Sue: The Power of Kroll. I don’t think much of the title. It sounds like some sort of B-movie. Oh, wait, Robert Holmes is back again. When Robert Holmes is good, he’s really good.
Me: And you’ve got Philip Madoc as well.
Sue: That definitely helps.
The episode begins on a high-tech mining refinery where four men – Fenner, Thawn, Harg and Dugeen – bring us to speed with the sociopolitical situation on the third moon of Delta Magna.
Sue: I think I understood most of that but the exposition was very clunky. It didn’t sound like they were having a natural conversation. The actors are okay, though, so I’ll have to blame the script.
The TARDIS materialises in the middle of a swamp. Unfortunately, because this place is waterlogged, the Doctor and Romana have to leave K9 behind.
Sue: Poor K9. I’m taking a mark off this story straight away. They should have put him in a little boat. I do like Romana’s outfit, though. Very Emma Peel.
Romana searches for the fifth segment while the Doctor crafts a flute out of some reed, which he then uses to play JS Bach’s Badinerie in B minor.
Sue: He’s so much better than Patrick Troughton. He could give James Galway a run for his money.
Romana is kidnapped by a gun runner named Rohm-Dutt. At exactly the same time, Thawn and Fenner arrive to kill the blighter.
Sue: How did the Doctor not hear their hovercraft coming a mile off? It makes one hell of a racket.
Fenner mistakes the Doctor for Rohm-Dutt and he shoots him in the head.
Sue: Bloody hell, he can shoot straight! I’m a fan of this story already. One shot – bang – and he’s down.
Me: He just shot the Doctor in the head and you are congratulating him?
Sue: Sorry, that is a very good point. I’m just so excited to see someone who knows how to aim a gun for a change.
Romana is led to a Swampie settlement where Rohm-Dutt sells a crate of weapons to their leader, Ranquin.
I’ll put everybody out of their misery right now: no, she didn’t recognise John Abineri. Sorry, Toby.
Sue: The green make-up is very good. Aliens might find it a bit racist, but in this instance, they didn’t have a choice.
Me: By all accounts, it was murder to get it off their skin. The BBC forgot to buy the dye remover and the Swampies had to be driven out to an RAF base where they were forced to use chemical showers. Interestingly, no one who worked as a Swampie ever went on to have children.
My wife, ladies and gentlemen.
Sue: It was worth it, though. It looks excellent.
Rohm-Dutt interrogates Romana.
Sue: What is that accent supposed to be? American? Irish? Australian? All of the above?
It becomes clear that the Swampies are being oppressed by the greedy bastards working at the refinery.
Sue: This is basically Greenpeace against BP. Or Green hair pieces against BP. No? Oh, please yourself. Anyway, it’s very political. I like Robert Holmes when he’s got an axe to grind.
The Doctor (he was shot in the hat, not the head, which makes Fenner a terrible shot after all) is taken to the refinery for questioning.
Sue: I like the little ducks on his jacket. He’s obviously been inspired by Hilda Ogden.
Romana is chosen to be the victim in a ritual sacrifice. As she is led to the sacrificial altar, the Swampies chant the name of their god.
Sue: It’s King Kong. No, wait… King Kroll.
Me: What makes you think its name is Kroll?
Sue: Just a wild guess.
The Swampies chant, and chant, and chant.
Sue: There are loads of extras playing the Swampies. I’m surprised they didn’t rise up against the BBC when they couldn’t get the paint off. Oh, and that one in the middle can’t dance.
Back at the refinery, Thawn tells the Doctor that the Swampies worship a giant squid.
Sue: Giant squid? Is that wise? They’re not going to show us a giant squid, are they? Remember what happened with the giant prawn.
Meanwhile, the Swampies are still chanting.
Sue: Is Kroll deaf? They must be knackered by now.
The episode concludes with Romana threatened by a pair of claws.
Sue: Oh dear. That doesn’t look like a giant squid to me.
Sue: Oh well, apart from that terrible cliffhanger, that wasn’t a bad start. There was nowt wrong with that.
We eventually get a proper look at the monster attacking Romana.
Sue: You are having a laugh! It’s ridiculous! What the hell is it supposed to be? Did a clam have sex with a mushroom? Oh, wait… that’s clever.
Yes, it’s supposed to look rubbish on purpose: the monster is just a Swampie in fancy dress. I decide to rub Sue’s nose in it.
Sue: Yes, yes, very good. Big round of applause. But you can’t get away with making things look shit on purpose every week. There’s only so many times you can get away with that. Actually, hasn’t Doctor Who already pulled that gag before? I’m sure it has.
