The Key to Time
The Power of Kroll
The Key to Time Part Five
|Dates||Dec. 23, 1978 -
Jan. 13, 1979
With Tom Baker, Mary Tamm.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Anthony Read.
Directed by Norman Stewart. Produced Graham Williams.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Romana land on a moon protected by the great tentacled god Kroll.|
Robert Holmes wrote this?! by Michael Hickerson 22/4/98
In my mind, Robert Holmes is a genius. He gave us some of Doctor Who's best outings from the acclaimed Talons of Weing-Chiang to Caves of Andorzani to the underrated Carnival of Monsters. He script edited three strong seasons of Tom Baker stories and was instramental in helping to shape the Pertwee years with his excpetional stories.
OK, he had a few clunkers back in the Troughton era. But I had thought those were all behind him and that he'd learned from them.
Which is why every time I see Power of Kroll and see his name flash up on screen as the writer of the story, I pinch myself, hoping it's just all a bad dream.
Unfortunately, it's not.
The Power of Kroll is probably the weakest link in the entire Key to Time season. And while it doesn't fall apart like Stones of Blood does in the final episode, it's so pedestrian that I don't really care about the story by the time you get to the final episode. It's pretty much paint-by-numbers Who. The Doctor and Romana arrive, in search of the fifth segment of the Key and quickly get caught up in the internal politics of the planet on which they've landed. Before you can say, "Kroll" a hundred and twenty times as the extras do in the great ritual of Kroll, the Doctor is caught in the middle of war between the native Swampies and the workers of the refinery. Oh, and there's an ugly monster to that complicates things.
You know, if you take out the the whole Key to Time linking theme, you've pretty much got the plot to the Caves of Androzani.
Except for the fact that Caves is patented Holmes. It delivers the goods with three dimensional, suporting characters, a fascinating look at the interal politics of Androzani, and a plot that is actually gripping and engaging because there is a major threat to the Peri's life. In Kroll, the closest we come to the Doctor and Romana really be in danger in their being stretched on the rack by the vines, which to be quite honest, they escape from far too easily.
The other factor is that the supporting cast lacks the usual Holmesian depth. Each character is one-dimensional. You've got the double-crossing gun runner, the natives with a primitive religion, the prejuiced leader who wants to wipe and the primites. It never all gels because you never get involved enough to care about any of the characters. Indeed, you hardly shed a tear or care when John Leeson's character is shown in the back in the final episode.
And then, there's Kroll. It's pretty much telegraphed from the beginning of the story that Kroll has swallowed the fifth segment of the Key to Time. It lacks the usual sophistication of a Robert Holmes story. In fact, it's the least shocking or suprising way that any of the segments are hidden.
So, as Doctor Who stories go, Power of Kroll is not even close to my top ten. As Robert Holmes stories go, it's a tragic disappointment.
It's Terrible... And Yet... by Mike Morris 7/7/99
It's tough being a Doctor Who fan. The hiding, the covering of all your chronologically arranged videos and books when someone comes round to your house, the terrible feeling of embarassment when you find that plot outline you had for that story when the Valeyard hatches a plot to go back in time, kill the Watcher and merge with the Fourth Doctor (hmm, actually...). Then there's people like me, who live in Ireland, where no-one even knows what Doctor Who is, or worse still can only remember The Trial of a Timelord.
And now, I'm coming out again. I'm admitting another terrible secret. Here goes.
I like The Power of Kroll. In fact, I LOVE IT. I think it's great. There, I've said it.
Don't get me wrong, because I'm not going to defend Kroll in this review. It's awful. The plot is derivative, dull and incredibly slow-moving, there's no good jokes, the direction is incredibly unimaginative and flat, and of course you have to wonder how Graham Williams ever thought he could make a three-hundred foot high squid look remotely convincing. It seems that everyone's sick of the Key to Time at this stage (they were) and that Robert Holmes was burned out from writing for Doctor Who and thought the story was a bad idea from the beginning (he did).
Then there's the performances. With the exception of Philip Madoc's Fenner and John Abineri's oddly noble Ranquin, they're bad. And I don't mean mildly lifeless, I mean terrible. I mean how-many-lines-can-Neil-McCarthy-fluff, how-drunk-was-Glyn-Owen-during-filming, who-gave-that-curly-haired-guy-a-job, why-couldn't-they-include-K9-and-cast-someone-other-than-John-Leeson AWFUL. Only Baker (who alone seems to be having a bit of fun) and Mary Tamm, who does her best with a poor script, are any way half-decent. And, while I'm at it, the Swampies look like less menacing versions of the Jolly Green Giant.
And yet I like it. I'll try and find some positive qualities, for the record. The base-under-siege idea isn't exactly original, but it doesn't hurt to create a traditional Who story every now and then, and it's a tried-and-trusted formula. The parallels drawn between the Swampies and the American Indians are intelligent, as is the story's ecological basis. The characters are well-conceived, even if their realisation is horribly poor. And, for once, the question of the Key to Time is integral to the plot; rather than being simply "tacked on" (The Androids of Tara is the best example of this), the search for the segment is crucial - it was the segment that caused the whole mess in the first place, and by finding it the Doctor sorts everything out. The location of the segment, for once, came as a complete surprise to me. Oh, and the first episode cliffhanger is great.
However, the main reason I like Kroll is the same reason I like V.I.P.; it's simply so bad that it's marvellously entertaining (particularly after six pints or so). Having said that, I'll offer you something to ponder on - imagine it in black-and-white, starring Pat Troughton, Frazer Hines and Debbie Watling, made during Season Five instead of The Enemy of the World; would it have the reputation that it does? I doubt it. And yes, Kroll looks ludicrous in every way - the shots of it rising from the swamp are perhaps forgivable, but there's no excuse for those limp tentacles - but why is the same accusation rarely levelled at the Krynoid, which is every bit as bad?
Because The Power of Kroll is rubbish, that's why. It's an awful, dull, derivative mess. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 12/6/99
Undoubtedly, this is one of Robert Holmes' weaker efforts, and certainly this is the weakest tale of the key to time season. One of the reasons The Power Of Kroll fails, must be down to the constraints placed upon Robert Holmes. To write a story, featuring Doctor Who`s biggest monster, and make it interesting is a difficult enough task in itself, and one that The Creature From The Pit, achieved more successfully. There is also little trademark humour from Robert Holmes, and no sub-plots,worthy of mention either.
Instead we are shown that Doctor Who was in touch with the real world, as the morality theme of nature versus technology kicks in. This is interesting, with Kroll representing nature, and the technology being the scheduled rocket launches. The Human colony is also important, depicting humanity`s desire to expand and seek, and also coping with what we discover. The Swampies on the other hand come across as little more than stereotyped Africans, complete with chanting, whose only desire is to offer sacrifices. This is unfortunate as so much more could`ve been made of them, instead of the cliched view, once held by a lot of people.
The acting is variable, John Aberini as Ranquin is effective, as is Neil McCarthy as Thawn, but John Leeson seems terribly miscast in a role that would`ve better suited somebody younger, even Philip Madoc is more subtle than usual, and seems out of place. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm just seem to be going through the paces, for the sake of it, and the cast aren`t helped by the location either.
One thing that does stand out however, is the realisation of the Kroll creature, which looks better in long shot, than close up. The power of the segment is also better used here; it created Kroll, provided the methane, threatened everybody, and eventually dispersed into several octopi, a suitably fiiting end to the tale. On the whole, The Power Of Kroll isn`t a bad story, but it`s barely watchable either.
A Review by John Wilson 10/5/01
"The Great One condemns the prisoners to die by the Seventh Holy Ritual of the Old Book!" "Seven! My lucky number!"
Oh dear…the budget for Season 16 has officially run out. The search for the fifth segment of the Key to Time leads the TARDIS crew to the third moon of Delta Magna where they're confounded by human engineers, mad tribesmen, and a gun-runner who could be second-cousin to Garron, Robert Holmes' last rogue creation. K9 is grounded due to the swampy nature of the planet, so the production crew cast the actor who does his voice (John Leeson) as one of the refinery engineers (Dugeen, if you're interested). The commander of the refinery is, of course, power mad. The primitives (Swampies) are so inept and stupid that it's hard to feel sorry for them at points.
And then there's Kroll. Heh, heh, heh….Bwa-ha-ha-ha! To misquote The Discontinuity Guide - how on Earth did the production team think that they'd get away with it? No words can quite describe how poorly realized the creature is. The part that had me laughing out loud was early in part four, when Kroll's tentacles pop through a grassy wall to attack the Swampies, with the creature's head bobbing in the background. It almost looks like it's doing a puppet show! And then there's the criminal mis-use of fine actors such as John Abineri (who plays the leader of the Swampies) and Philip Madoc (who used to play top-notch villains in the show, but in this story is a henchman who has an attack of conscious).
Laughable, and not even in a Space Museum or Dominators kind of way.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 2/1/02
The weakest story of the Key to Time series. It's such a shame that this would prove to be Robert Holmes' last script for the Tom Baker era, a period in which he was instrumental (script-editor and writer of the Hinchcliffe years). It is quite evident that Holmes, by this time, is burnt-out after 3? intensive years as script-editor and further was still writing for the show!
The Power of Kroll is Holmes' worst script, lacking his trademark wit and sharpness, in fact it's rather desolate. After two-thirds the way through the first episode it very quickly becomes monotonous and stays that way throughout. Norman Stewart makes for an uninspiring director who fails to enliven proceedings and unusually for the Williams era - there is no humour. And with that, abandon ship!
