“Colony in Space” is an adventure of the eigth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1971. It follows “The Claws of Axos” and it’s a six parts adventure written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Michael Briant.
Three Time Lords meet to discuss the theft of confidential files about a very powerful weapon. They’re forced to admit that the only person capable of handling such a situation is the Doctor but the mission requires a trip in space and in another time so they have to temporarily suspend his exile to Earth.
The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is working on the Tardis when it actives and dematerializes carrying the Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who had entered it, on the planet Uxarieus in the 25th century. The Doctor realizes that the Time Lord controlled the Tardis remotely and must understand why they sent him to what looks like a small human colony.
This DVD contains a limited amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Listings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure existing episodes’ alternative audio track by the protagonist Carole Ann Ford, actors Bernard Kay and Morris Perry, script editor Terrance Dicks, assistant floor manager Graeme Harper and director Michael Briant moderated by Toby Hadoke.
IMC Needs You! A documentary about the production of this adventure.
From the Cutting Room Floor. A selection of scene trims not used with some annotations.
Producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks believed that the decision to exile the Doctor to Earth taken by the staff who had run the beginning of the Third Doctor’s era was limiting for the show. The production and the authors had tried to vary the stories but Letts decided it was time to allow the Doctor to resume his travels, though initially not of his will.
Writer Malcolm Hulke was sympathetic to Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks and when he was commissioned to write “Colony in Space” created a storyline in which the Time Lords send the Doctor to another planet to investigate the theft of secret files. In an era in which the stories typically included an important role for UNIT, only Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) appears for a few moments.
The plans for the eighth season of the classic “Doctor Who” series included the presence of the Master (Roger Delgado) in all its adventures but for “Colony in Space” it was decided to make a variation to that rule. For this reason, the Master doesn’t appear from the beginning but only later, in a story more complex than the classic confrontation between him and the Doctor.
Malcolm Hulke was inspired by western stories to create an alien setting in which there are colonists, natives and a mining company that aims to exploit the planet’s resources. It’s a story about colonialism that develops with an increasing complexity as the secrets of the natives are discovered and after Master arrives.
This story in which there are various parties involved who have different goals allows for an adventure in which different subplots get developed. The result is that there is enough substance to fill six parts without too much padding. Mind it, there are still many moments when the Doctor moves from one place to another but compared to other classic adventures of that length the pace is faster with more action.
“Colony in Space” suffers from the typical limitations of the “Doctor Who” adventures of those years. The location scenes were filmed in a quarry, on top of that in a period when the weather was rather miserable. The consequence is that for example one of the physical fights between two characters became literally mud wrestling.
Director Michael Briant was able to create dynamic shots to try to improve the visual quality but you can still see that it’s a quarry. Special effects are limited and not all the alien costumes are made very well. For example, the natives leader has a look that honestly seems quite ridiculous.
Despite the limited production values, in my opinion “Colony in Space” remains valid for its content. Malcolm Hulke was an author who put ethical and moral themes into his stories, in this case the greed of the mining company IMC and those related to the story of the natives that is discovered during the adventure.
There are several important characters because of the plot complexity and Malcolm Hulke manages to give all of them individual personality traits. Within the group of colonists and even within the IMC team there are different opinions, motives and for some of them there are specific agendas adding various nuances that allow to go beyond a trivial division between heroes and villains. You can see who the author’s rooting for but at least the development of the characters isn’t so dull.
There’s also the curious reaction of Jo Grant when for the first time she travels with the Doctor. At that point she had already met some aliens with their technologies and yet it seems that she didn’t really believe that the Doctor was traveling through space and time.
All of this, together with the fact that Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado worked together extremely well, contributes to a story that I think is overall good despite the production’s limits. Unfortunately, the DVD contains just a few extras but I think it’s still worth buying it.