Doctor Who #498: The Power of Kroll Part 1

"Well, progress is a very flexible word. It can mean just about anything you want it to mean."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD and in a Special Edition boxed set. First aired Dec.23 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on a swampy moon, the Doctor visits a refinery and Romana is sacrificed to the Swampie god.

REVIEW: The Key to Time season had avoided it until now, but here it is, a bog-standard (pun intended) stainless steel future. It's perfectly functional, but uninteresting. There's none of the color or idiosyncrasy of the last few serials, unless we're talking about the violently garish green of the Swampies' skin, or their terrible woolen wigs. The design work is ordinary at best and a little embarrassing at worst. The Swampies are the worst of it. I'm impressed by the number of extras they've got in loincloths there, but watching them chant in almost-unison like they're at a beer-chugging contest is a low point of the season. The locations help elevate the episode, even though they're necessarily dreary, but we haven't really seen wetlands on the show before. It almost gets Pertwee-esque in spots with the use of hovercraft, canoes and kayaks.

The human cast is more interesting than the green natives, with John Leeson playing a human role for once as K9 is rubbish in marshland, and Philip Madoc being, as usual, a highlight as the pragmatic sadist Fenner. He's underplaying everything. Neil McCarthy (Thawn) has a great face, and Rohm-Dutt the gunrunner has some roguish charm in his scene with Romana. And there's Mensch the native servant at the refinery whose loyalties are certainly questionable. Good characters, though they're trapped in something that feels slightly old-fashioned. The program used to do these Empire/Colony stories a lot earlier in the decade, but I'm not sure there's anything original to say about the subject in The Power of Kroll. The imperialists (invoking a corporation rather than an empire, but still) are callous, cruel and disrespectful to the native population (AND planning a good old-fashioned massacre), and no one doubts that they'll pay for it.

Romana is a "difficult guest" of the Swampies, as the Doctor puts it, but doesn't get a heck of a lot to do (there's no real question as to why Mary Tamm left the show after a single season, as her character descends into standard companion situations as we get closer to the end). The Doctor does much better. He's playing a lovely song on a reed (still has his 2nd self's skills), impresses with his wide knowledge of the specific type of refinery (surprisingly, they don't put him to work on some problem, and blather on as if industrial espionage is no longer a concern), gets shot in the hat (that's two hats ruined in as many serials), and gets a number of digs in about colonialism. Baker is a strong as ever, even if the production flags in other areas.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A disappointing start for a Bob Holmes serial. It's not bad or anything, but it certainly doesn't have his trademark wit.

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