Timestamp #133: Frontios

Doctor Who: Frontios
(4 episodes, s21e07-e10, 1984)

 

Base under siege… again.

An expedition is studying minerals underground when the mine shaft collapses around them, killing the team (and colony) leader, Captain Revere. Chief Orderly Brazen, head of security for the colony, swears the remaining members to secrecy. His scientific officer, Mr. Range, fervently disagrees.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is fidgeting, including obsessing over the placement of the hatstand. The time capsule drifts into orbit of Frontios, home to the survivors of human civilization after the Earth collided with the sun. The Doctor refuses to set down, fearing contamination of the civilization since it is on the edge of Gallifreyan knowledge, but the TARDIS is forced down by a meteor shower. The same meteor shower has bombarded the surface, and soon enough the travelers are engaged to help the injured. The Doctor is taken aback by the primitive state of the colony, and he asks Mr. Range to not speak of his influence on their society. Word of unidentified attacks piques the Doctor’s interest and he tosses aside the non-interference policy to lend a hand.

Word of the TARDIS’s arrival makes its way to the colony’s leader, Plantagenet (Captain Revere’s son, presumably named for the House of Plantagenet), and he muses that it may the beginning of a prophesied invasion.

Tegan and Turlough note that the TARDIS interior has deformed, but the Doctor doesn’t pay attention to their concerns. Tegan and Turlough offer to help solve the medical bay’s lighting problem with help from a colonist named Norna. The plan is to break into the nearby crashed colony ship and steal a jar of acid to amplify the chemical lights. They are interrupted by Plantagenet and Brazen, but after they leave the trio sneak into the ship.

Range explains their history to the Doctor: After the ship crashed, their technology was destroyed and the survivors spent the ensuing decade tilling the fields until the bombardments began. Plantagenet joins the discussion and expresses his doubts, and the Doctor warns that the constant paranoia will destroy what’s left of the colony. As a new series of bombardments begin, the trio of thieves bring the acid jar to the medical area and the Doctor suggests that they should depart, leaving the colonists to their own fates. Unfortunately, the bombardment strikes the TARDIS. All that is left is the hatstand in the rubble of the destroyed time capsule.

Wait… what?

Well, then.

The travelers are reeling from their loss, but are brought back to reality by the firing squad that surrounds them. Norna jumps to their defense, suggesting that if the Doctor is an invader, then he should remain alive to reveal the mystery of the bombardments. The colonial leadership decides to kill the Doctor until Turlough steps in with the hatstand to defend the Time Lord. The leadership relents and the Doctor agrees to analyze the meteorites and solve the mystery, but as Plantagenet attacks Turlough, he collapses and clutches his heart. The Doctor recognizes the symptoms of a glancing blow by a meteorite and has the man taken to the medical center.

The colonists have never seen a hatstand? Really? Okay.

Tegan learns more about the colony, including the existence of Retrogrades (those who have abandoned the colony) and the predilection of the orderlies to shoot the deserters on sight. She also notes a set of secret files labeled “Deaths Unaccountable,” but Range forbids her from looking at them. The Doctor and the medical team arrive and use the new lighting system as a defibrillator. The man is saved, and the leaders are more trusting.

Norna and Turlough analyze the meteorites and discuss why digging underground is forbidden. Turns out that the planet is hungry. Turlough notes that the samples are dated after the closure of the quarry, so he starts snooping about. He and Norna take a trip into the tunnels from the serial’s opening scenes and find that the rock is “moth-eaten.” Further in, the rock turns slick and polished, and as the pair explore they are followed by two creatures.

The Doctor and Range return to the research room, leaving Tegan with Brazen in the medical room. When Tegan accidentally mentions the unaccountable files, Brazen breaks into the files and moves to confront Range. Meanwhile, Tegan finds Plantagenet on the ground, but when she leaves to find help, he is pulled into the soil. Just outside, the colonists are becoming restless and starting to loot the colony ship, and Tegan takes the opportunity to escape from Brazen. She returns to the colony ship and follows the Doctor and Range into the tunnels.

Turlough remembers something about “Tractators,” which he screams to the Doctor and Range before entering a catatonic state. The Doctor and Tegan go ahead and find a group of the creatures holding Norna in a gravity field. They spot the Doctor and drag him in as well, but Tegan saves them by using her chemical lamp as a fiery distraction. Tegan takes Norna to safety while the Doctor investigates the Tractators. Tegan and Range race off to help the Doctor, but the Doctor and Tegan are snared in another gravity field. The Doctor repeats Tegan’s trick to free them.

