“Frontios” is an adventure of the twentyfirst season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1984. It follows “The Awakening” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Christopher Bidmead and directed by Ron Jones.
The Tardis brings the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to a very far future, on the planet Frontios. There, what could be the last group of living human beings struggle to survive to what appear to be attacks from the sky.
The young Plantagenet inherited the colony command from his father but has no way to counter the meteor showers that regularly fall on Frontios. The Doctor shouldn’t interfere with the events but decides to help rescue the wounded settlers after one of these showers. Those are not just rocks falling on the planet because during one of these events the Tardis is destroyed.
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 Billings 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 Peter Davison, actors Jeff Rawle e John Gillett, script editor Eric Saward and sound effect designer Dick Mills.
Driven to Distraction. A documentary about 33 minutes long on the production of this adventure.
Deleted and Extended Scenes. A series of scenes cut in part or completely from the final editing for a total of a little more than 15 minutes. It’s a typical filler that still may be interesting for some additional information in the parts that got cut.
Christopher Bidmead accumulated experience with “Doctor Who” having already written the script for two adventures and having worked for some time as script editor. When he was invited to write a new script, he put together various ideas to create the story that became “Frontios”.
The production of this adventure was unfortunately marred by two tragedies. Designer Barrie Dobbins committed suicide during the preparatory phase of the work. The actor Peter Arne was cast as one of the characters but was killed shortly after.
The production couldn’t stop but had to face practical problems too. The setting on another planet with the presence of aliens required the creation of costumes and machinery props but with the budget and the time available the results were never what was initially hoped.
The biggest problem was that Christopher Bidmead had created the alien Tractators inspired by animals that curl up into a ball and director Ron Jones decided to hire some dancers to play them so as to create a kind of choreography. When the costumes created proved rigid, making any movement limited and anyway clumsy, that idea had to be abandoned.
Despite the problems, “Frontios” works thanks to a script written by someone who clearly knew the show. The Fifth Doctor is used at his best and the material allows Peter Davison to offer one of his best performances. His companions have significant roles as well and for once Tegan doesn’t just scream all the time but is a character with a sense.
We can see the story’s strength from the start, with the Doctor and his companions who arrive on the planet Frontios and find a human colony in a state of despair. The situation is terrible because many of the equipment designed to allow the settlers to develop their community have been destroyed by meteor showers.
The Doctor is supposed to not interfere with the colony’s history but when has he ever left someone in a difficult situation? As often happens, his presence is associated with the enemy of the moment, in this case to the unknown one responsible for the meteor showers, so after the attack the Doctor would like to leave but discovers that the Tardis has been destroyed.
For years, “Doctor Who” fans got used to seeing the Tardis as one of the few certainties in the show and the idea that it was destroyed had to be shocking. At the time it was easier to keep a secret in the production so the audience didn’t know what would happen to the Doctor after that event.
In that situation, the Doctor is forced to get involved in the colony’s history and its dark sides. In many ways, “Frontios” is the story of how humans react to situations that seem hopeless. From this point of view, it’s one of the most dramatic stories of the classic “Doctor Who” series produced in a period in which the show had become really violent.
The leader Plantagenet is just a boy forced to take on that role only because he’s the son of the captain of the starship that brought the humans on Frontios. The colony appears close to collapse and the Doctor tries to understand what’s really happening on the planet.
The sense of threat is already strong in the outside but increases when the Doctor and his companions start investigating what happens underground. The descent into the tunnels and caves is developed in a manner more similar to that of a horror production than of a science fiction one.
“Frontios” is a story that in my opinion had a really great potential but its development was limited by production constraints. Some plot elements needed to be refined but that needed more time. Above all, the alien Tractators are a problem with their clumsiness because they end up decreasing the sense of threat rather than strengthen it.
Watching the classic “Doctor Who” series it’s normal to have to turn a blind eye on the flaws due to budget constraints, unfortunately that’s not always enough. At that time more than an adventure needed higher production values to be able to realize their dramatic potential but money was never enough.
As it is, in my opinion “Frontios” is a good adventure but definitely not a masterpiece. The DVD edition is nothing special so buy it if you think you will like the story.