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Tractators on Frontios
In ‘The End of Time’, the TARDIS caught fire from the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration!
In ‘Frontios’, the TARDIS gets destroyed! I enjoyed ‘Frontios’! This is a four-part story by Christopher H. Bidmead. It’s an interesting story with lots of ideas and concepts as it depicts humanity’s future.
Frontios is the last potential surviving outpost for humanity in a region of space where Time Lords aren’t allowed to interfere. Although some elements of the story like the Tractators don’t do the story justice than intended, I enjoyed this fascinating story with good performances from the cast.
The Doctor; Tegan and Turlough arrive on Frontios and discover the colony is under attack. Despite his insistence not to interfere, the Doctor offers to help Frontios and its people. The Doctor learns more about the history of Frontios, as clues sink in when people are sucked down into the ground.
The Doctor soon goes underground where he faces the Tractators who control the gravity of the planet, Frontios. They are potentially a great threat to the lives of the Doctor; his friends and the people of Frontios. Can the Doctor sort them out, even when his own TARDIS has been destroyed?!
Chris Bidmead was script editor on Tom Baker’s last season in ‘Doctor Who’. He also wrote the two stories ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’ in the ‘New Beginnings’ trilogy that depicted the regeneration from Tom Baker into Peter Davison. I enjoy Chris Bidmead’s stories as they’re so intriguing to watch.
It’s fitting therefore that Chris gets to write another story for Peter Davison’s final season as the Doctor. Chris was commissioned by script editor Eric Saward to write a story for that season and he delivered a fascinating science-fiction tale that reflected some of his earlier work from ‘Doctor Who’.
The inspiration for ‘Frontios’ came from when Chris Bidmead’s flat was infested by a family of woodlice. He thought that they would make a really good ‘Doctor Who’ monster. Sadly the realisation of the Tractators doesn’t come off well on screen, but it was interesting and a good start.
Also the idea of a human colony suffering bombardments from the sky and the twist of the real threat down below and underneath the planet is very intriguing and gripping to watch. There are lots of ideas and concepts throughout this story by Chris Bidmead and I found it enjoyable to watch.
Stories that depict humanity’s future are open for debate. Whether the future events in those stories will happen is a matter of opinion. I like some of the ‘Doctor Who’ stories that depict humanity’s future. It’s been done in ‘The Ark’; ‘The Ark In Space’; ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Utopia’.
This story suffered a couple of tragedies during production. The first was the suicide of a production designer before work commenced on ‘Frontios’. The second was the brutal murder of actor Peter Arne, who was meant to play Range in the story before he was hurriedly replaced by William Lucas.
I liked the guest cast in this story. Jeff Rawle guest stars as Plantagenet, son of the deceased Captain Revere and leader of the colony of Frontios. He assumes command of the colony planet after his father’s death and distrusts the Doctor and his friends before he gets sucked down into the ground.
Peter Gilmore (from ‘The Onedin Line’) guest stars as Brazen, one of the colony’s commanding officers. Seeing Peter Gilmore from ‘The Onedin Line’ in this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure was a delight and a treat. Some criticise Peter Gilmore’s acting, but I felt he didn’t do a bad job with his character.
William Lucas guest stars as Range, Frontios’ physician. Range is the voice of reason when he protests Plantegenet’s accusations about the Doctor. But there’s something Range hides when Tegan discovers a file called ‘deaths unaccountable’ that is a clue about these mysterious bombardments.
Lesley Dunlop guest stars as Norna, Range’s daughter. Norna helps her father during the bombardments and is under pressure when restricted from danger zones aboard the Frontios bunker. I liked the scene Norna shares with Turlough when talking about ‘the earth’ being ‘hungry’.’
Peter Davison is the highlight as the Doctor in this story. Chris Bidmead writes well for him as he makes him sharper; fierier and a little bad-tempered sometimes. I liked some of the humour added to Peter’s Doctor that makes him more professorial. Peter gets to wear his glasses a lot which I liked.
Mark Strickson is very good as Turlough. This is a good story for Turlough, as we learn more about his character compared to other TV stories. Turlough gets to experience a ‘race memory’ of the Tractators when he goes underground with Norma and goes into frenzy part-way during the story.
Janet Fielding is good as Tegan, although it’s not a standout story for her. Tegan gets to help the sick and wounded in the bunker with Range. I like it when Tegan discovers the ‘deaths unaccountable’ files and confronts Range about it. Tegan gets to join the Doctor in the caves and face the Tractators.
The idea of the TARDIS destroyed was irresistible for Chris Bidmead. There was a lot of speculation about whether the TARDIS would get destroyed, but that never going to happen as it’s so iconic. I liked how the Doctor and his friends discover the TARDIS corridors when in the Tractator’s hideout.
It is quite a frightening concept with people getting sucked down into the ground. Those images of horror in the TV story are very gruesome and shocking. I wondered what happened to those people when they got sucked down into the earth, even though the realisation of the effects is pretty poor.
The Tractators are giant woodlice monsters. These alien monsters are led by John Gillett as the Gravis. They were meant to roll up into balls and were played by dancers. But the result was disastrous as the Tractators looked stiff and immobile and it was difficult to take them very seriously.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a making-of documentary called ‘Driven to Distraction’; some ‘deleted and extended scenes’; a photo gallery; an info-text option commentary option; an isolated music option by Paddy Kingsland and a ‘Radio Times Listing’ PDF of the story.
There’s also a commentary with Peter Davison, Jeff Rawle, John Gillet, script editor Eric Saward and sound designer Dick Mills. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘Earth Story’ DVD box set that contains ‘The Gunfighters’ with William Hartnell, Peter Purves and Jackie Lane and ‘The Awakening’ with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson.
‘Frontios’, whilst a flawed story in terms of production, is a very interesting tale from the Peter Davison era. I enjoyed it and it is a brave story by Christopher H. Bidmead. It features some very good performances and is an interesting tale on Earth’s future with a certain twist during the story.
‘Frontios’ rating – 7/10
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