Sue: I don’t think much of the title. It sounds like a B-movie to me. 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, too.
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 some of that, although the exposition was extremely 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 the place is waterlogged, the Doctor and Romana are forced to leave K9 behind.
Sue: Poor K9. I’m taking a mark off this story straight away. They should put him in a little boat. I like Romana’s outfit, though. It’s very Emma Peel.
Romana searches for the fifth segment while the Doctor plays JS Bach’s Badinerie in B minor on a flute he’s carved out of some reed.
Sue: He’s so much better at this than Patrick Troughton. He could probably give James Galway a run for his money, too.
Romana is kidnapped by a gunrunner named Rohm-Dutt, who’s wanted by Thawn and Fenner, who have just arrived to kill him.
Sue: How did the Doctor not hear their hovercraft coming? It makes one hell of a racket.
Fenner mistakes the Doctor for Rohm-Dutt and shoots him in the head.
Sue: Bloody hell, he can actually 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’re congratulating him?
Sue: Sorry, that is a 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.
Sue: The green make-up is very good. Aliens will probably find it a bit racist, though.
Me: It was murder to get it off the actors’ skin, by all accounts. The BBC forgot to buy any dye remover and the Swampies had to be driven to an RAF base so they could use their chemical showers. Interestingly, no one who worked as a Swampie ever went on to have children.
Rohm-Dutt interrogates Romana.
Sue: What’s that accent supposed to be? American? Irish? Australian? All of the above?
It quickly becomes clear that the Swampies are being oppressed by the greedy bastards back at the refinery.
Sue: This is basically Greenpeace against BP, isn’t it? Or Green hairpieces against BP. No? Oh, suit yourself. Anyway, it’s very political. I like Robert Holmes when he’s got an axe to grind.
The Doctor (who 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 led to a sacrificial altar as the Swampies chant the name of their god.
Sue: It’s King Kong. No, wait… It’s 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. (Pointing) And that one can’t dance.
Thawn tells the Doctor that the Swampies worship a giant squid.
Sue: A giant squid? Are you sure that’s wise? They’re not going to show us a giant squid, are they? Remember what happened with the giant prawn.
The Swampies are still chanting…
Sue: Is Kroll deaf?
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: Apart from the terrible cliffhanger, that wasn’t a bad start. Yeah, there was nowt wrong with that.
We finally get a proper look at the monster that’s attacking Romana.
Sue: They are having a laugh! It’s ridiculous! What the hell is that supposed to be? Did a clam have sex with a mushroom? Oh, wait… Ooh… That’s clever!
Yes, it’s supposed to look rubbish on purpose: the monster is a Swampie in fancy dress.
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 do that.
Back at the refinery, Dugeen is tracking a mysterious shape on his scanner. Thawn tells him to keep an eye on it.
Sue: I bet he wishes he could say affirmative. I must say, I think I preferred him when he was a dog.
Yes, reader, I told her.
Sue: This is just like Avatar, this, 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’re having this conversation, Neil.
Romana wants to find the Key to Time as soon as possible so they can scarper.
Sue: I couldn’t agree more. This situation is going to get very messy.
Me: Yeah, they might get green paint on their clothes.
Back at the refinery, Thawn, Dugeen and Fenner gather round a monitor.
Sue: It looks like they can’t get their Binatone games system to work. And how are they getting any data from a picture like that? An Etch a Sketch has a higher resolution than that.
The Doctor finds the sacred book of Kroll. He opens it near the beginning and reads aloud, which leads Romana to declare that she loves a happy ending.
Sue: Ending? He’s only a few pages into the book. You’ve got a long way to go before that story finishes, pet.
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 to follow. The acting is fine, the location is interesting, and the direction isn’t bad, either. What’s not to like?
And that’s when the mighty Kroll appears.
Sue: Wow. That’s big. Too big, probably. I don’t know, though, it’s a good attempt. They’ve given it everything they’ve got, I suppose.