Back at the refinery, Dugeen is tracking a mysterious shape on his scanner. Thawn tells him to keep an eye on it.
Dugeen: Right, sir.
Sue: I bet he wishes he could say affirmative. I must say, I prefer him when he’s a dog.
Reader, I told her.
Sue: This is just like Avatar, but with a different colour scheme and no chance of a sex scene. I hope. You know, Rohm-Dutt reminds me of Quint from Jaws.
Me: If Quint was shit. Someone on Twitter said he reminded his wife of a fat Indiana Jones.
Sue: A fat Han Solo, surely? He’s smuggling guns.
Me: Yeah, good point, but he was wearing a hat and –
Sue: I can’t believe we are having this conversation.
Meanwhile, Romana has some important news for the Doctor.
Romana: Doctor, there’s something that I have to tell you.
Sue: I’m pregnant.
Romana suggests that they find the Key to Time and scarper.
Sue: I couldn’t agree more. This situation is going to get very messy.
Me: Yeah, they might get some green paint on their clothes.
Back at the refinery, Thawn, Dugeen and Fenner are gathered around a monitor.
Sue: It looks like they can’t tune in their Binatone games system. How are they getting so much data from a picture like that? An Etch A Sketch has a higher resolution.
The Doctor finds the sacred book of Kroll. He opens it up near the beginning and reads aloud.
The Doctor: Great was the lamentation of the people but Kroll returned to the water and slept.
Romana: I do like a happy ending.
Sue: Ending? You are only a few pages into the book, love. You’ve got a long way to go before that story finishes.
Me: I know the feeling.
Sue: What do you mean? This is pretty good. The script is more than okay – although it isn’t as funny as the last two – and the plot is easy enough to follow. The acting is fine, the location is interesting, and the direction isn’t bad, either. What’s not to like?
The Swampies attack the dryfoots (dryfeet?), but a gun explodes in one of their faces.
Sue: Was he pointing it the wrong way? Even UNIT are laughing their arses off at that.
And then the mighty Kroll appears!
Sue: Wow. That’s big. Too big, probably. I don’t know, though, it’s a pretty good attempt; they’ve given it all they’ve got.
Me: What about the split screen effect?
Sue: Of course it’s a split screen effect. It’s 1978 and they are working with a shoestring budget. No, that wasn’t bad at all. The kids would have loved that and the concept is pretty scary. It could come up and eat you any moment. If you lived near Seal Sands, it would have given you nightmares.
Things get so bad, the refinery staff wake Dugeen up from his nap.
Sue: Blimey, couldn’t he have got dressed when he was still in his quarters? Thanks for that. I bet he was dreaming of dogs when they woke him up.
And the praise keeps on coming:
Sue: It’s very good, this. The script is typical Robert Holmes: clever and a bit cynical. It’s a bit slow, though. That’s the only problem I have with this story. The last one galloped along nicely but this isn’t in much of a hurry. Oh, hello.
A tentacle grabs Harg and the episode concludes with Kroll pulling him into a pipe.
Sue: That was a terrible cliffhanger.
Me: Was the rubber tentacle too much for you?
Sue: Not at all. The tentacle was fine. I just don’t care about these guys. They are the bad guys, aren’t they? Imagine a cliffhanger where a Nazi gets killed. Who gives a ****? It doesn’t make any sense.
Kroll hasn’t just eaten Harg, he’s also caused a gas leak.
Sue: It that supposed to be methane?
Me: I think so.
Sue: Christ, it must stink of cow farts in there. No wonder they can’t wait to get out.
The Swampies tie Romana, Rohm-Dutt and the Doctor to rack.
Sue: That’s handy, it’s just the right size. It’s as if they were expecting to kill three people today. Unless they have really good carpenters and they just knocked one up.
Ranquin explains how the seventh ritual works – they will be torn to death by ivy.
Sue: I’m not convinced. They just have to get the ivy wet and they’ll be fine. Just spit on your feet!
The Doctor notices a round window in the ceiling.
Romana: Will you stop babbling about the architecture? We’re having a serious conversation about death.
The Doctor: Well, architecture’s quite a serious subject.
Sue: Absolutely right. This story just went up a mark.
Back at the refinery, Dugeen is worried about Kroll.
Dugeen: We were just trying to decide what it’d look like out of the water.
Sue: It’s a giant Brussels sprout with arms. Don’t get your hopes up, K9. Sorry, I mean, that guy.
