Doctor Who #341: Frontier in Space Part 2

"Well they had to turn me loose eventually... They ran out of mind probes!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.3 1973.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Jo are in and out of jail cells and can't convince either Earth or Draconia they're innocent.

REVIEW: The first episode was short, but meaty. This one has the correct length, but is padded almost beyond redemption. The Doctor and Jo are taken to and out of various jail cells so many times, it's like a joke. But there's no punch line. What's worse is that they'll frequently show us the in-between bits, like guards and prisoners walking to and from locations. The Doctor, perhaps uncharacteristically (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt seeing as he's in diplomatic mode), sits patiently in each one, barely making an effort to escape, or telling rather ridiculous stories about other times he's been captured and interrogated (and not stories we know about either). Jo, whose only expertise is escapology, is forced to take charge, and rather amusingly, she's the one thinking out loud, shushing her companion to listen for footsteps, and asking to be taken to her guards' leader. That it never amounts to anything is a shame, and even when she and the Doctor are inevitably separated, they're back together within a few minutes as part of another escape and recapture sequence.

If this runaround is a little trying for both the characters and their audience, it also shows a terrible performance on the part of Earth and Draconian Security. Both are victim of production values, perhaps, but dodgy writing too. Considering the Doctor and Jo are presumed spies, saboteurs and/or terrorists, why is there interrogation being handled by the President of Earth herself? (It makes it seem like the planetary government is made up of exactly two people.) Why wasn't the Doctor searched and his sonic screwdriver removed (even if it is useless)? How did Ogrons get in the capital city and in a position where they can mount a full frontal assault on the prison? If it even is a prison, and not the same compound where the President works. And while I appreciate the Draconians' deviousness, and the Prince giving non-orders to his secretary with special attention to plausible deniability, why would their rescue of the Doctor take the form of a rather public and obvious attack that would immediately point the finger at them? And then why compound that by bringing the Doctor to their embassy where Earth forces are sure to go (and do)? Never mind that Draconians, who have a Klingon-like, honor-bound, martial culture seem particularly vulnerable to being pushed. (Jury's still out on the Doctor's flip back in his chair, which is either cool or awkwardly silly, depending on your mood.)

Now, the episode does do a couple things right. Its use of locations, for example, is excellent. The prison compound is a gray concrete facility with many levels to make chases there exciting, just fascist enough to be foreboding, and just modern enough to fit the future. The Draconian embassy has windowed walls and a lush garden, and just the right Japanese influence to paint Draconian culture with that sort of brush. These places exist in the present (or indeed, in the early 70s), but are unusual enough that we accept them as futuristic or alien, and so much more interesting than Yet Another Quarry(TM). And there's the Jo-Doctor relationship, of course, though it does get awfully cutesy here, Jo by turns seeming to have grown since her initial appearance, and yet speaking like she's a little girl in a children's program. These two are at their best when they tease each other, but the whole "explain obvious things to me, Doctor" bits do wear thin very quickly.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - It's not unusual for 6-parters to have an episode's worth of padding. That we're already there in Part 2 is rather discouraging.



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