Doctor Who: Colony in Space (s8e04, pts. 1 – 6)

4 out of 5

Directed by: Michael E. Briant

Some Who highs – very highs, with somewhat atypically (at this point) incisive writing, and an appreciably well-rounded cast of interesting side characters – waylaid by some late episode Who lows, consisting of all too typical runarounds and illogic.

Colony in Space starts off with some necessary backpedaling: producers realizing they’ve quite limited their plotting opportunities by locking our third Doctor to Earth, and thus allowing for a special, Time Lords-sanctioned mission: we’ve unlocked your TARDIS so you can go gallivanting to a particular time and space and prevent this doomsday weapon from being stolen. Setting aside the kinda sorta puzzling methodologies of the Lords and the way time works in the Whoverse, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to kickstart this adventure, and Pertwee, in his usual, entertaining impetuousness, teases Jo about her disbelief in the TARDIS so that she hitches along for the ride, womp womping them both to the planet Uxarieus, year 2472.

Uxarieus’ settlers find themselves in the middle of something of a crisis: struggling to establish a colony in independence from Earth, its members have had some troubles with the native race – “primitives” – and they’re attempts at getting crops going for sustainability have not been going well. They’ve thus far been able to establish communications with the primitives, even starting to work together, but having spent their collective last dollars getting here, the food situation is becoming untenable, and now a further issue: mining company IMC has landed, and is claiming the planet as theirs, despite the colonists believing in their lawful claim to it.

This is purposeful misinformation: the miners know the planet is rich in a valuable, profitable mineral, and plan to essentially bully their way into ownership of Uxarieus, employing further underhanded manners to do so.

The Big Corporate vs. The Little Guy concept, as well as the “primitives’ ” role in the planet’s colonialization, may not be wholly complex or unobvious analogues, but they’re surprisingly well balanced, with writer Malcolm Hulke giving a fair range of ideologies across the board, from the idealistic to the naïve to the antagonistic, tossing the promise of money or power into the mix as influences. When the Doctor arrives and tries to play mediator, things get even more interesting as he and Jo discover some history on the native race.

We also have that initial mention of a doomsday weapon hanging over things, and when an all-too familiar character shows up, it’s a mixture of pleasant shock – since the writers were getting us away from the style of our antics up to this point, it’s an oddly interesting twist to see this familiarity jammed back in, but this is then mixed with the other logical response: of course this person is involved. And here the serial worsens with some of the usual runaround padding – separate characters; make dumb decisions – which had otherwise been kept to something of a minimum for some rather fantastically tight and tense first few parts.

However, things actually get righted in relatively short order: the final episode has some very satisfying moments, including a bit of heroic sacrifice I was sincerely surprised the writers didn’t try to wheedle out of.

While Hulke’s parables may be somewhat shortsighted, Colony in Space is still very much a level up in terms of script quality, and a dash of eye-rolling padding aside, it’s another entry that feels like it actually qualifies as legit sci-fi, setting up some interesting plot parameters and then expanding on them interestingly throughout.