I remember thinking what a grim Doctor Who serial is Frontios last time I watched it. The 1984 Fifth Doctor serial does come at a time when efforts were being made to strike a darker tone on the series and the story involves the last of humanity at the end of the universe being murdered by giant pill bugs. The TARDIS is also spectacularly destroyed in the first episode and there’s even a dose of body horror.
This was the last script for the series by the former script editor Christopher H. Bidmead and it’s by far my favourite of his. This time I was appreciating his commentary on government and military. The man in charge of colony security is named Brazen and seems at first like he’s going to be the typical, brutal tyrant of so many other serials. I wonder if it was actor Peter Gilmore’s terrific performance in the first episode that caused his character to be written subsequently with a bit more complexity.
When an orderly fails to keep order and joins in with looters, Brazen finally let’s him go, observing among his looted items he as food to last for a few days and remarks, “It’s not easy to live inside the system. To live outside of it takes more than you’ve got.” Brazen’s nobility is further emphasised when he makes a sacrifice in the final episode.
We learn in the first episode the colony government has decided to interpret meteor showers as periodic attacks from an unseen enemy and the Doctor (Peter Davison) can’t figure out why at first this is believed. There’s some interesting discussion about the need for a government to craft a narrative and for the people to have a leader to look to. When it’s discovered the former leader has been physically combined with a machine by the pill bugs in order to use his brain it seems like a nice little commentary on how terrible and mechanised such symbols can become.
The companions have nice moments in this story. Turlough (Mark Strickson) starts to show a little bravery and Tegan (Janet Fielding) shows a lot of leg in her inexplicable but appreciable streetwalker outfit.
I guess this was the prelude to Peri’s ratings cleavage. Janet Fielding certainly had the legs for it.