Frontios begins in a mine.
Sue: Ooh, mining. We haven’t had a mining story in ages.
A man is examining some ore samples when the ground suddenly gives way beneath him.
Sue: Are we supposed to see his 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’ve 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’re mining for ham, they’ve definitely 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, Neil. Is there something missing from the thing that goes up and down?
Me: It doesn’t matter. Forget I said anything.
Before Sue can argue, the TARDIS encounters a Boundary Error. In other words, it’s drifted too far into the future.
Sue: How far is too far, exactly? Is this the end of time? That sounds exciting.
Turlough can’t wait to tell Tegan that colonists from planet Earth took refuge in the Veruna System to avoid imminent collision with the sun.
Sue: Do you think Tegan and Turlough ever got it together between episodes?
Me: They did in my fan fiction. I had a story published in a Big Finish book once, where I somehow 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 ‘80s disco. I used to have a leather skirt like that.
Me: **** off!
Sue: I did. Mine came with a stainless-steel chain across the waist. 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 tells the chief scientist and medical officer, Mr Range, that he intends to shut down the colony’s research room.
Sue: There’s no ambient sound. That’s odd. I’d expect some background hum at the very least.
Me: There’s a good reason for that.
Sue: Have they crashed on the planet?
Sue: So this is a bit like Lost?
Me: It’s exactly like Lost.
Sue: The location is pretty bleak, but it’s not bad considering they’re stuck in a 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 a young Plantagenet.
Sue: He’s not very good, either. He thinks he’s doing Shakespeare in the park. The sets are incredible, though. 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 suffered a nervous breakdown and another designer had to step in at the last moment.
Sue: Why did the other designer have a nervous breakdown? Did they see the programme’s budget?
The Doctor and Plantagenet meet each other for the first time.
Sue: Wow. Peter Davison was really passionate in that scene. That’s exactly what we need – more passion. He’s very comfortable in the role, now. It’s taken him long enough, mind.
Tegan and Turlough set 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.
Me: Well, you should know. You used to wear a skirt like hers.
I get two cushions in the face for that.
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 say, “the show’s premise is a bit like our own relationship.” I get another cushion in the face. Sue has now run out of cushions, thankfully.
Sue: She’s got Nik Kershaw hair.
The trio make it to the 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.
Frontios is suddenly bombarded by asteroids and then, completely out of the blue… 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 quite interesting. Stick the next one on.
Me: Do you believe that the TARDIS has been destroyed, leaving only a hatstand behind?
Sue: No, and I don’t think the Doctor believes it, either. He’s taking it 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 threatening behaviour, though, even if it is a joke.
Turlough turns the hatstand towards Plantagenet and the leader collapses to the floor in agony.
Sue: See, it’s backfired. Now they’ll think Turlough killed their leader! This always happens!
The Doctor treats Plantagenet’s wound.
Sue: The Doctor spends most of his time being a proper doctor in this story. I like it.
The Doctor admits he saved Plantagenet’s life with a home-made defibrillator, just as long as nobody tells the Time Lords.
Sue: Eh? He usually saves whole planets, why would they care about this? He hasn’t broken the laws of time, has he? I’m confused.
Brazen believes Mr Range is responsible for spreading rumours about unexplained deaths in the colony.
Sue: Dear, oh dear. He’s 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 because these sorts 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, where living creatures are hidden in the walls.
Sue: Ooh, that gave me a shock!
Sue: Yes, what are they? Giant slugs?
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 go! He always gives it everything he’s got.
The Doctor is captured by the Tractators.
Sue: 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. Like many boys my age, I’ve tortured a few woodlice in my time.
Me: Don’t worry, I grew out of it. 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.
Me: This is our 600th episode!
Sue: We should probably have a dance. We haven’t danced in ages.
Me: Did you ever think we’d reach 600 episodes?
Sue: I did. I’m not sure you did, though.
Turlough is still freaking out.
Sue: I don’t know why he’s in shock. He’s seen a lot 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 until Tegan manages to rescue them. The Tractators panic and run/shuffle off.
Sue: Oh dear. That looked ridiculous. I’m not scared of them any more. They look like they’re disco dancing. What a shame.
Then the Doctor bowls them over.
Sue: This 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 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. And that’s even scarier.
Brazen argues with a man named Cockerill about the lack of public order on Frontios.
Sue: Oh great, two terrible actors are going at each other now. It’s a shame because the ideas in the script are really good, it’s just the performances that let it down.
Cockerill is thrown out of the colony for looting and 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 he’s seen the last of his TARDIS.
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 any more. They’re just another generic Doctor Who monster I can barely understand.
Turlough wants to return to the Tractators’ lair; Norna tries to talk him out of it.
Sue: What’s with all the pan pipe music all of a sudden? It isn’t very appropriate, is it?
Me: It’s the Love Theme from Frontios.
Turlough gives Norna a two corpira piece. He tells her to blow through it for good luck.
Sue: Play the Love Theme from Frontios on it. Go on, I dare you.
Turlough descends into the darkness.
Sue: Blow through it, then! She hasn’t blown through it. That’s bad luck and now Turlough is going to die. What a bitch.
The episode concludes with a horrific twist.
Sue: Is that a decapitated head driving that machine? This is definitely not for kids!
The credits roll.
Sue: The story is beginning to flag, but it certainly has its moments.
The Doctor describes Tegan as a robot he managed to get cheap because the walk wasn’t quite right. She is reliable though, and very good when it comes to financial planning and word processing.
Sue: She’s really good at whingeing, too.
The Tractators are using the humans as replacement parts in their mining machines.
Sue: This is relentlessly grim. I bet this would have scared you if you’d seen it when you were a kid, Neil. Then you’d 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, suit yourself.
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, and is only saved when Brazen and a gang of Orderlies beat the living crap out of it.
Sue: That was pretty brutal. I almost felt 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 could be really scary. But their little hands are very silly, and they shouldn’t show their 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 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 the place.
Sue: Okay, I’m lost. How did this happen?
The Doctor tempts the Gravis into his console room and tricks the monster into reassembling the TARDIS with his superpowers.
Sue: So he’s the Tractator’s Obi-Wan Kenobi?
And then the Doctor dumps the Gravis on an unpopulated planet.
Sue: They 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 invites the Doctor to stay on Frontios and enjoy the new colony they’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 any Time Lords who might drop by.
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. Our heroes are being pulled towards the centre of the universe!
Sue: That was a quick revenge! The Gravis isn’t as stupid as he looks. Nice fake ending. They had me going there for a second.
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: Ahh, it must be the Time Lords, then. They’ve made such a big song and dance about not getting found out, it must be them.
Sue: That wasn’t bad at all. The design was excellent, the script was full of interesting and original ideas, and at least they’re 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 that.