Colony in Space
Planet of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Space War
Frontier in Space
|Dates||Feb. 24, 1973 -
Mar. 31, 1973
With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning,
with Roger Delgado as "The Master".
Written by Malcolm Hulke. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Paul Bernard. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo become chief suspects in a conspiracy that threatens two great galactic empires.|
Fear, hatred and war by Troy Irvin 25/11/97
"And fear breeds hatred your majesty. Fear is the greatest enemy of them all. For fear leads us to war."
These sagacious words from the Doctor sum up this 6-part story for me.
Frontier In Space blends the basic ingredients for any war, essentially fear and hate. All that the Master has to do was ensure that they are adequately stirred, the oven temperature is right and so on. The ultrasonic device simple amplifies what is already there, lurking in the back on the mind.
And wasn't this ‘War Of The Worlds wielding’ Master at his absolute best? I always found the Roger Delgado Master difficult to dislike. He was such a classy villian whom conducted his dastardly deeds in almost a gentlemanly fashion. Examples of this from Frontier In Space include the 'hold on in there you two' warning issued to the Doctor and Jo as the police spaceship is about to lift off. While contemplating gunning the Doctor down in another spaceship the Master utters: "But I don't know. Rocket fire from long range..it's...I don't know. Somehow it lacks that personal touch." And I loved the shiny black outfit Delgado wore in this story.
It is interesting to note that once again the future Earth leadership was portrayed as Big Brotherish.... "criticize the government and you're for it." And once again the President was a woman! I was reminded immediately of Servalan's Federation, albeit a tamer version.
I rate Frontier In Space 8/10. I enjoyed a couple of laughs at the expense of the moronic Ogrons, the Draconians made for interesting aliens and the lead up to and the appearance of the Daleks was well executed. I subtract half a mark for an average ending as although the final scenes left us in great anticipation for the following Dalek story, they also enabled the Master to unfittingly abruptly vanish. Sadly fate had it to be Roger Delagado's final story too.
A Review by Keith Bennett 23/4/98
Doctor Who has many cliches, and one of the most common ones is the Doctor and companions getting locked up. In no other story does this happen more regularly than Frontier In Space, where the Doctor and Jo get what seems to be a universal tour of every prison cell in the part of the universe they are in at the time. This makes for somewhat monotonous viewing, and is a bit of a negative mark against what is, in many ways, a good story.
The scene of two great empires, Earth and Draconia, on the brink of war, is in itself grand space opera, and the production values are very impressive. The Draconians make a refreshing race of aliens in that they are goodies, a change indeed from the usual evil attitudes of anything non-humanoid. They are good to look at and well performed.
The two most outstanding factors, however, are the performances of the leading hero and leading villain. Jon Pertwee stands tall as the Doctor. Cool and confident like the space-age James Bond he is often considered to be, he is at his peak here. But topping even that is Roger Delgado's superb performance as the Master, his last before his tragic death. He is the epitome of suave evil, oozing charm and charisma that just makes him the perfect type of villain that everyone loves to hate. It is a fitting end to his roll as one of Doctor Who's most famous characters.
Overall, this story succeeds in spite of its somewhat stretched length and, as mentioned, constant prison trips of the Doctor and Josephine. It probably works better in segments than watched as a whole, but then, that was how Doctor Who was meant to be viewed in the first place. 7/10
Pig's Ear in Space by Guy Thompson 11/12/98
Frontier In Space could have been a very good story, but it is let down bad several points. Firstly, the sets are some of the drabbest and most basic in the history of television which give the whole serial a very low-budget look, and the "special" effects do little to enhance the space-opera atmosphere that Malcolm Hulke would have wanted when writing this story.
And despite the scope of the story, it should definitely have been reduced to four parts and unlike some other stories of this era, the padding really shows (by my reckoning the Doctor and Jo each spend roughly two-thirds of the story in one cell or another).
I am also not a particularly big fan of the Draconians either. While the writing team must begiven some credit for attempting to flesh out an alien race for once and give them some motivations, what they come up with is a pretty boring and uninteresting society that calls on most of the old sci-fi clichés at some point ("You have violated our space, the penalty is death!" or "Women may not speak in the throne room!").
This story does have a few redeeming features, however: Roger Delgado puts in one of his better performances as the Master (in his last ever story), and he's actually got some realistic motives for once; he's not bent on taking over the world, he's just in the employment of the Daleks (although how this arrangement came to be might have benefitted from further explanation). The Daleks themselves work effectively when the appear in the final episode, but their appearance here only served as a prelude to the lacklustre Planet of the Daleks. The Ogrons also make a welcome return here, although they don't seem as menacing as in Day of the Daleks. Although the Doctor's time on the lunar prison in episodes 3 and 4 were probably extended greatly beyond their planned duration, they do provide some insight into Earth's future history, as the Doctor meets a range of political prisoners and members of the Peace Party, unhappy with the way the Earth is now governed. I would have gladly sacrificed this, however, for the chance to see more of the Ogrons' homeworld, and "the monster" that they are so afraid of...
While Frontier In Space is alright, I can't say I found it particularly enthralling and it is neither sinister nor fun, as the best stories are. Not the highest on my list of recommendations.
The Two Slow Empires by Andrew Wixon 26/11/01
Frontier in Space wears its heart on its sleeve - it's a openly a big, epic story stuffed with big, epic ideas: Two galactic empires on the brink of war! A narrative that spans the galaxy! The Master and the Daleks working together! Ogrons! Draconians! A big orange thing like a belligerent bouncy castle! Unfortunately, as so often happens in DW, 'epic' comes dangerously close to being a synonym for 'dull'.
