This story takes
place AFTER THE NOVEL
"THE SUNS OF CARESH"
PRIOR TO THE TV STORY
"PLANET OF THE DALEKS."
'DALEK WAR' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
IT IS THE YEAR 2450
AND A FRAGILE PEACE
EXISTS BETWEEN THE
GREAT EMPIRES OF
EARTH AND DRACONIA.
THE TARDIS MATERIAL-
ISES ABOARD ON EARTH
CARGO SHIP WHICH
COMES UNDER ATTACK.
ARRESTED AND ACCUSED
OF ESPIONAGE, THE
DOCTOR IS SENTENCED
TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT
ON THE MOON, BUT
SALVATION ARRIVES IN
AN UNEXPECTED FORM...
CAN THE DOCTOR AND
JO STOP THE MASTER'S
PLANS TO PROVOKE A
GALACTIC WAR AND
REVEAL THE DEADLY
ENEMY WAITING FOR THE
CHANCE TO DESTROY
BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-4
IN FEBRUARY 2008.
Geoffrey Beevers, who
played The Master in
the classic TV series,
reads THE unabridged
novelisation OF THIS
CLASSIC STORY, first
published by Target
Books in 1976.
Frontier In Space
24TH FEBRUARY 1973 - 31ST MARCH 1973
I first saw Frontier in Space when my parents bought me the chunky double video pack for Christmas back in 1995. I had been hounding them to get me Planet of the Daleks, which I had been desperate to see ever since reading the Target novelisation that summer, but (unbeknownst to me) it was not commercially available at that time, and so instead they procured me what they thought would be the next best thing. As it turned out though, Frontier in Space wasn’t the next best thing – it was actually considerably better, as would become evident a year or two later when I finally got to see Planet of the Daleks via satellite channel UK Gold.
Of course, Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks are two stories that will always be spoken of in one breath, and not just because I wanted one for Christmas and got the other. Having decided to celebrate Doctor Who’s tenth anniversary season with more than just the inaugural multi-Doctor romp, series producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks commissioned a story that they hoped would rival Season 3’s epic Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of both length and scope. However, early on in their tenure some hard lessons had been learned about the artistic drawbacks of protracted serials, and so Letts and Dicks decided not commission one twelve-part epic, but to halve the task. Doctor Who veteran Malcolm Hulke was drafted in to script Frontier in Space, which would pit the Doctor and
Jo against the Master and his unseen paymasters; whilst Terry Nation would pen his first Doctor Who script in seven years, in which the Doctor and Jo would attempt to put paid to
the Dalek menace unmasked in Hulke’s story. And though it is difficult to resolutely pass judgement, having only seen a quarter of The Daleks’ Master Plan as originally intended,
in my book the end result here is superior to the 1965/66 marathon in almost every regard.
I think what sets Frontier in Space apart from its peers, and particularly from other ‘future Earth’ stories made around the same time, is the quality of its plot. Many dismiss Hulke’s story as a rip-off of the acclaimed Star Trek episode Balance of Terror but, though the two are thematically familiar, the claustrophobic Star Trek episode really lacks the scope and grandeur of this ambitious and impressive space opera. Each episode of Frontier in Space is set in a different location, with our heroes going on a ride that takes them from the Cargo Ship C982 to Earth; from Earth to the Lunar Penal Colony; from the Lunar Penal Colony to the Master’s stolen police spaceship; from the Master’s spaceship to Draconia; and then from Draconia back to Earth again, before heading off to the planet of the Ogrons. Pace, diversity, intrigue... Frontier in Space has it all.
In fact, watching the serial again over this last week (stunningly presented as it is on the first disc of the Dalek War DVD box set) I was astonished to find that it put me in mind of one of my favourite contemporary shows – 24. Indeed, the six episodes are like a whole season of the US thriller in microcosm. The comparison may not be an obvious one, but the ‘road’ style of storytelling, the political intrigue, the twists and turns, not to mention all the set-pieces and the near real-time first episode all have me convinced that Frontier in Space is just twenty-fifth century 24, albeit satiated with 1970s ‘cold war and concrete’ zeitgeist.
And the Master’s plan - for once - is absolutely inspired; so much so, in fact, that it beggars belief that the Doctor actually manages to thwart it in the end. Unlike most of his schemes, it is nothing too complicated or perverse – just good old, fashioned warmongering, à la You Only Live Twice. The Master uses ultrasonically-disguised Ogrons to attack both Earth and Draconian ships with a view to making each party believe that they are being attacked by
the other, causing their decades-old cold war to suddenly become much more heated.
“Earth is blaming Draconia, Draconia is blaming Earth, and both sides are blaming us.”