Me: What about the shit split-screen effect?
Sue: Of course it’s a split-screen effect. It’s 1978 and they’ve got 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 at any moment. If you lived near Seal Sands, that would have given you nightmares.
Things are so bad, the refinery staff are forced to wake Dugeen from his nap.
Sue: Blimey, couldn’t he have got dressed when he was still in his quarters? Thanks for that image, mate. I bet he was dreaming of dogs when they woke him up.
Despite this, the praise keeps 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 it. The last one galloped along nicely, but this one isn’t in any 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’re the bad guys. Imagine a cliffhanger where a Nazi is killed. Who gives a shit? It doesn’t make any sense.
Kroll hasn’t just eaten Harg, he’s caused a gas leak too.
Sue: Is 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 a rack.
Sue: That’s handy, it’s just the right size for them. It’s as if they were expecting to kill three people today. Unless they have really skilled carpenters and they just knocked that up.
Ranquin explains how they will be torn apart by ivy.
Sue: They just have to get that ivy wet and they’ll be fine. (Yelling at the television) Spit on your feet!
Back at the refinery, Dugeen is worried about what Kroll looks like out of the water.
Sue: It’s basically 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.
Sue: DeWalt ear protectors. You can tell they’re DeWalt by their colour.
Me: Mind wandering much?
Sue: A bit.
And then the rain comes.
Sue: See! They just needed some water on that ivy and I knew they’d be sorted. I could have written this!
The Doctor uses his voice to smash the window.
Sue: They would have got away with that if they’d overdubbed it with a real soprano. But that was 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. But that’s all about to change.
Sue: Oh dear. Yes, that is quite bad. It’s so obvious. They should have stuck to the tentacles. The tentacles were great.
Thawn throws a hundred tons of hydrogen peroxide at the beast.
Sue: At the very least, it will bleach its hair.
Thawn is becoming more and 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 pause the DVD and pull up Neil McCarthy’s IMDB credits on my phone:
Not a glimmer.
Me: The Hill? Doubtful. Where Eagles Dare? No? Steptoe and Son the Movie…
Sue: Yeah, that’s probably it. Anyway, it’s a shame Philip Madoc is blowing him off the screen without even trying.
Me: Madoc was sulking at the time. When he agreed to work on this story, he thought he’d be playing the bad guy with the meaty lines, but when he turned up to the rehearsals, he discovered 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 green paint.
Kroll rampages through the lagoon.
Sue: The split-screen is doing my head in now. If this 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 in this situation? They didn’t have any portable green screens back then. Lots of green paint, but no portable green screens.
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 never usually make it past Part Two when I try to watch it.
Sue: It isn’t that bad.
Me: Actually, you’re right, it isn’t. I’m actually enjoying it this time, despite my low expectations. Tom Baker is very good.
Sue: He was probably worried Philip Madoc would think less of him if he fooled around too much. He’s having some fun with it, but he’s still taking it seriously enough for me to believe in him.
Fenner drags Dugeen’s body away.
Sue: No blood on the floor. Were they told to tone down the gore?
The Swampies invade the refinery and Thawn is speared in the chest. As he falls down, blood gushes 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. Thankfully, the Doctor is able to defeat the monster with a tiny stick.
Sue: The fifth segment! Not far now!
And then, just when we think it’s all over, the Doctor has to stop the refinery from blowing up.
Sue: That was funny. Was the script under-running or something?
The Doctor and Romana leave Fenner to the Swampies’ mercy.
Sue: He’ll be dead by lunchtime.
Our heroes return to the TARDIS, and it’s suggested K9 is waiting for them with a pair of slippers stuck to his nose.
Sue: Aww, K9 wants his din-dins.
Sue: That was pretty good. It was a bit slow, but the actors gave their all. And the idea behind it was okay, I suppose. The location was interesting, too. I believed they 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. As long as they don’t do a Lost and **** it up at the end.