In a way this is a story trapped in a real zero-sum situation. The many locations employed - several different spaceships, three different planets, the Moon - are what give the story its flavour and uniqueness, but at the same time they make it seem rather episodic and almost plodding. There is, let's face it, an awful lot of padding scattered liberally about. As we've learnt, padding can be good if it's interesting and exciting in its own right, but pointless sequences like the space walk in episode six just detract from the plot. Episode six seems crowded and rushed anyway. In fact, the whole story structure clearly needed a bit more work - the cliffhangers aren't exactly arresting, and episode two's is horribly contrived and doesn't advance the plot at all.
That said, there are many unequivocally good things in Frontier in Space. The rapport between the three regulars is superb, Jo finally gets to show some backbone in facing up to the Master, and the face-off between the two Time Lords in episode four is one of the best in the series - for once it doesn't seem contrived or melodramatic. The Draconians are a justly well-remembered alien race, due largely to a flamboyant performance by Peter Birrel as the Prince.
So while this isn't a classic or even particularly close to it, if you trundle through the episodes at a suitable leisurely pace you will find much to entertain you - and isn't that the name of the game? I suspect I'd much rather watch another six episodes of this than Planet of the Daleks.
Space, the final frontier in space by Mike Jenkins 13/3/02
Doctor Who tries to become Star Trek and fails miserably in what is easily the weakest story of the season. There is padding but it is not in the realization. The script itself is overlong so it is doubtful that this was even a good idea on paper. The Draconians are well characterised but poorly realized and the Master seems much more of a catalyst in the background whereas he usually is the organizing principle. This could've been wonderfully realised but unfortunately the underuse of the Master tended to turn him into a mockery. This has an extra degree of disappoinment as it was in fact Delgado's last appearance on the program.
The plot not only has padding but holes. The Daleks seemed unecessary, forced and there purely for the lead in to the next story (although this could've been much more interesting had there been some allusion as to the Daleks involvement and then shown in the next story only). The Orgrons were just as boring and cliched as ever but fit in well with a story trying to pretend it's Star Trek. This is one of Katy Manning's better performances as Jo but it's hampered by something which is seemingly more then a damp squib.
Once again, Hulke is moralizing himself to death but instead of driving the message into the ground, as he so often does, here the message is lost in a muddled tale of power shifing back and forth and unconvincing gadgets which steal from previous classic stories. All of the incidentals are extremly weak and not given enough time to develop because Frontier in Space is all plot and no story. All the time has to be devoted to the plot because there is so much padding to retain the length that the story actually gets complicated as opposed to patronising. It is overly complex. Complex for the sake of being complex and not to try to teach the viewer something.
If you want a good complex moralising script that retains it's length and shows what morals it's trying to convey with great atmosphere then watch The Green Death or Carnival of Monsters. In many ways the story was probably a reaction to Carnival of Monsters. "After a flight of fancy we'll do some hard sci-fi", they might have thought. But why try to react to something that worked so well. The counterplaying seems not clever but arbitrary due to the fact that the story is uninteresting, poorly executed, overlong and has no real resolution. Because it cuts off into a lead-in to another story, the Doctor (and of course the audience) have no real time to see what becomes of the characters though one doesn't really care because most of them are irrepressibly drab and awful. It is able to reach the heights of 4/10 simply because of the fact that it's Delgado's last and that the regulars are so good.
The first continuityfeist by Tim Roll-Pickering 24/4/02
Frontier in Space comes in the middle of Doctor Who's tenth season and is a key part of the anniversary celebrations in more ways than one. Not only does it form, together with Planet of the Daleks, one half of a twelve part epic to rival The Daleks' Master Plan but it is also extremely liberal in its use of elements from past stories as well as referencing many more. We get full appearances by the Ogrons and Daleks, cameos by the Drashigs, Mutts and Sea Devils and reminders of the Master's time in prison, Jo using her relatives to get into UNIT and the Master's past attempts to hypnotise Jo. Yet despite using so much of the series' past, Frontier in Space also offers an exceptionally strong original story.
It is surprising just how much of the story is spent by the Doctor and Jo as prisoners of one party or another whilst they seek to discover the truth behind the events that are threatening galactic war. This trick allows Malcolm Hulke to present a series of events of intergalactic importance without them appearing directly and thus exposing the budget limitations of the show. Instead there is a strong focus upon characterisation with both the humans and Draconians presented in a strong and sympathetic life. The prejudices of many characters are shown up for what they are, as is the use of terms such as 'Dragons'. In this parody of the-then stalemate in international relations there is no taking of sides and the message is clear that there are no 'goodies' and 'baddies' amongst the superpowers.
Despite the budgetary limitations of the story it still manages to provide an extremely strong scope, showing us the seat of power on Earth, the Draconian Court and the Ogron planet. There's a real sense of the distance between the different locations, aided by some brilliant model work and space-walk sequences that never detract from the story. At the humbler level there are many interesting ideas as well, such as the Master's 'fear box' that enables him to exploit the subliminal xenophobia of both sides to his own ends.
On the acting side, Roger Delgado steals the show in what is sadly his last performance. As ever he and Jon Pertwee form a wonderful duel. Katy Manning gives a strong performance as Jo, showing much resourcefulness throughout ranging from her escape from her cell on the Ogron planet to her ability to deliver a lengthy monologue to cover the Doctor's escape from their cell aboard the Master's spaceship. The guest cast is on the whole exceptionally strong, with Peter Birrell (the Draconian Prince) and Michael Hawkins (General Williams) making the most memorable performances.
