Serial Title: The Krotons
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)
The best and the brightest of the Gonds’ newest graduating class are congratulated by being sent to be with the Krotons, alien visitors from space who benevolently watch over them. Only, unbeknownst to the public at large, the Krotons really just sending them out into the desert and then killing them with acid. The TARDIS lands on this unnamed planet in this unspecified time (it’s getting worse), just in time to save one of this years’ crop, Vana, and reunite her with her boyfriend Thara, who already suspected something was up and tried to prevent her departure.
The Gonds are shocked to find out that their alien visitors are actually their slavemasters, who have been keeping them in servitude by executing their most intelligent pupils every year and keeping the populace dumb. They also control Gond education with machines- which a band of angry Gond youth then begin to smash apart. As they barely escape Kroton retribution, naïve Zoe dons one of the teaching helmets to test her intelligence. She scores well- marking her for death. The Doctor quickly dons another headset and scores highly in order to follow her, and the two are forced into the Kroton spacecraft, beyond which lies the acid jets. Before being sent out to their deaths, they are brought into a control chamber, where a mind-draining device awaits them; the Doctor manages to circumvent it, ensuring that they aren’t reduced to vegetables as the soon-to-die Gond students are each year. The bypassed device, which converts mental power into energy, is still able to take sufficient power from their intelligence (far higher than the meager pickings of the Gonds) to carry out a portion of its function- two crystalline Krotons are constituted out of a base-chemical slush, their version of suspended animation.
As the Doctor stalls the Krotons with doublespeak, Zoe pours the acid into the crystal slush tank, poisoning the Krotons, who also use it as a sort of lifeline/air tank. Simultaneously, Jamie and Beta pour great vats onto the Kroton ship from a towering cliff, and it begins to dissolve. The Krotons are defeated (though not destroyed; they apparently can’t be), and Thara (Selris’ son, and Vana’s lover) ascends to the leadership position as Eelek is booted out in disgrace.
The TARDIS crew have a few nice moments- saving the girl from the disintegrator spray, the holding-the-chain mental attack, and the Doctor and Zoe's comedic bumbling to buy time for the 'poison' to take effect. Other than that... well, it was only 4 episodes instead of 6, but it felt like it could have been 2 or 3. It was pretty forgettable.
This is followed up by a wonderful scene in which the Doctor, so stressed out about wanting to help Zoe, can't solve the simplest equation because he's distracted, and then, after he succeeds, begins gloating that he scored higher marks than Zoe as the two begin bickering about it... it's a wonderful bantering byplay in which both the writing and the actors shine- that scene overall in the halls of learning is really a true gem amidst an otherwise fairly-forgettable serial, and an outstanding moment for both the Doctor and Zoe that makes me incredibly sad at how close their impending loss is.
Jamie is gallant and noble in this one, and also pretty darn clever- if I don't consider this one an episode where he fairs well, it's probably simply because he has far less screen time than the Doctor/Zoe tag team, who kind of get the spotlight. Still, Jamie is caring and brave in this one and puts up an excellent showing of moral character that does him great credit to compensate for his lesser screen time... it's ironic, then, that an episode so relatively simplistic, mediocre, and skippable should be such a strong character showcase for all three of the leads.
There are a few good strong characters among the supporting cast- the tradition-bound leader, devastated to realize the tradition of murder he's played a part in enforcing, and determined to do the right thing sacrificing himself in a last-minute dive through the door that's as impressive in its athletic prowess as it is in its noble self-sacrifice, to deliver the Doctor and Zoe the crucial component needed to defeat the Krotons.
And, of course, the unflappable and determined chemist, who comes off more annoyed than anything at being expected to save the world without proper time to prepare, and completely uninterested in the fact that he may blow himself up in the creation of acid, simply getting down to business and making it happen as Jamie frets and worries in the background- he's a fun character, a serious role with a comic edge of irony- his reaction to the fantastic, in such a deadpan and accepting manner, makes for an instantly likable fellow.
Despite earlier statements, I would not recommend skipping this one- the last complete Second Doctor serial, of the time of this writing (February 2011) not to have a DVD release planned yet. Its story is simple and threadbare, but it's short (so it won't grate too much even if you find the story dull), and the fantastic villain designs and very strong character moments make this one WELL worth watching despite its weak plots, as it's one of the best character pieces in the Second Doctor's run.
3.5 out of 5 Bickering Dominators for the Krotons and the first true TARDIS 'family'- here, in the shadow of the countdown to regeneration, to color, to UNIT, and an Earth exile- here, at the end of an era... the Black and White classic Doctor Who shows us what it's made of, in the weakest and least-likely story possible, and makes us truly realize what we'll be sacrificing for the move to a more 'modern' Who.
To borrow a quote from Matthew Stover's PHENOMENAL (really, go check it out!) novelization for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, "This was the Age of Heroes... and it had saved its best for last."