FRONTIER IN SPACE
Gosh - didn't see this one coming: a full-scale space opera, in which the Doctor and Jo blunder into the midst of smouldering conflict between the neighbouring 26th century galactic empires of Earth and Draconia, where war two decades earlier has been followed by a peace that has now been threatened by the simmering tension created by each empire's cargo ships being attacked by the other's battle cruisers. Or have they been? We quickly discover that all is not as it seems - Earthmen see Draconians attacking them and vice versa, but the Doctor and Jo see Ogrons, the brutish, simian mercenary race seen before in 'Day of the Daleks'; clearly a third party is seeking to play the two great empires off against each other in a mutually destructive war, and so, since the simple-minded apes are incapable of formulating such a plan, who is responsible? The TARDIS is stolen by the Ogrons and its crew seized and locked up - a state of affairs that is played out almost constantly throughout the six episodes - and soon find themselves confronted by the President of Earth and her military leader General Williams. The parallels that play out are clever and intriguing - both Earth and Draconia have moderate leaders struggling to control their hotheaded war leaders, and ultimately the two form a strong alliance to take on the villain of the piece. That this is revealed in episode 3 to be the Master was for once a twist I didn't see coming, and Roger Delgado shines in his last performance in the role before his tragic and untimely death in Turkey the following June. His sympathising with Jo about listening to the Doctor's reminiscences is wonderful, as is his straight-faced assertion that "no-one is more committed to peace than I", among many fabulous moments. Jo herself really comes of age here in a way, standing up to the Master on more than one occasion - the scene where she bravely resists and frustrates his attempt to hypnotise her is a standout, and shows how far she's come since she easily fell victim to him in 'Terror of the Autons'.
The Draconians, meanwhile, have a fantastic look and are given a depth to their personalities and society; their evolution from 'villains' to noble allies is convincing, and part of a wider attention to detail that creates a convincing future (except maybe for Earth command being at the South Bank Centre) and fleshes out the supporting characters very well. The visit to the Emperor on Draconia helps paint this story onto a grand canvas that is also enlivened by the many treks back anf forth across the spacelanes, the Doctor's imprisonment on the moon, his excellently-rendered (despite the wires) spacewalks, and the final trip to the planet of the Ogrons. Here we get the biggest twist of all, as the Master is revealed to be in league with no less an evil than the Daleks themselves - an unprecedented alliance of the Doctor's two greatest foes that we sadly only get to glimpse briefly. That this seems temporarily to demote the Master to subsidiary villain is disappointing, but ameliorated by one final great scene for Delgado as he follows a radio conversation with the Daleks with the dark threat that "we'll see who rules the galaxy" and mocks their voices and calls them 'stupid tin boxes'!! The end sequence is unfortunately marred by its severe editing and Delgado doesn't get a satisfactory final scene - thanks to the spectacularly unconvincing modelwork that created a big orange blob as the Ogrons' 'god' figure monster, necessitating it being almost completely excised from the final cut and leaving that side-story almost unexplored and the closing moments of the story confused.
What is audacious, though, is the way the end doesn't really resolve anything and instead dovetails into the next story to create in effect one big twelve-part adventure. I thought this was a very refreshing change - shame that the coming story isn't meant to be too hot... Shame too that the excellent Draconians never appeared in Doctor Who again, and of course that the Ogron planet appeared to be yet another quarry! One more thing of note is the vastly overqualified players in some hidden roles - Stephen Thorne suffers a demotion from main adversary as Azal in 'The Daemons' and Omega in 'The Three Doctors' to 'First Ogron' here, whilst 'Second Ogron' is likewise performed by former (and future) Cyberman Controller Michael Kilgarrif from 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'; meanwhile the Daleks are voiced by Michael Wisher, who has by this point already turned up in 'The Ambassadors of Death', 'Terror of the Autons' and 'Carnival of Monsters' as well as being a future Davros!!
Episodes watched: 235
Episodes still to watch: 487