The story's final episode is a delight since the Master's allies are suddenly revealed and so the story ends on a strong cliffhanger as the Doctor asks the Time Lords for help. The only slight disappointment is that the Doctor and Master do not get a proper final scene but this could not have been foreseen at the time. Otherwise Frontier in Space is a veritable triumph. 10/10
Fear, Dragons and Time Lords... by Joe Ford 12/10/02
Did anybody read Paul Cornell's review of Frontier in Space in the DWM Third Doctor Special? What the hell was that all about? Marxism, communists and parallels to World War One. I had to read it three times to make sure he was talking about the same story I had just watched. Don't get me wrong I'm all for political allegories when it's apropriate but this fun six parter hardly seems the place. It's just so bubbly and juicy, I can't understand why Paul would concentrate on the serious side of this instead of reminding us all why this story is so much fun.
The most shocking thing I noticed about Frontier in Space was how the entire story was told from the Doctor and Jo's perspective whilst they were travelling from one prison cell to another. That was all they seemed to do... get locked up. I know it was vital to the story with the suspicions that they are Draconian/Earth agents but rather than service the plot it capatilises on two of the greatest assets of the era. Pertwee and Manning, alone.
In season eight we only really got tasters of their chemistry. Considering this was a new partnership they were split up more often than not (notably in Mind of Evil, Colony in Space and The Daemons). Season nine for all its faults at least gave us two stories that allowed them to shine together (Day of the Daleks and especially Curse of Peladon and lots of cool bits in the predictably dire Time Monster). Season Ten seemed to want to rectify this error (Carnival of Monsters and The Green Death exposes the Doctor/Jo team as one the most entertaining in the shows run) and Frontier in Space is another great example.
How hysterically hammy is Manning when she has to 'distract' the Master so the Doctor can escape ("Thank you Miss Grant we'll let you know" indeed!). Or when she has to concentrate on 'nonsense' to clear her mind so the Master can't use his fear device on her. Even her desperate pleas in the Draconian Court are quite excellent. Jo was sorely underused as a cipher in her era and this story goes someway to repairing that damage. She is shown to have intelligence and bravery but still be the dippy bint we love. I think she's great.
Pertwee too is on top form. He's never better than when trying to prevent a catastrophe and his desperate attempt to try and get SOMEBODY to listen to him (they don't, everybody thinks he's working for the 'other side') is really very entertaining. His mind probe scenes (telling Jo about it and actually being put in one) show his calm, controlled Doctor at his best. Also of note is when somebody finally does believe him, the look on his face is priceless!
Of course it is The Master who is behind the evil scheme. Well who else? This was a time when The Master actually thought out his plans pretty well and operated on universal levels. This is a time when we could really call him Moriatay to the Doctor's Holmes (unlike the petty schemes of the fool who Davison and Baker encounter). Of course Delgado is still in the driving seat, his final appearance before his tragic death, so we can all relax. The guy is just too much fun to watch. When he's not 'saving' (arresting!!!) the Doctor from prison or reading out the list of 'terrible' crimes the Doctor has commited he is having to cope with the terminally stupid Orgrons (in some brilliantly played comedy scenes) and insulting (wait for it...) the Daleks! ("Stupid tin boxes!"). It is quite unusual to see the Master in a futuristic setting after all his appearances on contemporary Earth but Delgado imbues him with so much charm and humour you're just laughing your head off by the last episode. Perhaps this wasn't the best story for him to leave in but it does show him at his best after the disapointing antics of The Time Monster.
The direction is great. Paul Bernard only directed two Doctor Who stories (this and Day of the Daleks) but proves quite conclusively that he knew how to make the show work. The camera is always on the go, zooming in and out, fading to other scenes, panning across the superb sets and generally making the decent Malcolm Hulke script that bit more dramatic/funny/entertaining. His action scenes are excitingly staged and he gives the show a real sense of scope, portraying both sides as intelligent, cultured and flawed (okay that last bit comes from the script but it's Bernard's job to bring it to life and he does so, very well indeed).
The actors acquit themselves well, I thought the President of Earth and the Draconian Emperor were both effectively portrayed. Trying to keep their empires together whilst begging for the the other to stop the attacks, they came across as pressured and in a tight corner. Of course John Woodnutts accent is unmistakable even under all those layers of latex and he is typically good.
Hulke loves his thoughtful stories, after providing us with the excellent Silurians (and the copy cat Sea Devils) and all the moral dillemas surrounding them we now get an entirely new sort of dillemma (how do you stop two empires from plunging into war when the evidence condemning both sides is unmistakable?) and it is just as thought provoking. The story hops back and forth between the two empires so we never forget how they are being manipulated. I must complain, however, about the horribly rushed ending (we never do find out if the war is stopped... it's as though Malcolm Hulke was having so much fun padding out the story with his Moon Prison scenes he had run out of time to complete the main plot!). It is quite unsatisfactory to be left in the dark like this, especially after following the plot for six episodes but at least we're offered an exciting end cliffhanger to make us eager for the first installment of Planet of the Daleks episode one. Ambiguity is one thing, the complete absence of answers is another.
Still I can't end this review on a bad note, overall the story is quite brilliant in it's own way. It's never going to win any polls, but it passes three hours effortlessley and proves to be one of the Pertwee stories that actually lets it's hair down and has some fun.
Oh and isn't it just COOL when the Daleks emerge from that rockface?
What if the Earth soldiers had just seen their mother-in-laws? by Will Berridge 15/8/03
Let's take a look at The Discontinuity Guide assessment of this story:
"Worthy, very well directed and designed to the hilt with a solid costuming policy for both empires. However, it's obviously padded in parts."A solid costuming policy!?!?! It's easy to tell someone's clutching at straws in their appreciation of a story if this is all they can manage to praise! I really can't see what's meant to be so "solid" about it anyway; General William's uniform, rather like his character, belongs in a cartoon. At least they got the last bit right.
