Doctor Who complete reviews: The Power Of Kroll
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Behold the Mighty Kroll, Squid Lord in...a pretty average Doctor Who adventure.
Must try harder. I’ve never liked that phrase. It’s a quasi-patronising way of saying that you’ve fallen from grace. School grades. Exams. Even the results of the World Cup 2010 - yeah, Capello, you and your team should have tried harder.
And then there’s poor Robert Holmes, and in particular, The Power Of Kroll, the Key To Time’s giant monster tale, in which the good Doctor gets caught in the crossfire between a group of gormless nutbars spray-painted green and a small choir of shouting angry men. Unfortunately, The Power Of Kroll has had something of a bad press. Well, not even interesting enough to be called bad - just lukewarm.
The root of all this is Robert Holmes’ track record, which in the 1970s, was as good as it gets. Talons Of Weng-Chiang. Deadly Assassin. Ribos Operation. Strikes don’t get much higher than that, so after so many hits, it was perhaps inevitable that the relatively low-key Kroll was a bit disappointing. But let’s not forget that Holmes’ two sixties stories The Krotons and The Space Pirates weren’t hot property. So this isn’t anything new.
What exactly is the problem then? For some odd reason, The Power Of Kroll mainly seems to comprise a load of angry men shouting at the tops of their voices for what seems like an eternity. On the one hand, we have the Refinery lot, a gaggle of boring workers who don’t seem to have any real redeeming features. We have Thawn, the boss man, a bit of a racist, a bit of a loose cannon, a bit of a berk. Thawn’s main modus operandi is to bellow at everyone, even when the original question thrown at him wasn’t that irksome. Gradually, Thawn’s personality unravels to the point where he’s prepared to blow the Swampies to kingdom come - even if it means destroying the Refinery in the process. No wonder Dugeen wants out. In the end, his shouting is mercifully brought to an end by a Swampie spear in a surprisingly grisly scene.
"While Philip Madoc gives a reliably good performance, there’s the sense that he’s been wasted in a humdrum bit-part role. It’s a bit like going into your local department store and finding that Tom Baker’s taken a job there"
Who else do we have? Fenner, the grumpy second banana, who stomps around with the expression of a man who’s just been forced to eat a cement sandwich while listening to the complete works of The Saturdays. Interestingly, Fenner’s played by guest actor-supreme Philip Madoc. The problem is is that while Madoc gives a reliably good performance, there’s the sense that he’s been wasted in a humdrum bit-part role. It’s a bit like going into your local department store and finding that Tom Baker’s taken a job there. Fenner doesn’t really do anything apart from serve drinks and scowl. He does both of these tasks with efficient regularity. Indeed, the first shot is of Fenner making a drink. When the Refinery closes down at the end, at least Fenner can take solace in the fact that he can probably get a job as cocktail maker at the local Swampie pub.
Apart from these two legends, we have the likeable Dugeen, again played well by K9 himself John Leeson. Dugeen’s probably about the most interesting character of the lot, which is a damning indictment since he’s stuck behind a computer console all the time. But at least Dugeen gets a sudden conscience as he dies for daring to rebel against Thawn’s mad crusade. And finally, we have the dullest of the lot, the afro-headed Harg, who literally does nothing. Yes, nothing. The only point of Harg is to provide a suitably dramatic cliffhanger to part two in which he’s dragged through a work pipe by a Kroll tentacle. Good as this scene is (and despite the top-quality agonised screaming from Grahame Mallard here), that’s all Harg is good for. The rest of the time, he’s standing or sitting around looking like a gormless chimp in a ginger afro wig.
Things are not much better on the other side of the tracks, with the bloody Swampies, a clutch of rather obvious dupes who are easily fooled at every opportunity. They’re conned by Rohm Dutt, the mumbling turncoat. They’re opposed by the Refinery crew. And worst of all, their great god Kroll dishes out extreme benevolence and mercy by killing half their squad and reducing their makeshift flat-pack huts to little pieces.
