Doctor Who #621: Frontios Part 4

"My assistant hasn't been programmed in the ways of the world. Please forgive the naivety. [...] I got it cheap because the walk's not quite right. And then there's the accent, of course. But, when it's working well, it's very reliable. Keeping track of appointments, financial planning, word processing, that sort of thing."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.3 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor lures the Gravis to the exploded TARDIS and disconnects him from the Tractator hive mind.

REVIEW: Frontios' finale is, to me, a series of unanswered questions ultimately saved by a pleasant performance from Peter Davison. For example, being marooned on Frontios for 500 years is scarcely an explanation for why the Doctor's never heard of the Tractators, nor what the connection is between them and Turlough's ancestors. It's rather cheap the way he suddenly comes up with the solution, a solution that turns the Gravis into an animal by cutting him off from the other Tractators (which seems counter-intuitive in the queen/drone relationship, I dunno). And since the Gravis thinks the Time Lords are onto him, they must be ancient enemies or something, but it's never confirmed (again, one wonders why this story had to take place at the edge of Time Lord knowledge). Neither is it explained why and how the TARDIS exploded its dimensions all over the tunnels (even if we accept its vulnerability to gravitic beams) or just how the Gravis brings all the pieces of what is essentially a pocket dimension back together again. Nor are we told why the Time Lords must never know the Doctor interfered here. These plot holes, more than the silly woodlice action (the Gravis falling flat on his face is funniest, but we get lots of little dances from the other Tractators) are its principal weaknesses.

Because unfortunately, there's more. Cockerill the former orderly, now rebel leader, suffers the most, perhaps. He arrives in triumph, but as soon as Range arrives, ranting about Frontios' doom, his little rebellion is completely forgotten about. Of course, with all his scenes from Part 1 deleted from the transmitted program, we hardly care about this character. If we've seen those scenes, then his violence towards Norna seems out of place. It's a no-win situation (though Norna, happily, takes care of herself). There's an odd sequence in which the Doctor makes the Gravis believe Tegan is an android, which isn't so odd and plays better when you restore the deleted scenes (see Versions). The episode underruns a bit, so it's a shame to lose them. And Brazen's sacrifice, letting the excavation machine take him, is hokey in execution, and leaves one feeling ambivalent. This character was all over the place, so I don't know if this is redemption or heroic sacrifice. He's not mentioned again even though the Tractators and their machinery have been stopped. The Gravis' plans to turn Frontios into a giant ship run on gravity is suspect, of course, though I thought more elegantly played than when the Daleks or Cybermen do it. The Tractators' glass tunnels act as an amplifying system for their gravity powers, and what else but a giant mudball would serve as a craft for giant termites.

While the plot is rather clunky, the story isn't boring. There's action, some good lines and bits of shtick, and Davison in particular is great at luring the Gravis to the TARDIS using suggestion and reverse psychology. And in the end, there's enough of that sparkle in the eyes of each of the regulars to make Frontios better than the sum of its parts.

VERSIONS: The deleted scenes available on the DVD make it more clear that the Doctor is treating Tegan like an android so she won't be placed in the excavation machine, and includes sequences where he works on her with a screwdriver. There's also an extensive bit about finding his glasses and information on their technical capabilities, being Gallifreyan tech, not just ordinary spectacles. In the Target novelization, the excavation machine is made of body parts and corpses(!), which certainly gives Turlough's Lovecraftian reaction more credibility, and the Gravis speaks through a decapitated human head on a floating trolley.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It ends leaving way too many questions up in the air, but provides a fairly fun (and somewhat camp) ride.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Frontios is one of those stories that is neither too objectionable nor particularly memorable. Parts of it amuse and interest me, and the regulars all get pretty good roles to play, but the plot never comes together coherently and that annoys me more than anything.

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