Official Plot Synopsis:
In the blackness of space, not far beyond Earth's atmosphere, distress signals crackle from an alien craft. Unable to return to their own planet due to irreparable damage to their navigation equipment, the aliens send out a desperate SOS. Young 'Specs' Crabshaw, a radio enthusiast, has picked up the signal but doesn't understand it. When Dr. Who tells him the hard facts, Specs can't believe his ears. Dr. Who offers to help the aliens and arranges a risky meeting in the Arizona desert. The alien craft lands at night and is seen by a couple of frightened locals. Luckily, reports of the U.F.O sighting are scoffed at. Under cover of darkness, the Doctor makes hasty repairs to the alien craft but when the job is done the aliens refuse to let him leave and take off! Dr. Who rages but is cut short when the navigator reports that the repaired equipment is jammed and that the craft is on a collision course with the moon...
That’s Kind of Cool:
Doctor Who never really did a proper UFO story, bar fobbing off the phenomenon as being down to Cybermen in The Invasion or the Parakon Corporation in Paradise of Death. The Doctor’s efforts to keep the public in the dark are a nifty contrast to the norm (even on TV), and the Quotrons are portrayed as friendly alien people with different opinions and don’t kill anyone. The fact they look like B-movie bug aliens works well too. The ‘help aliens in secret’ plot can teach Torchwood a thing or two. Specs' involvement in the story is reasonably credible , too, and he makes a decent companion, even though he does absolutely nothing in the latter half of the story, not even getting any dialogue...
You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me:
The Doctor is determined to keep humanity in the dark about alien life for the greater good – the same guy that gives lectures on alien life, attends medicals to prove he’s not human, and sold his story to the tabloids. Even if he’s just worried about another Orson Welles panic amongst the public (which is fair enough since the Quotrons are neither pretty nor speak English), he still doesn’t simply tell the authorities and organize a proper rescue-and-send-on-their-way operation to keep it quiet despite all the evidence shown that he and the governments of the world are great mates. Did the Mexico authorities refuse his conditions in The Brotherhood and thus scar the Doctor for life? Or has the Doctor discovered Torchwood is making sure that everyone just thinks he’s a publicity-seeking-freak with a vivid imagination? Of course the fact is, U.F.O. has the Doctor behaving more like his TV self than ever before, and this is just whiplash from seeing him so in character. Mind you, he still considers sitting in a hotel room with 'light reading' like Einstein's Theory of Relativity a worthy way to spend the night in.
The loose wires thing, on the other hand...
If 42 had been a TV Comic strip, this is how the plot would have been resolved.
The Quotron signal is shockingly powerful, so why does only Specs pick it up?
How does the Doctor know Crabshaw’s nickname is Specs? Is he trying to be hip?
Nobody at the Ministry of Defense realized how similar the signal was to Morse Code, despite the fact they would be keeping an ear out for things like that as they initially assume a human is behind it.
The Quotrons program themselves to speak English based on Sam McLintock’s speech. So why don’t they talk like the Texan did in an incoherent mongrel dialect? Why do they use the Dalek font – the universal sign of androids and robots – to denote the very organic Quotron speech?
Translation: Quotrons strong! Quotrons mighty! QUOTRONS ROCK!!The narrator says at the end of part four the ship will crash in two minutes. At the start of the next episode, they suddenly have four minutes left.
Why do the Quotrons wait three days before returning the Doctor and Specs when they agree to return to Arizona ‘tonight’? Did they decide to have a holiday on the moon or something in the meantime?
How come all the press are waiting for the Doctor and Specs when they all think the UFO sightings are a false alarm? Since the Doctor has been missing for three days, how do they know where the Doctor will go? And how can Specs keep his trip with the Doctor secret when his face is all over the world’s newspapers? No wonder the Doctor doesn’t keep him on as a companion – he’s probably been given a restraining order...
Throw your hands in the air and wave them round like you just don't care!
Words of Wisdom:
“In all your travels throughout the universe, Doctor, have you ever heard such a transmission? It has my staff completely baffled!” – How come the petty-mind bureaucrats on TV were never this poetic?
“M-mah eyes must be playing tricks, Jess... I’d swear that’s a spaceship!” “Tis too! Reckon we’re going off our heads!” – I like to think that these are the same banjo-plucking rednecks who get caught up in the Kentucky Goblin Spree...
“I’m not sure you should be accompanying me on this trip, Specs... Your parents would have a fit if they knew!” “They won’t be back from holiday for a week. They need never know a thing about it!” – This sounds so dodgy. I just dunno if actually seeing the Doctor and this young Aryan blonde boy during this exchange would make it more wholesome or more disturbing...
“Wha’s that noise? Some kinda varmint trying ta spoil mah beauty sleep, I’ll wager. Glory be! THAT AIN’T NO VARMINT FROM THIS EARTH! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE MOONSHINE!” – Why is it whenever aliens come to this planet to check for alien life, they only ever encounter backward yokels? Moonshine’s a horse, BTW.
“It’s always the same, Specs! There have been hundreds of U.F.O. reports in the last few centuries... They’ve all been laughed at! I wonder if the world would laugh if they could see our meeting with Quotrons in two hours’ time!” – Looks like the Doctor’s starting to get sick of his planet of exile. Or maybe just the Welsh and their auto-delete memories?
“If Earth people were to hear from you that aliens actually exist, a disastrous panic would follow. We cannot be responsible for such a thing. The feeble minds of the world’s masses are not yet capable of coping with the fact that space creatures do inhabit the universe...” – Yeah, that Welsh stereotype is known across the galaxy.
- The Doctor confides in Specs the signal is an alien distress signal. Will Dr. Who assist the Space-Men?
- The insectoid aliens emerge from their spacecraft into the night, making strange noises. Next week the Doctor and ‘Specs’ rendezvous with the Quotrons!
- The Doctor agrees to help repair the Quotron ship, and it’s a race to finish before daybreak. So into the alien craft! Will the two friends ever see the outside world again?
- The Quotron spaceship hurtles out of control, on a collision course to the moon thanks to the Doctor’s botched repairs. Two minutes to doom! Has time run out for the Doctor?
- The Doctor and Specs fly back to England. Next week a quiz show leads Dr. Who into danger. (And things will never be the same again...)
Amazing to think that this casual plot device will merit whole stories by the time of Tom Baker. Universal TARDIS translation my arse!
At the End of the Day:
A secret UFO visitation by benevolent aliens in the middle of the desert and a worldwide conspiracy... it’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind a decade early! The overall feel is a ‘straight’ version of the infamous Goodies parody, except that wouldn’t be seen for another ten years. The Quotrons (another failed TV Comic attempt to get a TV alien, the Krotons?) work well, when they’re unseen aliens in distress, monstrous desert scorpions, or quarreling philanthropists. The Doctor helping out aliens instead of automatically murdering them in cold blood – like in the last three stories – is as impressive a leap forward as getting the TV monsters and companions in the comic. How many readers would have expected Specs to stay on as the new companion? Not this one, as he becomes completely superfluous at the end of part two and silently follows the Doctor hereafter, especially after all the effort to justify his presence in the plot (a son of an MOD colonel who happens to be a 'radio ham' with an interest in UFOs and a desire for adventure...). Roger Noel Cook retakes control of the comic strip, even to the point of putting in the ‘proper’ Second Doctor logo from the his first B&W stories, but still can’t get out of the Carlton Grange – and England – fast enough. All in all, this is a Third Doctor story in all but main star... which makes the next step terrifyingly logical...