Wednesday 26 October 2011

338 Frontier in Space Episode One

EPISODE: Frontier in Space Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 24 February 1973
WRITER: Malcolm Hulke
DIRECTOR: Paul Bernard
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Dalek War: Frontier in Space & Planet of the Daleks
Episode Format: 625 video

In deep space an Earth Cargo Ship narrowly misses the Tardis in space which dematerialises and reappears in the cargo hold. Another ship draws alongside which Jo witnesses shimmer and turn into a different ship when she hears an odd noise. The crew witness it as well and identify it as belonging to the Draconians, Earth's enemies with whom an uneasy truce exists. The Doctor & Jo are found by a ship's crew member who sees them as Draconians while Jo sees him as a Drashig. They are locked in the hold while the ship is attacked and boarded. Earth is alerted while the president hears a complaint from the Draconian Prince, the ambassador to Earth, who is accusing the Earthmen of raiding their ships. General Williams mounts a rescue attempt for the attacked ship. The Draconian Prince accuses the Earthmen of provoking them to war. The Doctor works out that Jo & the crew have been subjected to ultrasonics that affect the fear centres of their brain to make them see what they fear most. The Doctor & Jo are taken to the airlock as hostages as the the aliens break through: Ogrons. The Doctor is wounded in their attack. The Doctor wakes to find Jo imprisoned and the Tardis gone. The Doctor wonders who the Ogrons are working for. They find the stunned crew members as Earth's battle cruiser draws alongside & docks. The Doctor & Jo are arrested for being stowaways & traitors

So two alien races at each other throats along a common border? Do you think it's possible that Malcolm Hulke had seen the classic Star Trek episode Balance of Terror, which introduces the Romulans, before he wrote this story? The way the Ogron ship shimmers and vanishes at the end as if it's being cloaked also adds some weight to the argument that he had. Oddly years later Star Trek return the favour: When the Romulans are reintroduced during the Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone, they & the Federation are brought to the brink of conflict by a third party making raids along outposts on both sides, much like the Ogrons here. (They don't show us who the villains are in the Star Trek: TNG episode and leave it as a hanging plot thread to be resolved early in the next season. A writer's strike intervened and so it wasn't until a year later it's revealed that the Borg, Star Trek's version of the Cybermen, are revealed to be responsible.) That Star Trek episode has an on-screen Doctor Who reference as well, showing the names of the first six Doctors in a family tree which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the borrowing of the story idea is intentional.

Here though the revelation that it's the Ogrons attacking the ship is botched in the worst way possible. Instead of a nice action shot of them storming in through the smouldering door, we're treated to a shot of them trying to cut through the door a minute or so beforehand. Nice one. What it reminds me of is the reveal in Day of the Daleks that the Daleks are in charge of the Earth half way through the episode instead of keeping them behind the scenes till the end of the episode. The director of both stories is Paul Bernard, one of the few people who I've ever heard producer Barry Letts be openly critical of, so I'm inclined to lay the blame at his feet. Even if Mac Hulke & Day's writer Louis Marks had made similar errors surely the Director should have spotted something that affects the dramatic flow of the story, especially one like this that involves a fully practical special effect with the Ogrons cutting through the door? Given that the Ogrons previous appearance in Doctor Who was as slaves to the Daleks was it a good idea to draw attention to this in the opening episode? Especially considering how the story plays out, albeit with a bit of a diversion on the way..... I've got a book here that says "You've got two guesses as to who's trying to provoke a war between Earth & Draconia. And they're both right"

Applause please for "reversing the polarity of the ultrasonic screwdriver's power source" !

Frontier in Space has a reputation for the Doctor & Jo spending a lot of time under lock & key. We shall keep track:

1) They are locked up by the crew members on the cargo ship
2) Jo is locked up again by the Ogrons.

More later as we progress through the story.....

1 comment:

  1. I've always liked the Draconians, and think they've been woefully under-represented in DW (both the "classic" and "new" series). Hopefully someone is mulling over introducing them to Matt Smith's Doctor sometime...