As a result, Hulke is able to tell a gripping story that stands head and shoulders above most other 1970s Doctor Who serials in terms of sophistication and maturity. Particularly in the first half of the story, the audience is not confronted with clear ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ but two morally vague protagonists, each becoming increasingly more desperate and reckless as tensions mount. The cold war allegory may be patent, but that doesn’t make the story any less compelling or edgy.
The Draconians are a great success too, not just in terms of how they look on screen but also in how they are portrayed. A reptilian race of noble samurai, at first it’s easy to mistake their inscrutability for wooden acting, but as the serial progresses they actually turn out to be one of the richest and best thought-out cultures ever explored in the series; John Woodnutt’s Emperor is particularly striking. It’s an absolute crime that the Draconians they never made
a return appearance on television, although - in what could be construed as a masterstroke of marketing - they are at least back in this month’s Big Finish monthly audio release, Paper Cuts, starring Colin Baker’s Doctor.
Hulke’s riveting plot is then fleshed out with some of his typically wonderful characterisation, the finest example of which is probably the President of Earth’s right-hand man, General Williams (Michael Hawkins). On the face of it Williams is a disagreeable, militant buffoon with a determinedly closed mind. But as the story unfolds, we learn that there is far more to him than that - he may have caused the first Earth-Draconia war through his misreading of one critical situation, but there was no intent on his part. It’s a real testament to both Hulke’s writing and Hawkins’ performance that by the time we come to the serials’ final episode, the viewer is actually championing the character.
Furthermore, at the time that it was made Frontier in Space caused a bit of a furore as it shows us a unified planet Earth under the rule of an attractive, foreign, female President. Magnificently portrayed by Czechoslovakian actress by Vera Fusek, watching this serial I almost wanted this reasonable and even-handed woman to be in charge in real life. And though she could have so easily have become a just cipher for the plot, Hulke shows us that there is far more to this woman than just the ideals that she embodies or the decisions that she makes; there are even hints that she and General Williams once shared a relationship that went sour. It’s beautifully written and played, and unfalteringly real.
I also think that the relationship between Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Katy Manning’s Jo is at its strongest in this serial. They share an unusually high number of scenes together – predo-minantly when they are both incarcerated, which is alarmingly often – which really convey the deep affection that they hold for one another, as well as how much Jo has grown up since Terror of the Autons. The scenes in the Earth prison following the Doctor’s experience with the mind probe stand out in particular.
All the same, more than anything else Frontier in
Space is probably best remembered for seeing
Roger Delgado make his final, bravura appearance
as the Master. At the time of filming, Delgado had
already decided to leave the show in his next serial,
The Final Game, which by all accounts would have
seen him leave the series with one hell of a super-
nova-sized bang. Tragically though, this was not to
be as on Monday 18th June 1973 - just over three
months after the final episode of Frontier in Space
was broadcast - Delgado was killed in a car crash
in Turkey, and the last that Doctor Who fans would
ever see of his character would be the back of his
heels as he scarpered away down a corridor after
accidentally shooting the Doctor. Hardly a fitting exit
for the original and definitive incarnation of the Doct-
or’s oldest friend and deadliest enemy, I’m sad to
say. Nevertheless, I think that it’s a testament to the
actor that despite his character’s popularity, the
Master would not return to the series as a regular
until almost a decade later.
Less mournfully, Delgado’s first-rate performance here encapsulates everything that made his Master so alluring. For me, he steals the show with his wry humour and suave elegance, particularly in the many scenes that he shares with the Doctor and Miss Grant. The delightful sequence on board the Master’s stolen police spaceship, where the Master sits reading
The War of the Worlds as Jo rabbits on inanely and the Doctor tries to escape, is for me one of the era’s most memorable.
Given the above it is fitting that this serial’s DVD release takes half an hour to remember Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto by way of a remarkable biography, Roger Delgado: The Master. This feature documents Delgado’s entire career and includes some wonderful clips from his television appearances, as well as some really quite touching interviews with his friends and contemporaries, and even his widow, Kismet Marlowe. I actually felt quite maudlin after watching it, particularly as I’d only just learned of Barry Letts’ death, who quite naturally features heavily not just in this particular featurette but in the preponderance of the DVD’s bonus material.
Above: The legendary Barry Letts (1925-2009) in the "Roger Delgado: The Master" documentary
Indeed, in the DVD’s commentary (recorded in late 2007, I understand) it is Letts who finally reveals the planned storyline for what would have been the Master’s final appearance in The Final Game. The nuts and bolts of it sound uncannily like Logopolis, but the story’s ambig-uous climax would have seen the Master come undone as a result of his compassion for the Doctor; a perfect end, I feel, given the playfulness of their rivalry during this era. And what’s more, I have always liked the idea of the Master dying in the Doctor’s arms, and so I was gratified when John Simm’s Master actually did die in the arms of David Tennant’s Doctor shortly before this commentary was recorded; a lovely homage to what might have been in The Final Game.