A royal Holmes cock-up, again by Mike Jenkins 16/1/02
Easily the weakest story of the Tom Baker era and possibly the entire series. This makes Space Pirates look like The War Games any day. I thought I was dissapointed when I viewed The Sun Makers; well I would watch The Sun Makers all the way through at a stretch with no sleep to avoid watching this bugger of a Doctor Who episode.
This the kind of writing you might find on Blake's 7 but not Doctor Who. What was Holmes thinking? "Gee wiz, Ribos Operation wasn't enough of a cock up so I'll think I'll write this piece of Dalek radiation medicine". Robert Holmes overratedness in correlation with this stinkburger is a Doctor Who scandal of watergate proportions. This is an insult to Tom Baker, to Mary Tamn, every one involved, except perhaps Holmes, I think he knew what he was getting into, on every front of the story (production directing, need I go on?), even good old Philip Madoc who does his best to give a good perforance in what is a travesty and a casualty of literally epic proportions. Invasion of the Dinosaurs was better. Twin Dilemma was better.
The regulars try to give good performances but the acting is so horrendous, that it sinks into their pores and they become desensitized, so unfortunately, this is probably Tom Baker's weakest performance as the Doctor. Carnival of Monsters is a long way away folks. A long way away.
Can Your Hearts Stand The True Story Of The Power Of Kroll? by Matthew Harris 6/8/02
Thoughts on The Power of Kroll upon first viewing the titles: By Robert Holmes? Oh good, it won't be terribly bad then.
Thoughts on The Power of Kroll upon first viewing the end credits: Oh, look at that, it's finished. Er.
Well, I've redressed the balance now. Now it's come around again on UK Gold (blessings and peace be upon it and all its subsidiaries) I sat down and actually watched the damn thing, affording it as much of my attention as logically possible. I wish I hadn't bothered now.
Actually, that's a lie. I'm glad I did. It was one of those things that's so blissfully, fabulously, stomach-achingly appalling that it passes through the other side and becomes entertaining despite itself. It was very apt, I thought, that Edward D Wood, Jr's Plan 9 From Outer Space was on the other side just afterwards. Top tip: tape both in succession for a rainy day. You'll laugh until your head falls off. Literally.
So. What is it about Power of Kroll that's so decapitatingly dreadful? Well, everyone else has pointed out the horrid acting, the genuinely evil direction, the nightmare of ghoulish obscenity that is the script (Robert Holmes? Robert HOLMES? Robert Holmes?) and so on. So, as Mr Congeniality, I'm going to try and find some positives.
Well. Er. Yes, so it's crap, then. Er... (rummages through saliva-splattered notes)... except John "I died too early in Death to the Daleks" Abineri's Ranquin's not bad at all (and that episode 1 cliffhanger is very good, it's true), and Phillip "Hi-De-Hi Campers" Madoc gives an excellent performance for some reason, although it could just be that everyone else is so utterly and completely terrible. Or are they, in fact?
Yes. Except (again) I actually believe that John Leeson holds his own, just about (except the terrible death scene, were a look of horror and agony was substituted for one of slight surprise). Other than his death, and for the purposes of Doctor Who (never a haven for the greatest talents of their generation, to be honest), it's not terribly terrible, more "v. poor". Forgivable, were it not for the drag factor of everyone else. And McCarthy has his moments as Thawn. Of course, Carl Rigg's Garlic, or whatever his name was, is one of the worst performances I've ever seen in my entire life; Glyn Owen instills so much unecessary hatred of Rohm-Dutt that I defy you not to cheer when Kroll eats him; same goes for Graham "Roy" Mallard's completely and utterly appalling Harg; Terry Walsh (late of this parish and God rest his Pertwee-impersonating soul) never could act; and there was a character called Skart, apparently, who's a complete blank, save for the fact that he's named after some television cables. Most entertaining is Tom himself, who quite clearly couldn't care less. Mary Tamm tries to get into it in part one, but after the fake squid's attacked her she seems to give it up as a bad job. Which it was.
Other positives? Er. The direction isn't all bad (the aforementioned episode one cliffhanger is testament to this); I think it's more a case of Norman "Norman" Stewart, like Mary, giving it his best shot, but becoming more and more depressed as he realises that he will be remembered as the director of one of the most horrific serials in Doctor Who's history, until eventually, like Tom, he couldn't give a damn how good the direction is. Sod them. Sod them all to hell.
Um. The story, while not exactly an inventive and mesmeric piece of narrative experimentation, is at least vaguely interesting. Certainly a writer of Robert Holmes' calibre (and it's a very good calibre, Jenkins) ought to have been able to pull it off. In fact, he did, much much much later, with The Caves of Androzani. First time someone mentioned that to me, I punched them in the face. Alright, I didn't, but I snorted with derision. But now I've actually watched Kroll properly, I must say it is similar, actually. For Thawn read Morgus. For Rohm-Dutt (Robert Holmes: great writer, crap at names) read Stotz. For methane refinery, read the Presidium. For genuine classic representing 1980s British SF at its zenith, read gigantic, rolling ball of crap. So why didn't it work the first time?
Alas, poor old God was exhausted, burnt out and jaded. It's slow, dear god is it slow... the dialogue is stitled.... and it's not even funny - lines like "Will there be strawberry jam for tea?" are supposed to be reminiscent of the "No tea, Harry" thing from Genesis Of The Daleks, but in reality it's just surreal for all the wrong reasons. I smiled at it, but out of politeness. The only actual vague laugh came at the "don't exaggerate" bit. And I'm not sure that wasn't out of politeness also.
Erm. At the risk of being attacked with a branding iron, let me just say this: I quite liked the episode three cliffhanger. There. Of course, that was before I noticed the "mouth" (read: two pieces of polystyrene being rubbed together in a way apparently designed to look absolutely nothing like a mouth). But mouth aside, it's nicely atmospheric, and further evidence of poor old Norman trying his darndest and failing through no fault of his own. Interesting to note: there's blood when Thawn dies horribly. That's unusual for Doctor Who until the eighties. Well, something had to be interesting to note.
So, then. It's terrible. It's appalling. It's very wrong.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 5/9/02
Is it really that bad? Is The Power of Kroll one of the worst of the Tom Baker era and one of the worst of the show's long run?
Not really. It's not brilliant, and for Tom Baker, it is a weak tale, but is nowhere near the dire disaster fandom has labelled it.
What we have is another variation of the base under siege story, courtesy of Robert Holmes. We have a goofy Tom Baker who is entertaining all the way through, a solid and slightly sarcastic Mary Tamm and the odd view of seeing Philip Madoc play a sympathetic role in a DW tale.
Um, I usually don't dwell on effects. Doctor Who's SFX even on a good day leave a bit to be desired. However, the split screening of Kroll into the film footage is really bad, complete with visible black line. On the other hand, the critter itself looks pretty damn good.
The story, in itself is solid, though a bit below par for Holmes. Rohm Dutt is not one of his better rouges, lacking the charm and wit of previous creations. The other characters are cliches, and go through the motions, although not as badly as conventional fan wisdom has deemed. John Leeson does a good job as Dugeen and Phil Madoc is in the rare role of playing a sympathetic character in a DW serial. The swampies are on the same level, but get plus points for the religion versus enlightenment argument between Ranquin and Varlek that's played straight. (And come on, admit it, you love the Kroll song that the swampies sing in episode one.)
We do, as usual, with Holmes, get a detailed view of Delta Magna and its politics with a few broad strokes. The Key quest is relatively front and center to the story, as it is the 5th segment which has caused all the trouble. Holmes does a good job of hinting at this in the early episodes, then bringing it home.
So? The Power of Kroll isn't that bad. It's merely average, which in the reign of Big Tommy B makes it seem weaker than normal. But the story, like the whole Williams era, hold together, and the regulars are great.
Watch it again, with a fresh perspective and see what you think.
One script too many? by Tim Roll-Pickering 13/10/02
This story is most notable for featuring what has to be one of the biggest monsters ever seen in the entire series. Such a move is incredibly daring given the budgetary limitations of the series but what's surprising is that Kroll does not come across as looking especially cheap or fake. Instead Kroll looks huge and generally appears realistic and even terrifying Consequently the story is told around Kroll and utilises the monster quite well, most obviously in the way that it is literally the squid's emissions that provide the methane gas that the refinery crew are seeking.
Unfortunately there is little else in this tale that generates much excitement. None of the refinery staff or any of the Swampies come across as particularly effective characters, in spite of some competent performances by Neil McCarthy (Thawn), Philip Madoc (Fenner) or John Abineri (Ranquin). John Leeson gets a change from the norm in this story by playing Dugeen but is unable to bring to the character much that makes him stand out. The only character who makes any impact at all is Rohm-Dutt, who is competently played by Glyn Owen but only stands out much by virtue of his character's role as a gun runner. Even Tom Baker and Mary Tamm fail to give their usual full performances.
Plotwise there is little of note in this tale either. The story is a clear parody of colonialism and the anti-colonial movement, but by now this has formed the basis for several other Doctor Who stories, all of which are able to tell far more effective stories. The Swampies' worship of Kroll is logical but equally unoriginal and again has been bettered elsewhere. Worse still is the story's ending, in which the tracer is effectively used as a magic wand to resolve the story and end the menace of Kroll simply by reconverting the symbol of power into the fifth segment.
Robert Holmes cited this story as his least favourite and given his absence from the series for the next five years it's tempting to dismiss this story as one too many from one of the series' finest writers. The production values of the story are good, with the location work coming across as effective even though a swamp is not the most exciting of locations. However this is not enough to save this story from being poorly construed and further let down by weak performances. As a result, this story is easily forgettable. 3/10
A Review of the DVD by Andrew McCaffrey 4/12/02
I'm going to admit to something that may not make me very popular in Doctor Who circles. But here goes anyway. I like The Power of Kroll. Go ahead; call me a sick man, a twisted fan, a Swampie-Lover and a reject from the Sons Of Earth. I don't care what you think. Yes, Kroll may be a outrageously silly adventure featuring some of the most awful special effects imaginable, but it's a story that I have fond memories of. The biggest flaw, and I mean this in all seriousness, is that Kroll completely fails to breathe fire, stomp through downtown Tokyo, or fire laser beams out of his eyes. If only he had, we would have been looking at a near perfect adventure.
