Before the TARDIS dropped the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Zoe (Wendy Padbury) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) on the planet of the Gonds, ignorance really was bliss. The humanoid Gonds have been led by mechanical beings called the Krotons for the past 1,000 years. The Krotons have taught them many things, and regularly invite selected Gonds to join them. For the Gonds, this is seen as the ultimate honor, and they are thrilled to be chosen. Nobody ever returns after they have joined the Krotons, and it is assumed that these chosen ones have ascended to a higher state of being.
The Doctor observes something far more sinister however. When he investigates the outside of the Hall, he discovers a door from which the latest Gond to be called up emerges from. The Gond is instantly vaporized. It is now up to the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie to investigate what is really going on, and it is an ugly tale indeed. Recalling a classic science fiction trope, the four-part serial The Krotons deals with intelligent machines using humans as slaves. Actually, the Krotons use for the Gonds is even more menacing than slavery however. What they are doing is draining the mental powers of the Gonds to keep themselves alive. Those who are “called” to join the Krotons have their minds drained, then the remaining “useless matter” (their bodies) are instantly disposed of.
The Krotons crash landed on the planet some 1,000 years prior to the Doctor‘s arrival. Due to damage to their ship, and the deaths of their fellow crewmates, the surviving two have been attempting to store up enough Gond mental energy to enable them to leave. When the brilliant young Zoe and the Doctor take the mental acuity test, the Krotons realize that their advanced minds would provide the necessary energy for them. Things get especially dicey when the Gonds are informed of this, and some believe that the Krotons will just leave them alone if they turn over the Doctor and Zoe.
The Krotons is a classic Doctor Who serial in that it combines a number of characters with differing agendas, forcing the Doctor to make split-second decisions time and again.
The serial was initially broadcast December 28, 1968 – January 18, 1969, in glorious black and white. Patrick Troughton portrays the second Doctor, and has a whimsical, almost Willy Wonka-ish quality about him. His young female companion Zoe is highly intelligent, as is displayed during the Kroton’s mental acuity test. The Doctor scores higher than her, but seems a bit put-off by the margin, which is not quite as wid as (it seems) he would have preferred. Jamie is the young male companion, and while he does not share Zoe’s advanced intelligence, he is a gung-ho and loyal fellow traveler.
The 52-minute bonus piece “Second Time Around” is one of the best of the many bonuses these new BBC Doctor Who releases I have seen. Historically, the introduction of Patrick Troughton was one of the most significant events in the history of the franchise. Doctor Who was a big hit when it debuted in 1963, with William Hartnell as the Doctor. But when Hartnell’s health began to fail in 1966, and it was clear that he could not continue on in the demanding role, the writers had a stroke of genius. This being science-fiction, and with the TARDIS able to travel through time and space, why not allow the Doctor to “change” as well?
The “regeneration” of the Doctor was what the concept came to be called, with Patrick Troughton being the first of many. The premise, and (most importantly) Troughton’s stylish interpretation of the Doctor were widely accepted, to the relief of everyone. Another huge piece of the Doctor Who mythos came at the end of Troughton’s term, with the introduction of his fearsome “bosses” The Timelords.
Besides this excellent documentary, there is the 17-minute piece “Doctor Who Stories – Frazer Hines (Part One)” featuring an interview with the writer from 2003. There is also “The Doctor’s Strange Love” which is a five-minute piece from the fan’s perspective. Rounding things out on this single disc are a photo gallery, audio commentary, and some PDF materials.
While The Krotons is a pretty good Doctor Who serial, one of the most important elements of it is the simple fact that it has survived. Many of these early Doctor Who programs seem to be lost to the ages. For that reason alone, it is well worth seeking out. And who does not enjoy seeing the Doctor going head to head with malevolent machines? This is another enormously rewarding entry in the ongoing BBC remaster series of classic Doctor serials, and is recommended.