‘Colony in Space’ is on its way to Blu-ray as part of the Doctor Who Season 8 collection. A sometimes overlooked adventure, this six part story is actually a key milestone in the Doctor’s travels.
This may sound strange to today’s viewers, but when Doctor Who Season 8 was transmitted, the Time Lord hadn’t been at the helm of the TARDIS for nearly two years. This was because, at the end of the 1969 season, the Doctor had been exiled to Earth by his own people, and they took away his knowledge of how to pilot his own ship.
This occurrence served both a narrative and budgetary purpose. For the BBC, they were keen to keep Doctor Who on the air, but they also wanted to do so more economically. So the idea of having the title character exiled to Earth was thought to reduce costs, as the show would not be required to build space stations and exotic alien planets every week. Why film on Lakertya when you can film in a living room?
And these creative decisions were still in force by the time Doctor Who Season 8 went into production, under the leadership of the producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. Indeed, the vast majority of this series is made up of entirely Earth-based adventures, such as ‘Terror of the Autons,’ ‘The Mind of Evil‘ and ‘The Claws of Axos.’
But Letts was keen to take the Doctor back into time and space for Doctor Who Season 8, and therefore commissioned a story that would see the Time Lord and his companion Jo pay a visit to an alien planet. ‘Colony in Space’ was the adventure that eventually made it to the screen, written by series stalwart Malcolm Hulke (who, coincidentally, had penned the Doctor’s very last trip in the TARDIS in ‘The War Games’ two years earlier.)
So ‘Colony in Space’ is a first for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor – and Jo Grant – as they travel to the human colony of Uxarieus in the year 2472. But this serial also stands out for revealing more about the Doctor’s home planet, and his people the Time Lords. In ‘Colony in Space,’ the Doctor’s arch enemy the Master has stolen the plans to the deadly Doomsday Weapon, and the concerned Time Lords realise that swift action is needed. However, instead of intervening themselves, they opt to give the Doctor a temporary reprieve, and send him ‘undercover’ to thwart the Master’s scheme.
Admittedly, this moment from Doctor Who Season 8 doesn’t teach us a huge amount about the Doctor’s own people, but it does expand on their legend, and their relationship with the exiled Time Lord. It would be many years before viewers were given a closer, more in-depth look at Gallifreyan society in the 1976 story ‘The Deadly Assassin,’ starring the Fourth Doctor.
But ‘Colony in Space’ was a first for many other reasons. Indeed, Doctor Who Season 8 saw the introduction of Michael E. Briant to the Whoniverse, who made his Doctor Who directorial debut with this story. Having only completed the BBC’s directors’ course a couple of years earlier, this commission was a step-up for Briant, who confessed to being excited and daunted at the prospect of taking on a six part adventure.
And there were a number of obstacles. One of these was the budget, and the programme’s limited resources; at one point, Briant cried when he realised that the programme could never match the production values of some of the bigger-budget SF movies of the time.
Despite this, he was being supported by Graeme Harper as the assistant floor manager – a contemporary who had worked on other Doctor Who stories such as ‘The Power of the Daleks‘ and who would later go on to direct some of the most highly-regarded adventures in the series’ history. And Briant, too, became a familiar face on the show beyond Doctor Who Series 8, going on to direct many other stories including ‘The Sea Devils,’ ‘The Green Death’ and ‘Revenge of the Cybermen.’
In addition, Briant was a forward-thinking director. For example, he was keen to cast a woman in the role of one of the key antagonists – Morgan, from the greedy Interplanetary Mining Corporation – and hired the actor Susan Jameson for the part. However, shortly after her casting, script editor Terrance Dicks was summoned by the BBC superiors who told him that they couldn’t have a woman playing Morgan as it was too “kinky.” Thus, the production team relented and gave the part to Tony Caunter. Jameson, however, was still paid in full for the story.
It’s clear, though, that the Doctor Who Season 8 team were committed to making ‘Colony in Space’ as good as it could possibly be, and indeed the story achieved high ratings on its original transmission, creeping close to 10 million for episode three. It is fondly remembered for expanding the Doctor’s relationship with the Time Lords, and for being the Third Doctor’s first adventure in the TARDIS with Jo Grant. As such, it is fitting that the serial will soon be given a whole new lease of life in the Doctor Who Season 8 Blu-ray collection.
What is your favourite thing about ‘Colony in Space’? And what is your favourite story from Doctor Who Season 8? Let me know in the comments below.
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