Colony in Space ★★★

Hippies in space take on a mining corporation, while the Master seeks the Doomsday Weapon in a primitive city. Underrated...


Season 8 – Story 58


“Consider carefully, Doctor. I’m offering you a half-share in the universe” – the Master

The Time Lords reactivate the Tardis and convey the Doctor and Jo to the planet Uxarieus in 2472. A colony of humans is struggling to eke out an existence on the forbidding terrain, a matter made worse when the Interplanetary Mining Corporation arrives to plunder the planet of duralinium. The Master appears, posing as an Adjudicator to mediate between the colonists and IMC men, but his real interest lies in the ruins of a primitive city. The lost civilisation possesses a doomsday weapon that can annihilate other worlds…

First transmissions
Episode 1 – Saturday 10 April 1971
Episode 2 – Saturday 17 April 1971
Episode 3 – Saturday 24 April 1971
Episode 4 – Saturday 1 May 1971
Episode 5 – Saturday 8 May 1971
Episode 6 – Saturday 15 May 1971

Location filming: February 1971 at the Old Baal clay pit, Carclaze, St Austell, Cornwall
Studio recording: March 1971 in TC4 and March/April in TC3

Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant – Katy Manning
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
The Master (The Adjudicator) – Roger Delgado
David Winton – Nicholas Pennell
Caldwell – Bernard Kay
Robert Ashe – John Ringham
Mary Ashe – Helen Worth
Captain Dent – Morris Perry
Morgan – Tony Caunter
Leeson – David Webb
Jane Leeson – Sheila Grant
Martin – John Line
Mrs Martin – Mitzi Webster
Norton – Roy Skelton
Holden – John Herrington
Allen – Stanley McGeagh
Alec Leeson – John Tordoff
Time Lords – Peter Forbes-Robertson, John Baker, Graham Leaman
IMC robot – John Scott Martin
Colonist/Long/Primitive – Pat Gorman
The Guardian – Norman Atkyns
Alien priest – Roy Heymann

Writer – Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Tim Gleeson
Script editor – Terrance Dicks
Producer – Barry Letts
Director – Michael Briant

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
At the time of writing, with The Waters of Mars about to air, it’s fun to spot one or two passing similarities – and the yawning chasm in production values – between a 1970s and bang up-to-date depiction of colonies in space. I’ll leave that to you.

But back in 1971, it was gratifying for long-term viewers to see the third Doctor at long last making his first proper journey into space. Many younger viewers shared in Jo Grant’s sense of trepidation as she first sets foot inside the Tardis and then onto an alien world. “All that talk of yours about travelling in time and space – it was true!” Here Jo finally graduates from day-job “assistant” to fully fledged “companion” status.

The Doctor should of course be overjoyed at the relaxing of his exile. But there’s something detectably subdued in Pertwee and Manning’s performances, almost as if they’re missing their Unit buddies already and not relishing their first taste of another planet – hardly surprising since it’s really a Cornish china clay quarry in chilly February.

Despite this unprepossessing environment, Malcolm Hulke has structured a richly detailed, fast-moving drama that rolls out eventfully over a six-week period. As always, these longer stories are indigestible in one gulp.

At first glance Colony in Space reads like Hippy Commune in Space. It’s the most blatantly political production yet and unashamedly left wing. The Doctor and the viewer must side with the ragtag colonists who show pioneering spirit and a resolve in the face of oppression. Whereas the IMC men are hateful fascists. Driven by corporate greed (and, they argue, a duty to provide minerals for a depleted Earth), they’re ruthless with no qualms about resorting to murder (usually with their daft-looking robot).

Episode one is neatly structured, hooking us into the story with the plight of the colonists, and tantalising us with mentions of the Master and glimpses of the Primitives – who could themselves be hippies, gangrenous and insensible after a hard weekend at Glastonbury. Events paddle along over the next few episodes. Just as things could tire at the midway point, episode four gives us several reveals: the Master posing as the Adjudicator and, in the weird Primitive City, priests with heads like geriatric scrotums (cue a hilarious shriek from Jo) and the Guardian gliding out of a wall on his crystalline throne.

Episode six excites with the culmination of the colonists v IMC storyline, the good guys’ return from the dead, and the Guardian’s destruction of his own city. Best of all are lovely scenes between the two Time Lords at the heart of the doomsday weapon. The Master offers his old friend the greatest prize yet – “Absolute power! Power for good. Why, you could reign benevolently. You could end wars, suffering, disease. We could save the universe.” The Doctor rebuts him: “You’ll never understand, will you? I want to see the universe – not rule it!”

The supporting cast is particularly strong. John Ringham, memorable as vile Tlotoxl in The Aztecs (1964), is all reason and mild manners here as colony leader Ashe. Playing hothead colonist Winton, Nicholas Pennell gets top guest billing, thanks perhaps to his familiarity from The Forsyte Saga. Morris Perry, with a peculiar comb-forward riah, is resolutely sour as IMC leader, Dent.

Undoubtedly, the most intriguing character is Caldwell, the mineralogist and only IMC man with a conscience – a fourth role in the series for versatile Bernard Kay. It’s a shame there are no strong guest roles for women. Mary Ashe wavers between insipid and gutsy, but isn’t allowed to be seen grieving her father’s death. Mary was an early role for Helen Worth (20), who, at time of writing, has clocked up 35 years as Gail in Coronation Street.

Colony in Space offers a cheap and cheerless vision of the future, and the future is in the past, at least to modern eyes. The settlers use tear-off-paper calendars; Ashe asks the Doctor for his paper ID, and even the IMC ship seems to be using a telegraph. The Master’s secret files are kept in office cabinets!

Dudley Simpson’s music is his least inspired of the season and the cliffhangers are slightly duller than Pert’s standard. But one or two dodgy effects aside, it’s clear the production team know how to tell a good story, in weekly TV serial terms, and always deliver a satisfying ending.

What Katy did next…
“The story appealed to the hippy side of me. Although I wasn’t a hippy, I loved the idea of colonies. But it was bit too long. Even Barry [Letts] thought it was too long, but that’s something that probably worked when you were a kid and something I miss now in Doctor Who. And when that poor little robot came in…” She cackles at the memory of the IMC robot. “But look how amazing it all was for the time we were making it.”
(Talking to RT, April 2012)

Katy Manning Serendipity 1973 A

RT’s Patrick Mulkern interviews Katy Manning

Radio Times archive

RT pushed the boat out for Colony in Space, commissioning a glorious three-page cartoon from Frank Bellamy, which in some respects puts the transmitted episode to shame.

Colony strip 1
Colony strip 2
Colony strip 3

RT billings and illustration

Colony billings 1-2
Colony billings 4-6


[Available on BBC DVD]