Doctor Who: Colony in Space Review

Miners versus Colonists on the planet Uxarieus, with the Master behind the scenes, in this 1971 Third Doctor adventure.

The Doctor’s exile to Earth was a premise inherited by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. It was one they were soon impatient to change. Colony in Space, written by Malcolm Hulke, marked the first time the Third Doctor’s TARDIS left the planet. Admittedly it was under the Time Lords’ control, but it was a start.

The Tardis takes the Doctor and Jo to the year 2472 and the planet Uxarieus, where they become involved in a conflict between colonists and the Interplanetary Mining Corporation over the rights to the planet. Meanwhile, the Primitives (natives of the planet) worship a large machine. But who is really after this device, which is really the Doomsday Weapon and is capable of destroying entire planets?

The answer isn’t too hard to guess, especially given the opening scene where three Time Lords decide to use the Doctor to find it out. But apologies for the spoiler if anyone reading this still doesn’t know, but I wonder how much a surprise it was to audiences in 1971 – between 7.6 and 9.5 million per episode – when the Master turns up partway through Episode Four of this six-parter. Here, he’s posing as the Adjudicator sent to decide between the claims of the miners and the colonists. Letts and Dicks had given the Doctor his Moriarty, but maybe they did overuse their creation, as he would be the villain in all five stories in Season Eight. Needless to say, that was overkill, and the Master’s appearances became less frequent.

If you prefer the stories of this season to those of the previous one is a matter of taste. To me, atypical features or not – three seven-part stories out of four, the problematic dramatic function of companion Liz Shaw – Seven is still to my mind a strong season, and probably had to be for the show to survive. (Three of those stories now have classic status, but I really like the often-underrated Ambassadors of Death too.) With a change to shorter stories and the introduction of a recurring villain, we have a new companion, one softer, more “relatable” and more a surrogate child-figure to the Doctor. I’m talking of course about Jo Grant. I’ve said a few rude things about Jo and Katy Manning’s portrayal of her over the years and I admit that, watching these stories again, she’s often tougher and more resourceful than you might think. She’s not quite as screaming-girlie as Polly or Victoria, say – though as most of those companions’ stories no longer exist, that’s not an easy one to judge. But I can’t help feeling that Jo as a character was something of a retrograde step. The combination of role-filling with an awareness that certain types of female characterisation aren’t really on any more was done better with Sarah Jane Smith three years later.

Like the season’s other six-parter The Mind of Evil (which along with Ambassadors is one of the most problematic stories of the lot, from a restoration point of view, hence no DVD release so far), Colony in Space has its longueurs. It also has the misfortune, like most of the rest of the season, to be overshadowed by the story following it, The Daemons, one of the defining stories of the whole Pertwee/Letts/Dicks era. And while I do remember parts of that story and The Claws of Axos from first viewing back in 1971, pretty much all of Colony had faded from memory until I watched it on DVD. But Colony still has plenty of pleasures to offer for the fan, with the regulars in good form and a strong supporting cast. (Helen Worth, who played Mary Ashe, a few years before she became a regular on Coronation Street, is probably one of the minority of actors whose role in Who doesn’t obliterate the rest of their career in the public’s mind.) It’s not the best Who, nor is the worst, far from it, but it satisfies.


After the two-disc blowout for the four-part Day of the Daleks, the six-parter Colony in Space gets just one the disc, encoded for Region 2 only.

Of the eight stories produced on video from Pertwee’s first two seasons (that is, everything except the all-16mm Spearhead from Space), a mere four out out those forty-six episodes survive on their original PAL two-inch tapes. Everything else was wiped, leaving only black and white 16mm telerecordings, which in the case of The Mind of Evil is all that’s left. However, as with the two wiped episodes of The Claws of Axos, help was at hand from Canada, who returned PAL-to-NTSC standards-converted tapes to the BBC. By means of the Reverse Standards Conversion process (first used on the Axos DVD, and I refer you to that review for further details), Colony in Space looks as good as you can reasonably expect. RSC’d PAL inevitably looks softer and fuzzier than native PAL, but as you aren’t going to get the latter, this is what you have. And to be honest, it looks fine. TV sets nowadays are larger and more unforgiving than they were in 1971. Indeed, the majority of the public, myself included, watched this serial in black and white on first broadcast. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1 as you would expect, and no anamorphic enhancement is necessary.

The soundtrack is mono, also as you would expect, and it has been cleaned up and restored for this DVD. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and the extras, but not the commentary.

The information subtitles are the work of David Brunt, and are jokier than normal. As well as the usual trivia and production minutiae, you can play Hunt the Pat Gorman, after the regular actor who plays three separate credited roles in this story. (He’s also credited as a Voice, but that’s actually the ocntribution of director Michael Briant.)

That commentary is moderated by Toby Hadoke, and features the input of Michael Briant (director), Katy Manning, Graeme Harper (assistant floor manager, who later went on to direct for Classic Who and new Who) and actors Bernard Kay and Morris Perry. There is a lot of bantering, and Briant takes a ribbing for the less-than-frightening robot which provides the cliffhanger on Episode One. Dicks doesn’t dominate as he has elsewhere, but he’s only on for the first two episodes. He does get to trot out one more time the line about Pertwee’s hair becoming more bouffant over his time as the Doctor. This is a very entertaining commentary.

“IMC Needs You!” (25:03) is the making-of documentary. Barry Letts features here, from an interview carried out in 2008. Michael Briant, Katy Manning, Graeme Harper, Terrance Dicks and Bernard Kay also chip in. Briant describes how his original casting of the villainous Morgan – Susan Jameson – was vetoed by the powers that be, as a sadistic woman was considered unsuitable for family viewing, so Tony Caunter was cast instead. (You can glimpse Susan Jameson briefly – her photograph is on Ashe’s desk.) This is the kind of solid run-through of the serial from original idea to completion that is a feature of Who DVDs.

“From the Cutting Room Floor” (12:53) is a collection of mute 16mm footage from the location shoot and the model work. This is not in the greatest of condition, with scratches and spots galore. There are some explanatory captions, and music takes the place of the non-existent soundtracks, This is a connoisseur’s item: by no means essential, but fans will be glad to have it.

The remaining extras are those common to the whole Who range: a self-navigating stills gallery (5:53), Radio Times listings in PDF format, and a Coming Soon trailer for the Unit Box, which comprises Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Android Invasion. There are no Easter Eggs this time round.


Updated: Nov 09, 2011

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