I really do envy Messrs Cornell, Day and Topping if they can cope throughout 6 episodes of unrelenting tedium simply by looking at the Draconians' glitzy apparel. During the 2nd and 3rd episodes in particular, the plot, which is a standard "3rd Party" affair ripped off from many a James Bond film, is at a complete standstill. Draconians and humans argue. Nobody believes the Doctor, who is trying to resolve the dispute. More arguing and general grumpiness from both sides. More hopeful attempts by both sides to get the Doctor and Jo to say what they want to hear. Random and pointless shot of the Doc and Jo being marched through some multi-storey car park between various interrogations. Capture. And escape. Failed attempt at capture. Nobody believes the Doctor even when put through a mind probe (what? No, not the mind probe!). Escape. Capture.
As for the prison colony on the moon, to misquote Victor Meldrew, I wasted 15 minutes of my life watching that subplot! I mean why bother? Why not just have the Doctor picked up from Earth by the Master with Jo, so the REAL plot could begin? Surely they didn't put it in just so the Doctor could escape from somewhere again, they'd let him do that already.
Fortunately, things do start to pick up very slightly when the Master arrives, if only because we can enjoy Roger Delgado's acting for the rest of the plot. His shameless "playing innocent" and put on speeches about the importance of interplanetary security, and the Doctor's reactions to them ("are you alright old chap?") represent some of the best rapport between the two characters. There isn't a single even remotely interesting character in the guest cast so it's left up to the three regulars to provide most of the entertainment, and though Pertwee Doctor remains less capable of providing the offbeat moments that either of the Bakers, or Troughton, or McCoy managed, at least he doesn't preach to anyone. Jo is satisfyingly less wimpy than usual, managing to override the Master's attempt at hypnotic control. And the Master himself is largely sublime. As with other aspects of the story, however, weak plotting detracts from the threat he poses in his homicidal megalomaniac capacity. Something's going a tad awry in a story if the main villain has to save the hero's life on two occasions (and the Doctor even thanks him politely the second time). One begins to get the feeling the Master would just miss the Doctor and Jo if they went, seeing as he obviously enjoys their company so much. He even seems so concerned for their safety when he takes them on board his prison ship that he kindly warns them when he is lifting off and making a course correction, so they do not enjoy any undue discomfort. It almost makes you feel sorry for him as they're planning to escape from him whilst he is showing such consideration.
Unfortunately, the Master's benevolence isn't the only "convenience" to enter the plot. After steadfastly refusing to even consider the Doctor's theory throughout all his painstaking (for him and the viewers) efforts in episodes 2 and 3, by the time episode 5 comes around and some action is required, Williams is brought over rather quickly, despite the fact, as the Master points out, he has no more evidence than he had previously. Another part that gets rushed is the Doctor's visit to Draconia, and the subsequent attack on that planet by the Ogrons. All the action in both these events apparently takes place solely in the Emperor's throne room. It's as if there wasn't anything more to the planet.
The later flaw is as much due to budgetary concerns as much as cramming after the initial pedestrian nature of the plot, and the difficulty the BBC had producing a "Space Opera" with the cash available causes many cringeworthy moments. The much derided carrier-bag God, for one. The rather bland nature of the presidential office. And after General Williams' confident boast "this ship can outrun anything", the subsequent shot of it "doing" so.
Six episodes of stultifying boredom. And there was a equally prolonged sequel to come. For the original version: 2.5/10. For the UK Gold showing with all the cliffhangers carelessly edited out: 1/10.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 25/9/03
Frontier In Space suffers because of its six episode length, but nonetheless it is an entertaining yarn, seeing Doctor Who explore new realms - that of space opera. The first two episodes consist of The Doctor and Jo being shifted from planet to prison and vice versa; whilst the continuing shift of locations keeps things fresh it does nothing to further the plot. Things only pick up when Roger Delgado (in arguably his best and ironically last turn) shows up as The Master; even if his use of the fear inducing device is a rehash from The Mind Of Evil. On the plus side, the cast are largely excellent, we get to see the return of two old foes in the Ogrons and the Daleks and are introduced to the Draconians who (surprisingly) haven`t been reused since, also both the model and location work are excellent bringing a sense of realism to the show. The only disappointment is the fact that it is effectively a prequel which leads into the somewhat inferior Planet Of The Daleks.
Holier Than Thou by Jamie Feather 18/3/04
Was there ever a story as self-deluded as Frontier in Space? Take for example the bit in episode 6 when the scout ship is in orbit around the 'planet of the Ogrons' (missed a trick not using that title). We have smoke pouring from overloaded circuits and battle cruisers and Pertwee doing a space walk. Frontier thinks it is being terribly exciting and tense, but we, the viewers, can see this is padding gone mad. And we wouldn't mind so much but for the fact that Frontier itself CAN'T SEE THIS! It has no insight at all. Poor thing.
Frontier is a bit like those people you know that have no sense of humour, particularly if the joke is about them. It thinks it is being worthy and sincere but it isn't. Take for example the endless Doctor/Jo escape-and-get-put-back-in-a-cell scenes that litter all 6 episodes. This in itself is not too much of a problem - it is a Doctor Who staple after all. But Frontier not allowing even a hint of irony into the proceedings is, because it results in hideously awful scenes such as the Medusoids parable.
It's all very well to use padding if it can be used well. It's fine to be smug (now and again) if you have good cause. Frontier has the right to be smug about the rather wonderful sets and great costumes and masks. It does not have a right to be smug about a plot that is thin and torturously stretched out. Or about spaceships that look exactly like Fairy Liquid bottles. Or for being SO mean to poor old Paul Bernard.
