Wednesday, 20 June 2012

58: Colony In Space - It's Not Quite Avatar But It's Underrated

Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, Brigadier.
Monsters/Villains: Uxarieans, Captain Dent, IMC, Time Lords, The Master.
Brief Synopsis: The Time Lords deploy the Doctor to the planet Uxarieus to avert disaster, and he becomes embroiled in a struggle between the planet's Colonists and a powerful Mining Corporation.
Rating: 8/10.

Colony In Space is a story that doesn't get a lot of mention. It boasts a great cast, some interesting ideas and comparisons and three more big firsts for the Programme: The first non-earth-story for Pertwee's Doctor, as the Time Lords send him on a mission. The first visit to another planet for Jo Grant giving her a kind of subsidiary introductory story. And indeed the first alien planet in colour. It seems ironic, however that the quarry that stands in for the planet Uxarieus is presented for the most part in stark, colourless greys, and browns. My favourite Doctor Who writer, Malcolm Hulke is back at the helm and he doesn't disappoint. 
IMC's first attempt to scare the colonists away failed. I wonder why?
Colony In Space is Hulke's comment on the struggle between European Settlers and Native Americans. The comparisons are clear to see, the colonists from Earth in the year 2472 have come to Uxarieus seeking pastures new. They have escaped Earth which has become vastly over populated, polluted, and is under the control of a repressive government. Sound familiar?

The Prize for silliest haircut in Doctor Who history goes to
Morris Perry as IMC Captain Dent. I mean what is that?
Barely reaching subsistance level with their crops, the Colonists are trying to live in harmony with the planet's indigenous peoples they call primitives when the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) shows up claiming the mineral rights to the planet, with a plan to devour it's resources for their own profit, regardless of the primitives or colonists, leaving nothing but a gutted and desolate planet. This story is very anti big-corporations. IMC claim to want the planet's source of Duralinium, to build more desperately needed living complexes on Earth, but the Doctor argues that what Earth really needs is new planet's like this one.

Three Time Lords ruin the two surprising plot points!
The master makes an appearance in every story in season 8. In an attempt to make his presence more of a surprise, he doesn't turn up until the middle of this story, posing as an Earth Adjudicator send to solve the differences between the colonists and IMC. His true plan is to harness the power of a super weapon buried within the Uxariean City. However, this artifice is spoilt in the opening moments of the very first episode, when we see three Time Lords discussing the Master and a missing file on "The Doomsday Weapon." I really like this story a lot but it would have been distinctly improved if we had not known of the Master's involvement or why the Time Lords had sent the Doctor to Uxarieus. Then the Master's arrival and the reveal of his plans to utilize the Doomsday Weapon would have caught us more off guard.

The Master, with the Doomsday Weapon.
The Uxarieans represent the Native American's in this comparison. They created and tested the Doomsday Weapon, but never used it. It can cause any star in the universe to go supernova. Their culture began to decline, turning away from scientific achievement and entering into a kind of Dark Age. We even see a kind of cave-painting-like story of their decline around the walls in a room where the Doctor and Jo are kept prisoner. The story clearly argus the negative effect that too much technology or too much power can have on a civilisation.

I found myself wondering: what does this guy do the rest of
the time? Does he just sit behind his little wall waiting for
intergalactic aliens to trespass in his city, so he can scold them?
They evolved into three different species: the so-called Primitives, who had three fingers on each hand, striped green skin and carried long spears; the Priests, who had pale skin and large, ridged heads, and were nearly blind; and the small, pale Guardian who ruled over the underground city. As you can judge for yourself the design work on the Uxarieans isn't great, but the same designer had a chance to redeem himself when a few years later he worked on Death To The Daleks and created the appearance of the Exillons that were greatly superior.

An Uxariean Priest.
I want to take a moment to discuss the anomaly that is Jo Grant. I love her, but so far at least, she really doesn't get much to do. She doesn't do much for the role of the companion or women in her time, she merely acts as "someone to hold [the Doctor's] test tube and tell [him] how brilliant [he] is." And yet, I still warm to her. In this story she goes in to the TARDIS for the first time, she travel's in time and space and we learn that she hadn't ever believed the Doctor's stories. This is her fourth adventure with the Doctor, but it feels like her first, like she's undergone an overdue initiation or right of passage. Hopefully from here on in she'll have more to do. I've had the pleasure of meeting Katy Manning (Jo Grant) a few times and she is just such a loveable character. She may not have always had the best writing or character development, but she certainly did her very best with what she did have.

John Ringham as Ashe.
Colony In Space has a terrific cast, with John Ringham (who played Tlotoxl in The Aztecs and Josiah Blake in The Smugglers) making a return to the series as the colonist leader Ashe, the wonderfully evil  and hilariously haired Morris Perry as Captain Dent, an unusual on-screen appearance for Dalek Voice actor Roy Skelton as the IMC operative posing as a colonist Norton, an early job for Helen Worth of Coronation Street fame as Mary Ashe, and of course the return of the unrivalled Bernard Kay (Carl Tyler in Dalek Invasion of Earth, Saladin in The Crusade, and Inspector Crossland in The Faceless Ones) as the colonist sympathiser and IMC Mineralogist, Caldwell. Caldwell is certainly the closest likeness to John Smith of the Pocahontas story. Colony Is Space is not quite Avatar but it's underrated.

Bernard Kay as Caldwell.
It all ends for the best. Mostly. The Doomsday Weapon is destroyed by the Uxariean Guardian, The Master escapes, Ashe sacrifices himself to save the colonists who overpower Dent and his henchmen. With sufficient evidence of their illegal activity, they are confident the real Adjudicator will rule in their favour. The radiation from the Doomsday Weapon was the cause of their crop failures, and the Doctor assures the colonists that their future is now secure. The TARDIS returns the Doctor and Jo to UNIT seconds after they left. I love that we don't actually see everything totally resolved at the end. I definitely think that was a purposeful choice. The Colonists have beaten IMC, for now, and their crops should start to grow, hopefully the real Adjudicator will rule in their favour, but none of these are certainties. It isn't a lasting peace, because there's no such thing.

Look at the hair and beards on those Colonists.
Colony In Space feels like something that could actually happen one day. Hulke doesn't drive his point home as hard as he does in some of his other stories but this one certainly has a lot on offer and I maintain that, although it isn't the best story ever, it is one of the most underrated.

Join me next time for the British Hammer Horror inspired classic, The Dæmons.

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