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24 September 2014

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The Power of Kroll

Production Code: 5E

First Transmitted

1 - 23/12/1978 18:15

2 - 30/12/1978 18:30

3 - 06/01/1979 18:25

4 - 13/01/1979 18:25


The TARDIS arrives in the marshes of the third moon of the planet Delta Magna. While trying to get an accurate reading on the tracer, the Doctor is shot at by Thawn and Fenner, two men from a nearby methane refinery.

Romana is meanwhile taken prisoner by the green-skinned natives, the Swampies, who decide to sacrifice her to their god Kroll as a prelude to an attack on the refinery.

A man named Rohm-Dutt is running guns to the Swampies ostensibly on behalf of an anti-colonial organisation sympathetic to their cause. This however is part of a plot by Thawn to have the Swampies wiped out. The Doctor arrives at the Swampies' temple just in time to rescue his companion.

The refinery crew notice that the lake bed is shifting, as if there is something moving beneath it. The Swampies, led by Ranquin, prepare their attack, but are stopped in their tracks when Kroll - an enormous squid-like creature - appears on the horizon. Kroll starts to assail them, while the Doctor, Romana and Rohm-Dutt are captured by the Swampies and sentenced to death. The Doctor and Romana manage to escape, but Rohm-Dutt is seized and killed by one of Kroll's tentacles.

The two Time Lords reach the refinery, where they learn that Thawn is planning to destroy Kroll by blasting it with a rocket. The Doctor disables the rocket and Thawn is slain by the Swampies as they launch their attack.

Kroll then returns but the Doctor, realising that it has ingested the fifth segment (disguised as a Swampie relic), uses the tracer to end its threat. The segment is converted, and in place of the giant Kroll there are countless smaller creatures left lying in the marshes.

Episode Endings

As the assembled Swampies chant their god's name, Ranquin calls on Kroll to arise from the depths. Romana, tied up inside a sacrificial compound, shrieks in horror as a creature appears and attacks her.

One of Kroll's tentacles breaks through a large metal pipe inside the refinery. It seizes a worker named Harg and, as his horrified colleagues look on, drags him into the pipe.

The Doctor and Romana flee from the Swampies in a canoe, but the huge form of Kroll rises up before them in the swamp.

The Doctor and Romana return to the TARDIS and it dematerialises.


King Kong.

North American aboriginals.

Irish nationalism ('The sons of Erin').

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Well, you'd better introduce me."

Romana : "As what?"

The Doctor : "Oh, I don't know, a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don't exaggerate."

Thawn : "The authorities are far too soft. Once they start interfering, you can never get rid of them. We'll handle this one by ourselves, and in my way. Final. We get rid of the problem once and for all."

Ranquin : "Kroll is all wise, all seeing..."

The Doctor : "All baloney!"

Double Entendre

Ranquin : [To the Doctor] "Your mind is bent."

Ranquin : [Threat to Romana about the quality of the latest script] "You will wish you had died on the Stone of Blood."

Dugeen : [The first line of episode three, perhaps referring to the plot] It hasn't moved for fifteen minutes.


The fifth segment of the Key to Time allows one to see the future (according to Swampie lore). As the Symbol of Power, it was brought by the Swampies to this moon, where it was swallowed by a giant squid, causing it to mutate and grow.

The Doctor can't hypnotise people with 'narrow eyes' [but that could be just vanity]. He can sing a note that shatters glass, carries a hammer, and can fall victim to oxygen starvation (cf. Marco Polo, Terror of the Zygons, The Caves of Androzani). He knows a lot about refinery technology Seven is said to be his lucky number (cf. The Creature from the Pit).

The atmosphere of the moon is thin, and the gravity tiny, but we see evidence of neither.


The Doctor's Age


The third moon of Delta Magna, settled centuries ago by the natives of Delta Magna, who had been evicted there from the Earth colony.

Future History

Earth colonies are 'all so insular' according to the Doctor. The Sons of Earth are a non violent political movement who believe that all life originated on Earth, and want to return humanity there, though 'none of them can have seen Earth'. The Earth is in a bad state and unfit for settlement, underlined by Rohm Dutt's assertion that humanity would 'starve' there.


The Doctor implies that he has met opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931).


John Leeson appears in person as Dugeen rather than as the voice of K9. He replaced Martin Jarvis, who dropped out before recording commenced.

Kroll is Doctor Who's largest ever monster.

Production unit manager John Nathan-Turner deputised for producer Graham Williams during this story's single studio session as Williams was absent due to illness.


As reported by Doctor Who Magazine, this story was a replacement for one entitled The Lords of Misrule by distinguished screen writer Ted Willis. (Ted Willis never worked on Doctor Who. Thriller writer Ted Lewis, best known for the seminal Get Carter, did work on an ultimately unused Key to Time story, title unknown.)

Philip Madoc accepted the role of Fenner due to a misunderstanding; he had thought that he was being invited to play the more substantial part of Thawn. (He agreed to take the role of Fenner after actor Alan Browning, who was to have done so, fell ill shortly before filming commenced. He had previously been invited to play Thawn, but this invitation had been withdrawn by the production team as Neil McCarthy had already accepted the role.)


'Constellation' is once again used to mean 'solar system'.

The Doctor's reed flute playing doesn't match the music.

The Swampies, primitive in other ways, have perfected the art of bookbinding, since their history comes complete with an inlaid leather cover. (And why keep it in a hole in the ground?)

The wall of the rocket silo is flimsy enough to wobble at the tap of a hammer.

The rain pouring through the broken window doesn't make our heroes wet.

