Doctor Who: Frontier in Space

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space March 23, 2014

It has been too long since I last blogged about a classic Doctor Who episode. In rewatching the Jon Pertwee era, a while back I reached “Frontier in Space,” which actually ends its final part with a cliffhanger, in which the Doctor has been injured and sends a telepathic message to the time lords, leading then into the next episode, “Planet of the Daleks.”

The story focuses on tensions between the empires of Earth and Draconia. There have been attacks by Ogrons which use a sonic weapon to instill fear, which leads those attacked to blame it on those they fear most. Thus humans believe they have been attacked by Draconians, and vice versa. At many points, the story is able to bring cross-cultural misunderstandings, xenophobia, and other aspects of international as well as interplanetary relations into focus.

Some of the statements made about people under the effects of the sonic weapon could be made equally as well about humans blinded by their ideologies and blinkered by their worldviews. For instance, when the Doctor says, “They don’t know that they’re lying. They’re desperately trying to fit us into their version of things.” Or, “They’ve already made up their minds. They will only believe us if we tell them what they want to hear.”

The Doctor offers wisdom worthy of a Jedi master: “Fear breeds hatred. Fear is the greatest enemy of all. Fear leads to war.” And when it is revealed that the Master is trying to get two sides fighting in the interest of his own power, comparisons with Star Wars can once again be made.

While any story involving cross-cultural communication and misunderstanding can be a starting point for discussion of religion, we also see a glimpse of the religion of the Ogrons. They engage in rituals before depictions of a powerful creature which dwells on their home world.

Isn’t it interesting that fear and power tend not only to determine whom or what we fight against, but also whom or what we worship?

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  • $41348855

    There is a surprisingly effective scene in this where the Doctor has to go outside a spaceship and make a repair during the flight. I imagine this was filmed at Ealing, which the BBC used occasionally for some Doctor Who scenes.

  • guest

    I read a book a while back called ‘Blood rites: Origins and History of the passions of war’ where the author argues that the earliest religion may have come from mankind’s encounters with predatory animals, who were frightening, dangerous things, but also, back when we were scavengers, they were the providers of meat. She suggests this is the root of many religion’s ritual blood sacrifice. God is the alpha predator, the creature on top of the food chain, who must be pacified with meat.
    Now, it’s a hard thing to prove and I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced, but she made an interesting case.

    I do think the Gods of many religions seem to me, as an outsider, to be a tribal elder or a stern father magnified and projected into the universe. If you live in a close-knit group with one guy in charge (usually a male guy) and what he says goes, it’s easy to imagine the rest of the universe works the same.

    Fear is an ancient emotion, deep-rooted in our brains. It’s not surprising it commands out attention; fear has great survival value. Of course it can be destructive, especially when combined with ignorance, or false information, so that you fear something that’s not really dangerous. In that case it can be an enemy, but fear can also be a friend, warning you to flee and keeping you alive.

    When I saw this episode the draconians seemed to be a metaphor for the chinese. Britain and China had a troubled history and with the Korean war, there was a lot of distrust of the Chinese in Britain. There still is, in fact, except now the fear is they’ll become rich and buy all Britain’s business, rather than turning us communist.

    • $41348855

      The ultimate Doctor Who story involving Chinese villains is, of course, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This one had everything. The Chinese villains, as you would expect in a story set in Victorian London, were based in Limehouse. There is a scene where the Doctor tracks one of the villains to an opium den in Limehouse and finds that the villain has had his leg chewed off by a giant rat. The villain is indulging in a bit of self-medication with an opium pipe.