Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 639: Frontios, Episode Three
I think I played my ‘isn’t Mark Strickson good’ card a day too early. He was very good yesterday, but today’s episode has been a real tour-de-force for him! I think you can really see him sinking his teeth into having something different to do in today’s episode, and even though he’s required to mostly look troubled and spout half-complete sentences, he’s really giving it his all, and making the most of the part. I’m really, really impressed by him here, and I think this is likely to be his best performance in the programme, and the one that I’ll be remembering him for.
Yesterday, I tried to stay away from praising the direction too much, but I’m going to have to bring it up again now, because it really is fantastic. I still can’t quite get my head around the idea that this is the same man who directed Black Orchid or Time-Flight. Everything looks so polished, and it’s the use of lighting and colour that really works for me. The underground scenes have a unique feel all their own, and it does come across as a completely different alien environment to the world above the surface. I love the way that the green light is used in scenes with their own portable lighting tubes, and it helps to make this look even creepier than they could do. I’m also wondering if they’ve started using a different quality of video this season which could be helping to contribute to that slightly ‘glossier’ look that I was discussing yesterday - this story looks somewhat sharper than I’m used to, and I think the same was true of The Awakening, too, looking back…
I’d also like to give some praise over to the design team on this one. I’m so used to banging on about the way the BBC are so much better at creating historical or down-to-earth locations, and Season Twenty-One so far has been something of a case in point, with the poor quality sets in Warriors of the Deep being followed up by the church and the manor house in The Awakening. This story is the perfect example that they really can do space-age, and I think it’s probably my favourite futuristic design to date. The use of several glass shots (or, at least, I’m assuming they’re glass shots) in different locations really helps to give a sense of scale to the sets where needed, which helps to make the various tunnels all the more claustrophobic.
Of course, at some point, I have to mention the story’s resident monster - the Tractators. People dressed up like giant rubber woodlice. A concept which is frankly ridiculous, and the design department couldn’t be expected to do anything short of rubbish with it.
Which is why it’s all the more surprising just how well they work! Haha! There’s a moment early on in today’s episode, where Tegan throws one of the lights at a group of the Tractators, and they go shuffling off, waving their arms around… and it looks great! It shouldn’t - it should look absolutely awful. If you were to show the clip to a non-fan out of context, they’d probably think it looked stupid, and rubbish, and all those things that it quite possibly does… but I don’t care, because right there in that moment, I completely bought it. It was only after the episode ended that I remembered complaining about the Myrka waving its arms around the other day - it’s surprising just how differently everything combines together this time to create something that I’m really enjoying.
And while I’m on the subject of it, come on, Character Options! Where the hell is my Tractator action figure?