Okay, I don't know how anyone on the production team ever thought that they could possibly get away with attempting to realize a sea-monster that's supposed to about a mile across. Doctor Who could rarely even get human-sized creatures looking right, and the result that appears onscreen here is both far better and far far worse than one would expect. Better, because the Kroll monster itself actually looks quite alien and strange. Worse, because whenever this surprisingly good alien creature has to interact with the rest of the story, it does so on the wrong side of a horribly obvious special effect line. The DVD production notes go into detail about what went wrong on the production side, but the long and short of it is that it looks absolutely terrible. It's a pity they didn't realize how flimsy and shoddy the creature effects would be and go completely over to the side of making this a comedy. One imagines that if the production team had tried this a season later, the monster and the Swampies makeup would have looked even more pathetic, but would have been infinitely more entertaining.
Still, while the Kroll monster is a particularly poor effect, one can never watch Doctor Who for its production values. What I like about this one is it's effective use of the Base Under Siege mentality. When I first saw this story, I was a young fanbaby and had no idea that this sort of thing was supposedly a worn-out Doctor Who cliche. I liked it then, and that enjoyment has stayed with me. The few sets and small cast help convey the feeling of claustrophobia. Kroll is just a pure adventure. Running around, avoiding the giant monster, getting captured by aliens, escaping from aliens, etc. It's just simple fun. The only downside to this sort of silly/fun adventure is that Kroll doesn't eat nearly as many innocent bystanders as he could have. Oh well.
Power of Kroll works well as a simple children's adventure. Sure, some aspects of the plot carry all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but one shouldn't really expect subtlety in a television program featuring a gigantic, evil, angry squid as the main villain. Kroll appealed to the part of me that enjoys Godzilla films. So what if I'm laughing at it rather than with it? At least I'm laughing.
The DVD commentary lacks the behind the scenes know-how that had been displayed on other discs. Tom Baker and John Leeson don't really remember much about anything to do with Power of Kroll, though to their credit they do manage to make an amusing performance. I enjoyed listening to them once, but I doubt that I'd go out of my way to listen again. It's a pity that there are no production staff members on this commentary track; perhaps they could have jogged the actors' memories. Still, even without any actual recollections of the story, Tom Baker manages to bring a laugh, although he did seem to get a little too excited during each of Kroll's onscreen appearances.
The Power of Kroll is a story about a giant squid that made it big and decided to eat a lot of people. Treat it like a cheap monster flick and you can have a fun time with this one. This is pure silly entertainment, and while Doctor Who on TV could often do far more, it's important to consider that entertainment was one of its most important priorities. But just remember what it says on that box. If you know the adventure is featuring a giant, enraged octopus and you go in expecting a detailed, textural, tear-jerking story about Kroll seeking therapy and anger-management classes, then I'm afraid that you're going to be profoundly disappointed. Just break out the popcorn, take a drink every time Kroll eats somebody, and you'll be fine, just fine.
Of Mice And Mensch by Andrew Wixon 2/6/03
At first sight, there's a lot to enjoy in The Power of Kroll, even if most of is unintentional: various people pretending to get grabbed by Kroll's tentacles (steady now), culminating in Ranquin's hilarious death scene, the Swampies' rather endearing 'Kroll!' dance at the end of episode one, Thawn's rubbish karate, and so on, and so on. And it's tempting to just dismiss the story because of this, assume it's just a shoddy jokey runaround.
Because yes, it is shoddy: the Swampies look daft, a lot of the effects are distinctly unspecial (Kroll looming over the horizon looks suspiciously like split-screen, probably cos that's what it is), and there are some dubious performances along the way. And it is jokey: the Doctor's virtuoso flute playing, the (rather knowing) 'it looks more convincing from the front' gag, the Doctor's hidden talent as an opera singer. And there's a lot of running around in all four episodes.
But for all that... well, I can't bring myself to dismiss this story, because it was clearly written 'straight' with the humour and Kroll imposed on it by the production team. The locations are novel, the characters written thoughtfully and seriously. Philip Madoc is predictably good, his rather disgusted air probably explained by the fact he thought he'd be playing a better part. Robert Holmes does his considerable best to make Kroll a credible menace. And, beyond all this, there's the fact - which has long been pointed out - that this story rather anticipates The Caves of Androzani - intrigue, cynicism, and gun-running on a minor planet, with no particular good guys save the regular characters. It lacks that story's depth or pace, but the resemblence is there. Strange that two of Robert Holmes' most similar scripts should be separated by the longest hiatus in his DW-writing career, but there you go.
Kroll isn't that great, but neither is it terrible. You can watch and enjoy it on a number of levels, often at the same time, which is sometimes all you want from DW.
A Review by Will Berridge 4/6/03
The thing that strikes me most immediately about this story is the title. Well, obviously. It's just appalling. It's not really the wobbly sets and wooden acting that makes can make me embarrassed about being a DW fans, I can make up excuses for them, it's story titles which begin "Power of...". Didn't the writers read them back to themselves and realise how corny they sounded? Unfortunately, this just edges out "Power of the Daleks" on the cringeworthiness stakes because here the eponymous monster had a dafter name.
And in many respects the story does its best to live up to the inauspicious beginning where it has to suffer its apology for a name being rolled up after the title sequence. The characters hardly set it alight, several being extremely functional. Rohm-Dutt does an amusing Terry Wogan impersonation but not much else, the only thing I can remember about Harg is his curly hair, and Romana looks bored. Skart and Varlik are with one exception collectively mundane, and Dugeen has to wait till the fourth episode for his character to develop, only for John Leeson to mess it up when the does, delivery the "They're not cranks! All life began on mother Earth blah blah..." diatribe a little too wimpishly. Watching Philip Madoc play Fenner just creates a sense of something being wrong. He's must be screaming "Oh God I'm better than this" to himself whilst delivering his lines. It's one of the few examples in DW of a character being better acted than his role in the plot merits. Thawn comes across as a good "bastard" villain (often overlooked in favour of the "nutcase" villain in DW), but Neil McCarthy overdoes it at times, such as the "lily livered sentimentalists" moment.
Ranquin's fanaticism is well portrayed if a bit one-note, though he has one supreme moment where he gets to tell the Doctor "Your mind is bent, dryfoot." Tom Baker has plenty of opportunities to get revenge, however, banging his fist against his head as he goes off to try and propitiate Kroll, and supplying us with more moments of his derisive irreverence. For example: "What are you going to give us now, then? The Eighth holy ritual?", "He's not the great one, he's the INSIGNIFICANT one", "Kroll is all wise, all powerful..." "All Baloney!", and "It's holy writ" "It's atrociously writ." Tom Baker obviously thinks as little of the story as Mary Tamm does, but this is a foible often over-criticised, as he's playing a Timelord with 760 years' experience who naturally finds such situations rather trivial. As always, he finds a way of keeping himself and us amused. Thank goodness for Tom Baker.
The plot is often criticised for the want of the humour (well, that isn't produced by Tom Baker) that characterised the Williams years. It's tempting to point out that some of DW's best stories, such as oft-lauded (especially by me) Curse of Fenric and Caves of Androzani (bearing many similarities to this story, and by the same writer) probably have even less comedy in them. However, in these two cases, you hardly notice this as you're just blown away by the story itself. Kroll (I refuse to use the full title) hardly achieves this. It does illustrate that not making any jokes is hardly an intrinsic failing, however.
Basing the story around a creature budgetary restrictions made it impossible to fully realise was, however. The only half decent shot we get of the whole thing in action is when it assaults that rather wobbly model of the refinery in the final episode. Apart from that, we only see what, given the alleged size of the thing, must be some of its smaller tentacles, dragging people down (the same) pipe. I refuse to count the other instances because it's hard to fear for the lives of our intrepid heroes when the monstrosity assailing them isn't even on the same screen. In fact, the "split screen" effect accounts for several acutely painful moments. Firstly, there's the resolution to the cliffhanger to Episode 3, where the beast appears, then, without any encouragement, decides to disappear again, demonstrating just how easy it is to write cliffhangers which don't interfere with the plot too much. Even worse is its "attack" of the Swampie settlement, which is realised by a shot of a few rather floppy tentacles poking limply through a fence, behind which we see a ridiculously disproportionate shot of Kroll's head.
The plot is rather pedestrian, being taken up by sporadic appearances by Kroll to kill off an extra so as to prove it is still there, and somewhat half-hearted attempts at sacrifice by the Swampies. If they don't want to look, can't they at least put someone on guard outside? For the 7th and most painful holy ritual, also read the most over-complicated and weather-dependent holy ritual. The denouement is a bit contrived, as well. The swampies raid the refinery, kill off Thawn, and then, having done all the convenient things they can, sit around watching, trusting the Doctor for some inexplicable reason to sort things out. Shouldn't they be trying to sacrifice him again? Ranquin seems to have had that intention but gives up and starts having a nervous breakdown. The Doctor does, of course, sort things out, rather easily, by pressing a button on the tracer and making the monster disappear. And I couldn't forget to mention the most gaping plot-hole of all: if Rohm-Dutt is working for Thawn, why does the latter go out trying to shoot the former in the first episode? Well? Anyone got any ideas?
