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The Power of Kroll

Reviewed by Nicholas Withers

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep...

The Power of Kroll is a story about a giant squid and his quest for social acceptance among the people who have invaded his habitat. However due to the misguided religious leadership of the green native people, and the resource plundering capitalist nature of the miners, the squid is forced to lunch on the natives and miners rather than take them out to lunch. At the same time a gun runner, who is in the running to win the most ridiculous name prize, Rohm-Dutt, has been maliciously attempting to corrupt the innocent natives in a nasty plot driven by corporate greed. To top it all off, the Doctor and Romana arrive and interfere with the natives' rituals, read their holy book without permission, and finally reduce their god (the socially mal-adjusted squid) to a Perspex lump.

Plot

...The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height...

The plot is simplistic but at the same time has one too many plot interwoven elements. Whilst a good performance from the cast would have made such a plot acceptable, the players fail; giving a decidedly mediocre performance which would only have worked to any degree in a more straight-forward plot. Again the central plot element is the Doctor and Romana looking for another segment of the Key to Time. Around this is the presence of a giant squid worshipped by green natives. Also present is a mining station with at least one megalomaniac on board. Finally there is another subplot, linking the green natives and the megalomaniac through the gun runner (another plot element ripped-off by that great 'style over content' story - The Caves of Androzani). It is this element which ultimately appears superfluous to the story as a whole. One of the factors in this is that the Doctor appears for much of the story to be more preoccupied with finding the segment than attempting to correct any social wrongs occurring through the gun runner.

The other disappointing facet of the plot is the sudden ending. The Doctor goes out from the shelter to 'test a theory', and in a very short time reduces the squid to a segment. This sudden revelation involving the segment is similar to such stories as The Stones of Blood, but it is also different in that the revelation also gets rid of the central problem (e.g. the squid). Perhaps one of the key differences between The Power of Kroll and other Key to Time stories is that the segment plays more of a significant role in the plot (albeit a hidden one).

Characters

...And far away into the sickly light
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbeer'd and enormous polypi...

This story has the Fourth Doctor at his most casual. Even when threatened by death by the seventh deadly ritual there is no real worry. He waltzes through the story, rescuing Romana at least once, and finally in the last few minutes decides to solve the whole mystery and save the day. The interplay between the Doctor and Romana emphasises his eccentricity with comments from Romana about the Doctor not being 'right in the head'. Romana is a somewhat contradictory character. While maintaining an often very intellectual front, as seen in the psychoanalysis of the gun runner, she lacks any practicality and frequently needs to be rescued by the Doctor. The other member of the TARDIS crew, K9, has his best performance to date (he's not there).

The green natives are completely two-dimensional, bumbling about after their halfwit religious quack of a leader who speaks in Elizabethan English during the religious ceremonies. Ranquin, the aforementioned quack, plays a misguided and delusional leader rather than one abusing the position for power purposes. In some scenes he is two antlers short of another role by John Abineri (Herne the Hunter from Robin of Sherwood), while in others he is just as nutty as a fruit cake (normal people would run away from giant tentacles).

Thawn is perhaps the best of the non-regular characters, although this is probably because unenthusiastic acting doubles for a cool exterior. Whilst going from mild mannered miner to megalomaniacal madman he remains moderately stable and cool, even during the murder of Dugeen. However he, like most of the others, is still too flat to stand out.

The great squid however stands out from the rest, presenting a dynamic performance of a tortured being desiring peace but only managing to flail about helplessly and consume vast quantities of people in a misunderstood and seemingly insane manner.

Effects

...Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep...

Both the squid and the mining station are well executed and convincingly realised. The interior of the station is typical Fourth Doctor vintage, while the exterior model was good but could have been better if shot at a different and possibly closer angle. The distant shots of the squid were very good (apart from the overtly flat joining line between the split-screen overlay), with the constantly moving eye and body providing a good sense of realism The tentacles were slightly less believable in some instances, partially due to the 'lack of sliminess' syndrome which plagues many BBC alien effects, but also due to some rather languid and seemingly unthreatening movements. A good use of cutting between shots provided convincing scenes where a tentacle had suddenly 'grabbed' someone. The downside of effects has got to be the natives. Exotic green skin was a turn-on to Captain Kirk in that American programme, but it most definitely reeks of B-grade in this story, with painted skin looking plain ridiculous.

Politics

...Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen...

Unfortunately Romana is turned into a screaming machine at least once, and appears to serve little purpose in this adventure but to get caught and threatened to death by some guy wearing a funky crab outfit. When Romana is not screaming she is being used by the Doctor to explain the rather shallow plot. Only her clothes redeem Romana from falling into the female companion cliché (probably because even the Doctor Who team found it difficult to justify a miniskirt and high-heels in a swamp). The Power of Kroll does not score highly on the Janet Fielding feminism scale.

The natives also present a bizarre collection of clichés and ideas. Not only is their language highly evolved, but they also appear to know the archaic Elizabethan 'thee' and 'thou' (as used in the religious rituals). On top of this they seem to be fundamentally lacking 50% of the sexes, suggesting either asexual/hermaphroditic propagation, or that the women were kept in huts off-camera (which also does not rate highly on a scale for the treatment of women). The third possibility is they are all off entertaining the characters in the aforementioned American programme.

The story is another parable about the exploitation of resources and the idea of corporate (the miners/Thawn) greed attempting to displace and wipe out native people (the swampies) in order to get unblocked access to the resources. However this concern receives little attention from a Doctor seemingly only interested in retrieving a certain piece of Perspex.

Summary

...In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

The Power of Kroll is one of the weakest stories in the Key to Time sequence. Bad plotting is not helped by some lacklustre performances and the entire concept of green natives. Although the Doctor's humour is present, he is entirely too casual throughout the entire story to convey much realism to events. Without a doubt the hero at the end of the story is the squid, whose valiant attempts to gain social acceptance and prevent the exploitation of his native habitat are only partially successful. Nevertheless we are treated to what can only be described as a Squid-Emmy award-winning performance. What a shame he was reduced to a lump of melted-down Tupperware.

The Power of Kroll is memorable only for having a giant squid and green skinned natives. Beyond that it is filled with shallow character clichés, annoying plot complications and an amazingly fast conclusion. It is easily the lowest point in Season Sixteen.

(Poetry quoted from The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

This item appeared in TSV 45 (September 1995).

Index nodes: The Power of Kroll