Doctor Who #340: Frontier in Space Part 1

"I can see the TARDIS!" "Well, that's one consolation, isn't it?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.24 1973.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on a spaceship whose crew soon experiences hallucinations meant to undermine relations between Earth and Draconia.

REVIEW: From one ship's storage area to another's, the TARDIS is 2 and 0 since the Doctor got control (or should I say "control"?) of his TARDIS back. This time it's flour instead of chickens, and the 26th century instead of 1926, but there seems to be a constant. In reality, we first see the TARDIS flying in space and almost crashing into a spaceship before going intangible and re-appearing on a deck inside. Shades of the black and white era's visuals, it's not all about the vortex. The way Malcolme Hulke makes space travel exotic here is to make it so common place, it's an experience taken for granted. The ship's crew are dreaming of better jobs, their cargo is as mundane as can be, and then even the Doctor is matter-of-fact about being on a spacecraft. Only Jo is shocked and awed. It's the new normal.

One of the things that makes this episode so interesting is the exploration of that "normal".  In a very short time (the episode under-runs at 22 minutes), and without every feeling like an info-dump, we learn a lot about this early part of the Earth Empire. (The very idea that the show is building a coherent history for our future is, in and of itself, revolutionary.) At this point, Earth is run by a President and has reclaimed the Arctic with new, artificial cities popping up there, like New Glasgow and New Montreal - the first and maybe only mention of French Canada on the program!* - so the over-population mentioned in Colony in Space is well under way. Next to our Empire is another, the Draconians, a wonderful new alien species we were once at war with and may be again. The Draconian make-up is dramatically different from what Doctor Who has done before, much closer to the Star Trek TNG aesthetic that allows actors to express emotion (not that the example we meet is especially emotional). What little we see of the "Dragons" nevertheless suggests a complete culture we've yet to discover, a lot of which is evoked by the design. Earth, too, has a strong design, using futurist furniture, shiny surfaces and solid model shots, the only disappointment being the marines' silly padded uniforms.

Making the President of Earth a woman does more for the show's tepid "feminist agenda" than any number of Dr. Ruths harping on about Women's Lib ever could, though there are some gender politics at work here thanks to General Williams, her adviser who seems entirely too ambitious and could be said to be motivated by an innate lack of respect for female leadership. He's an obvious black hat, though it's technically ambiguous whether or not he's being manipulated or is the manipulator. Nor is it in fact clear if the true villains of the piece (whoever hired the Ogrons) are committing acts of piracy that are incidentally bringing the two powers back on the brink of war, or if that war is the actual goal. Hulke quickly makes us interested in his world's stakes, and leaves the answers for later episodes. The Doctor and Jo are merely here to open that world up and consequently, I don't have much to say about them. It's the usual get captured, escape, get captured again business. You know the drill.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - An immediately engaging vision of the future, it can be forgiven its relatively ordinary use of the regular characters as the dominoes get set up.

*This is clearly a Thing Only I Care About, brought to you by Things Only I Care About, making me care about things since 1971.

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