I don't like committing Tom Baker stories to the realm of turkeyhood, however (it's only with Underworld and Creature from the Pit that I will), and the story does have redeeming features. The Episode 2 cliffhanger is pleasingly dramatic, largely because of the way Philip Madoc screams "Harrrrrg!", and there's an interesting illustration of the difference between human and divine initiative. The dialogue, especially where the Doctor's concerned, is actually quite good, what with Bob Holmes writing it. And even attempting to realise a monster on a massive scale failed utterly, it was amusing to see it tried.
I was excited by this story the first time I saw it a few years back, bored out of my skin by it last year, and quite amused this time round. Which shows... teenagers are moody. 5.5/10
A Review by Paul Rees 23/8/03
Poor old Kroll. Can ever a story have been so unfairly maligned? This dashing tale of squiddery and gunrunning is almost universally slated within fandom - it's boring, it's tedious, it's embarrassing, it's... well, it's rather good actually. Honest.
One thing that can't be criticised, surely, are the visuals: I mean, if you can find fault with these then you're actually looking for things to complain about. The split-scene technique is rather obvious at times, admittedly, but it could have been so much worse (remember Nessie from Terror of the Zygons? Exactly).
And is it boring? Well, episode three is. Nothing happens. At all. You could skip from episodes two to four and hardly notice, to be honest - but that still leaves three-quarters of Kroll which is essentially well paced. It's fun, it's fast and it makes some fans furious. See the Doctor playing Bach on a hastily-fashioned swamp reed! See Romana being menaced by a medium-sized crab! See the Swampies in all their day-glo glory! And - best of all - actually see John Leeson, in the flesh!! Is there no end to the delights on offer?
I jest, of course, but I really do like The Power of Kroll. Comparisons have been drawn between the plot of Kroll and that of the admittedly vastly superior Caves of Androzani - and it's true that there are similarities. Kroll doesn't have half of Caves' depth and complexity, of course, and the characterisation here is pretty two-dimensional - with only Rohm-Dutt being at all convincing. But both feature an isolated community trapped within a hostile terrain; both feature double-crossing gunrunners; and both feature delicately crafted, almost Shakespearean dialogue (did you spot the deliberate mistake?).
I do have a fondness for base under siege storylines, and the refinery represents a textbook example of the isolated outpost, prey to the machinations of monstrous forces (well, monstrously rubber tentacles anyway). The modelwork of the refinery's exterior deserves special praise, being somewhat reminiscent of the oil rig in Terror of the Zygons, whilst the installation itself is, admittedly, woefully understaffed. This fact is, however, counterbalanced by the surprisingly large number of Swampies we see running around.
There are moments of silliness in Kroll, of course: the perfectly preserved book stuffed down a hole, conveniently close to where the Doctor and Romana are incarcerated; the Swampies' rather odd method of 'vine torture'; and the Doctor's even odder method of escape (just how did he make that noise? And with a combination of which specific bodily orifices?). But the greatest element of apparent silliness is actually Kroll's piece de resistance, Kroll's lasting contribution to the legend that is Who. As Gareth Roberts writes in DWM 298:
"This is the only Doctor Who story based around farts."It's true. Kroll's farts are the source of the methane which the refinery is processing. No farts, no refinery, no colonial invasion, no indigenous rebellion, no story at all. And that would be a tragedy, wouldn't it? Oh yes it would, dear reader. Oh yes it would. 7/10
A Damp Squid by Steve Scott 1/11/03
The Power of Kroll? Oh yes – that’s the one with embarrassed looking thesps wandering around a soggy marsh covered in Dulux avoiding a giant farting squid which turns out to be the fifth segment of the Key to Time. With me so far? Good.
Sadly Kroll has very little to recommend it, beyond the concept of squid breaking wind. And who said the serial has little humour?
It seems that dear old Bob Holmes wasn’t comfortable with ‘shopping list’ Who. Witness his abandoning ship for the original Five Doctors and the somewhat garbled (though undeniably joyful) Two Doctors. Here, it’s the enforced requirement of the flatulent crustacean (that’s the largest monster Who ever had – which I’ve always believed to be Ian Levine, but that’s fan-wank for you) that leaves everything looking somewhat lacklustre.
Surprisingly, a number of the trademark elements that make so many other Holmes tales joyous are all present and correct. Here they just don’t work; it’s the realisation that’s the problem. Take Rohm-Dutt for example. He’s the latest Holmes wideboy to grace the show, but he’s none of the charm of either Ribos’s Garron or even the psychopathic gunrunner Stotz from Androzani. He just sits by a rock being nasty and chewing a stalk of wheat (why? Presumably it’s supposed to be a shorthand for ‘rascal’ – movies tend to have such characters chewing gum or tobacco – but it’s too incongruous and contrived to work here). By the time he’s turned into squid food no one really cares – and that includes the Doctor himself, whose reaction is surprisingly callous for such a benevolent character.
Which brings us to Tom himself. Like the viewer, he just looks so bored with the whole thing, much like a junkie between fixes. There are moments when he sparkles (‘My lucky number!’), but as with another penultimate season story, Underworld, he looks like he’d rather be knocking back the double gins in Soho.
Other performances are extremely variable. John Abineri manages to invest Ranquin with some dignity until he starts praying to a very unconvincing protuberance in a pipe (did someone say Monty Python?). Philip Madoc is his usual quietly intense self (it’s also an interesting coincidence that both his first and final Who appearances are in substandard Holmes tales playing peripheral characters). Everyone else is either wooden (pity the story doesn’t take place in a forest, as it would have been fitting) or overplayed; Neil McCarthy’s Thawn falls in the latter category, but it's nice to see a villain who’s simply a complete bastard for a change. As for his ‘blink-and-you-miss-it-death’ though…(I did)
I do like the cliffhangers though – particularly Episode Two’s ‘Haaaaaarg!!’ And the resolution to Part One’s climax is satisfyingly self-knowing (‘he probably looked more convincing from the front’). And it’s nice to see once again one of Who’s central facets – doubt and you’ll survive, worship and you’re worm food.
Ho-hum. Still, there’ll be strawberry jam for tea…
Give me a rubber octopi and I'm happy by Steve Cassidy 7/3/04
The Power of Kroll surprised me.
I had heard rumours about "how it doesn't work.." and my memories from 1978/79 are hazy at best so when I found this last year in a bargain basement in 'Woolies' I was expecting to be disappointed. Instead I got a taut thriller, albeit one with cheap BBC special effects, which had me hooked from start to finish. I remember it from the seventies - I remember vaguely the TARDIS' arrival in a forest of reeds on the swamp moon of Delta Magna, I remember the green swampies chasing the Doctor and Romana through the marshes and of course the titanic Kroll as it finally made it's appearance. There are some things which should remain in the past, things which should be left as they were. But The Power of Kroll isn't one of these. Ahhh, nostalgia isn't what it used to be....
To me the Doctor was always about the outrageous. It was always about letting your imagination soar. It pushed the boundaries and creating alien worlds, terrifying monsters and entertaining plotlines but without the kind of budget that George Lucas has to play with. The writers of The Power of Kroll let their imagination go wild on this one. Obviously the Tarzan and King Kong films they saw as kids influenced them. This one features treacherous marshes, spear-brandishing natives, a sacrifice of the female lead and the biggest monster in the Dr Who canon - a giant squid/octopus called Kroll stretching a whole mile across. Kroll appeals to the Godzilla/King Kong fan in me. The Key to Time season was enjoyable but I sat through The Ribos Operation and Androids of Tara as a ten year old waiting for a big monster that ate people - and in the fifth adventure Graham Williams/Robert Holmes duly obliged.
Of course with such monster to play with there must be quite a build up - the build up takes a while, with us only seeing it at the end of episode two, and it is this build up which is the most entertaining. It first shows on scanners at the oil refinery with lots of "I can't believe this thing it is a mile across!" and the like. If you have a sense of wonder and still a part of a child in you then you will enjoy Kroll.
Thought by most to be the best of all, Tom Baker is wonderfully entertaining in this romp. He is at his most alien in this one, distrusted by both the "swampies" and the "dryfoots". In fact the only one who seems to connect with him is the renegade gun-runner Rohm Dhutt. The Doctor bounces along like an overgrown school boy fazed neither by gun-toting colonists or treacherous marshes. There's a wonderful scene were his exuberance gets him further into trouble when he indentifies the top-secret protein refinery as one he has seen on other planets. His time-travelling far into the future means that he has seen this refinery before, the colonists are suspicious as theirs is meant to be the prototype.
It's this wonderful rambling which is so entertaining and so cursory of Tom Baker's Dr Who. When he, Rhom Dhutt and Romana are laid out by the swampies to be stretched to death by creeper vines it is Baker wittering about the temple's architecture being early samoan which breaks the tension. "Still it's better then Gothic Perpendicular... never did care for that."
The standing out feature of The Power of Kroll is the location. Filmed in the marshy estuary of the River Arne in Suffolk the swamp moon of Delta Magna looks utterly authentic. You can forget the over-the-top swamp world of 'Flash Gordon' or Dagobah in 'TESB' they were just soundstages. The actors in this one squelch through muddy trails, canoe across vast lakes and the TARDIS itself materialises in a bed of reeds. The terrain itself becomes a protagonist, when fleeing from the settlement they have to jump from one tussock to another to cross a quaking bog. As the Doctor says "one wrong move and we're up to our necks..". Still, they resisted the opportunity to have a quicksand sequence. I can imagine a struggling Romana being pulled out by Tom Bakers long scarf.
