The Power of Kroll *

A soggy off-day for writer Robert Holmes delivers a giant squid and green, loincloth-clad Swampies

Comments
Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Power of Kroll *

Season 16 – Story 102

"Great One, we ask only that the dryfoots and their abominations be crushed by thy mighty power! Master, this is thy servant!" - Ranquin

Storyline
The Doctor and Romana become separated on the marshy third moon of Delta Magna while seeking the fifth segment of the Key to Time. Escaping Earth colonists on a methane refinery, the Doctor rescues Romana from indigenous Swampies about to sacrifice her to their water deity, Kroll. The natives plan to attack the Earthmen, using weapons from Rohm-Dutt. The gunrunner is later killed by Kroll, an enormous squid-like creature, which colonist leader Thawn prepares to destroy with a rocket…

First transmissions

Part 1 - Saturday 23 December 1978
Part 2 - Saturday 30 December 1978
Part 3 - Saturday 6 January 1979
Part 4 - Saturday 13 January 1979

Production
Location filming: September 1978 at the Maltings, Snape and Iken Cliff (near Snape) in Suffolk
Filming: October 1978 at Bray Studios water tank
Studio recording: October 1978 in TC6

Cast
Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Romana - Mary Tamm
Thawn - Neil McCarthy
Rohm-Dutt - Glyn Owen
Fenner - Philip Madoc
Ranquin - John Abineri
Varlik - Carl Rigg
Dugeen - John Leeson
Harg - Grahame Mallard
Skart - Frank Jarvis
Mensch - Terry Walsh

Crew
Writer - Robert Holmes
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Don Giles
Script editor - Anthony Read
Producer - Graham Williams
Director - Norman Stewart

RT Review by Mark Braxton
It's terribly hard to summon much enthusiasm for some stories. And, sadly, this soggy four-parter is one such. Robert Holmes's reported dislike of the commission ("Bob, give us the biggest monster ever!") is pretty transparent. In place of his trademark wit and scorching two-handers are tepid dialogue and dull characters. There is no interest here for Holmes, so it seems he dashed off an uncharacteristically humdrum potboiler.

The sniggers induced by methane discharges and loincloth-clad Swampies are barely stifled by the titular terror, and the general silliness of the whole enterprise.

The enjoyment of seeing old troupers (The Mind of Evil's Neil McCarthy, Philip "Solon" Madoc) is diluted by their unsuitability for their respective roles. Even Glyn Owen seems unsure whether Rhom-Dutt is Irish or Australian. But illness and drop-outs necessitated last-minute cast changes, and that did at least promote John "Voice of K•9" Leeson to his first on-screen appearance as Dugeen.

Maybe the actors were given a lot of latitude in delivering their lines. It's certainly hard to imagine Holmes typing: "He's a Swampie lover… he's in with them" or "It's probably a deep-water thing".
To be fair, there are serious subtexts about racism and imperialism that lend an extra dimension, but they're not developed beyond tantalisingly chewy morsels such as "Progress is a very flexible word; it can mean anything you want it to mean".

Quite aside from their vivid-green wigs and appalling sense of rhythm in the King Kong-inspired tribal dancing (listen to how mismatched their chants of "Kroll" are with the drum beats), the Swampies are farcically unconvincing. And with nary a woman in sight, how does this society perpetuate?

The tittersome effects don't really help, either. The methane refinery looks like a table in a pond - clearly no lessons have been learnt from Terror of the Zygons - and although the Kroll puppet is a detailed one, the split-screen technique by which the creature is integrated with the action is unforgivingly linear.

However, the mushy proceedings are enlivened by Tom Baker's sprightly performance. For long periods he's the only one with any visible belief in the project, striding through the marshes with his amazing reappearing waders.

There are some charmingly comic bits of business from the Doctor. Among them: playing Bach's Badinerie note-perfectly on a carved reed, asking his captors if there will be strawberry jam for tea, shrieking in order to break a window, and the flying ducks on his lapels - something Tom Baker was delighted with. But I can easily imagine an equal number of viewers being irritated by such frivolities.

The Power of Kroll isn't a complete write-off. Effort has gone into furnishing the adventure with colour and interest. It's unusual to see the Tardis choked in reeds, for instance, and characters moving about in canoes and hovercraft.

But instead of the tentacular spectacular that script editor Anthony Read intended, we have a barely moist squib that flails about ineffectually. You do wonder what gave rise to such a monstrosity. Of course, "It could just be a gas build-up."

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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

[Available on BBC DVD]