Frontios: Doctor Who: Season 21
The planet Frontios is one of the last refuges of human colonists in the distant future. The Tardsi has drifted into this time zone and crash lands due to a meteor bombardment. The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough immediately help the colonists stricken by the bombardment but are regarding with suspicion by the colony's leader Plantagenet.
The human colony is on the verge of extinction due to the continual meteor bombardments several times a day to the Tardis crew's dismay the next one destroys the Tardis. Trapped on Frontios, Tegan finds hidden files which report human 'disappearing', sucked into the earth.
Despite the attempted cover up's by Brazen and Plantagenet the Doctor is convinced the answer lies underground. There Turlough is confronted by a horror from his past; Tractators, creatures with power over gravity who cause the bombardments and are responsible for capturing the humans.
The Doctor must get the colonists to abandon the politics and in fighting above ground and get them to combat the real menace before Tractator leader Gravis can use the human colonists for more 'spare parts' to his excavating machines and realise his plans for Frontios. Hopefully also find a means of repairing the Tardis.
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Frontios CAST & CREW
Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor)
Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)
Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough)
Jeff Rawle — Plantagenet
Peter Gilmore — Brazen
Lesley Dunlop — Norna
William Lucas — Range
Maurice O'Connell — Cockerill
Raymond Murtagh — Retrograde
Richard Ashley — Orderly
Alison Skilbeck — Deputy
John Gillett — The Gravis
William Bowen, George Campbell, Hedi Khursandi, Michael Malcolm, Stephen Speed — Tractators
Production Staff for Serial 6N:
Writer - Christopher H. Bidmead
Director - Ron Jones
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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Now do we head from tea and scones at an English country village circa 1984, near the burnt carcass of the Malus to millions, billions, possibly trillions of years into a galaxy far, far away…
…the planet Frontios! Yes a great holiday destination. Also a great set of episodes. Christopher H. Bidmead turns in a cracker of a script and story and again gives us viewers a well drawn and thought out society. But this one is not alien for once but a bunch of humans, apparently one of the last bunch of humans, struggling to keep their fledgling colony alive, being picked off by meteor storms after their ship crashed some years before.
Peter Davison was probably kicking himself he was leaving because Frontios was finally a meaty script that started to explore his character more and really focused again on the original premise that Bidemead came up with, the often quoted " old man in a young man's body" (he wears his glasses for the first time in a while) plus for a change there's more humour for the fifth Doctor. He's actually getting visibly more eccentric, stuffing around with hatstands making you think maybe this incarnation actually has a bit of OCD. Brings to mind other times when he's earlier been seen fiddling with stuff and setting it out in a neat little pile. He's also older and more authoritarian and his debates with Plantagenet over the failing of the colony are very well scripted and acted.
Both Tegan and Turlough are given a lot to do in Frontios, Tegan trying to help dying colonists and setingt up the hospital with Norna and being the first to dive headlong into searching the catacombs. She also acts as a great comic foil to the Doctor. particularly when the Doctor. is trying to save her from the Gravis by pretending she's an android but "her walks not quite right and then there's the accent of course" her expression of being pissed off but unable to contradict him is priceless. Turlough is used well, Bidmead writing him as a hero in a coward's body, who knows a lot more about what's happening to the planet than he eventually lets on. Ok his foaming at the mouth is a bit much but when he's usually locked up and given nothing to do in recent episodes can forgive him being a bit OTT when remembering what the tractators did to his home world. Plus his fantastic bluff part in pretending the Tardis hatstand is a sort of gun to stop the Doctor's execution and threatening the colonists with it - was great stuff!
The Frontios supporting cast is almost perfect, Jeff Rawle as Plantagenet is totally believable as the inexperienced leader of the colony all angry bluster but obviously really scared at trying to live up to his Dad's legacy and finally believes the Doctor when he gets captured by the real threat. Peter ummm something (from the Onedin Line) is great as the grouchy, stubborn number 2 who's trying desperately to hide something and pretend nothing's wrong with the colony and William Lucas is good as the endearing, sympathetic Mr. Range, the voice of reason who can't get through to his block headed superiors and the girl playing Norna is a little hottie and takes on the rebel colonists. The only weak link is the actor playing the guard leader trying to lead a revolution - why deserters would follow this guy on a revolt of the colony is a mystery. Ok so the ground returned him but he can't string two convincing words together.
