Me: This is the very first Patrick Troughton story I ever saw.
I explain to Sue how the fabled Five Faces repeat season finally enabled me to watch the 2nd Doctor strut his stuff after I’d spent several years idly dreaming about it.
Me: And thanks to Simon Harries, we are watching the original off-air recordings! This is exactly how I would have seen the story go out in November 1981, when I’d just turned 12. Exciting, isn’t it?
Sue: Yes, but luckily the continuity announcers were a lot calmer back then. They relaxed you into the evening’s programming instead of bludgeoning you to death with Rihanna and jump cuts. Things were better back then.
It takes until the title card for Sue to crack the obligatory gag.
Sue: The Krotons, eh? Are you sure they aren’t called the Croutons? Geddit? Croutons? Make sure you write that one down.
Me: Yes, dear. Very good, dear.
Sue: What is it? Am I not the first person to crack that joke?
Me: Don’t worry, love, Steve O’Brien published fanzines with thinner material than that.
But enough of that – it’s time for us to meet the Gonds.
Sue: I just don’t care about these people straight away. I can tell that it’s going to be another one of those feckless planets where everyone rolls over for the alien overlords until the Doctor strolls in and sorts it out for them. Again.
The TARDIS arrives on the planet of the Gonds and our heroes approach what the model maker has optimistically called a city.
Sue: A city? It looks like some discarded egg boxes. This is cheap, even by Doctor Who‘s standards.
Me: They spent all the money on that helicopter last week. This is the price we have to pay.
Sue: It’s not just the set – it’s the acting. It’s very Am-dram. The guy playing the leader is especially bad. He doesn’t seem to know what programme he’s in.
But one bloke sticks out like a sore thumb. The Madoc.
Sue: This guy looks familiar.
Me: You probably know him best as the German U-Boat captain in that episode of Dad’s Army where he asks Pike to tell him his name, and Captain Mainwaring cries: “Don’t tell him, Pike!”. He was also in UFO and Space 1999 but I’m pretty sure they won’t ring any bells with you.
Sue: You know me so well.
Jamie and the Doctor enter the Gond’s city and Jamie immediately picks a fight with an uptight local. They engage in some vicious, no holds barred combat.
Sue: It’s not exactly Game of Thrones, is it?
Me: You see that bloke fighting Jamie? That’s Toby Hadoke’s agent.
Sue: Really? What a bizarre coincidence.
Me: Oh, I sincerely doubt it. He probably scoured the country looking for an agent with an episode of Doctor Who on their CV. It was either him or Janet Fielding.
Neil: We named one of our cats after a character she played on television, but never mind about that now.
Sue: Just kick him in the nuts!
Me: Are you talking to Toby or Jamie?
The eponymous Krotons are described in the Gond’s legends as Silver Men, and Sue immediately believes that we are watching episode nine of The Invasion.
Sue: Cybermen? Again? Not that I’m complaining or anything.
Meanwhile, a futuristic room appears to be monitoring the Doctor’s activities, and at one point a revolving screen displays a large, electronic cross.
Sue: Is this where Simon Cowell got the idea for X-Factor?
Me: I keep expecting to hear the farting computer from Family Fortunes.
When a bunch of students start smashing up the Krotons’ Learning Machines to, er, teach them a lesson, a booming voice instructs them to leave the hall immediately. Yes, it asks them to disperse. This may or may not become important later.
Sue: Well, at least I can understand them. That’s a bonus. But what is that accent? I can’t quite place it.
When the Doctor investigates further, he is suddenly attacked by a metallic snake-like object.
Sue: Well, that’s not even remotely phallic! It reminds me of that scene in The Abyss. Only shitter.
We are joined for the rest of The Krotons by Sue’s brother, Gary, and our daughter, Nicol. Oddly enough, Gary would have been the same age as me (12) when he first saw The Krotons, only he would have seen the original transmission. If he had bothered to watch it, of course.
Gary: I saw most of the William Hartnells but I don’t remember watching any of these. I think I’d grown out of Doctor Who by the time I was 12.
I decide to let that comment slide.
Me: Do you have any memories of watching Doctor Who?
Gary: Yes, every Saturday evening we all sat down to watch it. With our tea.
Sue: I don’t remember that at all.
Gary: You were too young to remember. There was this one week when you decided to take a drug overdose –
Sue: I accidentally swallowed a bottle of Junior Aspirin. I thought they were sweets. They tasted of oranges.
Gary: We had to rush her to hospital to have her stomach pumped. She’d do anything to get out of watching Doctor Who.
Me: So you weren’t a fan of Patrick Troughton, then?
Gary: No, I was probably watching Lost in Space. It was much better.
Sue: Why was that?
Gary: It had a robot in it called Robby the Robot. What more do you want?
I haven’t got the heart to tell him that the robot in Lost in Space wasn’t called Robby. In fact it wasn’t called anything. How rubbish is that?
Meanwhile, back in The Krotons.
Sue: The Croutons seem to be powered by shower head technology.
The Learning Machine scene, where Zoe and the Doctor compete to be the best scholar (“I wish our students were this keen”) goes down well with nearly every person in the room. Okay, Nicol snorted when they mentioned working in square roots, and Gary clearly still has his doubts, but even so.
