the course of the six episodes.

Something I appreciated was just how deadly the planet was. It added an unpleasant wrinkle for the Doctor, Jo, and the Thals as they work to stop the Daleks.

There is a wonderful scene in episode 4 where the Doctor and Jo (who have been separated this entire time and the Doctor thought Jo was dead) are finally reunited. The joy the two have of seeing each other again was great.

There is an anti-war message here which is fine but it seems kind of tacked on, especially when the Doctor kills a Dalek and says that it gave him a bit of a thrill even though he is a man of peace.

I just don’t have much to say about Planet of the Daleks. It wanted to be this epic Dalek story but it felt more like a bloated mess.

This also means the experiment of doing two six part stories that are loosely connected and making them a 12 part story was pretty uneven. The first half was good but the second half let it down. I wonder how this might have been if both Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks had each been four episodes instead of six. That would have trimmed the fat and might have made this more of a slam dunk.
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#2 Christopher

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Posted 09 September 2019 - 09:18 PM

View PostVirgil Vox, on 09 September 2019 - 08:35 PM, said:

The Doctor and Jo arrive in Earth’s future, specifically the 26th century. Earth has a sprawling empire amongst the stars and exists in a state of cold war with the Draconian Empire.


I'm disappointed that the show has never revisited this period in future history. There have been a few passing namedrops of the Draconians in the modern shows, but it'd be cool to see them return onscreen with an updated makeup (although the original was pretty good). Apparently there's been a lot done with them in the books and comics, though.




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The Draconian design is rather good. Their society reminds me a bit of the Klingons, being based on honor with little bit of Vulcans mixed in since Draconians apparently never lie.

Although this was 1973, and the Klingons didn't become redefined as an honor-driven culture until TNG in the late '80s. Of course, the "honorable warrior culture" is an old trope in fiction, often based on Orientalist conventions of the depiction of Asian culture. Given that the Draconians are (obviously) based on dragons, I wonder if there was an element of that here, though I don't remember if there was. (The identically named but humanoid Draconians of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had ship and costume designs meant to evoke Asian imagery such as samurai helmets.)



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Jo shows just what a good companion she is in this story. The Master tries to use various forms of mind control on her and she is able to shrug them off. She is done being tricked by the Master.

One of my favorite Jo moments. There was a time when fandom dismissed her as a weak companion compared to "tough" ones like Leela or Ace -- but how many other humans have ever been able to resist the Master's hypnosis? She could be incredibly strong when it counted. I'm glad more people have come around to my point of view since then.



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Part of that is the fact that the Daleks don’t seem like a big threat here. When Jo and some random Thals can grab a Dalek and shove them about and knock them over with the Dalek unable to do anything about it than your main enemy has lost a lot of menace.

Yeah, I think "Planet" is kind of infamous as one of the weakest, most formulaic Dalek stories.
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#3 RJDiogenes

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Posted 10 September 2019 - 06:52 PM

View PostVirgil Vox, on 09 September 2019 - 08:35 PM, said:

The last episode of this story ends on a cliffhanger with the Doctor being shot in the head by the Master and collapsing in the TARDIS as it dematerializes to who knows where.  
That's a pretty intense cliffhanger.  Was there any twist to the resolution, or did he just get better because he's a Time Lord?
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#4 Christopher

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Posted 10 September 2019 - 07:06 PM

View PostRJDiogenes, on 10 September 2019 - 06:52 PM, said:

That's a pretty intense cliffhanger.  Was there any twist to the resolution, or did he just get better because he's a Time Lord?

It was a grazing shot, but the Doctor needed to rest a while to recover, which led to Jo going out to explore on her own and getting separated from him. The consequences of that actually drove much of the story of "Planet of the Daleks." (Although he did heal pretty fast.)
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#5 Virgil Vox

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Posted 14 September 2019 - 03:18 PM

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Although this was 1973, and the Klingons didn't become redefined as an honor-driven culture until TNG in the late '80s. Of course, the "honorable warrior culture" is an old trope in fiction, often based on Orientalist conventions of the depiction of Asian culture. Given that the Draconians are (obviously) based on dragons, I wonder if there was an element of that here, though I don't remember if there was. (The identically named but humanoid Draconians of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had ship and costume designs meant to evoke Asian imagery such as samurai helmets.)

I always forget that the Klingons were different in TOS. TNG was my first real exposure to Trek so it tends to be my default when I think about the various races.

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One of my favorite Jo moments. There was a time when fandom dismissed her as a weak companion compared to "tough" ones like Leela or Ace -- but how many other humans have ever been able to resist the Master's hypnosis? She could be incredibly strong when it counted. I'm glad more people have come around to my point of view since then.

Jo may not be tough in the sense that she can throw punches and kicks but she is tough in her own way. She may be in a somewhat subservient role in her relationship with the Doctor (she was introduced as a person who would fetch him things) but she has no problem telling him or any of her superiors what is on her mind when she thinks they are doing something stupid. It makes me sad that a lot of the fandom apparently has a low opinion of the character.

Things like that are why I'm trying to avoid spoilers for the Classic era as best I can. I can go in fresh without knowing what is coming and without knowing the overall opinion of a companion or Doctor. There are obvious exceptions like the 4th Doctor and Sarah Jane. Otherwise I've been able to form my own opinions without being influenced by what fandom at large has to say.

I do know that Jo leaves at the end of this season and that saddens me. I have grown really attached to her (much like I was to Rose and Donna) and it is going be hard to say goodbye. I do plan on watching The Green Death this weekend so expect a review up soon.

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Yeah, I think "Planet" is kind of infamous as one of the weakest, most formulaic Dalek stories.

I'm not surprised. I think this is one story I won't watch again unless I'm doing a marathon.

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That's a pretty intense cliffhanger.  Was there any twist to the resolution, or did he just get better because he's a Time Lord?

What Christopher said. It was a really good cliffhanger and pretty unexpected. That cliffhanger and the consequences from it were some of the good parts in Planet of the Daleks.

Edited by Virgil Vox, 14 September 2019 - 03:19 PM.

"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders."
--Jor-El


It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job: it's a depression when you lose yours.
-- Harry S. Truman

#6 Christopher

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Posted 14 September 2019 - 04:00 PM

View PostVirgil Vox, on 14 September 2019 - 03:18 PM, said:

It makes me sad that a lot of the fandom apparently has a low opinion of the character.

As I said, I think that's been reassessed in recent decades, and she's now fondly remembered. Some people say Jo was a lot like Rose Tyler, though I don't quite see it.


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I do know that Jo leaves at the end of this season and that saddens me. I have grown really attached to her (much like I was to Rose and Donna) and it is going be hard to say goodbye. I do plan on watching The Green Death this weekend so expect a review up soon.

That one's a real tearjerker.


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That cliffhanger and the consequences from it were some of the good parts in Planet of the Daleks.

"Planet" contains one of my favorite Doctor quotes: "Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. ...It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway." Which isn't spoken to or about Jo, but which sums up for me why Jo was probably the most courageous companion ever.

Edited by Christopher, 14 September 2019 - 04:01 PM.

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