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8x04. Colony in Space

Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Michael Briant
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Time Lords reactivate the Doctor's TARDIS and dispatch him to a planet where an ancient Doomsday Weapon lies hidden in the ruins of an ancient alien city, hoping he can prevent the Master from accessing the weapon. The Doctor and the Master become involved in a territorial dispute between some human colonists and the ruthless Interplanetary Mining Corporation, with the Doctor trying to help the colonists and the Master posing as an Adjudicator sent to decide between the two factions' claims.

Review: "Colony in Space" is probably less memorable for its actual content than for the role it plays in the eighth season and the Pertwee era in general. After seven Earth-based serials in a row, this is the Third Doctor's first venture into outer space, courtesy of a brief reprieve from the Time Lords. The script by Malcolm Hulke offers some of the best Doctor/Master interaction to date, and the political colorings that are becoming characteristic of Pertwee serials are present, but there is also a fair amount of mediocre filler material.

The Doctor and Jo spend most of their time caught up in a conflict between the colonists and the IMC, with the "primitive" alien natives as a sort of wild card. It's clear we're meant to root for the colonists from the very beginning, and while the Doctor does try to prevent violence at first, "Colony in Space" lacks the subtlety of Hulke's previous serial, "The Silurians." It doesn't take long before the Doctor is openly assisting the colonists, and the political commentary is rather obvious, amounting to little more than "Big greedy corporations that kill people are bad." The aliens are a little more interesting, in that their civilization was once prosperous but declined into ignorance and superstition after they constructed the Doomsday Weapon and began to suffer from its radiation. They don't possess the depth of the very best alien races on Doctor Who, but the fact that they can be lethally dangerous to innocents despite having a strong moral code of their own makes them effectively unpredictable, and it expands the story a little beyond the level of the simpler and more easily accessible human conflicts.

"Colony in Space" does offer a few interesting guest characters. Most essential is Caldwell, an IMC officer who is having a crisis of conscience over the methods employed by Captain Dent and his colleagues. One might cynically observe that, with the colonists outmatched technologically, the story would be over in about ten minutes if there wasn't someone helping them from inside the INC, but Caldwell is credibly written and acted as someone who has compromised himself a little at a time and, now that he finally cannot abide it any longer, isn't quite sure what to do and still finds himself easily intimidated. Among the colonists, we have a leader/deputy conflict that follows a pattern established in past serials like "The Silurians" and "The Krotons," with the leader (Ashe) being older and more moderate and the impatient young deputy (Winton) pressing for decisive action. It's a formula that works, however, and Hulke's script wisely refrains from portraying either of them as having all the answers. It seems unlikely that Winton could have ever negotiated a truce with the aliens as Ashe has, but Ashe has also put the colony at risk by agreeing to trade food when they are just barely surviving, and he does seem too mild-mannered to mount an effective opposition against the IMC. On the other hand, Ashe proves himself a man of principle by going on a suicide mission to fool the IMC into thinking the colonists have all been killed, and it's not clear that Winton would have been so easily capable of such an act of self-sacrifice.

The Master has been a reasonably effective villain thus far, and in "Colony in Space" we get the clearest statement to date of his philosophy. Questioned by the Doctor as to why he wants to use the Doomsday Weapon to rule the universe, he responds simply that one has only two choices: "rule or serve." Intriguingly, he hints that he might not be entirely malicious once he possesses this power, offering the Doctor a partnership and suggesting that he could use it for good purposes. The Master is more concerned with simply having power (and with winning the approval of the more idealistic Doctor) than with what he would actually do with it. The Doctor, of course, is not interested, famously dismissing the offer with the line, "I want to see the universe, not rule it." The line nicely sums up the two most prominent and admirable elements of the Doctor's personality: the explorer with an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and the small-l liberal who tries to help people take control of their own fates.

One failing of "Colony in Space" is that, as a relatively simple story, it's rather drawn out and it eventually grows repetitive: this is probably the first long Pertwee serial that could have been trimmed down by an episode or two. The colonists and the IMC  are obviously the respective white and black hats, and as a result, Hulke resorts to a number of lengthy chase//capture/escape scenarios to pad out the six episodes. Though the production values are better than those of any Hartnell or Troughton "outer-space" story, the Doctor Who team are still only passable when it comes to staging action scenes, of which there are quite a few. This is especially true of the gun-battles, which consist mostly of close-ups on various individuals firing their weapons, leaving the viewer uncertain where exactly anybody is standing and who they're shooting at, the result being confusion and eventually irritation rather than suspense. The Master's decision to pose as the Adjudicator and involve himself in this conflict also seems like padding. He does obtain some help from the colonists in finding his way to the alien city, but it's hard to believe he couldn't have done that without them, unless there was absolutely no detail at all in the files he stole from the Time Lords.

Like its predecessor "The Claws of Axos," "Colony in Space" is a respectable but unexceptional installment. It shows that the new team can pull off an outer-space serial and it gives us some good Doctor/Master interaction, but it didn't leave me too disappointed that the Doctor was back on Earth by the end.

Other notes:

- The colonists seem to take the Doctor's warning to "keep an eye on Norton" (an IMC infiltrator) absurdly literally -- they sort of watch him, but they don't monitor his movements very closely (much less impede them), resulting in another betrayal in Episode Four. Just what exactly did they think the Doctor meant other than that the man was a spy?

- The Master's TARDIS has filing cabinets?

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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