Down down deeper and down…
Frontios begins in a mine…
Sue: Ooh, mining. We haven’t had a mining story for ages.
A man is examining some ore samples when the ground begins to give way beneath him.
Sue: Are we supposed to see that finger wiggling about under the soil, or is that a mistake?
Chief Orderly Brazen calls for his men to evacuate the mine before it collapses.
Sue: He’s famous. I don’t know what I might have seen him in, though.
Me: Did you ever watch The Onedin Line?
Sue: No, we would have been watching whatever was on ITV at the same time. Whoever he is, he’s a terrible actor. If they were mining for ham, they’ve hit the mother lode.
Meanwhile, on the TARDIS…
Sue: Why is Turlough urinating against a wall?
The Doctor is spring cleaning.
Me: Have you spotted what’s missing yet?
Sue: Oh for ****’s sake, not this again. No, I haven’t got a ****ing clue. Is something missing from the thing that goes up and down? What is it?
Me: It doesn’t matter. Forget it I said anything.
Before Sue can argue the point further, the TARDIS encounters a Boundary Error (404).
The Doctor: The TARDIS has drifted too far into the future.
Sue: How far is too far? Is this the end of time? That sounds exciting.
Turlough delightfully informs Tegan that colonists from the doomed planet Earth took refuge in the Veruna System to avoid an imminent collision with the sun.
Sue: Do you think Tegan and Turlough ever got it together between episodes?
Me: Well they definitely do in my fan fiction. I had a story published in a Big Finish book once, and I managed to concoct a scene where Turlough bought Tegan some lingerie.
Sue: Of course you did, dear.
Incredibly, Tegan’s new outfit doesn’t raise so much as an eyebrow.
Sue: Tegan looks like she’s dressed for a night out in an 1980s disco. I used to have a leather skirt just like hers.
Me: **** off!
Sue: I did. Mine came with a stainless steel chain across the waist, too. It was very trendy. Completely impractical for hostile alien environments, but I never had to deal with that. Unless you count Gateshead, of course.
Brazen informs the chief scientist and medical officer, Mr Range, that he will shut down the colony’s research room.
Sue: There’s no ambient sound. That’s very odd. I’d expect background hum at the very least.
Me: There’s a good reason for that.
Sue: Have they crashed on the planet?
Sue: So it’s a bit like Lost?
Me: It’s almost exactly the same as Lost.
Sue: It’s got some atmosphere. The location is pretty bleak but it’s not too bad considering they are stuck in the studio. I’m not convinced about the pan pipe music, though. Unless Enya is a member of the ship’s crew.
The colony is led by the young Plantagenet.
Sue: He’s not very good either. He’s doing Shakespeare in the park.
Sue vaguely remembers Jeff Rawle from Drop the Dead Donkey (she wasn’t a big fan), but when Nicol walked into the living room later that evening, she was amused to find the serial killer from Hollyoaks strutting about in Doctor Who.
Sue: The sets are incredible. They’re trying really hard with the meagre resources they’ve got, I’ll give them that.
I tell her how the original designer assigned to this story had a nervous breakdown and another designer had to step in at the last-minute.
Sue: Why did the other designer have a nervous breakdown? Did he see the programme’s budget?
The Doctor and Plantagenet meet for the first time.
The Doctor: As soon as I’ve helped Mister Range with arrangements, I’ll be on my way.
The Doctor draws attention to his unintentional play on words and Sue laughs. And then the Doctor gives Plantagenet a good dressing down.
Sue: Wow. Peter Davison was really passionate in that scene. That’s just what we need – more passion. He appears to be very comfortable in the role, now. It’s taken him long enough, mind.
Tegan and Turlough sneak off to find some battery acid.
Sue: Could Tegan have chosen a less appropriate costume for this story? She looks like she’s touting for business in the ruins.
Me: Well, you should know. You used to wear a skirt like hers…
Two cushions in the face in rapid succession.
Tegan and Turlough are joined by Range’s daughter, Norna, but Sue doesn’t recognise Lesley Dunlop and claims never to have seen the sitcom May to December. That’s a shame, I tell her, the show’s premise is a bit like our own relationship, and then I get another cushion in the face. Thankfully, Sue has now run out of cushions.
Sue: She’s got Nik Kershaw hair.
The trio arrive on top of the crashed colony ship.
Sue: Why didn’t they key out the white background? Did they forget to do it? They could have chromakeyed some clouds in at the very least. I bet the fans have keyed in loads of interesting backgrounds in their spare time.
Frontios is suddenly bombarded by asteroids and then, completely out of the blue…
The Doctor: The TARDIS has been destroyed.