And it is the swampies that people remember. The adventures for that series up to that point had all been in high-tech or sophisticated locales. This time they took a step backwards into a primeval swamp world inhabited only by supposedly primitives. The actors playing the swampies do their best but are handicapped by wearing truly luminous green paint from head to toe as well as the usual knives and loin-clothes. While watching it my heart went out to the actors as it must have been truly freezing on those Suffolk marshes. They are actually quite well drawn with Ranquin (John Abineri) the head priest using Kroll for his own ends and demanding the sacrifice of Romana. A bitter Vikart (Carl Rigg) is angry because the gun-runner sold them faulty weapons and he can't help but think he is being used by both sides. But it is that green make-up that you remember. The stuff was so tough to get off that when they finished filming they all had to go back to town in the mini-bus with the green paint still attached to their bodies.
The big fish, so to speak, is Kroll. When he rises up at the end of the second episode he is everything we expect - a horrible tentacular invertebrate towering into the air one mile wide. We track Kroll through the eyes of the technicians on the refinery on their radar monitors. We never see Kroll rise from the bottom of the lakebed but through the actions of the actors we realise this is important. And when he attacks the refinery, we know that he is a rubber monster attacking a model. But we still enjoy the drama of the situation. And Kroll hunting swampies by movement amongst the swamplands and dragging them into the water is great fun.
Along with Leela and Sarah Jane, Romana I is one of my favourite Doctor Who companions. For a start Mary Tamm is icily beautiful and always dressed elegantly. She seems to be exceptionally highly born in real life and one can see it in her performance as the Time Lord companion for the Doctor. She is definitely the Doctor's intellectual equal, often her mind is second-guessing or racing ahead of his. And she is also warming to him after four adventures together. Gone is the imperial manner of The Ribos Operation she even laughs at his jokes as they head back to the TARDIS. But the old Gallifrey haughtiness is still there, just watch her manner when she demands of Ranquin why they are being killed.
But the weight of the story is carried by the technicians at the refinery. They are well drawn with the leader the tyrannical Thawn (Neil McCarthy) as the best. His lieutenant Fenner (Phillip Madoc) is more cautious and the conflict between the two is well done. The young idealistic radar scanner Dugeen (John Leeson) gets in between the two. And it was clever of the scriptwriters to introduce a third party - the 'Sons of Earth' who are a group of cranks sympathetic towards the swampies, and who Thawn suspects are the ones providing the natives with weapons. It is Thawn who is the main protagonist here. It is his mania for destroying the creature which endangers them all, and he is so ruthless and out-of-control that anyone disobeying him is instantly killed. It's good stuff all around even if the refinery consists of only two sets.
And then there is Rohm Dhutt. He only survives three episodes and I would like to have seen more of him. He is a kind of laconic big-game hunter/gun runner supplying the swampies with weapons to drive the colonists from the moon. His type has been seen many times in Westerns where a carpet-bagger supplies the Apache and is meant to symbolise the profit-makers' use of both sides. However, there is a not unexpected twist to who is employing Rohm Dhutt, and the performance by grizzled Glyn Owen as the profiteer is wonderfully enjoyable (despite his silly death).
Overall, The Power of Kroll is usually forgotten or derided by Who fans. It is one that sticks in my mind from 1978/9 and I was a child hiding behind the sofa every time the creepy music comes on. You must remember that these programmes were made for children, and British children got their brains around complicated stories and scientific psychobabble. Never once did the series talk down to its target audience.
Now from twenty years on it still has what I like - good escapist entertainment. There is enough meat on the bone for this one to work on a deeper level, and you must turn a blind eye to all the green paint and rubber octopi. This one is for those of us who enjoyed King Kong and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I liked it - and if you can get over lots of swampies jumping up and down, waving their spears and shouting "Kroll! Kroll! Kroll!" - you will too...
Limp tentacles... by Joe Ford 27/6/04
Corrr! How much male flesh is on display in this story? After an endless parade of sexy female companions there is finally a story that caters for the ladies and poofs among us. Unfortunately these semi naked men, solid and athletic at that, are covered head to toe in green paint rendering the entire enterprise worthless. Salivating over an alien is too disturbing for words so I shall have to resent this story for my one chance of eye candy.
Over the years this story has achieved a certain lack of respect and most reviewers, including myself unfortunately have dismissed it in favour of the comedy gems that make season sixteen such a standout. If we were criticizing the story because it was simply poor it would be fine but watching the story over an evening I can see that it is far more worthy than I had previously thought. The real problem is we weren't annoyed because it was such a dip in quality but angry because it isn't a comedy story and the previous four had left me hungry for more lighthearted fun. The Power of Kroll is a good old-fashioned monster story shoehorned into season sixteen where it sticks out like a sore thumb. There are faults to be sure but as a monster story it succeeds much more than it fails.
It helps that I happen to believe the Kroll creature is realised with some degree of style. Okay you can stop laughing until you vomit now. Seriously, for the time (and that is not faint praise) the scale and look of the creature is phenomenal, it looks appropriately nasty with wiggly mandibles and whip-like tentacles and is shot on film to give it a realistic, organic look. Maybe the producers of Doctor Who were trying to compensate for something but they seemed to be desperate to make the monsters bigger and bigger with each new controller. Verity had her cat, Barry had his dinos and Giant Robot and Phil had his Skarasen. Considering the Graeme Williams era is heavily criticized for its poor production values it brings me great joy to point out that Kroll looked far better than all of these other attempts. Yeah the split screen is obvious but they'll iron that out for the DVD release and even if they don't the monster still looks impressive with live action taking place around it. There is a genuine sense of awe that the story needs to succeed.
Another huge plus for the story is the extensive location work in the Iken Marshes. The look of the story is superb considering the genre; the location work evokes the feeling of a miserable planet, one unsuitable for habitation. I love the reeds and the TARDIS lost amongst them, I love the lakes and all the shooting on boats and hovercraft, I love the chase scenes on the boggy, uneven land, this unusual exterior provides some fascinating visuals and gives the director a relatively easy ride. If the scenery is interesting enough it only takes minimal effort to make it come alive. This amount of yummy location work typifies season sixteen, the four stories in the middle all containing very different but equally gorgeous outside filming.
Where the story falls down and a lot of interest is lost is the amount of cliches that are used to construct the story. It is surprising that a writer of Robert Holmes' calibre should resort to such desperate tactics and despite some exciting plotting you can tell his heart is not entirely in the project. The issue of technology vs. nature has been explored again and again, even in Doctor Who and renders the Refinery vs. the Swampies practically redundant in storytelling terms. The Swampies in particular never break out of their stereotypical "God fearing tribe" mould; there is always a maniacal leader, a doubter, a false deity, a sacrifice and all these things are rightly in place. There is a missed opportunity to explore another deconstruction of religion (like in The Face of Evil), the Doctor at one point savagely dismissing Ranquin when he is making excuses for why their "God" is killing his own people. Instead of calling to account for his actions Ranquin is dispatched at the end and the story cuts away on the Swampies, God-less and homeless and THIS is where the interest in their culture would begin, seeing how they pick up the pieces.
The Refinery bunch are a bit dull too at least until the last episode anyway. Until then they seems to sit around and talk about the troubles they are having but remain idle about actually DOING anything. Blissfully the story thrusts them into action in the last episode, Fenner desperately trying to keep his cool as Thawn guns down Dugeen and starts making insane, homicidal decisions.
So while the two factions are constricted by their function to the narrative it helps that both sides are at least played with totally conviction. Philip Madoc and Neil McCarthy provide some good fireworks with their frantic bickering and John Abineri imbues Ranquin with an intense faith in his beliefs that makes him both believable and a bit frightening. John Leeson could have been replaced with a lump of wood without much difference in acting quality but aside from this huge error in casting (Martin Jarvis would have rocked in the role) the rest of the story is populated with convincing performances. I especially enjoyed Glyn Owen's Rhom-Dutt, astonishingly (for the era) but understandably (for the story) underplayed, a pretty convincing and uncharismatic gunrunner.
Tom Baker is quite subdued thanks to the nature of the story and it seems like a snapshot back to the Hinchcliffe era at times. I could well imagine the action hero of the final episode transporting back to the gothic era without much revision. He remains a compelling protagonist throughout, nudging both sides in the conflict (referencing Thawn's blatant racism and dismissing Ranquin's beliefs) and bursting with clever ideas of how to save the situation (his glass shattering scream during the torture scenes is genius!). Mary Tamm's Romana works better than I thought before, aside from a moment of blatant sexism where she is tied to a pole and confronted with an unconvincing man in a rubber suit and ends up wailing like a little girl who has lost her favourite doll she remains as icy and intelligent as the rest of the year. I love how she back chats Rhom-Dutt ("I like a joke" he says, "I'll try and think of one" she scoffs sarcastically) and keeps the Doctor on his toes. Her "I don't want to know!" to the Doctor as he tries to tell a story during their bone stretching experience seems a bit harsh but in the same situation I would be just as aloof.
The bestest most brilliant thing about Power of Kroll is how exciting it manages to be. Season sixteen is hysterical, interesting, thoughtful, clever but it is rarely exciting in a traditional monster-ish Doctor Who way and this glimpse into Williams action adventure works a treat. You've got gunplay in the swamps, big monsters looming from the rivers, mad storms rocking the refinery... dumb and shallow perhaps but extremely watchable stuff. Two sequences rock big time, one comes at the end of episode two where the tentacle rips from the pipe and grips Harg and slithers away with him... it actually made me jump! The second comes during the climax with the Doctor circumnavigating Kroll tentacles to stab the heart of the creature with the tracer to retrieve the segment. It's filmed with conviction and when a tentacles wraps itself around the Doctor and squeezes the life from him you could well believe his time is up. Great stuff!
In my season sixteen review I granted the story a mere five points but after watching it again through wiser eyes (huh!) I would add another two to that score, it is probably the weakest of the season but considering the first four are so strong that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Gripping and cliched, it's an uneven adventure but takes place in a time when he show was made with supreme confidence and conviction. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, how about you give it another go and you might find that you do too.
