THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Frontier in Space
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and The Space War

Author Malcolm Hulke Cover image
Published 1976
ISBN 0 426 11033 1
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: 'Doctor' screamed Jo. 'Look at that thing. It's coming straight at us!' A small, black spaceship, about a mile away, was approaching rapidly. It had no lights, no markings. But some instinct told Jo that the tiny craft meant danger. The year is 2540, and two powers loom large in the Galaxy - Earth and Draconia. After years of peace, their spaceships are now being mysteriously attacked and cargoes rifled. Each suspects the other and full-scale war seems unavoidable. The Doctor, accused of being a Draconian spy, is thrown into prison. And only when the MASTER appears on the scene do things really begin to move....


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 15/5/02

Doctor Who and the Space War is Malcolm Hulke's retitled novelisation of Frontier in Space - a TV story I've never seen. I don't know whether my unfamilarity with the source material makes me unsuitable or particularly suitable to review its novelisation. On the one hand, I won't know whether it's an improvement or a travesty. But on the other hand, I'll be able to see it untainted by outside influences. I dunno.

This could be interesting.

p9 - "Doctor Who, himself a Time Lord, stole his TARDIS because..."

p10 - uh oh... a nasty patch of clunky writing and bad grammar. You can't "fume" speech unless you're communicating by smoke signals, and since when has space been Space? But then the Doctor gets a funny line, so that's all right.

I loved this book. Malcolm Hulke has a somewhat earnest reputation, but the main thing I'll remember about The Space War is that it's funny as all hell. This Doctor and Jo are a classic combination, as entertaining as the best of Troughton or Tom Baker. Jo's intelligence (or lack of same) is mined for all it's worth, leading me to wonder if the contemporary production team knew exactly how dim she was and were gleefully taking the piss throughout. The Doctor is a hoot, and when the Master turns up... I swear, I was rolling on the floor. The running gag of the Master calling the Doctor a criminal is one of the funniest things I've read all year.

And the Ogrons! Gareth Roberts didn't invent stupid Ogrons, not by a long chalk. Malcolm Hulke goes to town on this one, giving the Master comedy sidekicks like he's never had before and never will again. The actual plot is slight (especially for a six-parter), but the regulars always give us great scenes. I'd never known Pertwee's Doctor was such fun!

But I suppose we'd better stoop to consider the plot, such as it is. The Doctor gets captured, escapes, gets captured, escapes, gets captured and escapes. Er, that's it. I loved the lunar prison, if only for being a change of scenery and an escalation of the story's stakes. It stretched my credulity that the truth about the start of the war twenty years ago might only now be discovered in casual conversation. And it's awfully lucky that the Master's Keller Machine makes humans see Draconians and vice-versa... one miscalibration and everyone would have been reporting an attack from spiders, heights and enclosed spaces.

The authorities are damn stupid, even given the convention that all positions of authority in a Doctor Who story will be paranoiacs who automatically disbelieve the Doctor. Haven't these people lie detectors? I suppose you might argue it's the mind probe... but even when that backs up the Doctor's story, they still don't believe him! Don't they see that their presumed version of events is less plausible than the Doctor's story - which incidentally explains other bizarre stuff that's been going on? Why don't they even investigate to verify their assumptions?

These people are so dumb that I started wondering if the Master was using hypnosis or mental influence to retard their willingness to accept the truth. Nope, apparently they're just thick as planks.

So the plot's a bit simplistic... but amazingly that doesn't matter. This is a true Target novelisation, not quite as thin as Planet of the Daleks (up next) but still it whistles past at the speed of sound. An episode barely lasts twenty large-print pages, and I'm not exaggerating. We're so used to 280-page novels that one forgets the virtues of a tale swiftly told. At this speed the faults hardly matter and you're carried along with the flow. I wouldn't go so far as to call this an improvement on the original (I'm hardly qualified to do so) but the good qualities of Frontier in Space are probably different to its novelisation's.

The Target novelisations were a publishing phenomenon, and from this I'd suggest that wasn't just due to feeding off the TV show's success. Doctor Who and the Space War is a rollicking good read, fast-paced and funny. Recommended.


"I never thought the Doctor looked like that!" by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/1/04

The only cover ever produced for this novelisation has perhaps the single most bizarre portrayal of "the third DOCTOR WHO" - and I still can't work out which of the two characters is meant to be him! For those who think I've gone mad ("gone"?!!), the frontspiece to the early editions of this novelisation states that the cover does indeed feature the face of the third Doctor, even though this is clearly not the case. Nevertheless it is a striking image and one of Achilleos' best.

Cover aside, Doctor Who and the Space War has a lot going for it. Of all Malcolm Hulke's stories, Frontier in Space rivals perhaps only The Faceless Ones for invisibility amongst fans despite having a lot going for it. For some reason Hulke elected to leave this one out when novelising the rest of his Pertwee stories in order, instead producing Doctor Who and the Green Death, but in 1976 he rectified this ommission and produced this book. Some of his earlier efforts showed signs of being rushed, but here he produces a masterpiece.

Storywise the book predominantly follows the course of events seen on screen, but with many subtle additions and cuts that make the whole thing feel ever more effective. Gone are moments such as the Doctor fixing a spaceship in mid-space whilst a Draconian battle cruiser bears down upon it, or the Master blackmailing the prison governor to release the Doctor to him. Instead we get additional moments that greatly enhance many different characters, a trait of Hulke's writing that never fails to impress. We learn how Earth's President was a young aide to a politician aboard the peace delegation that went to meet the Draconians and how she was romantically linked with General Williams in their youth but became political rivals before she appointed him as a sign of reconciliation. Similarly the moment where General Williams is confronted with the truth about the Draconian vessel he destroyed and realises how in his ignorance he has poisoned interplanetary relations for over twenty years. It is not just the principles who stand out, with small characters such as Hardy and Stewart, the cargo ship pilots, both being brought to life and their eagerness to ensure the Doctor and Jo are arrested as Draconian agents is made all too clear. The political nature of both Earth and Draconia is also enhanced, with the contrasts between the former with a highly fraught balance in the Senate and the repression of groups such as the Peace Party contrasted with the absolute monarchy of Draconia.

The Ogrons are more caricatured than anything else, with several comical scenes in which the Master finds he is literally surrounded by buffoons and finds it impossible to carry things out completely to plan. These scenes are hilarious and the clear ancestors of some of the most memorable parts of the Missing Adventure The Romance of Crime. The Master himself comes across well and there's a very good closing scene. Instead of everyone fleeing the moment the Doctor triggers the fear device, here the Master remains but the Doctor overpowers him and holds him at gun point. The last page where the Doctor proves unable to kill his foe and then just departs in pursuit of the Daleks, leaving the Master to wonder if they will ever meet again, is especially touching, being the final scene between the two that Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado missed on television before it was too late. Here we're left wondering what will happen to the Master, though shortly after the book was published, the televised story The Deadly Assassin answered the very question.

Despite all the good character moments, there are a few times where the narrative is a little weak. The Daleks' presence at the end is given away on page 87, whilst their eventual appearance on page 135 conjures up an image of an encounter at close range amongst rocks rather than the screen moment where they emerge at the top of a ridge. The Doctor and the Draconian Prince's ability to convince the President also seems dubious given the earlier events in the novel and the Master's willingness to allow them to survive. Despite this Doctor Who and the Space War is an excellent novelisation that shows Malcolm Hulke's skills to the fore and leaves the reader hoping for more from him. 9/10