Doc discovers a grave situation below the surface, Tegan is a defective android and Turlough exhibits some OTT PTSD. It’s great!
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The Fifth Doctor and companions Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion — JK, Kamelion’s just a figment of your imagination — are traveling in the TARDIS when some wibbly-wobblies take them to the far edge of spacetime, outside of Timelord jurisdiction even, and deposit them on the planet Frontios, one of the last human colonies in existence. After a decade on the planet, the human settlers are being bombarded by meteors and have imposed martial law to protect their waning society from what they perceive as interplanetary war.
That’s just surface-level madness, though, of course, and far more insanity can be found by anyone who dares dig a little deeper. Taken for an alien infiltrator, the Doctor evades execution by offering his services as sleuth, medic and diplomat to get to the bottom of it all. And thus armed with only their wits, ancient race memory and a hatstand, Team TARDIS must save the last of mankind in order to save themselves. But don’t mention it to anyone!
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I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it and it’s horrible. It’s hideous. We must never speak of it again! It has a name! Its name is “mining machine!”
Seriously, that prop needed a bit more work. Frontios however, is conversely amazing. Tractators are extremely original monsters (whose name reminds me of Tater tots). The only creatures remotely similar are the hopping cephalopods from Hartnell’s Web Planet. These guys are still limited in mobility, but superior in every other way. They’re so cool in a low budget sort of way.
The caves actually look cave-y, the colony is limited but beautiful. The music compliments the action. The characters are interesting. There’s a perfect amount of desperation, it all just fits together so perfectly. I’m even willing to accept the coat rack gimmick, because it’s been in the background since Tom’s days, and beaten down colonists might just be that superstitious. The Tardis cliffhanger was so intense when I was young. I was convinced they were abandoning the set, going back to a time ring or something similar for a while.
Props to Mark Strickson who actually enhances every scene he’s in. Also, hats off to the effects department who did a decent job across the board, though I’d love to see a version with updated effects. One other wish would be the lighting. The story requires it to be dark everywhere, but it’s just a little too dark. This incredibly rewatchable story deserves 4.5 steel bars that were re-positioned between takes.
Doc and the team arrive at a time-point described as the furthest ahead the Time Lords can go (Bidmead adds a needless restriction for other writers to forget about; did they learn nothing from The Deadly Assassin?).
The Episode 1 cliff-hanger is the “destruction” of the TARDIS, but it doesn’t work, as no one seriously believes it’s gone, including (and it pains me to say this) the characters, based on how little they react to being marooned forever on this God-forsaken world.
It’s been noted that they’ve been trying to turn Turlough to the Light-side for a while, they then completely undermine this by having him get Brazen needlessly killed (I assume he’ll die down there at some point as even after the Tractators are rendered harmless, they make no attempt to recover him); having the Tractators be Turlough’s people’s Silurians and cause him to freak-out didn’t help either.
The villains this week are the Wyrnn 2.0; killer Woodlice with telekinetic powers (which was actually a good move, as in those costumes, they were man-handling no-one).
A by-the-numbers serial with the villains of the week being consistently hindered by the budget. I did like how the Doctor managed to resolve the situation without killing them though. In fact the lowish body count was a nice change of pace (don’t get used to it), though the deaths that did happen sometimes felt tacked on, almost as if they were there to appease Nathan-Turner/Saward (it’s a long time until “Everybody lives”).
Here is my mini review for Frontios. Cheers!
Oh dear, this is a pretty ridiculous story, it just doesn’t do it for me. ( which means Leon will probably love it ? )
In place of my usual review, I’ll just make a few good or bad points from each episode.
Episode 1: GOOD: The hilarious line the leader makes to the radio operator “ Get back to corridor duties!” Love it!
Episode 2: BAD: Turlough holds off armed guards with a deadly hat stand? Mmmm.. OK then
Episode 3 BAD: Gross close up of Turloughs mouth ( Yuk! ) equal with the Doctor bowling a giant ball towards Tractators.
Episode 4 GOOD: The Doc talking about Tegan to a Tractator, “ I got it cheap because the walk’s not quite right, and then there’s the accent of course!” Wonderfully insulting to this Aussie!
Unfortunately the best thing about this serial is the “ Blakes Seven” Federation style helmets on the guards.
Sorry Doc, not your finest!
Rating 1.8 Hulk Juice Batteries
The Doc and crew arrive on the planet Frontios in the distant future where the final fascist fragments of humanity fight for survival. As the failed colony’s population gradually disappears the old adage rings true: “Frontios buries it’s own dead”. Mystery is afoot but perhaps the answers lie just below the surface.
I absolutely loved this story, it has everything I love: mystery, political intrigue and excellent performances.
I really like how we got some of Turlough’s backstory, and I also think his performance was fitting (I’m just going to assume one of you will disagree so FIGHT ME!). I think he’s at some of his best in this story and I liked his interaction with the supporting cast.
Tegan is Tegan…
I also really liked the hat stand bluff, a very Doctorish solution. It was reminiscent of how the First Doctor defeated the Meddling Monk with a Stick in the Time Meddler. (Boy I really need to chill out on these references, if I wasn’t known for my Canadian roots it be for this)
The production design is also on point with relatively convincing sets and beautiful costumes. I especially loved the red and grey uniforms, they look like they were ripped right from the original Star Wars film (I would not be surprised if some of them actually were). Too bad I have to wait 5 billion years for the sun to explode so they will be in fashion. I also really liked the alien costumes, even if they didn’t seem all that practical.