They discuss the best way to deal with the threat posed by Kroll.
Sue: DeWalt ear protectors. You can tell by the colour.
Me: Mind wandering much?
Sue: A bit.
And then the rain comes.
Sue: See! They just need a bit of water on that ivy and they’ll be sorted. I could have written this.
The Doctor uses his voice to smash the window.
Sue: They would have gotten away with that if they’d overdubbed it with a real soprano. As it stands, it’s a bit silly.
As they make their escape from the Swampies, Rohm-Dutt is dragged away by a tentacle.
Sue: It’s just like the end of Jaws when Quint gets dragged under the sea. Even the music reminds me of Jaws. Listen… der der, der der, der der –
Me: Everything by Dudley Simpson goes der der, der der, der der.
Sue: Oh yeah.
The episode concludes with Kroll in a very bad mood.
Sue: You know, this isn’t bad at all.
Sue has been very forgiving of the split screen effect. Until now, that is.
Sue: Oh dear. Yes, that is bad. It’s so obvious. They should have stuck with the tentacles. The tentacles are great.
Thawn decides to throw a hundred tons of hydrogen peroxide at Kroll.
Sue: At the very least, it will bleach its hair.
Thawn is becoming more maniacal by the second.
Sue: I’ve definitely seen him in something else. Didn’t he play a bad guy in a Bond film?
Me: You’re thinking of Jaws.
Sue: No, James Bond, you idiot.
I only wish I were making this up.
Me: It’s Neil McCarthy, he’s been in loads of stuff, including Doctor Who.
Sue: I’ve seen him in something else. Something bigger.
I press the pause button and pull up Neil McCarthy’s IMDB credits on my phone:
Not a glimmer.
Me: The Hill? Doubtful. Where Eagles Dare? Nothing? Steptoe and Son the Movie –
Sue: Yeah, that’s it. Anyway, it’s a shame that Philip Madoc is blowing him off the screen without even trying.
Me: He was sulking at the time, I think. When he agreed to work on this story, he thought he was playing the bad guy with all the meaty lines, but when he turned up to the rehearsals, he discovered that he was playing second fiddle instead. He wasn’t very happy about it.
Sue: It could have been worse, he could have been covered in paint.
Kroll continues to rampage through the baygule (whatever the hell that is).
Sue: The split screen is starting to do my head in a bit. It’s a shame. It if was set on a beach, you could get away with it because the horizon is flat. But grass is never that flat. Not unless the Swampies spend their spare time trimming it with shears. But what else could the BBC do? They didn’t have portable green screens back then. They’ve got green everything else, though.
Thawn shoots Dugeen for sympathising with terrorists.
Sue: Poor bloke who plays K9.
Me: You know, I don’t think I’ve seen this episode since it was broadcast in January 1979. I’ve never made it past Part Two when I’ve tried to watch it again.
Sue: It’s not that bad, is it?
Me: Actually, you’re right, it isn’t. I’m actually enjoying this, despite my expectations. Tom Baker is very good.
Sue: Yes, he’s probably worried that Philip Madoc would think less of him if he fooled around on the set too much. He’s having fun with it, but he’s still taking it seriously enough for me to believe him.
Fenner drags Dugeen’s body away.
Sue: No blood on the floor, I see. Were they told to tone down all the gore?
A little later, the Swampies invade the refinery and Thawn is speared in the chest. He goes down, blood gushing from his wound.
Sue: Somebody didn’t get the memo.
The final five minutes, where Kroll attempts to eat the refinery, is accompanied by rapt silence. At one point, Sue even bites her nails. The Doctor heads outside to defeat the monster with his little stick.
Sue: The fifth segment, eh? Not far now.
And then, just when you think it’s all over, the Doctor has to stop the refinery from blowing up.
Sue: That was very funny. Was the script under-running?
The Doctor and Romana leave Fenner to the Swampies.
Sue: He’ll be dead by lunchtime.
They return to the TARDIS and the Doctor’s reaction upon opening the door suggests to Sue that K9 is waiting for them with a pair of slippers stuck to his nose.
Sue: Awwww, K9 wants his din dins.
Sue: That was pretty good. It was a bit slow but the actors gave it their all and the idea was sound. The location was interesting and you could believe that you were on an alien planet –
Sue: Whatever. **** off. Anyway, it was well above average. If K9 had been in it, I might have given it an eight.
Sue: What’s the next one called?
Me: The Armageddon Factor. Why? Are you excited?
Sue: I am a bit. I like a good story arc. I just hope they don’t do a Lost and **** it up at the end.