The Doctor whips his galoshes on and off all through the story.

When offered a cup of some drink, the Doctor casually drops it into his pocket!

Fashion Victim

The Swampies: actors painted green, with green dreadlocks, forced to wander about East Anglia in bare feet.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Mary Tamm

Dugeen - John Leeson

Fenner - Philip Madoc

Harg - Grahame Mallard

Mensch - Terry Walsh

Ranquin - John Abineri

Rohm-Dutt - Glyn Owen

Skart - Frank Jarvis

Thawn - Neil McCarthy

Varlik - Carl Rigg


Director - Norman Stewart

Assistant Floor Manager - Chris Moss

Costumes - Colin Lavers

Designer - Don Giles

Film Cameraman - Martin Patmore

Film Editor - Michael Goldsmith

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Kezia Dewinne

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Kate Nemet

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Anthony Read

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Warwick Fielding

Studio Sound - Richard Chubb

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Tony Harding

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

The plot, which resembles The Caves of Androzani, is very slow, and, with little of the usual humour of the era. With the exceptions of Philip Madoc and John Abineri it's also horribly acted. Need we say that Kroll, a two foot mutated squid, is so unconvincing in all its manifestations (particularly the tentacles) that you wonder how anybody thought they could get away with it. Ranquin praying to a limp tentacle in a pipe achieves a kind of kitsch grandeur.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

'This story is not well remembered by many fans despite it being written by the late great Robert Holmes,' noted Paul Dunn in Capitol Spires Issue 2, dated July 1993. This is quite true; and Dunn's comment gives a clue as to the likely reason for its generally poor reputation: although it is by no means a bad story, it falls some way short of the very high standards of which Holmes is well known to have been capable. This was a point picked up by Chris Dunk in Oracle Volume 2 Number 6, dated March 1979: 'Robert Holmes is an incredibly talented author... [but] this story proved to be, in my eyes, his downfall. Not that it was bad, I hasten to add; it just wasn't very good by his own excellent standards. In fact it was pretty average throughout, with even the superb Philip Madoc playing a subdued role [as Fenner] under the belligerent command of Thawn...

'Flashes of inspiration were visible in places, but we really needed a spark to light the fire. Perhaps it was the lack of humour (much less prevalent than usual, and something that I thrive on) that did it, maybe the lack of sturdy subplots... Parts of the script did show that Doctor Who is concerned with the real world though - encouraging and commendable. A few moral hints here and there are quite acceptable as long as the author doesn't tend to preach too much.'

This rather negative view of the story has not been universally shared, however. Owen Tudor, writing in TARDIS Volume 4 Number 2, dated 1 April 1979, suggested that the absence of Holmes's usual witticisms was more than made up for by 'the excellence of script, costumes, characterisations and acting,' and that '[the story] was an object lesson in television writing, as it used the possibilities and restrictions of the format presented with admirable skill and expertise.'

Like Dunk, Tudor felt that the story contained a degree of social comment: 'Every day we face the technology-nature struggle. We are nature. The world we live in is predominantly technology. Nature is the unpredictable Kroll, technology is the scheduled rocket launches. The Power of Kroll tells us that both are dangerous, and that both can be defeated. The human colony is important to us because it represents the admirable human desire to expand, to explore, to seek and also the doubts we have had about what we will find, and, more importantly, how we will handle what we find.'

Unfortunately, any moral message that the viewer might have gleaned from the story is somewhat obscured by the fact that the depiction of the Swampies as green-skinned (obviously made-up) spear-wielding natives who are easily duped and betrayed by the gun runner Rhom-Dutt strongly recalls the patronising portrayal of black-skinned (and just as obviously made-up) African tribesmen in countless old 'jungle adventure' films of the Tarzan variety. Indeed the scene at the end of Part One in which Romana is tied up behind a stockade to be sacrificed to Kroll while the Swampies hop from foot to foot outside, shaking their spears and chanting their god's name, is very obviously copied from one in the 1933 RKO film King Kong in which a group of highly stereotyped African natives prepare to sacrifice Fay Wray to the giant ape of the title. This rather questionable aspect aside, the on-screen realisation of The Power of Kroll is generally good. Dunn drew attention to a number of notable points:

'The locations [for] the story are great, making a change from the overused gravel pit, with the Norfolk marshes being well used... The Kroll model itself was well executed, but was completely let down by the use of [a] split screen effect, resulting in a very hard line between the model and the live action footage.'

The unconvincing nature of the split screen effect used to integrate the model Kroll with the location shot landscape - apparently a consequence of film cameraman Martin Patmore being given bad advice, without which it would have worked very much better - has certainly been the most frequently cited failing of the The Power of Kroll's production. This is bound to be a problem in a story that makes such a big deal - both literally and metaphorically - of its principal monster. One can well understand Robert Holmes' reported unease at being asked to come up with a story featuring the biggest monster ever seen in Doctor Who, and it is perhaps unsurprising that in the circumstances he was unable to do his best work - indeed, it seems that he was always at his least inspired when working within constraints with which he was uncomfortable, such as the requirement to use a historical setting for season eleven's The Time Warrior.

The last word on The Power of Kroll, however, goes to the appreciative Tudor: 'The segment [of the Key was] used more effectively in The Power of Kroll than anywhere else this season. It bound together all the layers [of the story]. It had created the great god Kroll. It had provided the methane resources that attracted the colonists to the swamp. It eventually threatened everybody, and its final disintegration into hundreds of little octopi provided an aftermath which fitted exactly the calm after the climax.'

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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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