While I don’t think this story deserves this distinction as much as other stories I have granted it to; I am bumping it up from 4.5 to 5 vertical fish bugs out of 5 because frankly I just really like it.
So this is slow and the monsters are a bit meh. But I feel there are a number of good to great bits in it. The depiction of Frontios is surprisingly good (especially for an entirely studio bound production). Tegan and Turlough get a lot to do, particularly Turlough who is finally feeling like a companion. And then we have the Davison Doctor who I feel is given great material here, particularly the we-must-not-interfere bit and then helping a few mins later. He does actual doctor stuff.
The trooper helmets are reused from Blake’s 7, a show that I recommend you give a try considering the significant overlap with Doctor Who. Terry Nation created it! And various other Who writers and directors worked on it, plus you might recognise the odd face or two.
Apparently originally it was planned that the Tractators would curl up but this proved not possible in the designed costumes. It is slow but in a mysterious way unlike say Warriors of the Deep where you know it’s the Silurians and Sea Devils in the first ep. There’s enough of a mystery to keep you going. The Tractators were supposed to return later on but that script wasn’t made in the end (but you can listen to it as Big Finish’s The Hollows of Time).
Not the best maybe, but something I enjoy 3.5/5
Greetings Who Back When team!!
Frontios was Christopher H. Bidmead’s final script for Doctor Who, and one with some original concepts. This is the only time I think they have actually destroyed the TARDIS shell. from IMDB trivia: The story was notable for the destruction of the TARDIS. The producers of the show intended to remove the TARDIS from the show completely and create the impression that the Doctor and his companions were stuck at the end of the universe. After the Gravis repaired the TARDIS in part four, the idea of removing the TARDIS from the show was scrapped.
I can’t see how they thought the show could proceed without the TARDIS. And you thought Chibnal had some ideas that rocked the show?!
Also the mining machines were meant to have human remains, not living people driving them, but BBC thought that too gruesome. That sounds like classic Saward (SAY-ward) writing to me.
I loved the part at the beginning of part two where Turlough grabs the hatstand from the rubble and, as it crackles with energy, threatens the colonists with it as if it were a weapon.
I disliked how quickly the Doctor recovered from seeing the TARDIS destroyed. Unless he was in shock and disbelief, he should have been acting more like Ten in the Impossible Planet, or at least showing signs of grief.
I did like the part at the beginning where the TARDIS console is warning them about traveling too far into the future; I think this concept should be addressed more often. I do not like the stories where they go to the supposed end of the universe, and find people still there.
I saw this one and Warriors from the Deep for the first time at a Doctor Who convention in Tampa, Florida, where Peter Davison and John Nathan-Turner were both in attendance. Both shows got a favorable response from the crowd, but I think the room was speechless when the TARDIS was destroyed.
My score is 3.8 out of 5.
Hey hey hello!
Season 21 started off with getting blue-balled by Warriors of the Deep, and subsequently picked up with the underdeveloped, The Awakening. Now, with Frontios, we’re reaching the real meat of the season.
Nothing gets me more excited than some well executed matte paintings, and Frontios delivers. The exterior shot of the settlement, interior of the ship and Tractator base all lend a needed sense of scale to the high-concept science fiction. Bidmead’s writing flashes numerous iconic lines, “Frontios buries its own dead”, proves delightfully dark, while the Doctor regarding Tegan as a bum-kneed android with a slur always makes me giggle.
The spherically decorated caves are a lovely backdrop, shining an array of alien colours. The designs of the Tractators are memorable; fleshy bodies bound to a rigid shell. Yet the voice of the Gravis is something better forgotten, sounding like an evil pubescent teen with steel braces and unkempt hair talking into a voice distorter. A voice more emblematic of their telepathic abilities would’ve been nice, just anything other than what we got.
Each character is given some level of significance to furthering the narrative based upon their skill sets which is something previous stories have been missing to some degree.
All in all, Frontios gets a 4.2/5, and represents an incline in story quality from here on.
Caleb from Australia.
Frontios is one of those Classic Who stories with some interesting ideas, but due to either time or budget constraints doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
The Tractators are, to put it mildly, not particularly threatening. Their ability to pull objects and people towards them is interesting, but otherwise they wander around like a bunch of giant woodlice – certainly not in the same league as the Daleks or Cybermen. The rest of the costumes look fine though, and Blake’s 7 fans might notice that some of the orderlies are wearing the distinctive Federation space helmets.
It’s good that we get some more backstory for Turlough, who up until now has remained a bit of an enigma, and no one could accuse Mark Strickson of underacting his part. “A risk shared is a risk doubled” is a good line, and it’s quite funny watching Tegan’s expression when the Doctor pretends she is an android – and not a terribly good one at that.
There are, as always, a few unanswered questions, perhaps the most obvious being: why is the Doctor so bothered about being caught interfering, when he’s spent the last several hundred years doing exactly that – sometimes at the direct request of the Time Lords? It’s also a bit strange that the TARDIS is destroyed, having been indestructible up until this point.
Overall, this is a middling story – not great, but not terrible either.
Summary: there’s good stuff here, so why does it suck? I can only conclude Turlough’s mere presence drags an otherwise decent episode down several points.
Rating: 2.2/5 Disappeared colonists plugged into a digger, or something.