The speaking parts are dished out to three of the blighters. Two of them - Skart and Varlik are again walking exposition machines, info-dumping the plot in the dullest way imaginable. Then there’s Ranquin, the high priest, a man who’s so deluded by his faith in Kroll that he’d probably agree cheerily to being slowly dismembered bit by bit by the giant squid. John Abineri is another of those great Who guest actors who’s wasted in a thankless role. All Ranquin gets to do is stride about yelling cod-religious banalities at the top of his voice.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Swampies are stupid. So stupid they make a three-month old baby look like a University Challenge contestant. Spray painted green in silly Kevin Keegan wigs, the Swampies most ridiculous moment is when they start hopping from side to side en-masse and bellowing “KROLL!” over and over again at the tops of their voices, before they sacrifice Romana to - erm, a Swampie in a fake Kroll costume. Sounds rubbish? Well try seeing it on screen.
It’s also a bit iffy to have very obvious green-skinned tribesmen hopping about in a manner to the tribesmen in the film King Kong. Hmmm, even in the late 1970s, equality wasn’t exactly at the top of the totem pole.
"Why aren’t there any women in the Swampie tribe? Crass though the thought of scantily-clad Swampie women may be, it would at least explain how Swampies breed"
And one more thing. Why aren’t there any women in the Swampie tribe? Crass though the thought of scantily-clad Swampie women may be, it would at least explain how Swampies breed. As it is, you kind of wonder whether the Swampies are just bred in a Petri dish by the Jolly Green Giant. Ho ho ho.
So the characters aren’t exactly great. And I haven’t even started on Glyn Owen’s bored-out-of-his-head performance as Rohm Dutt, which mainly comprises monotone mumbling. Although again he gets a cool death scene when he’s eaten by Kroll.
A big failing with Kroll, however, is the fact that all the usual Holmseian hallmarks are absent. There are no amusing double acts. There are no traditional witticisms or pithy comments. Even The Doctor and Romana are notably subdued. After four stories of witty banter, the two seem to trudge through proceedings with fixed grins on their faces, a bit like those people who are forced to advertise a product by striding up and down in a gaudy sandwich board. Admittedly, Tom Baker does his level best to inject his usual madcap humour into proceedings, especially in the last part (“Maybe it’s saving you for pudding!” or my favourite, “Kroll couldn’t tell the difference between you and me and half an acre of dandelion and… bur-dock.”). But overall, there’s not much spark between our two heroes. Oh, and Mary Tamm reaches a new nadir in shrieking unconvincingly at the end of part one.
One familiar Holmes trademark does at least rear its head again. Yes, Holmes manages to bring several characters to sticky ends. A good number of both speaking and non-speaking characters become Kroll food. There’s also a surprising (given the time) amount of blood. Copious amounts start to trickle out of Thawn’s mortal wound. There’s also a close-up of a poor old Swampie’s blood-splattered head after he tries to fire one of Rohm Dutt’s faulty guns.
"Apparently, Holmes didn’t like writing about big monsters and this discomfort shows in the final product"
Even if The Power Of Kroll isn’t top-tier Who, at least there are some attempts to impress. The location filming (of which there’s quite a generous amount) looks great - the watery marshes make a nice change to the usual quarries and sandpits. The model filming also isn’t bad - the Refinery shots work quite well, as does the model of Kroll. Just a shame about the jarring line between the model filming and the live action location filming.
And overall, the story does move along quite well. This is the better of the two stories directed by Norman Stewart. Despite the interminable talky scenes, there are still some fast-paced action scenes such as the canoe escape in part three, the Kroll attack in part four and The Doctor’s desperate attempts to get the fifth segment of the Key - which, guess what? Turns out to be Kroll!
Generally, The Power Of Kroll is passable Doctor Who fare. It’s exciting in places, well acted in places and well written in places. But those two magic words give away the clue for Kroll’s less than stellar reputation - the story’s only interesting from time to time rather than all the way through. Apparently, Holmes didn’t like writing about big monsters and this discomfort shows in the final product. It’s reasonable, maybe B grade status, but when Holmes has written so many grade A stories, it’s a bit disappointing. Must try harder? Well, Holmes would, even if it took five years to produce a bonafide classic in the form of The Caves Of Androzani.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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