Reviews

'Doctor Who: Frontios' Is All About Making the Best With What You've Got

"Frontios" may have its special effects flaws, but it has solid story, characters, and acting, which is what most Doctor Who fans expect from the series. A nice batch of bonus features explain the show's place in the series' history.


Doctor Who: Frontios

Director: Ron Jones
Cast: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson
Distributor: BBC
Release date: 2011-06-14
Amazon

My local PBS station introduced me to Doctor Who when I was a kid. (Along with Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and so forth.) Like many US kids growing up in the '70s, I saw a bunch of Tom Baker episodes first, followed by a smattering of Peter Davison serials, such as "Frontios". I have to admit I fell off the Doctor Who bandwagon after that, though, and I have yet to watch the new series.

However, when I had a chance to revisit a Doctor from my childhood, I jumped at the opportunity. Doing so has also allowed me to introduce my kids, ages eight and three, to the Doctor. They’re young enough that the subpar quality of the special effects isn't a big deal to them. Nor are the monsters' goofy costumes. They appreciate the Doctor's ability to solve mysteries and wiggle his way out of trouble without having to blow stuff up. As always, well-told stories are timeless.

"Frontios" may not be a perfect Doctor Who episode, but it's a solid effort that has the Doctor and his companions traveling to the future and landing on the planet Frontios, where humanity's last survivors are trying to survive constant meteor bombardments. They've set up what amounts to a military dictatorship as they scratch out a meager existence. It turns out, though, that the real threat lurks below the surface.

The monsters encountered in the deep are unfortunately a bit silly-looking; it's hard to see them as a major menace, since they shuffle around and a well-placed bazooka blast should be able to wipe most of them out, given their tendency to congregate in tight groups. Lest you think the cast and crew took the show too seriously, you'll find out in the bonus features that many of them saw the monsters the same way. Dancers were hired to fill the costumes, which turned out to be so inflexible that the complex movements they had rehearsed were for naught.

Such is the reality of Doctor Who back then, though. Even though "Frontios" runs 97-minutes, the resources available were a fraction of what a major theatrical film would have received. As a result, filming was rushed (a couple missteps are pointed out in the bonus features) and director Ron Jones had to take what he could get when it came to effects and props. If a menacing tunneling machine turns out to be a goofy-looking thing with a wheel that moves slowly back and forth, well, you just have to make the best of it.

If you're a long-time Doctor Who watcher, though, you likely take the flaws in stride and probably even see them as part of the show's unique character. After all, the stories and characters are the series' real strengths, and "Frontios" has plenty of both.

This disc serves up a nice making-of called "Driven to Distraction", which features thoughts from Davison, writer Chris Bidmead, actors Mark Strickson, John Gillett, and Jeff Rawle, script editor Eric Saward, and others. Between it and the commentary track, which stars Davison, Rawle, Saward, and sound designer Dick Mills, you'll learn pretty much all you'd ever want to know about how "Frontios" was conceived and the trials and tribulations experienced during filming. Like many group commentary tracks, this one sometimes veers into wistful reminiscing, but it's still enjoyable.

There's also a production notes subtitle track that you may want to turn on during the commentary, so you can mine additional factual nuggets. If you want to watch the show with the isolated music score, you can do that, too.

Moving on, we have 15-minutes of deleted and extended scenes that are presented in their original quality, along with a five-minute photo gallery and the original Radio Times listings, which are presented in .pdf format. "Frontios" has remastered audio and video.

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