Range returns to Norna, watching as Turlough continues to babble. It turns out that the Tractators invaded his homeworld, and the rantings are the ancestral memory bubbling to the surface. Range and Norna escort him to the surface. Topside, Brazen breaks free and finds Orderly Cockerill looting. He is escorted out of the colony ship to the waiting Retrogrades, but Brazen does nothing to help him when the Retrogrades attack for the rations Cockerill stole. His body is pulled into the soil without a word from his fellow looters. Brazen meets up with Range at the entrance to the quarry, and Range’s group is arrested.

The Doctor and Tegan witness Cockerill being pulled below the surface, and the presence distracts the Tractator and disrupts Cockerill’s disappearance. Since he supposedly defied the hungry earth, the Retrogrades start to admire him.

Upon questioning, Range reveals that his records are evidence of the myth that Frontios buries its own dead. Brazen overhears Turlough’s rantings, and the pieces all come together: Revere and Plantagenet may still be alive because the Tractators need living minds. Underground, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the Tractators are sentient and intelligent, but it’s unclear why they are tunneling.

The lead Tractator, Gravis, confronts Plantagenet, waiting for their old extractor driver’s mind to die before replacing it with the human’s. As Brazen leads a team (guided by a captive Range, followed later by Turlough who takes Range’s place) into the tunnels, Gravis sends the extractor as bait to lure the Doctor. When it catches up to them, it is being driven by the enslaved mind of Captain Revere.

Gravis knows of the Doctor by reputation and is intrigued by Tegan’s accidental reveal of the TARDIS (or what’s left of it). The Tractators have been stranded on Frontios for five centuries and are eager to get on their way. The Doctor convinces Gravis that Tegan is an android (thus, saving her from being installed in the extractor) and learns that the Tractators are responsible for the bombardments and the original crash of the colony ship. Plantagenet is almost installed in the extractor, but the Doctor frees him thanks to a distraction from Tegan and Turlough. They all nearly escape, but Turlough is mesmerized by the machine and inadvertently traps Brazen in its clutches.

That boy is an idiot.

Luckily, Brazen is able to run the machine out of control and destroy it. Using the information that the team has gathered, the Doctor concludes that the Tractators are building a gravity drive so they can pilot the entire planet like a starship. They also learn that there is a second excavator machine, because redundancy. It also has a new pilot thanks to all the humans running about in the caves.

Topside, Norna is attacked by a Retrograde, saved by Cockerill, and learns of her savior’s armed revolution with his new followers. Cockerill ties her up, but she breaks free and informs the revolutionaries of the threat below.

Tegan discovers that the walls of the TARDIS are growing in the cave system, which helps when the team is chased into the console room. It’s non-functional but serves as a suitable distraction to isolate Gravis from the rest of the Tractators courtesy of his desire to leave the planet. The Doctor tricks Gravis into reassembling the time capsule, an act that places the occupants into the TARDIS’s dimensions and severs the Gravis’s psychic link to his own kind.

The Doctor and Tegan drop the Gravis on the uninhabited moon of Kolkokron. Upon their return, they gift Plantagenet with the hatstand in exchange for his silence in the Doctor’s interference. When they dematerialize, the TARDIS malfunctions and is pulled toward the middle of the universe, setting up the next adventure.

This was an okay base-under-siege story. We get some background on Turlough (though I still couldn’t care less about the character), a new bit of trivia about how the TARDIS can be destroyed and reassemble itself, and some decent action with a new (if somewhat underwhelming) enemy. Also, the Doctor breaking out the spectacles to investigate the machine was fun.

The big problem I had was the loose thread of Cockerill and the Revolutionaries (there’s a band name for you), who were warned about the threat underground but were never seen again in the story. That’s a bit sloppy.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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5 thoughts on “Timestamp #133: Frontios

  1. I like this one, but it’s very much an old school Doctor Who story strangely slotted into the 80’s Saward Era. The idea that the TARDIS’ shell can be destroyed by gravity powered meteor bombardment and pieces of its inner dimensions strewn about the place is a HUGE pill to swallow, but once you get over that it gets better even if it is a tad dry.

  2. “The colonial leadership decides to kill the Doctor until Turlough steps in with the hatstand to defend the Time Lord….

    The colonists have never seen a hatstand? Really? Okay.”

    The reason the colonists were afraid was that when Turlough picked up the hatstand to weild defensively there was that brief “snap, crackle, spark, bang” of energy and they weren’t sure what kind of energy weapon Turlough had taken hold of.

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