I like Paul Bernard a lot, or rather I like a lot of his work on Doctor Who, never having met the chap myself. His direction on Day of the Daleks and The Time Monster feels fresh and pacy and helps to distract from the fact that he always gets such silly scripts. He grasps and executes the 'Doctor Who as a TV comic strip' style far better than Barry Letts. In my fantasy season 10 he and Barry swap places and we get to see Carnival of Monsters done the Paul Bernard way. It would have been fab. And even Barry Letts couldn't have made Frontier any more dull. Paul makes some very good decisions on Frontier, (for example his choice of locations in episode 2) but you can tell he hates the pompous script as much as we do. Occasionally we see some of his flair (when the Daleks exterminate the soldiers in episode 6) but more often than not one gets the impression that he has given up and I can't blame him. Take the ending of episode 1 for example. If Paul had not revealed the fact that the Ogrons were cutting through the door BEFORE they enter the cargo ship and if the cliffhanger had come with Pertwee being shot and the Ogron pointing it's big gun at Jo then I think we might have had something quite exciting. But spiteful old Frontier won't let him, insisting (yes, you know the type) INSISTING on a dull climax with some guards and espionage allegations.
Frontier won't let the actors have any fun either. Roger and Katy get away with deliciously camp performances (THEY can spot Frontier for what it is) but Frontier doesn't like it and punishes them with (respectively) crap endings and being given nothing to do. Poor old Pertwee has as much self-awareness as Frontier though and gives us an awful, pompous performance as a result. Pertwee being pompous is old news but often it is very funny and well-timed and stands out in jolly scripts. In Frontier Pertwee spends all his time sucking up to Presidents and Emperors and being generally holier than thou. What happened to Pertwee in Season 10? He does exactly the same thing with his 'one of the lads' antics with the Thals in Planet of the Daleks. Instead of being the person who stands apart from the crowd and points out when things are getting silly like he normally does, he joins in. Why?
Frontier is just like those people at work who snitch on you if you break silly rules about what you can have on your desk or go for a fag and complain if you try to have a laugh in the office. It can't laugh at itself. Which means that it is really asking to be pulled down a peg or two. What was lovely Uncle Malcolm thinking of?
A Review by Brett Walther 22/3/04
As a kid, I had always figured Frontier in Space was the ultimate Pertwee adventure.
It had lots of cool spaceships, the Master, the Ogrons and even the Daleks in it, for goodness sake! I had the nice lady at the library order me a copy of Doctor Who and the Space War and I remember being spellbound by it at the time; Chris Achilleos' depiction of the superbly realized Draconians on the cover defying me not to love it wholeheartedly.
It was only when I recently acquired Frontier in Space on video that the story's numerous faults became so crushingly evident.
The pacing of the plot is seriously flawed. In a story reknowned for its hideous amount of padding in the form of prison cells, I can't believe Hulke made the monumental mistake of having the Doctor discover the true nature of the illusions before the end of Part One. The Doctor quickly jumps to the conclusion that the Earth pilots are seeing what they fear most, and a lot of potential mystery goes down the drain. Furthermore, the "surprise" reappearance of the Ogrons is seriously lacking in drama -- a real oversight (and missed opportunity) on director Paul Bernard's part. And why don't the first four episodes attempt to flesh out Draconian culture at all? It's not until late in the game that the viewer gets an inkling that there's more to these creatures than brilliant masks.
I do, however, like the attempts at painting a picture of future Earth through the form of the news broadcasts that the President watches in Part One. We briefly hear of Arctic settlements alongside news of rising tensions between Earth and Draconia -- a genuine attempt to show rather than merely tell about the conditions on Earth through boring expositional exchanges between the President and General Williams.
Later on, we find out that there are Peace Party convicts on the moon who were imprisoned by the Earth government for their anti-war stance, casting an unsettling shadow on the previously lily-white evening gloves of the President. What kind of a democracy is this woman running?
Unfortunately, there's very little else to the Earth setting apart from the President's office, the Draconian Embassy and of course, the obligatory prison cell into which the Doctor and Jo are paraded, in and out, relentlessly over the course of Part Two.
Despite the fact that it's poorly disguised padding, however, the scenes set on the Luna Penal Colony are a high point in the production. The sets, although simple, at least manage to convey an atmosphere of other-worldliness. The same cannot be said for the atrociously unconvincing spacewalk sequence -- which is cruelly repeated later on in the story! Not since the days of Hartnell have suspension cords been so obvious as Pertwee farts about alongside the spaceship with a gaping huge hole in the front of his helmet, accompanied by an excruciatingly awful incidental score.
It pains me to say it, but Katy Manning is not at her best in Frontier in Space. She's not loveably scatterbrained here: she's a child trapped in a 25 year-old's body, and it's just creepy. Her infantile exchanges with the Doctor in the cell in the Earth cargo ship are unfortunately embarassing to watch, as Manning seems to have been encouraged to babble on until the Doctor mercifully interrupts. Don't get me wrong -- I have a soft spot in my heart for Manning. I think she's absolutely gorgeous and provided a much needed vitality opposite Pertwee. It's just that rather like Lalla Ward's Romana in Shada, Frontier sees her exaggerating all of Jo's worst traits.
It's also unfortunate that this is Roger Delgado's last performance as the Master. It's simply impossible not to love him in Frontier -- he's seriously sweet, warning his captives that they may be experiencing turbulence, and taking great pains to ensure they remain in good health and relative comfort. There's no way you can take this guy seriously as the villain of the piece, and any sense of threat the Master may have at once posed has evaporated entirely. What makes Delgado's swansong all the more disappointing is the fact that there's not even a proper exit scene for his character. He simply saunters off amidst the commotion in one of the least satisfactory conclusions in the series' history.
And I'm still cleaning up the red wine stains on my carpet after I suffered an uncontrollable laughing fit at the sight of the Ogron god...
A Review by Brian May 21/5/04
Frontier in Space has a personal importance for me. You see, I was born on Friday, 23 March 1973, a day before episode five aired. So the story has always meant something special. But, sentiment aside, I still consider it to be a fine tale.