A Review by Rob Matthews 26/8/04
'I had to sacrifice her to Kroll. It was my moral duty'"That explains the masquerade. It must have been political", Romana intimates around the beginning of Kroll's second episode as, hopping down from a sacrificial altar, she wonders exactly why a man has just dressed up as a clam and tickled her. "Don't talk to me about politics!" the Doctor huffs.
-Ranquin (or some Doctor Who character played by John Abineri at any rate)
Sadly the central problem with The Power of Kroll (and I'll grant you there are a fair few satellite problems obscuring it) is just that: It doesn't talk about politics enough. Even though, plainly, politics is what the story's really about.
In reviewing Baker's Doctor a while back, I was of the opinion that what really made season 16 a success was the lack of 'monsters' as central villains. Rather, the Doctor's enemies were all human beings, great actors rather than latex 'n' bubblewrap beasties. The Power of Kroll I deemed a failure precisely because it was the only one to use a wholly unconvincing daft monster as its bad guy, and hence seemed rather more childish than its contemporaries.
On reflection I was a bit mistaken there. Having watched the story again (it's part of the Key to Time box set, you see, so I had to), it's clear enough that Thawn is the bad guy here. Guess I was just so blinded by the giant squid and the silly Swampies that I missed it before.
There's a reason I alluded to The Ambassadors of Death up there, by the way. That serial is, bizarrely enough, the Doctor Who story that Power of Kroll most resembles. Plotwise, that is; themewise, if you like. Thawn as a bad guy is very much of the same stripe as General Carrington in Ambassadors - a xenophobic prick plausibly incriminating those he thinks of as enemies in order to have a decent excuse to wipe them out. And like Carrington he uses a criminal agent to carry this out (Reegan/Rohm-Dutt).
It's clear enough how he managed to make so little impression on me last time, though. After the tastily hammy star turns of Garron and the Graf in Ribos, then the Captain in Pirate Planet, followed up by Cessair of Diplos in Stones of Blood and given an extra honey glaze by Count Grendel in Tara, a grizzled one-note git who looks a bit like a psychotic Bruce Forsythe can be forgiven for not making a particularly big splash. Also, I think the fact that the ever-reliable Philip Madoc just loiters about in a thankless, mildly disgruntled second-in-command role gets us off on the wrong foot with the story. He's an excellent actor and he's got bugger all to do - not a good sign, especially when he he could probably have brought a lot more richness to the Thawn Role than that buffed-up Brucie chap does. To top it all off, the other bloke in the rig is played by John 'K9' Leeson, giving the impression that the production team haven't really cast their net as far and wide as they might have in their search for a suitable player. Even the character we'd expect to be that bit more engaging, the old reliable Robert Holmes rogue, is a total failure; Rohm-Dutt looks the part but mumbles his way through his performance with absolutely no conviction at all.
(Rohm-Dutt: I keep trying to work out if that's one of Bob Holmes' anagrams, but the best I can come up with is Turd Moth)
Anyway, Thawn's a bad guy in a less theatrical, more naturalist vein than any of the other bad guys this season. Trouble is he's not exactly riveting to watch. Course, that may be because bigotry in itself is innately dull. It's evil, it's something to fight against, but it's too fundamental a stupidity to engage with dramatically. George Orwell put it succinctly: monomania is not interesting.
Nevertheless, and squids be damned, the 'monster' here is indeed bigotry. It's rather shockingly demonstrated in that scene where Thawn shrieks 'Because he's a Swampie-lover!' Shocking because of the obvious resemblance of that phrase to a well-known one used by racists. Difficult to believe that was accidental. In fact there's probably more overt justification for subtext-hunting in that one line than in the entirety of The Happiness Patrol. And since by and large we do forgive that story its camp trappings, can the same be done with Kroll?
Well, kind of. I'm quite serious in pointing in out that the silly Jolly-Green-Giant look of the Swampies works as an 'otherness' signifier - more than anything, their greenness is there to signify that they're not white. How would we view this story if the Swampies had been played entirely by black actors, I wonder? Would aesthetic embarrassment be replaced by an altogther graver ideological embarrassment? Or would it have been brave?
The former probably, since a straightforward association of black people with primitivism and swamps sounds to me more than a little dodgy. Not that it would have been meant that way, but the lateral-thinking explanation that this moon just happens to be a swamp wouldn't satisfactorily cut it for all those dreadful over-analytical people.
Loathe though I am to suggest Doctor Who try to represent alienness in the dull Star trek manner of simply giving normal human beings pointy ears or bollocks on their forehead, I think something less overt than all-over green body paint would have done the job in this case. Us Who fans have very far-flung boundaries for silliness, and I'm proud of that, but I think the Swampies are a rare example of Who going too far into inadvertent campiness even for fans. I say inadvertent because the distinction from The Happiness Patrol (since I brought it up) lies in the fact that that story is plainly quite deliberate in its campness; whether you like it or not, it's definitively there, and part of the narrative. Whereas with Kroll the campness appears to have happened wholly accidentally and so is less easy to get away with. The three blokes in the methane rig have a grittier, more naturalist (at least comparatively) vibe about them which suggests the story was not intended to look as silly as it does. It's rather po-faced in comparison with the previous stories from season 16, which doesn't really help as the effect is rather akin to Adam West being po-faced on the Batman set. Except, again, it's not deliberate. The intent and the production don't seem to match up.
The intent, as I say, seemingly being to tell a 'political' story, very much at variance with the pure fairytale politics of the preceding romp The Androids of Tara. As mentioned, big ol' Kroll is no monster really, because he's not deliberately malevolent. Rather he's a gigantic force-of-nature affair, something that's had a whole society and a whole business operation constructed around it despite the fact that the creature itself does nothing more than eat, sleep and protractedly fart methane. You could argue that he's merely there to be representative of a capricious, uncaring natural world. No really, you could - I think we don't often enough distinguish between, say, a producer's crazy idea to create 'the biggest Doctor Who monster ever' and what the writer actually does with that idea when he gets to work on the script. Kroll is predatory, but also an exploited natural resource. Exploited not in the 'bullied' sense, but in the sense that he's just kind of there, and hence made use of. One civilisation sets him up as their God, the other as a cheap gas supplier. The human Thawn has an opposite number in the Swampy Ranquin, who leads the native tribe - it's suggested that he too exploits Kroll, using the imagined will of the squid as something to justify his own decisions as leader.
So far, so good as setups go. Unfortunately it doesn't go any further than that.
As I said, I think this is a political story, one that's about exploring a situation and extrapolating. Politics is all about tangled agendas, and the problem with this serial is that there just aren't enough agendas to go around. Looking at the serial it's easy to see all sorts of places where the conflicts could have been beefed up - we could, for example, have had a greater compare-&-contrast focus on Thawn and Ranquin as opposing leaders, both manipulating circumstances for their own gain. Rohm-Dutt could have done a double-doublecross and been on the side of the Swampies after all; John Leeson's character could have been definitely identified as a member of the Sons of Earth movement (there seems to be a suggestion when he dies that this is so, but it's not really clear and his remark that 'all life' emanated from Mother Earth is a little odd). Maybe Philip Madoc's character could have discovered his allegiances and blackmailed him or something? Better, we could have had a revelation that Thawn was being manipulated by Ranquin, or ... ooh, perhaps a neo-Swampie faction out to prove Thawn's lot inefficient and offer the Galactic Mining Conglomerate or whatever their own services for half the price, and getting flak for departing from traditionalist ways and compromising their people's freedom. After all, in the story as it stands we're told a couple of times that the Swampies are by no means as primitive as they appear. But given that they seem to divide their time between midnight callisthenics, ritual sacrifice and accidentally getting eaten, we're given little reason to believe this. A sense of conflicting factions within the Swampy ranks would have aided a sense of believability, given the impression of a more developed culture.
Just off the top of my head. Thicker plot threads, more tangled up. Basically, what the story is, only moreso. Might not have been great, but at least it would have been enjoyable and taken its own distinctive place in the season 16 canon.? Actually the problem isn't so much that the Swampies look daft as that the story's so sparse and lethargic we have time on our hands to notice it.
A Review by Brian May 25/9/04
Here's a cruel thing to do: tell a Doctor Who fan who's never seen The Power of Kroll before that it a) has Tom Baker, b) is written by Robert Holmes and c) features Philip Madoc and John Abineri in the guest cast! You'll get the poor person's hopes up that this is a terrific adventure. Because, with the above contributors, it ought to be!
My reviews of the first four stories in the Key to Time saga have, firstly, all praised their high quality and second, emphasised their diversity. While the latter is certainly appropriate to this tale, for it is just as different to its season 16 predecessors, unfortunately I cannot apply the former. After a good run, the quality of this season has started to drop.
But The Power of Kroll is not bad - just bland. Ordinary. Sub-standard. The main offender is, believe it or not, Robert Holmes. If all good writers have a dud, then this must be his - the script has none of his trademark humour, nor his wonderful characters, or anything else that made him one of the programme's best. It's a mind-boggling contrast to his previous story, the season opening The Ribos Operation. Given this is his last Who story for some time, this may indicate he is bored with the series and thus didn't make the effort. The basic plot is sound enough, so too the way in which the Key to Time is incorporated - causing Kroll to grow to gigantic proportions after swallowing the segment. But, for the most part, nothing happens! With one exception, which I'll come to later, it's dull. This is rather odd given that most of the episodes clock in at less than average length; it's by far the shortest of the season's stories, so you'd think they'd be more densely packed. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Holmes takes on the issue of indigenous dispossession, with the obvious parallels in this tale drawn from the Amerindians and the northern Irish. Some of his old magic surfaces - the Doctor's comments on progress make for some wry social commentary - but overall it's rather heavy handed and poe-faced.
