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Frontios

Production Code: 6N

First Transmitted

1 - 26/01/1984 18:40

2 - 27/01/1984 18:40

3 - 02/02/1984 18:40

4 - 03/02/1984 18:40

Plot

The TARDIS is dragged down to the surface of the planet Frontios and apparently destroyed during a meteorite bombardment. The Doctor is forced to help the planet's human colonists - refugees from a doomed future Earth - and eventually discovers that their problems stem from an infestation of Tractators, burrowing insect-like creatures led by the intelligent Gravis.

The Tractators have been using gravitational force to cause regular meteorite bombardments in order to keep the colonists weak so that they can prey on their bodies and use them as components in their mining machines.

Turlough knows of the creatures through a deep seated racial memory from his own planet. He recalls that they can be rendered harmless by separating the Gravis from the rest of the colony. The Doctor achieves this by tricking the Gravis into reassembling the TARDIS around itself.

Episode Endings

The latest meteorite bombardment ends and the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough emerge from cover to find that where they left the TARDIS there is now only the ship's hat stand. The Doctor concludes that the TARDIS has been destroyed.

The Doctor watches from hiding as a group of Tractators gather round a young woman prisoner, Norna. He then sees Tegan approaching and warns her to keep away, but in doing so reveals his own presence. He is caught in a gravity force beam and drawn to stand next to Norna in the midst of the group of Tractators.

The Doctor and Tegan are surrounded by Tractators. A mining machine trundles into view and they see that the body of one of the colonists is trapped within it. Tegan thinks that she recognises the man's face and the Doctor realises that it is the colonists' original leader, Captain Revere.

The TARDIS has not long dematerialised from Frontios when an outside influence starts to affect it. The Doctor tells Tegan and Turlough that something is pulling them toward the centre of the universe. He does not know what it is, but anticipates that they are going to find out.

Roots

Forbidden Planet and its spiritual forbear The Tempest.

Them!

Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus'.

Star Trek's 'The Devil in the Dark'.

Frankenstein.

M*A*S*H.

Alien (the spilt acid).

Invaders From Mars.

Dialogue Triumphs

Turlough : [Reading gleefully from the TARDIS log] "Fleeing from the imminence of a catastrophic collision with the Sun, refugees from the doomed planet Earth..."

The Doctor : [Speaking of the TARDIS] "As an invasion weapon, you'd have to agree that it's about as offensive as a chicken vol-au-vent."

The Doctor : [Convinces the Gravis that Tegan is an android] "I got this one cheap because the walk's not quite right... And then there's the accent..."

Continuity

Turlough states that the Arar Jecks of Heiradi hollowed a huge subterranean city beneath their planet during the Twenty Aeon War. He recognises signs of the Tractators from his home planet. Turlough carries two corpera pieces (coins with holes in the middle). [ Trion currency?]

For the first time in many years, the Doctor refers to TARDIS as standing for 'Time and Relative Dimension in Space'.

The Gravis knows the Doctor by reputation. The Doctor leaves the Gravis on the uninhabited planet Kolkokron: without his influence the Tractators are little more than harmless burrowing creatures.

The Doctor wears half-rimmed spectacles in this story, and the TARDIS hat stand makes a reappearance (Turlough brandishes it as if it's a weapon at one point). He gives the hat stand to Plantagenet as a gift.

Location

Frontios [probably around the same time as The Ark, the Doctor noting the TARDIS has drifted 'too far into the future']

Future History

In the Veruna system one of the last surviving groups of humans have settled. Turlough gleefully reads from the TARDIS data banks: 'Fleeing from the imminence of a catastrophic collision with the Sun, refugees from the doomed planet Earth...' The colonists have been on Frontios for 40 years.

Trivia

Peter Gilmore, well known for his starring role as sea captain James Onedin in the BBC's period drama serial The Onedin Line, plays Brazen.

Jeff Rawle, one of the stars of the Channel 4 comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey, is seen here in the very different role of the colony's deputy leader, Plantagenet.

Myth

This story was originally intended to feature Richard Hurndall in a black and white retrospective story remembered by Peter Davison's Doctor after hitting his head on the TARDIS control console. (It wasn't.)

Technobabble

The Doctor asks Turlough to get a portable mu-field activator and some argon discharge globes.

Goofs

In the opening scene, as Captain Revere sees the earth moving beneath him, the fingers of one of the technical crew are visible giving it a helping hand.

When the TARDIS explodes, what happens to Kamelion? [Is he the hat stand?]

When Tegan traps Brazen in the medical unit, she puts a bar across the middle of a door handle. By the next scene it has moved to the top of the handle.

Why did the designer decide to give the Gravis a nose?