It's certainly one of Doctor Who's biggest stories - by which I mean it paints an expansive, galaxy-spanning backdrop. "Space opera" is the correct terminology, and while the programme has done such stories before (The Daleks' Master Plan; The Space Pirates); this adventure benefits by looking so lavish, with a plethora of terrific costumes, spaceship models and good location work. Its survival in colour also helps. It looks as though a lot of money has been spent on it - a fine example of wise spending on a low budget show. And, as Doctor Who skilfully achieves many times, the space opera feel is also assisted by the use of suggestive dialogue - the riots and protests across the world are never seen; the issue of overpopulation is communicated via a newscast, with a freaky case of life imitating art with the one child policy (China's was established six years after this story's transmission). The nature of the government, the opposition, the Peace Party, the President's duties, the prison system and the relations with the Draconians are all conveyed in a similarly convincing manner, supplementing what lacks in the already impressive look of the story.
Malcolm Hulke always liked to think big, and this is perhaps his most ambitious script. He always wrote for a large cast, and this is no exception. Central players such as the President of Earth, General Williams and the Draconian Prince are realistically written and well performed (especially Peter Birrel as the Prince). But Hulke also understands that even incidental characters play important parts in the narrative, so it's no surprise that Frontier is filled with believable ones, who are, for the most part, well acted. There's the two crewmembers on the freighter in episode one; the guard who gives the Doctor and Jo advice; the aptly named prison stooge Cross; the shrewd and ambitious prison governor. Small roles, but as I said, not unimportant. The only performance I find wanting is Harold Goldblatt as Professor Dale - he's just a bit stilted and delivers his lines rather lifelessly. But who can complain when there's the great John Woodnutt, who is marvellous as the Draconian Emperor! It's the actor's smallest role in Doctor Who, but he's always magnificent. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are both very good - the Doctor's lost much of his patronising attitude and considers Jo very much an equal. Roger Delgado is simply fabulous in what would sadly be his final portrayal of the Master. He has the balance between nasty bastard and smooth charmer perfected here - there are definitely times you're sure he wouldn't hesitate to kill the Doctor or Jo.
Of course, when reviewing a six-part story, especially a Pertwee one, that dreaded word, padding, has to be addressed. My most recent viewing of this surprised me - the first three episodes, which consist of all the capture/escape/recapture of the Doctor and Jo, are not drawn out at all. Granted, it's slow, and the plot's unfolding in this first half is just as sluggish, but the scripting and characterisations keep everything from being boring or turgid. Even the moon prison scenes kept me watching. In my opinion, the padding doesn't begin until episode four - the Doctor and Jo locked in the cell in the police ship, the spacewalk, Jo's ramblings etc are the first signs of a slowdown in pace. However these scenes are far from unenjoyable - the ship making its sharp turn and the Doctor being catapulted into space is real edge-of-seat moment, while the conversations in the cell reinforce the great relationship between the time travellers - and Pertwee and Manning for that matter.
The padded scenes in episode five are likewise taken up by all the travelling in space; however those moments in the Draconian throne room are excellent. The final instalment drags for the first half as, once again, a long journey through the stars is required to reach the final showdown. Ironically the last section of part six is extremely rushed. The Daleks are revealed as the masterminds behind everything (mind you, it's a terrific moment!), they arrive on the scene and then depart just as quickly; the Doctor and company escape and the lead-in to the next story is set up, all in about ten minutes. For such a long, meandering story this sudden frenzy of activity at the end feels very disjointed. It's a bit unsatisfying too - General Williams and the Prince make their way back to the ship to warn their respective empires about the situation, but there's no feel that the problem has been resolved. The two powers are still on a knife edge, with no real sense of the situation ending.
The melee in which the Doctor gets shot is also a bit of a mess. The Master fires accidentally (apparently), but where does he go? Is he propelled along by the stampede of fleeing Ogrons? It's unclear, and rather a poor final scene for Roger Delgado (of course, this was not to be known at the time). However, the cliffhanger ending is fantastic, echoing the Hartnell years.
As I mentioned, the production is of a very high standard. The model spaceships are excellent, with only a few visible strings in the spacewalk scenes spoiling the illusion. The costumes are good, although why does that interrogator wear a slinky evening gown and dress gloves? The Draconians are an excellently written and designed race of beings, while the return of the Ogrons is welcome - Day of the Daleks proved they were an interesting adversary - the programme's first species of alien henchmen. Paul Bernard's direction is impeccable, with imaginative camerawork and choice of shots. The first scene with the Ogrons is one - a rear view of them cutting their way into the freighter, revealing them to the audience but not to any of the characters. The multitude of long, panning shots also adds to the story.
But that monster the Orgons worship? Oh dear. Perhaps something best left on the cutting room floor! It's probably the one truly disappointing aspect to Frontier in Space. However, as it appears for five seconds of a six part adventure, who really cares? A great story to be born in! 8.5/10
Dragons! by Andrew Feryok 26/1/05
President: (looking him straight in the eye) I'm giving you one last chance to tell me the truth.
Doctor: (wearily) Madame President, I have been telling you the truth for some considerable time, but you just won't listen to me.
President: I can't think why you chose to work for the Draconians. But whatever it is, I'll double any offer they've made to you.
Doctor: Well that's very generous of you, madam, but you would only be buying information that doesn't exist.
- Frontier in Space, Episode 3.
I will admit right off the bat that the first time I saw this on VHS, I didn't like it. It was slow, cumbersome, and boring. Six episodes of the Doctor and Jo being ferried from one jail cell to the next with the Master is gleefully pulling the strings behind the scenes and never really revealing what he is actually doing. After purchasing and viewing it, I gave a little "humph", and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since collecting dust.