I've already mentioned the inclusion of John Abineri and Philip Madoc, two of the best actors to have graced the programme, and the positive influence they should have on the story. Well, their work is first rate, but in the case of Madoc, it's great actor, boring character. Refinery technician Fenner has no real background or personality, so incredibly unlike what Holmes is capable of creating. Swampie chief Ranquin is similarly unremarkable, and it's only the effort from Abineri that salvages anything. Otherwise he's just an ignorant, superstitious savage, which is exactly what Holmes's script aims to avoid portraying. Ranquin's final scene, as he prays to a limp tentacle, should be unintentionally hilarious. Abineri, to his credit, plays it straight and gives the character dignity, presenting a broken man making a last, desperate, scrambling attempt to regain his faith.
Neil McCarthy's Thawn is another missed opportunity for a character. Although not as well acted as Abineri or Madoc, McCarthy still makes an effort but, likewise, there's not a lot for him to do, except explain a few plot developments. Yes, he's a nasty, racist, bigoted man who wants to see the Swampies destroyed because they stand in the way of his interests. But not much else rises to the surface, whereas normally Robert Holmes would give some backstory to explain why he's like this. Even if Thawn's hatred was an unreasoning one, as xenophobia usually is, Holmes would at least have put this across.
Ironically, the two (potentially) most interesting characters are spoiled by insipid performances. Varlik is an intelligent, reasoning, sceptical man, going beyond the "noble savage" cliche, but Carl Rigg's acting is just plain flat. On paper, Dugeen is also quite fascinating - an agent of the Sons of Earth planted in the refinery, who passionately defends the Swampies' rights to the point of his own death. But John Leeson is best on all fours as K9. Given that the metal mutt is stuck in the TARDIS for this story, I'm not sure if Leeson's appearance is gimmickry or contractual, but it's not his best day in front of the camera. As for Rohm-Dutt! True, he may be a carefree, laidback mercenary, but the very casual, almost lazy performance from the recently departed Glyn Owen doesn't make the character work. I know it's wrong to speak ill of the dead, but bad acting is bad acting! I usually have nothing but praise for Tom Baker and Mary Tamm - they're one of my favourite Doctor/companion combinations, so I know I'm biased. But they too seem rather unenthused with this story - Tamm even makes a rare fluff in episode two. But they're never dreadful (my bias speaking, of course!)
Given that Kroll is directed by Norman Stewart, whose work on season 15's Underworld was dire, I was expecting this to be similar. I was pleasantly surprised! He's improved considerably, but still manages to keep things slow. He's still not yet comfortable with cliffhangers - episode two's, which could have been both gripping and shocking, is ruined by the continual cutting back and forth between scenes, so that the final image before the credits roll has its impact severely reduced. There's some laziness in his choice of shots, and lots of static ones, especially inside the refinery (but, to be fair, the story doesn't help). There's also a few camera wobbles, one during a still shot! (A close-up of Rohm-Dutt in part three.)
However, The Power of Kroll does have its redeeming features. The location work is excellent, as is the night filming (three stories in a row - that must have been expensive!). The model of the refinery is basic but convincing. Kroll itself has received lots of flak from fans, but. I have no problem with it myself. The split-screen images when Kroll rises from the swamp aren't that bad. They're infinitely superior than CSO'd giant robots, puppet T-rexs or men-in-suit rats! The wobbly walls of the rocket silo are more worthy of criticism than Kroll is. However, I tend to agree that the tentacles aren't that great, especially when they're sprouting through the wall, but the shot of Kroll about to engulf the refinery is excellent. Which brings me back to a comment I made above - that there's one decent scene with some action. That's when the Doctor is on the platform, attempting to use the tracer on Kroll. It's the closest we get to a showdown; and it's terrific, with lots of tense moments, good camera angles and a genuine reason to bite the nails. If only the rest of the story was like this! But the celebrations are shortly over as the blocked firing bay attempts to bring about a new "crisis", which of course the Doctor solves by putting two coils together. This is very boring and, in my humble opinion, one of the most pointless scenes in Doctor Who ever. It's a transparent attempt to fill up time. Given that the story's under-length, things must have been desperate indeed!
The most disappointing entry in the Key to Time series so far. 5/10
A Review by Finn Clark 10/11/06
I find much to admire about this story. Admittedly, I never got past episode two the first time I tried to watch it, but underneath that lacklustre surface is plenty of good stuff. Unfortunately you've got to be paying close attention to spot it. The word I'm starting to associate with the Graham Williams era is "sloppy". The direction, acting, writing and production values are all liable to shoot through the floor at a moment's notice, with oft-disastrous consequences for what might otherwise be a worthwhile story. Admittedly Tom Baker can carry anything, but sometimes the era seems to be deliberately testing that theory.
Admittedly, sometimes they manage not to screw up in any department and the results approach greatness. The Ribos Operation is perfect. The Power of Kroll however isn't a story for casual watching. On the surface it's a dull mess, although underneath the directorial incompetence is a Robert Holmes script, albeit far from his best work. 'Twas a last-minute replacement for a cancelled story.
Ironically the script's biggest problem is also the production's. It's the squid. The Power of Kroll is the nearest Season Sixteen came to a monster story, which is a stroke of luck given how badly they realised the few monsters they had to create. I like the Ogri, but the Shrivenzale and the Taran Beast would have shamed the Hartnell era. As for Kroll... well, it's not bad, considering. It's certainly no Skarasen. It's more damaging for the script, which had some interesting stuff going on before the later episodes degenerate into a 1950s monster flick. Nevertheless almost every death is caused by a rubber Kroll tentacle and the final episode is fundamentally "oh no, we're under attack from a mindless lump of seafood!" Rohm-Dutt's fate is particularly rubbish.
The cast are pretty thin by Robert Holmes's standards, but what's interesting about them is that they're all unbelievable bastards. It's that kind of Holmes story. There's no light relief, with instead the Doctor finding himself caught between opposing sides of humourless badasses. Rohm-Dutt is a gunrunner who's been paid to justify genocide and couldn't care less if Romana were killed in front of him. Ranquin is willing to kill people at random for the sake of appearances. "There must be fresh blood on the stone." Thawn's first reaction to any problem is murder. The Friends of Earth seem to have their hearts in the right place, but they're being set up by Thawn as the bad guys and the nearest thing they have to a representative here immediately gets shot.
I liked the bit where Rohm-Dutt meets the Swampies and the first thing these supposed savages do is to criticise his guns. It's another Robert Holmes touch, subverting expectations. He's aware that he's ripping off King Kong, never more obviously than in the Skull Island sacrifice scene at the end of episode one ("Kroll! Kroll!"), but his Swampies know what they're doing.
So Robert Holmes is in tough-guy mode, but unfortunately the production's on the level of "cheap BBC SF and cardboard corridors". It's not scary. What we get is just a routine Doctor Who story but with fewer jokes. Rohm-Dutt is cuddly! A real villain would eat him alive. The refinery staff is also a mixed bag, with Neil McCarthy and Philip Madoc doing their best but all the others being forgettable. It also doesn't help that their dialogue is full of technobabble (bad Holmes!), the refinery sets look tatty and the camerawork is almost mindless. This kind of hard-edged material only worked in certain eras. It's the Terry Nation problem. Under Letts and Dicks his Dalek stories were dire, while under Hinchcliffe he produced a masterpiece. Holmes wrote a few such stories. The Space Pirates and The Power of Kroll failed by being almost at war with the ethos of their era, while in The Caves of Androzani he struck gold with Eric Saward.
The Caves of Androzani often gets compared with this story, incidentally, but I don't buy it. Both have gunrunning between two worlds in one system, but that's about it. Instead I'd call it Holmes's version of The Mutants, with racism towards "savages" and attempted genocide. Thorn's big mistake is to think so little of Mensch that he discusses wiping out the Swampie settlement in front of him! This story is raising interesting issues, but the production doesn't encourage you to pay attention. It's all a bit dull.
I've bashed the director's ability to shoot drama, but he even makes a hash of what should be straightforward visual storytelling. Important moments are thrown away, like Romana getting captured or the Doctor sneaking out of the refinery and following Mensch to the Swampie encampment. For once in the Graham Williams era, even the comedy is underplayed. Jokes fall flat as the camera stares dead-eyed at the actors. More shockingly still, the direction is even terrible outdoors, i.e. when they're shooting on film instead of under the multi-camera studio format. The Power of Kroll feels cheap, yet it's full of location filming and even seems to have a night shoot. Who perpetrated this? Hmmm... Norman Stewart. Never heard of him. It seems that he'd worked as Production Assistant on half a dozen stories dating right back to The Daleks, but his only other directing credit was (wait for it) Underworld. Oh dear.
I like the waterbound setting, with monsoons and canoes. It's different. It also provides a solution to the Kroll problem, i.e. keep the bloody thing underwater for as long as possible. The refinery's computer graphics are also a clever way of impressing us with Kroll's size and movement without actually having to show anything.
I also like the imaginative use of the MacGuffin. The Key to Time's segments got hidden in cool places, taking unexpected forms and actually having consequences for the nearby civilisations instead of being just a plot coupon. The ideas here are good. The Fifth Segment doesn't come across as a contrivance that's been shoehorned in on the script editor's say-so, but something of real power that's warping the universe wherever it goes.