Gary: How can you watch this rubbish?
Sue: Leave it alone.
Yes, that was Sue leaping to the show’s defence.
The Doctor and Zoe enter the Krotons’ darkened chamber and they take a pair of empty seats.
Sue: It’s like they’re on a Disney Tour.
Using our heroes mental energy as a power source, two Krotons manage to manifest themselves into, well, it’s difficult to put into words.
Gary: The robots have the same arms as Robby the Robot!
Me: Are you sure you weren’t watching this after all, Gary?
Gary: The pain. The pain.
Nicol: Are the Krotons meant to be South African? Weren’t they the bad guys back then?
Sue: Are you sure they’re not from Birmingham?
Nicol: It looks like a salt and pepper shaker.
Sue: It looks like a Moka pot espresso maker.
Gary: It looks like shit.
The episode concludes with Jamie rushing into the Kroton ship so he can be captured and beaten up.
Sue: How has Jamie survived for so long being this thick?
Me: He’s brave.
Sue: He’s thick!
Gary: Ah, now I do remember that BBC-2 logo.
Me: Ohh, shall we watch some Grange Hill for a bit? I think Simon kept his VCR running for another ten minutes –
Gary can’t stop chortling when the Krotons boom their increasingly agitated instructions at each other. And who can blame him?
Sue: (In a very broad Brummie accent) Cup-a-Soup!
Me: (Ditto) Bostin’!
Nicol: They’re South African!
Luckily, Sir Philip of Madoc is there to bring some much-needed decorum back to the proceedings.
Sue: This bloke is acting everyone off the screen. He’s looks like he’s having a great time. He is trying to out-Shakespeare the other bloke now. The other bloke doesn’t stand a chance.
Gary: This robot has a pair of curling tongs and a nutcracker for hands. I thought I should point that out.
Me: I’m waiting to see one that’s armed with a garlic press.
Sue: I thought they were hiding the Croutons so they could ramp up the suspense; it turns out they were hiding them because they look dreadful.
Me: They make the Quarks look like The War Machines.
Nicol: Zoe’s skirt is nearly as short as Amy Pond’s.
The Doctor examines the slurry that produced the Krotons and he describes it as “primordial soup”.
Sue: You see! Croutons in the soup!
Me: Cup-a-Soup, of course.
It’s at this point that Sue and Nicol are distracted by the sight of one of our cats, Captain Jack, snuggling up to our golden lab, Buffy, in front of the fireplace. They are so drawn in by the irresistible cuteness, they miss the Doctor’s explanation for the HADS.
Sue: Did I miss something important? What are the HADS?
Me: I’m sorry but you should have paid attention. You HADS your chance.
Sue: Gary, what are the HADS?
Gary: Don’t ask me, I’m barely awake.
Sue: Oh, I like the Doctor’s bag!
Me: That’s no way to talk about Zoe.
Nicol: The Krotons heads are spinning now. They must be grinding up some more pepper.
The episode concludes with a very familiar image.
Sue: It’s the crack! It’s Moffat’s crack!
Me: Is nothing sacred?
Sue: Dynatrope sounds like a branch of plumbers.
Me: I’m pretty sure it’s listed in the latest Ann Summers catalogue.
When the Doctor discovers that Jamie is in the Dynatrope, Zoe exclaims that Jamie’s mind is too untrained to deal with it.
Sue: Like I said – thick.
Nicol: How do the Krotons get around?
Gary: They have a skirt made of waffles and that hides their legs. How can you watch this rubbish? The effects are terrible!
Nicol: But it’s 1969!
That’s my girl.
Gary: But Lost and Space and Star Trek were around at the same time and they looked better than this.
Sue: But Doctor Who didn’t have their budget, Gary. And besides, it’s part of Doctor Who‘s charm.
Sadly, it’s at precisely this point that the picture quality of Simon’s off-air recording starts to go tits up. The final ten minutes are a rollercoaster ride of flickering and ghosting and I can feel Gary’s eyes burrowing into me as the picture quality slowly starts to degrade.
Me: When the Krotons threaten to disperse everyone, I keep imagining them bringing everyone together in that big hall, just so they can tell them all to sod off again. Or is that just me?
Meanwhile, Jamie is re-enacting scenes from Breaking Bad as he cooks up some sulphuric acid with which to attack the Krotons. It seems ridiculously easy in retrospect.
Nicol: They signposted this solution two episodes ago! What took them so long?
When the Krotons are no more, the Gonds are ecstatic. “We’re free at last!” they cry.
Gary: Tell me about it.
Sue: That wasn’t too bad.
Gary: Are you serious?
Sue: Look, it was only four episodes long and it moved.
Nicol: You should see some of the stuff Neil makes my mam watch.
Sue: That was a walk in the park compared to something like The Toymaker or The Zarbi Planet. Some of the episodes don’t even exist and we still watch them!
Gary: You are both mad.
Me: So, what score are you going to give it?
Sue: Well, the script was good but the plot was bad, if that makes sense. The acting was variable and the monsters were definitely comical, but there were some very enjoyable moments. And it was only four parts. And it moved. So –
The Score: 6/10
Incidentally, Nicol gave The Krotons a 3 (“it’s 1969!”) while Gary gave it a measly 1. Feel free to boo.