The tension and atmosphere in Frontios is well built up, the sets are convincing and the lighting dark and moody, you can believe this is a planet heading for destruction. Plus the dialogue is top notch, that line "don't go waving your title at me" is awesome and good for use in team meetings! Even the Tractators were halfway believable monsters, though it would have been good if they had been able to curl round their victims and if the Gravis leader actually had a translator device like they were originally scripted too (guess only the Doctor spoke to him so the Timelord translator thing was still working) but the fact they had the power of gravity was nice and original.
Ok so they were planning to drive Frontios but the daleks were planning to drive the Earth at one stage, wonder where they nicked that idea from? Was also spooky how the earth swallowed people and seeing the missing captain in the excavating machine as the part 3 cliff hanger. Speaking of which nice twist to have the Tardis actually destroyed as the cliffhanger for part 1 was a real WTF do they do now moment! Seemed like their time travelling days were over. Though found it hard to buy the Gravis was powerful enough to pull it back together. In all a well directed studio bound story by Ron Jones! Hmmm was gonna give Frontios a 9 but bugger it, nostalgia factor - put me down for 10/10!
There's something about being sucked down through the soil which I find a bit unsettling. One moment you've got your towel spread out, your sun block on and you're lying on the rich soil of an alien planet like Frontios. And the next you're being sucked through it all by a bunch of over sized woodlice. Lets not forget that a few minutes after landing on Frontios that you're craft had unexpectedly decided to take itself apart and the only thing left standing is your hatstand. Everyone know what a hatstand is? Good. And a hat? Yep. Common practice I thought, unless you're from Frontios and anyone packing a hatstand can be capable of bringing down a bombardment of meteorites.
I love Frontios (says I, wearing my assessment on my sleeve) cos like both of Bidmead's previous stories, its about a self-contained group of people living in their own self contained society with their own self contained problems and...... stuff. Once again Bidmead outdoes himself with the BIG concepts; from old men with abacus's holding the fabric of the universe together to little worlds made up up from Adric's little brain we have have this one; a planet with an insect manifestation.
I like the idea of the Tractators turning Frontios into one big spaceship and going tooling about the galaxy looking for fun. Imagine if they met the Daleks from Dalek Invasion of Earth coming the other way with their hollowed out Earth ship bouncing along to doof-doof music and a "Honk If You're Horny" sticker plastered on the back of it (hopefully over New Zealand).
As Tim said, there are some great names here too, like Plantagenent (yup; its worth saying again; Plantagenent, Plantagenent, Plantagenent, Plantagenent). And there is Brazen and Cockerill and Range and Revere. Much better than Terry Nations names of Galloway, Tarrant, Taron, Styles and Boobie. And speaking of Boobie, who wouldn't with Norna? All the guest actors rise to the occassion here - as I said, creating self contained characters and situations seems to be Bidmeads strong point.
There is a nice feeling of doom here; a colony under attack and everything being blown to pieces, and then the Tardis breaking up which makes the Doctor, Turlough and Tegan just as vulnerable as all the others. There is an underlying feeling that no one is safe.
Lots of tension and suspense here. The scene where they all go underground and encounter the tractators for the first time (end of part two) is very good, likewise the end of part three with the excavator machine piloted by the corpse of Captain Revere. The original concept of the machine was that it was made out of bones and limbs of the people who they had sucked down through the earth - that would have looked awesome! Likewise the Gravis would have communicated through a speaking machine that would have hovered near him made out of a disembodied human head and a swinging pendulum made from someone's arm!
For a studio set it is very well realised, particularly the shot that combines the model of the ship with the live action on the ground with the cast. The cave system is good and well lit and you get a feeling of claustrophobia as well as Ron Jones keeps it all tightly framed and many scenes are shot upwards so you can see the roof of the caves.