Fashion Victim

Tegan in a leather mini skirt. Cute, yes, but hardly practical when running away from killer earthworms.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Peter Davison

Tegan - Janet Fielding

Turlough - Mark Strickson

Brazen - Peter Gilmore

Cockerill - Maurice O'Connell

Deputy - Alison Skilbeck

Gravis - John Gillett

Norna - Lesley Dunlop

Orderly - Richard Ashley

Plantagenet - Jeff Rawle

Range - William Lucas

Retrograde - Raymond Murtagh

Tractator - George Campbell

Tractator - Michael Malcolm

Tractator - Stephen Speed

Tractator - William Bowen

Tractator - Hedi Khursandi

Crew

Director - Ron Jones

Assistant Floor Manager - Joanna Guritz

Assistant Floor Manager - Ed Stevenson

Costumes - Anushia Nieradzik

Designer - David Buckingham

Incidental Music - Paddy Kingsland

Make-Up - Jill Hagger

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Valerie Letley

Production Associate - June Collins

Script Editor - Eric Saward

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - John Summers

Studio Sound - Martin Ridout

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - Dave Havard

Writer - Christopher H Bidmead

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Frontios buries its own dead.' A very good use of the colonists versus hostile aliens plot, and much wit (Range's description of the ship's 'failure proof' technology prompts the Doctor to ask what went wrong: 'It failed,' notes Range).

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

'There's something rather eerie about people being sucked down to their death in a mound of soil - drowning on dry land, or "Frontios [burying] its own dead" as somebody put it in this rather different-from-the-norm story... Frontios was a perfect example of a carefully structured story building (from a rather unconvincing opening scene) to paint a detailed picture of the last remnants of Earth's civilisation, marooned on Frontios after a mysterious crash caused by the (suspicious) blow out of its guidance and pilot systems.'

This assessment by John Connors, writing in Shada 18, dated July 1984, hit the nail right on the head. Frontios is a very well written story by former script editor Christopher H Bidmead, and a quirky and unusual one too. In fact in some respects it departs perhaps just a shade too much from the norm, as Robert Byrne suggested in TARDIS Volume 9 Number 1 in 1984: 'The Doctor's constant worrying about breaking the laws of time seemed rather strange considering how he has ignored them in the past, and also when you remember that the Doctor isn't on very good terms with the Time Lords at the moment... I was also rather surprised at the Doctor's lack of concern when the TARDIS seemed to be destroyed.' Another rather unfortunate aspect of the story was highlighted by Christopher Denyer in the same issue of TARDIS: 'It bore many Bidmead hallmarks, particularly the abuse of the TARDIS (jettisoning rooms etc). I dislike this kind of treatment as it removes the air of magic surrounding the machine - the TARDIS is becoming like a clown's joke car.' These flaws aside (and it must be said that the sub-plot about the TARDIS's apparent destruction doesn't really work), Bidmead's writing on this occasion deserves nothing but praise - which is exactly what it got from Connors: 'It was the sheer quality of the script which held the story up, and apart from obvious shining one liners... there were some marvellous touches [in the dialogue], like Brazen's "They look to you" to Plantagenet - a small line which summed up a whole lot about the situation.'

The Tractators are interesting creations, as Daniel O'Mahony discussed in Matrix Issue 47, dated Autumn 1993: 'The gravitational power exercised by the Tractators is well handled, understated and rendered effectively through good visual effects. The scenes with the Gravis drawing together the fragments of the TARDIS with its own power are impressive but not overloaded and we're left to imagine the sheer energy the Tractators could generate collectively (which makes their plan to turn the planet into a giant spaceship less silly than it might appear). The power relationship between the Gravis and the ordinary Tractators is also understated and comes across well. It also contrasts neatly with the human colony: with the Gravis gone, the Tractators become disorganised and harmless. With Plantagenet believed dead, the colony becomes equally disorganised, degenerating into savagery and scavenging...'

A particularly welcome feature of the story's scripts is that they offer the three regulars some exceptionally strong material to work with. Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Janet Fielding all rise to the occasion, giving excellent performances. 'What a Doctor!' enthused Connors. 'I believe that this was Peter Davison's finest moment in the role... Janet Fielding at last had a good springboard - nice to see [Tegan] more than usually positive... - whilst Mark Strickson was a great laugh as he [teased her over the destruction of the Earth] and just as [good] when facing the long-forgotten fears of the Tractators...'

The story's guest cast are also highly impressive. The production is, as usual, very slick-looking, although certain aspects of it fail to convince - the Tractator costumes, for example, are rather too bulky and inflexible (albeit still better than many other monster costumes seen in Doctor Who) and the planetary landscape is rather too obviously studio-bound. The lighting, however, is outstanding, being very subtle and appropriate at a time in the series' history when something akin to floodlighting was unfortunately becoming more usual.

All things considered, Frontios is one of the strongest stories of the twenty-first season, and indeed of the fifth Doctor's era as a whole.

< The AwakeningFifth DoctorResurrection of the Daleks >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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