The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Swamp Thing

Another review from the archives, from the Doctor Who Magazine second Complete Fourth Doctor special.

The Power of Kroll

Apology in advance. This is going to be another of those I-remember-what-I was-doing-when-I-first-saw-it-I-was-eating-a-peanut-butter-sandwich reviews. I know you’re sick of them, it’s all got a bit silly - I feel sorry for whoever in this issue has to pretend that they’ve never looked at a potted cactus in the same way since Meglos.

But there is a quintessential-magic-y reason why I’ve chosen to write about Kroll. And I did choose it. You see, there’s a pecking order to these reviews – the most important people get to go first and choose the best stories. Which is why Russell T Davies is doing The Androids of Tara.

However, even if I was as important as Russell T Davies, I would still’ve chosen ‘Kroll’. Why? Because I think it’s great. Or rather, the five-year-old me thought it was great– and when it comes to Doctor Who, the five-year-old-me gets the casting vote. He has better taste.

True story. Around the time when this story was broadcast, the district nurse came to my school. Five-year-old me was placed at one end of a corridor with an eye chart at the other. The school nurse said, ‘Read out the letters as I point at them with the pencil.’ And I said, ‘What pencil?’

Yes, my eyesight was bad. So bad, in fact, that I thought the scenes where Kroll rises up out of the swamp were convincing. I remember, I was so terrified I nearly choked on my peanut butter sandwich.

Admittedly looking at it now it’s a disappointing special effect. Well, of course it is, it’s a special effect in a Doctor Who story. Criticising a Doctor Who story for having disappointing special effects is like criticising Citizen Kane for not featuring CGI dinosaurs. It’s the last refuge of the lazy, the drab and the pointless.  If I had a bullet for each person who criticised Doctor Who stories for its special effects then I wouldn’t have any bullets left over after I’d shot them all.

I don’t mind that the story is a bit seen-it-all-before, because at the time I hadn’t seen-it-all-before. I loved the bit at the end of part 2 where the bloke gets dragged to his death by a tentacle. And the bit at the end of part 3 where the bloke gets dragged to his death by a tentacle. I loved all the tentacle deaths. And the sonar image, and the heartbeat in the pipes…

Yes, the five-year-old me loved every moment of it. Even though I could make out nothing more than an exciting, roaring blur. Whether I enjoy it now as an adult is irrelevant – it was being made for kids in 1978, it wasn’t being made for me in 2004. Of course, now I can appreciate it for its thematic depth and use of allegory. I could, but I don’t, because I don’t watch Doctor Who for thematic depth and use of allegory, I still watch it to see blokes being dragged to their death by tentacles.

However, should I wish to go back to being that five-year-old me again, I don’t need to wear rose-tinted spectacles. I just take out my contacts. And there it is, back again, as indistinct as ever. The exciting, roaring blur.

After all, who hasn’t re-enacted the famous Kroll-rising-out-of-the-swamp scene on their own in the bath? Summoning the beast from the murky depths by shouting ‘Kroll! Kroll! Kroll!’

Okay, so that’s just me, then.