The regular cast are all given something to do as well with the action split evenly between them. I like how they are all thrown into danger as soon as they arrive on Frontios and the Doctor actually has to be, well, a Doctor and tend to the wounded. His scenes with Norna work really well - particularly when they go exploring the cave system together. Turlough finally gets to do something and his hysterical frothing at the mouth scenes are very good. He also has some nice scenes with Norna and in some ways maybe it would have been better if he left in this story and stayed on Frontios with Norna since they had some chemistry together. Since his memory of the Tractators (a nice plot device) has been exorcised it would have been a nice closure for him to help rebuild Frontios and do something worthwhile with his life. Tegan is also really good too and actually DOES something like going and getting the giant battery off the top of the crashed ship to help in the hospital and then going down the tunnels to help the others.
The tractators are a nice addition to the Who monster line up, and you get a good idea of how powerful they (or at least The Gravis controlling them) are by the way they can drag people down through the planet's surface, or bring the Tardis back together again. The only drawback is that they do look a little bulky and awkward - the original idea was that they were to curl themselves around their victims then drag them under ground.
Anyway, another good, solid tale that looks great and comes across nice and creepy. 10/10
I was going to say that I reckon Frontios is underrated... but I don't know if it's rated at all! This is another one that I'd forgotten all about until the 4:30AM run of 1993 - and was pretty impressed... especially considering it's about colonists!
Yep, the throw backs to the 70s continue - we've had Silurians and Sea Devils and Churches, and we'll get Daleks, another return of the Master, the return of the doctor / one female companion dynamic, and, well, something that we're just going to have to wait till Wednesday to see what Grob's been cooking up since last September when we started all this! But here we get the classic colony - all wearing the same clothes (check), eating bread and slops (check), mysterious deaths or disappearances (check), rare mineral somewhere (check) - it's all there.
And thus, the first two parts are just OK - there's some good stuff going on with the disappearances, and some really nice stuff between Turlough and Norna - but some of the normal "senior members of the colony aren't happy with the Doctor" gear gets a bit boring... although the Doctor deals with it extremely well - I love it when he wears the glasses and gets really involved in his work! Although the bit where Tegan, Turlough and Norna take forever to get a big glittery slurpee machine from the ship to the bunker really does slow things down.
The disappearing TARDIS however, while it's been done before, and will be done again, is a great little twist - especially as it was right in front of their eyes at the start of the meteor shower. The following bit with the hatstand - I'm not so sure about... but it does progress things along a bit.
Frontios still continues to plod a bit though until we finally get into the mines. I reckon the tractators are great. They're never going to be an easy thing to realise, and I think what we get is pretty good - sure the way they get around makes you think you could easily run away from them, but the idea to give them "super gravity powers" works very well, and is realised well with the bright pink light (although, when you look at the tractators, you do wonder if they might work better if you turn down the colour and watch it in black and white... which may take away from the effect of the pink light?).
The rest of the story is excellent... although at times you wonder whether Turlough's overacting is way over the top (look at the drool!!) - especially given how quickly he calms down again after his back story comes out. Perhaps that's the fault of Ron Jones more than anything else - who for the most part gets it right this time around (surely even Grob couldn't be upset with the lighting here - it's perfectly gloomy). Having the tractators being solely reliant on the Gravis is possibly an easy out - but at the same time it sets it up nicely for a return... which never happened (despite a request from Saward to write a story involving the tractators and the master). The final scenes include two classic moments - the mining machine powered by the husked out body is chilling (the plan may be hair brain, but it's still OK), while the scattered TARDIS (and the bringing together of it) is great.
Performances are all pretty good here too - the bloke from Onedin Line is an interesting one cos his character is all over the place at times (including his strange ending) but still does well, and Range and Norna are great. Plantagenet is OK - he goes on a pretty difficult journey character wise, and does an OK job at it... and beside, Plantagenet is a great word to say.
7.5 for the story, and 0.5 for the use of the word Plantagenet
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