Until two days ago...
I was in a Doctor Who mood and decided to bring a few stories up from home to college with me. In particular, I was in the mood for some Jon Pertwee stories. But I wasn't in the mood for his usual UNIT stories, I wanted something more space bound. I hadn't seen Frontier in Space in a while and decided to give it a second go. Boy have things changed!
It's a bit unusual seeing Jon Pertwee in an futuristic, outer space setting since the majority of the stories I have seen him in were Earthbound with UNIT or Carnival of Monsters. And actually the first three episodes really worked for me! It was still the same slow story of the Doctor and Jo being ferried from one cell to the next, but this time I was more in the mood for a slow moving story. I think the VHS cover fooled me into thinking this was going to be a Star Wars-ian space opera with exciting battles with space ships, the Master, Ogrons, and Daleks. I wasn't exactly prepared for a political thriller. But this time, I was.
The first three episodes are really quite good, even better then I remembered them. Malcolm Hulke has to be, hands down, one of Doctor Who's best writers, up there with Robert Holmes, David Whitaker, and John Lucarotti. No one can do gray-areas and political thrillers like Hulke can and these first three episodes are no exception. The first two episodes dwell on the topic of fear: what do we fear? Why do we fear what is not like us? And what can such fear drive us to become? It's thrilling stuff as the Doctor and Jo get mired in political mistrust when all they want to do is go back into the TARDIS. Both the Draconians and the humans (represented by the General and President) are pressuring the Doctor and Jo to tell them the "truth", even though that's all the Doctor and Jo have been doing. Both factions are so completely hateful towards each other that they cannot fathom that these two might actually be telling the truth since it would destroy their entire paradigm of the way the world works. One of the best scenes illustrating this is when the general interrogates the Doctor under the mind-probe. The Doctor keeps telling the absolute truth to every question that he has, and the attendant at the machine confirms that he is telling the truth. But the general will not believe him. He has convinced himself utterly that the Doctor is lying and continues to turn up the power on the machine it finally short circuits from the pressure. All the while, the Doctor keeps telling the truth. And after the machine explodes, the Doctor gives a little smile of satisfaction, for he realizes that they have so completely convinced themselves that the other side is evil and needs to be destroyed, that it matters little what the Doctor and Jo actually have to say, they just want them to say what they want to hear! This struck me as quite poignant considering the way that westerners, particularly Americans, and the Middle East currently view each other with enormous mistrust, each convinced the other is evil and willing to destroy the other out of this view.
Episode 3 even ups the ante with the story by introducing the Master once more. As soon as he appears, posing as an ambassador from an independent world, you know things are really bad. For the first time, the time travelers are completely at the mercy of the Master since he is their only hope of escaping all this political intrigue. Of course, he's not rescuing them for nothing. In a cryptic scene with Jo, he reveals that it is his "employers" who insisted that they be rescued and the Master has obliged, although he doesn't reveal exactly who those employers are. At the beginning of Episode 4, we also see some fun scenes of the Master blackmailing and manipulating the warden of the moon prison in order to get the Doctor freed from his political imprisonment.
Then story does a massive nose-dive! Episode 4 is completely unnecessary to the story and nothing more than filler. For an entire episode, we see the Doctor and Jo attempting to make their escape from the Master's prison ship. The Doctor takes an unnecessarily elaborate way to the bridge of the ship by taking a space walk that nearly gets him killed. And upon returning, he ends up exactly were he started, the Master has found out about his plot, and the Doctor is only rescued when the Draconians inexplicably show up to save him! Okay, Jo's speech and the Master's comments are amusing and the design of the prison ship is quite good, but I would much rather sacrifice this episode for more resolution to the end of this story (I'll talk more about that later).
Episode 5 is also mostly filler as the Master and the Doctor do a less-than-exciting space battle en route to warn Earth and... once again... the Doctor takes another unnecessary space walk in which he nearly gets killed! The only redeeming factor of this episode is the trip to Draconia. John Woodnutt is great the Draconian Emperor. Full of regal airs, formality, and strength. He looks and acts like the emperor of an ancient and powerful galactic empire, and I love the scene when he reprimands his son for speaking out of turn and telling him "One day, when you are emperor, you too will appreciate the need for formalities." And the Doctor's attempt to convince the emperor of their innocence is also interesting as we learn about one of the Doctor's unseen previous adventures.
Things finally pick up again with Episode 6 as we see things coming to a resolution on the home world of the Ogrons. One of the most memorable scenes, which I still remembered from the first time I saw it, was the scene in which Jo valiantly resists every form of mind control the Master can throw at her. For the first time ever, she actually begins to show some inner strength and is not just a screaming damsel in distress. Both the Master, and later the Doctor, are impressed by Jo's unusual new strength in resisting the Master's devices and it takes some extra dastardly scheming from the Master to finally trick her into helping him.
Another scene of note is when the Master finally confronts the Doctor by revealing his allies at last... the Daleks! Terry Nation has tried unsuccessfully to pull off this kind of revelation with the Daleks before, but Hulke gets it right here. Actually, this final episode would have worked even better if they had eliminated Episode 4 and spent a further episode exploring the alliance between the Master and the Daleks. Two of Doctor Who's greatest enemies are teaming up and they get little more than two scenes together followed by a rushed ending that leads straight into Planet of the Daleks. This has to be one of the worst endings to a Doctor Who story ever, especially as the revelation of their alliance was being built up over the previous 5 episodes. The story just sort of ends. Nothing is resolved concerning the impending galactic war between the Earth Empire and Draconia, the Master's final scene (which was unfortunately Delgado's last scene ever) sees him being trampled and carried off by Ogrons, and the Daleks are sort of dangled in front of us and then it's left up to Planet of the Daleks to complete their end of the story. In fact, now that I think about it, I believe that Malcolm Hulke thought that Terry Nation was going to take these elements and run with them in Planet of the Daleks. If that was the case, then it was a bad idea since, with the exception of the Dalek thread, none of the other things are touched upon in that story.
