Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fourth Doctor adventure The Power of the Kroll...
I'm not going to pussyfoot around here. This is pretty rubbish stuff, especially for a Robert Holmes script. It's definitely the dud of the 'Key to Time' Season so far.
There are some good bits: the scenes in the Suffolk swamps look good; Tom Baker & Mary Tamm put in good, solid performances & it has both Philip Madoc & John Abineri in it but whilst Abineri does the best with what he's given, especially as he's painted green! But Madoc's heart just doesn't seem to be in it. He's not even the main villain, which is such a waste of his talents. Instead that part is played by Neil McCarthy, who does a competent enough job.
I think the actors playing the crew of the methane engineering plant - yes, it's that exciting a location - are hamstrung by being asked to deliver chunks of explanation whilst conveying oodles of seriousness. What this means is there are far too many scenes of good actors shouting at each other, standing with their hands on hips & staring meaningfully at computer screens. It's a waste of all their talents really.
I should note that we get to see John Leeson - the voice of K9 - in the flesh as Dugeen (the liberal wishy-washy one of the methane engineers). He gets a nice death scene, shot by Neil McCarthy's Thawn & dying with a look of shock, surprise & disappointment on his face.
Thawn's a nasty piece of work. He's in cahoots with arms smuggler Rohm-Dutt (Glyn Owen) to set up the Swampies so he can wipe them out. He doesn't see the poor, green Swampies as 'civilised' & wants them out of the way so that they can get on with exploiting the resources available to him. But unfortunately he never quite gets above the level of boring minor psychopath.
The Kroll itself is a 140ft tall pseudo-Octopus. It's a brave challenge for late 70's Doctor Who & it doesn't quite work. Partly because of the poor split screen work when it is required to appear with others & partly because tentacles don't work in Doctor Who. (One day I'll write extensively on this but see 'Spearhead from Space' for another dodgy example).
The Swampies also illustrate another Doctor Who flaw. The use of nice BBC actors to portray the religious rites of 'primitives'. A gathering of Equity types painted green waving spears does not a convincing scene make I'm afraid. John Abineri plays the leader of the Swampies & does a sterling job considering how ridiculous he is made to look. There's an innate gravity & dignity to Abineri, which shines through even under a coating of green paint.
Basically it is a dull run around, flatly directed & featuring too many good actors given too little to do. There's a political story - about racism & colonialism - in here struggling to get out & as 'The Sunmakers' shows when Robert Holmes gets satirical he's sharp & funny. Maybe the problem is just that Kroll is too bloody serious, which makes it worthy but boring.
It is Robert Holmes's only real Doctor Who dud (although The Space Pirates isn't great either) it brings the momentum of the Key to Time season to a shuddering halt just before it's six part climax: The Armageddon Factor.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.