And on the whole, the Frontier in Space commentary is a lively affair. Clayton Hickman is of course a knowledgeable and passionate moderator, particularly when bouncing off bubbly characters like the effervescent Katy Manning. Letts and Dicks are both full of interesting
and often quite amusing anecdotes too; I really hope that the Restoration Team managed
to get a few more commentaries with Letts in the can after this one, as hearing him speak
of the show with such warmth and vigour is for me what listening to these commentaries is
all about. His contributions will certainly be missed in the future.
Above: "The Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontiers"
The story’s flagship special feature is less impressive though, regrettably. The Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontiers is a visually stunning production which has all the condescending charm of a 1980s BBC schools programme. Evidently conceived as some sort of ironic pastiche (at least, I hope so), this half hour lesson in unravelling metaphor left me feeling
like I’d been watching someone with a flipchart and a pointing stick doing their level best
to suck all the fun out of Frontier in Space. Given that this DVD’s producers had sufficient knowledge of their target market to furnish these DVDs with reversible covers (so that we wouldn’t moan about the new, purple BBC logo not lining up with the old, transparent BBC logo used on previous releases on our shelves), I find it astonishing that they could get it so badly wrong with this featurette.
Fortunately though, Perfect Scenario is not a substitute for the more traditional ‘making of’ documentary, it is an added ‘bonus’, and the eighteen-minute Space War (named after Hulke’s popular novelisation of this serial) still manages to tick all the right boxes and offer new insight into the production. For instance, before watching this feature I had wondered how the Frontier in Space visual effects team managed to afford to indulge in such lavish model work, but I never would have guessed that all the model space ships in the serial
were borrowed from Gerry Anderson’s various series, as designers John Friedlander and Mat Irvine explain here.
Above: The Master is "Stripped For Action"
The DVD also features the third Doctor’s contribution to the ongoing Stripped For Action series, which I’m enjoying immensely. Having only ever read a handful of Doctor Who comic strips, the stories examined here are all new to me and those published during the third Doctor’s era look to have been particularly interesting. Not only did the exiled third Doctor drive a different roadster to the one that he did on television (“Betsy”), he had his own little cottage in the country. Delightfully apt, I feel. What’s more, these strips were the first to be published in colour, and from the stills exhibited here the artists certainly made wonderful
use of it; Gary Russell even goes so far as to say that the artwork in these strips is Doctor Who’s best of all time.
However, despite the wealth of bonus material on offer, I was a little
disappointed to find that the 71” extended edit of Episode 5 wasn’t
included in the release. After watching it on video so many times over
the years, it feels wrong not to have the extended, Delaware-plagued version included as an alternative. They could at least have included
the extended and deleted scenes – I’d certainly have received them
far more warmly than I did The Perfect Scenario!
The serial itself is troubled by only a few flaws, the most prominent
of which is its inability to give us a conventional cliffhanger until
the end of the final episode, which by all rights shouldn’t have one.
Regrettably the need to pad certain episodes and curtail others
knocked the whole serial considerably out of synch, and so when
watched as originally intended Frontier in Space can feel a little
The serial’s closing scenes are perhaps its weakest though, and they are definitely its most bizarre. The DVD’s commentary explains that director Paul Bernard had little confidence in the realisation of the script’s ‘Ogron Eater’ monster, and so he decided to omit it from the final sequence. This had the unfortunate effect of making the story’s closing mêlée seem a little impromptu, to say the least. From this DVD’s commentary I understand that it was the producer’s dissatisfaction with this climax that prompted the remounting of the closing scene several weeks later, however this conflicts with the production subtitles on the Planet of the Daleks DVD, which state that the remount was necessary as Terry Nation wanted to begin his story with the Doctor recovering from having been shot. In any event though, irrespective of which version of events is believed the net result is the same as we are left with a hurried and indecisive climax to an otherwise exquisitely paced adventure.
“We’ll see who rules the galaxy when this is over… Stupid tin boxes!”
Happily though, the final episode is better remembered for a resplendently overblown and melodramatic scene which reveals the Daleks as the real villains of the piece. When they first appear atop the landfill on the Ogron planet, it is one of those timeless moments that
will doubtless endure for as long as Doctor Who does. For me, and I dare say for a lot of viewers, this impact more than makes up for the botched ending.