Overall, this story was okay. Not the best Jon Pertwee story, but even the slow bits were entertaining to some degree (unlike Planet of the Daleks were nothing would happen for long stretches at a time). The first three episodes are Hulke doing what he does best, and Episode 5 features a nice trip to Draconia. Only Episodes 4 and 6 let the ball drop. Four could easily have been cut out so that the revelations of Episode 6 could be expanded and explored. Having read reviews on this sight, I understand that Hulke fixed the ending in his novel of the story. I shall have to try and get a copy and check it out. If he did, I might raise the rating slightly higher. 5/10
PS: I love the location work done in this story! It really adds to the flavor of the story. The buildings they choose really look like a futuristic government building, embassy, and Ogron planet surface. I only wish they had shown a few bureaucrats milling about outside with the guards at the Presidential building to make it look even better! This is a long way from the car park they used in Day of the Daleks.
PSS: What does everyone find so funny about the Ogrons? As far as I can tell, they are just dumb guards for the more scheming villains. What is their comic potential that everyone keeps talking about?
A nice try at space opera by Michael Hickerson 2/8/10
One of the big criticisms of the Pertwee era is that a lot of the stories are just too long. There are a lot of six and seven part stories during the third Doctor's era and while some of them take advantage of the longer running time when it comes to the storytelling (Mind of Evil) or find creative ways to hide the padding (Inferno), there are still a lot of them end up spinning the wheels in the middle episodes as we wait for the next development and the Doctor to solve whatever crisis is currently unfolding.
But yet, it's a handful of these six-part stories that are among the more fondly remembered and respect from the third Doctor's era.
Of course, part of that could be that the memory cheats a bit. You can overlook the padding if you only see one installment per week. In the day and age of video and then DVD, watching a six-part story in one sitting isn't the way these Doctor Who stories were meant to viewed. With a week or even a day's gap between installments, the necessity of a bit of recap and reminder work well and isn't quite as obvious. It also helps you forget that certain things are happened over and over again.
For example, the Doctor and Jo spending a lot of time escaping only to be locked up again in the first two installments of Frontier in Space.
Frontier in Space is one of the classic series' few attempts at doing a genuine space-opera and the results are a pretty mixed bag. The ideas here are interesting and the story attempts to have a bit more epic scale that most Doctor Who stories. Instead of feeling like we've only spent a few hours in the future setting, this one could take place over several weeks or even months. The Doctor and Jo arrive in the far future to find the Ogrons are working to start a conflict between the empires of Earth and Draconia. Using a device that feeds on the fear centers of the mind, the Ogrons appear to either race as the other side in the attacks, thus heightening the paranoia and distrust between the two empires and sending the galaxy headed slowly toward war.
The episode does a nice job of setting this up for the first two episodes, though it doesn't give the Doctor and Jo much to do besides be mistaken for spies and protest that they aren't the ones behind it all. Things finally get rolling around episode three when the Master shows up, revealing that he is pulling strings and using the Ogrons. But it's clear he's working for someone else, which if you've read the DVD box-set name, you'll know who it is long before they show up in episode six for a glorified cameo.
For once, it's nice to see the Pertwee years tweak the convention of your typical Master story a bit. The usual pattern was for the Master to become involved with some alien group in some kind of scheme to either take over Earth or the universe and to have it all go a bit wrong by the final episode. This left the Doctor to have to come in and form an alliance with the Master to defeat said monster or alien when it was clear the Master hadn't thought this through all the way. Then, the Master would turn on the Doctor and escape to fight another day.
With Frontier in Space there's none of that, though there clearly could have been. Once the Daleks show up, it's clear the Master and the Daleks could have had a banner of a story with each side betraying and one-upping each other as they pursue their plan to bring Earth and Draconia into conflict. By the end of episode six, both sides know they're being manipulated, but it's only known to a handful of people, thus leaving open the possibility that there could be greater heights of tension to come. Unfortunately, the story doesn't follow this path, instead spinning off into Planet of the Daleks.
It's interesting that after the relatively moderate pace of the first three episodes, the final episode is one that feels jammed with revelations and a rushed urgency to wrap it all up so we can go after the Daleks. It's almost as if once the Daleks come on the scene and everyone figures out the Ogrons are behind the attacks, that should be enough to offer resolution to things. After spending five episodes showing how the two sides distrust each other so and reluctantly have to be worn down and convinced by the Doctor about what's really going on, an episode with some fallout or follow-through might have been welcome. Instead, the story barrels forward toward a cliffhanger to tie into the next installment.
It's a shame really because it ends up making Frontier in Space feel like less than the sum of its parts. Or, to put it more succinctly, six episodes of set-up for a Dalek story. Given that it's got some nice model work for the time and that it's got two of the better realized alien-make up jobs from classic Who (the Ogrons and the Draconians), it's a shame that the elements introduced over the course of six episodes couldn't have all added up to something more.
As I was watching it again this time, for the first five episodes (even in the redundancy of the Doctor and Jo being locked up again and again early on), I kept wondering why this one wasn't more fondly remembered by myself and other fans. Then we get to episode six... It's not a bad story. It just doesn't have the resolution it should - and it won't because while the two stories are intended to tie together, Planet of the Daleks quickly evolves its own set of tangents and storylines and never addresses some of the fallout and implications raised here.
A Haiku by Finn Clark 11/10/20
It's Hulke's stupidest.
Funny, thoughtful, epic, but
The plotting's lazy.