Sue: Well, there’s definitely something missing now.
The credits roll.
Sue: I really enjoyed that. Some of the acting was a bit ropey, but the sets are brilliant and the plot is very interesting. Stick the next one on.top
Me: Do you believe the TARDIS has been destroyed, leaving only its hatstand behind?
Sue: No, and I don’t think the Doctor believes it, either. He’s taking the news on the chin so I’m not really worried about it.
Turlough brandishes the TARDIS hatstand like a weapon.
Sue: That’s funny and clever. I’m not sure I like the Doctor condoning the use of threatening behaviour, though, even if it is a joke.
Turlough turns the hatstand on Plantagenet and the leader collapses to the floor in agony.
Sue: See, it’s backfired. Now everyone will think Turlough killed their leader! This always happens!
The Doctor treats Plantagenet’s wound.
Sue: The Doctor is spending most of his time being a proper Doctor in this story. I like it.
The Doctor admits to saving Plantagenet’s life with a home-made defibrillator, but…
The Doctor: Not a word to the Time Lords.
Sue: Eh? He usually saves whole planets, why would they care about him? He hasn’t broken the laws of time, has he? I’m confused.
The Doctor decides to investigate the colony’s research room.
Plantagenet: Your assistant may stay here with me.
Sue: I bet she can. He’ll be asking her for a bed bath as soon as the Doctor’s back is turned.
Brazen believes that Mr Range has spread rumours about unexplained deaths in the colony.
Sue: Dear, oh dear. He really is terrible. I’m glad I never saw The Onedin Line, now.
When no one is looking, Plantagenet is sucked into the ground…
Sue: Great idea. Shit special effect.
The Doctor decides to investigate the mine. He asks Mr Range to remain topside.
The Doctor: These sort of adventures depend on a well-manned home base.
Sue: That reminds me, I need to buy some new drill bits.
Turlough and Norna explore the interior of Frontios. Living creatures are hidden in the walls..
Sue: Ooh, that gave me a shock!
Sue: Yes, what are they? Giant slugs?
After three, everyone… 1…2…3….
Me: Giant slugs in Doctor Who? Don’t be ridiculous.
Turlough has a nervous breakdown.
Sue: He’s such a brilliant actor. Look at him! He always gives it everything he’s got.
The Doctor leaves his disturbed companion with of Mr Range.
Sue: He missed a chance to do another joke, there. “I’ll leave the deranged with Range”. Do you get it?
The Doctor is captured by the Tractators.
Sue: No, they’re not slugs, they’re witchetty grubs. I hate insects like this. They give me the creeps.
Me: The Tractators are based on woodlice, I think. Like many boys my age, I tortured a few woodlice in my time…
Me: Don’t worry, I grew out of it eventually. I moved into conducting post-mortems on dead sticklebacks instead.
Sue: I worry about you sometimes.
The credits roll.
Sue: I’m really enjoying this. The Tractator things are very creepy. Yeah, this isn’t bad at all.top
Me: This is our 600th episode!
Sue: We should dance. We haven’t danced in ages.
Me: Did you ever think we’d reach 600 episodes?
Sue: I did. I’m not sure about you, though.
Turlough is still freaking out…
Sue: I don’t know why he’s in shock. He’s seen worse than this, hasn’t he? I thought he must have seen his new girlfriend get killed the way he’s going on about it. Great performance, though.
The Doctor and Norna are held prisoner by the Tractators but Tegan manages to rescue them. The Tractors panic and run/shuffle off.
Sue: Oh dear. That looked ridiculous. I’m not scared of them anymore. They look like they’re disco dancing. What a shame.
The Doctor bowls them over.
Sue: It was a bleak and grim drama a minute ago, and now it’s a stupid comedy knockabout. That was shit.
The Doctor makes a run for it but he doesn’t get very far.
Sue: What the hell is that?
Me: A tractor beam. Hence the name Tractators, I think.
Sue: I could do without the pink Ready Brek effect.
Turlough dredges up an old race memory…
Sue: He’s actually frothing at the mouth. I just keep thinking about Adric doing this scene. That’s even scarier.
Brazen is arguing with a man named Cockerill about public order.
Sue: Oh great, two terrible actors going at each other. It’s a shame because the ideas in the script are really good, it’s the performances that let it down.
Cockerill is thrown out of the colony for looting and he is immediately attacked by a gang of retrogrades.
Sue: It’s the colony’s version of The Village People.
Meanwhile, Plantagenet is being held prisoner under Frontios.
Sue: They’ve put him in his own hamster ball.