Altogether then, Frontier in Space remains one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, which
is really saying a lot considering the surfeit of adventures now engorging the canon. And though, for the reasons set out above, I do think that it could have been better served by this DVD release, I can’t stress enough how much I’ve enjoyed watching the serial again, and in turn how forcefully I’d recommend this Dalek War release. Cue Planet of the Daleks…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
and the Space War
Frontier in Space is a story that I have a great fondness for. It’s perhaps less
well regarded than some of Malcolm Hulke’s other serials, but I find it highly enjoyable, a fine example of classic space opera, something that is quite rare in classic Doctor Who. Hulke novelised this serial himself, giving it, as with all the best Targets, an over-excitable name - Doctor Who and the Space War! It’s Star Wars, six years early! Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite that exciting, but it’s firmly in that tradition, one of space battle cruisers, alien warriors and galactic empires, albeit rather more thoughtful than the classic space serials on which
it draws. This is Doctor Who, after all, so we’re rightly told that all the warmongering is bad and that peace is the only way forward. But that doesn’t stop us having a few laser-gunfights and monsters in the process.
The vision of the universe described by Hulke remained surprisingly unexplored in the series after Frontier, although subsequent spin-off materials, including both Doctor Who Magazine and the Virgin New Adventures, elaborated upon it. Apart from a brief line linking the Earth Empire shown here with the one crumbling in the earlier serial The Mutants, this galactic community remained unseen in any other serial. Sure, any number of human colonies seen in the years after may have been part of the Empire, but this is never stated, and we never saw a Draconian on screen again. So I was hoping for a great deal of expansion in this novelisation, much like the wealth of information Hulke provided in his novelisation Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters. Sadly, this is a more straightforward novelisation. Perhaps this is an indication that the finished serial was closer to the author’s original vision than
The Silurians became, or perhaps he just didn’t really care too much. Who can tell. There
is some exploration of the background here, though. The two empires are expanded upon, quite literally, becoming large enough to control the entire Milky Way Galaxy between them. We certainly get a real flavour of the Earth Empire, here even more explicitly a police state than onscreen. The Lunar Penal Colony, in particular, stands out today. A society that sends people considered politically dangerous to remote prison camps, without charge or trial,
and under threat of invasive and painful interrogation, sounds distressingly close to home.
The alien species of the piece are described
well, although some deeper exploration would
have certainly been welcome. The Draconians are described in a way that makes them sound
more reptilian than they appeared on screen,
while the Ogrons are given some semblance of
culture beyond simply being grunts for hire. The blobby ‘Ogron Eater’ monster that singularly failed to capture the imagination of viewers when seen on television, here becomes a tyra-nnosaur-like reptile. This works marvellously in print, but we should perhaps be grateful for the pillow case beastie on screen, considering other Pertwee-era attempts at dinosaurs.
Throughout, Hulke seems to gain the most pleasure from those scenes involving the Master. Eschewing any pretence that the interplanetary policeman (from Aldebaran here, not Sirius) is who he claims to be, Hulke makes it clear throughout that it’s the Master behind it all, even while this fact is held back from Jo and the Doctor. The Master is described with great relish, enjoying an enormous amount of the limelight and often acting for long periods without any interaction with the Doctor or his companion. Sadly, some of the Master’s most memorable lines from the televised version are excised, but he remains an urbane presence, although he does have a tendency to lose his rag with the Ogrons, growling “Stupid morons!” at them on more than one occasion.
As such, it’s entirely appropriate that it’s the Master himself who narrates this adventure; or at least, one of him. Geoffrey Beevers, the forgotten Master from television, is now the go to man when it comes to audio Mastery. He’s nothing short of marvellous throughout, providing a clear, measured reading while giving spirited performances as all the various characters, each of them distinct enough to be recognised, from the pompous third Doctor, to the bullish General Williams, to the slow-witted drawl of the Ogrons. However, it’s in his performance
as the Master that he really triumphs, providing a version of the Master quite different to that depicted by Roger Delgado. Beevers’ Master is all oleaginous charm, a mild-mannered yet sinister smarmer. His presence makes this story, to the extent that when the Daleks finally turn up, it’s something of a let down, as they take attention away from this captivating villain.
Thankfully, the novelisation also amends one of the television serial’s main flaws, the abrupt disappearance of the Master at the story’s close. Although no-one was to know, this was to be the last appearance of the original Master, and it was a poor final scene. Here, at least, the Master gets a longer, more elaborate final confrontation with the Doctor. Yet this isn’t the end for this version of the Master: Beevers could quite possibly become the Master to those who like to sit back, prick up their ears and let their books charm them.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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