Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of… a blue police box.
The Doctor and Jo materialise in the 26th century and just happen to get in the middle of a plot to set the two galactic empires, Earth and Draconia, at war with each other.
This is another story by Malcolm Hulke; much like his earlier one, Colony in Space, he seems to have a desire to build a rich and consistent future universe, with all the politics and history worked out. This kind of world-building can make for some compelling sci-fi, as it paints a broad picture of where we are as a species and where we’re heading, the trials we may face and the ideals we must stick to. While there are some warmongering characters in this, the Earth President (a woman, how about that?!) is level-headed and reasonable and tries her best to avoid all-out war.
There are two good reveals in this story. Firstly, in part three, that it’s the Master who is manipulating the two galactic powers to fight each other (using a hypnotic device to create illusions of the enemy), and then secondly, in part six, minutes before the story comes to a conclusion, that the Master has been working for the Daleks! I genuinely did not see that coming. With these two very bad dudes working together, the Doctor has no choice but to call the Time Lords for help, and so the story ends without resolution, to continue into the next serial. Okay, that’s a first.
It’s a little too convenient that the Doctor should happen to meet the Master, yet again, in his free travels. I do like the Master, but he risks becoming overused as a villain when it’s the same thing time after time. I would have liked to see the Master and the Daleks come to a head, but maybe that’s something that will happen in the next one. After all, the Master cannot be anybody’s ally in the long run, and the Daleks obey nobody but themselves. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Jo continue to develop a rapport; their dialogue is becoming more friendly and natural, which is nice to see. I may not think much of Jo, but the one thing she seems to do well is make the Doctor mellow out a bit. He’s become much more bearable lately.
There’s a lot to like about this story and I think it’s visually quite remarkable for a BBC TV show from 1973, years before the likes of Star Wars hit cinema screens, in which we have spaceships flying about through hyperspace, flinging missiles at each other and so forth. The sets, props, costumes, prosthetics and miniatures are all very accomplished and well-made for their time. The Draconian make-up is excellent, very alien without looking too much like they’ve got rubber on their heads. The dimwitted Ogrons also return (this should have been my clue that the Daleks were involved, duh!), so again we have this sense of world-building, pulling in familiar elements and using them in new ways.
Will the war be averted? Will the Daleks take over the galaxy? Will the Master finally conquer the Earth? Find out in the next exciting adventure!