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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Frontios
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Doctor WhoDoctor Who: Frontios
DVD
Directed by Ron Jones
Written by Christopher H. Bidmead
Starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Jeff Rawle, Peter Gilmore, John Gillett
BBC
Release Date: June 14, 2011

It was with much nostalgia that I found myself viewing this Classic Doctor Who adventure featuring Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. Frontios is from Davison’s final season as the Doctor, which was also my first experience to new Doctor Who episodes back in that day in age. Accompanied by Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, a fellow Aussie!) and Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson), I found myself flashing back to my old Doctor Who 1984 Annual.

Frontios was the third serial of Season 21, which generally had huge shoes to fill. The series had just celebrated its 20th anniversary the year before, with a memorable season that concluded with the special, The Five Doctors. In many ways, Davison’s final season was (unfortunately) the beginning of the end for the classic series, as some adventures were criticized after they suffered from tight schedules, poor budgeting, and the political climate during the era (the Thatcher-initiated elections of 1984 altered recording schedules for Doctor Who).

The serial finds the Doctor and his companions materialize in the TARDIS near a planet named Frontios, which is one of the locations humans have escaped to during the era that the Earth was affected by solar storms. The TARDIS is mysteriously pulled to the planet in the midst of a perplexing meteor shower that bombards the planet.

Our heroes meet the local inhabitants, survivors from Earth who have been pressed to colonize the planet after their ship crashed there. Supplies have been rationed, medical supplies are scarce, and life in general is hard living for the humans on Frontios. After meeting the locals, the Doctor discovers that they have been there for 30 years, and the inexplicable meteor showers are believed to be attacks from an unseen enemy in space.

The Doctor and his companions remain on the planet to assist some of the injured from the recent meteor shower, but are soon called into question and suspicion as the leaders of the humans begin to suspect them to be their unknown enemies from the stars. While this is happening, members of the local population have been mystifyingly disappearing, sucked underground into the earth, in scenes eerily similar to the Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood.

It is later discovered the enemies of the humans are not positioned in space, but below the planet – the insect-like Tractators, using human beings as slaves for their technology, devices, and vehicles. In the midst of the drama, the TARDIS is destroyed and relocated in portions underground; and things seem grim not only for The Doctor, but for the remaining humans on the planet as well.

Performances from the main cast are on par for Frontios, with Mark Strickson stealing the show with his over the top “suppressed memory” scenes. A very young Jeff Rawle puts in a commendable, though Shakespearean-inspired performance as Plantagenet. The Tractators are bulky and old, and part of the effects and costuming affected by the budgets of the era. Newer fans will find it hard to immerse themselves in the story with these aged shots, though I’m sure children will enjoy the classic shows as they usually seem to.

Doctor Who

Christopher H. Bidmead‘s writing is fairly strong for the serial, making connections to science and science fiction, though it does suffer from some evident plot holes. In addition, I suspect the cast and crew were under pressure to get Frontios completed within a specific time frame, as there are a few scenes that had some glaring bloopers in them.

The special features on the Classic Doctor Who DVDs are always of a superb standard, and Frontios has a few behind-the-scenes featurettes with some interviews with the cast members and the crew. Additionally, the commentary is the highlight of the DVD and features Peter Davison accompanied by Jeff Rawle, John Gillett (who played Gravis); sound effects engineer Dick Mills, and script editor Eric Saward. The commentaries on the Peter Davison era DVD’s are always an eye-opening discussion, underscoring the ups-and-downs during showrunner John Nathan-Turner‘s tenure as producer – but are also surprisingly humorous as well.

In the end, for the casual Who fan, Frontios is worth a view, but the serial does suffer from the restrictions set upon the series during the Eighties, as well as the eccentric control Nathan-Turner had over Doctor Who at the time. There are some inferential criticisms on John Nathan-Turner in the commentary, although modestly implied most of the time, which is enlightening if you listen carefully enough. However, one aspect that newer fans might find entertaining is the sub-plot that hints at the whole “fixed point in time” the modern Doctor repeatedly mentions, such as in The Waters of Mars – in fact there are some noticeable connections to the modern series in Frontios that fans will enjoy picking up on.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

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