by Mark Greig
Oh great, someone let Chris Bidmead back into the Doctor Who production office.
At the core of 'Frontios' is a rather gritty story about the Doctor helping a group of human colonists who are struggling to survive on a harsh planet under constant meteor bombardment. That is a 'Frontios' I would've liked to have seen more of. It would've been really refreshing to have a Doctor Who story where there was no traditional villain, save the harsh nature of the universe itself. As anyone who has seen Gravity or either versions of Cosmos can attest, outer space can be a fucking terrifying place, far more terrifying than any paper mache monster could ever be.
The reason we only get that 'Frontios' for one episode is because the men in charge of the show at this time were lazy hacks who played it safe because it involved less work, and Chris Bidmead, this story's writer, was someone incapable of turning good ideas into exciting stories. I've made my dislike of Bidmead's stories quite clear in the previous reviews. I find them too slow, overly serious, lacking anything resembling warmth or humour, and written by someone who probably thought they were too good for Doctor Who.
'Frontios' is the last story he wrote for the show and also the best, but that's only because the other two were so dull you could sell them as a cure for insomnia. Like Bidmead's previous efforts 'Frontios' is a good idea, buried under layer after layer of bad writing, endless padding, one dimensional characters, and his trademark "look how clever I am" technobabble gibberish. No wonder half the guest cast either ham it up or phone it in, the only exceptions being William Lucas (Range) and Lesley Dunlop (Norna).
The worst part of 'Frontios' is the Tractators, and this is not something you can blame Bidmead for. He didn't want to include a monster in this story because he thought Doctor Who monsters always looked cheap. But the powers that be overruled him, no doubt because John Nathan-Turner thought the harsh nature of the universe was not something that could be easily merchandised. But who would want to own a Tractator? They are terrible monsters. Not only do the costumes look horribly cheap, they are also completely impracticable. The actors inside clearly have no idea how they are supposed to move around in those things.
Another part of this story that bothers me is what exactly happened to the TARDIS. It is never explained how it was blown up and sunk beneath the surface. The Tractators didn't do it. They were unaware the Doctor had a TARDIS with him and, since they wanted it for themselves, never would've destroyed it even if they did. It seems to me that Bidmead wanted to create an exciting cliffhanger (the TARDIS has been destroyed!!! *cut to Peter Davison's face*) that robbed the Doctor of his faithful time machine, but couldn't be bothered to explain how.
Note and Quotes
--The helmets of the Frontios security forces were the same used by Federation troops in Blake's 7.
--Bidmead's writing of the Fifth Doctor seems at odds with how the character has been portrayed previously. He is less passive, more assertive, more snippy, more prone to anger and generally more rude.
--Mr Range was originally meant to be played by Peter Arne. Following a wardrobe test, Arne returned to his flat where he was bludgeoned to death by an unknown assailant. The role was quickly recast with William Lucas. The identity of Arne's killer and their motive remains a mystery.
--Tegan's outfit is totally impractical for Frontios.
--Once again no explanation is given for Kamelion's absence from this story.
The Doctor: "Not hat people are you? Either of you?"
The Doctor: "As an invasion weapon, you'd have to agree that it's about as offensive as a chicken vol-au-vent."
The Doctor: "Oh, marvellous. You're going to kill me. What a finely tuned response to the situation."
The Doctor: "What about the colony ship? Must have been brimming with gadgetry."
Range: "Oh, systems that could rebuild a civilisation for us. Failure-proof technology."
The Doctor: "What happened to it all?"
Range: "It failed."
Two and a half out of four hat stands.
Mark Greig is going deeper underground. There's too much panic in this town. More Mark Greig.