At the end of the day, this story doesn't have the richness of character and motivation that Androzani did. There's good stuff in the early episodes, but a giant squid just doesn't make for very interesting storytelling. Admittedly, one can have fun with an old-fashioned monster romp, but not if it's this dull and mindlessly shot. It never achieves outright Warriors of the Deep awfulness because: (a) of all the location filming, (b) there's nothing as obviously point-and-laugh as the Myrka, (c) the script is interesting as opposed to being ghastly "what idiot commissioned this?" schlock. However at times you might almost find yourself yearning for a bit of gleeful wholehearted awfulness. Maybe they should have given this to the director of a Japanese Godzilla flick?
In fairness, I honestly think Kroll looks okay, but "okay" is absolutely not what this script required. You could make a kitsch classic or you could take it deadly seriously. Either one could work, but too much of the actual production feels like bad Star Trek. Gyaah. Robert Holmes may not be firing on all cylinders, but even so there's good stuff here if you give your full attention and fight past the lame production. I suppose the "Kroll"-chanting has camp value, but there's not enough even of that. Like The Pirate Planet, on one level I really like this story... but I'm having to screw up my eyes and ignore most of what's on-screen to do so.
Day 292,000 in the Giant Squid Diaries by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 13/4/13
So where precisely is the nadir of Season Sixteen? Well according to popular opinion its either here or The Armageddon Factor. I'm leaning towards The Armageddon Factor. The first three stories are absolute classics, from the neo-tsarist costume drama of The Ribos Operation to the Douglas Adams joi de vivre of The Pirate Planet to the atmospheric horror of The Stones of Blood. The Androids of Tara was never a favourite in the past, but in recent times I've come to appreciate it so much more. It's by far the most overlooked story of the season but in a strange way this actually works in it's favour; with each viewing one gets the impression of watching something of an overlooked gem.
Then we reach The Power of Kroll... This is where the season starts to run out of steam, at least financially. Location filming aside, it doesn't look as impressive as the previous four stories. In fact it looks fairly cheap and dull. The sets for the refinery are unimaginative and the less said about Kroll the better. What saves the story in terms of its visuals is the location filming. I think that The Power of Kroll is much more successful and more enjoyable than The Armageddon Factor simply because by the final story of the season it isn't just the budget that has dwindled away, the enthusiasm of all concerned seems to have expired. The cheap, studio-bound look of The Armageddon Factor doesn't help matters, but mainly it's the general sense of ennui that kills it. The Power of Kroll may not have 'Definite Classic' stamped all over it, but it has a vitality to it and a sense of airiness brought about by the lush, green location filming. Maybe this is why Tom Baker and Mary Tamm seem to be enjoying themselves.
The Power of Kroll is hardly up to the standard of Robert Holmes' other contributions to the series, but then we all have our off days and quite frankly, I'd rather watch this than The Two Doctors. Some of the themes here were reused for The Caves of Androzani - e.g. gun running and duplicity - an indication that maybe Holmes thought this wasn't a great story and that it's constituent parts could possibly be put to better use. But what this story was recycled into isn't quite as interesting as where it seems to have come from: one could be forgiven for thinking that Holmes had been watching Colony in Space... Companies plundering planets for elements for use on other, overcrowded worlds; a native race; something sinister beneath the surface that is being worshipped by the natives; talk of survey team members disappearing; a ruthless captain/refinery head; colonisation; religion as a system for lunatics; it's all here. The only major difference would seem to be the colour scheme. Colony in Space is drab shades of grey; The Power of Kroll is green.
Beginning the story by introducing the guest characters is a nice touch, but I can't help but feel that the scene moves too quickly and only makes a token attempt at any kind of characterisation. Thawn smacks of ruthlessness, Dugeen is the nice guy, Fenner is ambiguous and Harg is a non-entity. In keeping with the Colony in Space similarities, Thawn is essentially a less-restrained, more heated version of Captain Dent and represents the same thing: i.e. doing what's best for the company at any cost and bugger the locals. It's a sci-fi staple. As for Philip Madoc, he was originally under the impression that he was going to play Thawn rather than Fenner. He wasn't overly impressed with the story and has said that he regrets doing it. The problem is, it shows in his performance; he frequently comes across as though he is sulking. When he's on form he's fine, but a lot of the time he just seems as though he can't be bothered. John Leeson is effective enough as Dugeen; it's nice to see him for once instead of just hearing his voice. I especially like how he looks genuinely surprised when Thawn shoots him.
The refinery sets are a good indication that the season has reached the point where the budget is beginning to flatline. A refinery is, by definition, a functional environment rather than an aesthetic one, but that's no reason why it shouldn't look interesting. No such luck here, however; it's grey cardboard all the way. When the Doctor enters the rocket silo, things become decidedly shaky and I don't mean that metaphorically. It's also a tad on the bright side for my liking. Dull, grey, cardboard-like sets are compounded by too much lighting. Which, quite frankly, seems like an obvious mistake. Now I'm no set designer/lighting technician/director and far be it from me to tell such people how to do their job, but wouldn't it have made more sense to lower the lighting level and hide the shortcomings of what is on the screen? Apparently not, as they continued to do this with a vengeance throughout the Eighties. Didn't anybody at any point think to themselves "hmmm, this giant squid is a wee bit ropey, we really ought to pull our socks up on the rest of it, you know, damage limitation and all that"? Well apparently not...
Never mind, have a look outside the refinery and we have the Suffolk Marshes. Lush, damp and green, they make a wonderful location for filming. As I've already said, it has an airiness to it which is probably what accounts for this story's vitality. It's as if everybody just feels good to be out in the fresh air. It also means that the Doctor isn't constantly relying on K9 to get him out of trouble and it makes a refreshing change from frequently using quarries to represent alien worlds. I have nothing against quarries; as a Blake's 7 fan, I'm positively fond of them, but sometimes that barren, desolate feel just isn't what's required. I've always thought of this as a story for summer and I think the marshes are responsible for that. And of course, if you 're going to have marshes, then it makes sense to have some means of traversing them, hence the boats and hovercraft. Hovercraft always look good, as anyone who has seen Planet of the Spiders will testify. The Swampies boats also work quite well, but in a different way. And of course, if you're going to have marshes, hovercraft and Swampie boats then it makes sense to have Bach played on a reed flute. A bit of Orchestral Suite No 2 will brighten up anyone's day. Oh and that diffuse tracer signal in episode one is a very nice touch, subtly hinting at things to come.
The Swampies... Yes, well... They're a mostly unremarkable bunch; any attempt at character on the part of the actors being largely overshadowed by the fact that they are half naked and covered in green paint. John Abineri is a solid actor and he does a good job with what is not the easiest of roles, but it's a thankless part. He basically spends four episodes ranting about the Dryfoots and then gets sucked into a pipe. No, it's not exactly up to the standard of his General Carrington is it? Much more successful is Glyn Owen as loveable rogue Rohm-Dutt. He's charismatic but shifty, which I suppose is a perfect character for a gun runner. I think he's doing an Irish accent as well. Is it Irish...? Ah well, Irish or not, it doesn't stop him getting owned by the squid.
I can't commend Tom Baker and Mary Tamm highly enough. They're both marvellous to watch and they have delightful rapport. Because Tom Baker's on-screen chemistry with Lalla Ward was so epic, I think people can sometimes forget how wonderful Mary Tamm was. She was a different character to Lalla Ward's Romana; they both had the haughtiness, but Mary Tamm was an aloof ice queen with a lovely line in condescension, whereas Lalla Ward played the part with a dash of Tom Baker's madcap, carefree vigour. I have to say that I don't like the fact that she has to scream here; it just isn't in her character. It was just about acceptable in The Stones of Blood (screaming is always just about acceptable when you're being pushed off a cliff) and she went for it with the requisite zeal. Here, however, it sounds awful and unconvincing. The proceeding in-joke about the fake Kroll looking more convincing from the front only compounds the issue; it doesn't look more convincing, it looks like a giant mushroom with pincers. Just look at how she reacts to the Taran Wood Beast in the previous story: she casually backs away from it as though the colour of its fur clashes with her ensemble. I can only conclude that the thin atmosphere on Delta III is making her giddy...
Tom Baker is an absolute delight as ever. I think he did pretty well throughout the Key to Time season. He didn't have any duff stories and all the writers seemed to know how to get the best out of him. His little touches of whimsy, often in the face of danger, are defining aspects of his character for me, e.g. the padlock and the architecture. Then of course there are the flippant remarks, "atrociously writ" being one of the best. It's all kept in check though and never once do we get any suggestion of the silliness that comes in Season Seventeen.
Anyway, what about Kroll itself? Well it's never going to win any awards for being convincing is it? I suppose as with so much Doctor Who of years gone by you have to admire the vision and sometimes the sheer balls of the production team for attempting some of the things that they did. Of course it's easy to mock in this day and age. These days your grandma could probably knock up a mile-wide squid on her laptop without expending a halfpenny for the privilege. It's not that it looks bad per se, it's just that it doesn't convince when it's required to move around and do things, the attack on the Swampie settlement being a case in point. The tentacles coming through the foliage lack conviction. I believe that's the polite way of putting it. Harg being molested in the pump room is a bit more convincingly done. Trying to have it rise up out of the lake and dominate proceedings via a split-screen technique unfortunately results in a game of two halves... It's actually much more effective to suggest the presence of Kroll rather than actually showing it, e.g. when the refinery scanners start picking up strange occurrences on the bottom of the lake. As with the diffuse tracer signal at the start of the story, it's a very nice bit of mystery and intrigue and far more effective than any amount of dodgy tentacles.
The fact that this isn't one of Robert Holmes' better offerings is unavoidable. The Doctor being captured under false assumptions is a massive Doctor Who cliche, the script is based on recycled ideas which are themselves destined for recycling, the script lacks the usual Holmes sparkle and the production values fall a little too short.
Still, it's got marshes, hovercraft and Bach...