The Doctor honestly believes that he’s seen the last of his TARDIS.
The Doctor: I think you can forget about the TARDIS. It’s probably scattered in little pieces across the whole of Frontios.
Sue: It’s just been pulled underground, you berk! It’s obvious.
The Tractators leader, the Gravis, gloats about his plans for Frontios.
Sue: Oh no, they talk. They don’t frighten me anymore. They’re just another generic Doctor Who monster I can barely understand.
Turlough prepares to return to the Tractators’ lair. Norna tries to talk him out of it.
Sue: What’s with all the pan pipe music? It’s not very appropriate, is it?
Me: It’s the Love Theme from Frontios.
Turlough gives Norna a two corpira piece.
Turlough: You blow through it for good luck.
Sue: Play the Love Theme from Frontios on it. Go on.
Turlough descends into the darkness…
Sue: Blow through it, then! She hasn’t blown through it. That’s bad luck and Turlough will die. What a bitch.
The episode concludes with a horrific twist…
Sue: Is that a decapitated head driving around in that machine? That is definitely not for kids.
The credits roll.
Sue: The story is beginning to flag a bit in the middle, but it certainly has its moments.top
The Doctor treats Tegan like a robot.
The Doctor: I got it cheap because the walk’s not quite right. And then there’s the accent, of course.
The Doctor: But, when it’s working well, it’s very reliable. Keeping track of appointments, financial planning, word processing, that sort of thing.
Sue: She’s really good at whinging, too.
The Tractors are using humans as replacement parts for their mining machines.
Sue: This is relentlessly grim. I bet this would have scared you if you’d seen it as a child. And then you could be scared of woodlice on top of everything else that terrifies you.
For the next five minutes or so, Sue doesn’t say very much. She’s been sucked into the story. Can you see what I did there? Oh, forget it.
Sue: Some of the ideas are very interesting. I like the way the aliens have misdirected the humans by making them stare at the sky instead of the ground. That’s very clever.
Turlough is caught in a Tractator’s gravity beam, but he is saved when Brazen and a gang of Orderlies beat the living crap out of it.
Sue: That’s pretty brutal. I almost feel sorry for it.
Sue has mixed feelings when it comes to the Tractators.
Sue: I like their weird mouths, and if you lit them properly they would be really scary. But their little hands are very silly and they shouldn’t show the feet at all. If they came back today, they’d be great. They would curl up and roll at you. Trust me, it would be great.
Brazen sacrifices himself so the Doctor and his companions can escape.
Sue: He was a bit of a dick – and Turlough technically killed him by going a bit nuts – but at least he came good at the end. A very strange performance, though.
The Gravis’ plan becomes clear: he wants to turn Frontios into a spaceship.
Sue: That’s quite an audacious plan for a half a dozen termites to pull off.
As Tegan wanders through the caves, she notices bits of the TARDIS scattered around…
Sue: OK, I’m lost. How has this happened?
The Doctor tempts the Gravis into his console room, and then he tricks the monster into reassembling the TARDIS with his superpowers.
Sue: He’s the Tractator’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Doctor dumps the Gravis on an unpopulated planet.
Sue: You could easily bring him back again. Just light him a bit better, give him some decent hands, and he’ll be fine. Oh, and you might want to work on his voice so he has more gravitas.
Me: You’ve been dying to say that for ages, haven’t you?
Plantagenet asks the Doctor to stay.
Plantagenet: But surely you’ll stay a while longer and enjoy some of the new colony we’re building?
Sue: Is he having a laugh? What could you possibly enjoy on a shit hole like this?
Me: I’m sure Turlough could think of something.
The Doctor asks the colonists not to mention his involvement with Frontios to the Time Lords.
Sue: He never normally does this. What’s the big deal? He interferes all the time.
The TARDIS dematerialises but the episode isn’t over yet…
The Doctor: We’re being pulled towards the middle of the universe!
Sue: That’s a quick revenge! The Gravis isn’t as stupid as he looks. Nice fake ending. It had me going.
And then the credits roll.
Sue: Eh? I thought you said this was four parts?
Me: I wasn’t lying. The Gravis wasn’t responsible for that.
Sue: Ahhh, it must be the Time Lords. They’ve made such a big song and dance about not getting found out, it must be them.top
The Final Score
Sue: That wasn’t bad at all. The design was excellent, the script was full of interesting and original ideas, and at least they were trying to do something a little bit different. Some of the performances were a bit dodgy and the direction could have been better (especially when it came to the Tractators) but Peter Davison was really good. Yeah, I enjoyed it.
The experiment continues…
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