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....


A Haiku by Finn Clark Updated 12/5/20

Annoying and dumb
For the first hundred pages
But after that, great fun.

"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

Frontier In Space: The Writer's Cut by Matthew Kresal 21/3/20

For Doctor Who fans of a certain age, the Target novelizations of Classic Who stories bring utter nostalgia, being from an age when they could be your only way to experience a story again. For anyone not from that era (including your current reviewer), they might seem a relic of a bygone age. Yet some books hold up well, either through the writing in them or because of how they expand upon the original TV adventure. One that falls into both categories is Doctor Who and the Space War, adapted from the 1973 TV story Frontier in Space by its original author, Malcolm Hulke.

With books like The Cave Monsters behind him, Hulke had proven himself to be one of the better writers of the Target range. Reading The Space War (the last time Target would retitle one of the TV stories), it isn't hard to see why that reputation has persisted with his other adaptations. As with that earlier novelization, Hulke's turning it into prose allows him to create what is a "writer's cut" version of his original TV story.

Frontier in Space was, on TV, one of the most fleshed-out pieces of worldbuilding found in Classic Who, and Hulke expands upon it even more here. Wonder just what happened during that war between Earth and Draconia mentioned throughout the story? Hulke explores some of that out here. Curious about the testy but undeniable friendship between the Earth President and military leader General Williams? Hulke explores that in some depth across the whole of the book, fleshing out what we saw on screen in the performances of Vera Fusek and Michael Hawkins. The worlds of both the Earth Empire and Draconia get further fleshing out, detailing some of the politics going on within their respective empires from the Earth Senate and the Peace Party to Draconian nobility. Elsewhere, minor characters, like the two cargo ship pilots we meet at the start of the story and hand over the Doctor and Jo, have their seemingly incomprehensible actions in the episode one cliffhanger explained away. Even the final scene with the Doctor and the Master, something that was rather underwhelming in how it was presented on TV, gets revisited here and is better for it.

Hulke is also able to fix some of the pacing issues with the story as well. Frontier in Space is a story that isn't fondly looked upon by many fans, and I have to confess that I've found a new appreciation for it upon revisiting it on DVD and now Blu-Ray after being similarly unimpressed on an early VHS viewing, something partly down to its being a six-parter and seen to flag in the middle third a bit. On the page, and with only 144 pages to play with, Hulke can streamline things a bit. Gone are sequences such as the inquiry at the Lunar Penal Colony in episode four or in the final installment where the Doctor has to make repairs to a spaceship as it's being pursued by an enemy spacecraft. Instead, Hulke goes about turning his script into an SF equivalent of the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, albeit with the Master and Ogrons in the role of Blofeld and the various agents of SPECTRE. The result is a heck of a read - or listen if you go with the 2008 audiobook reading, with a superb Geoffrey Beevers reading Hulke's prose.

Not that this is a perfect read, of course. Some of Hulke's additions seem silly or even frustrating, such as a frequent parting greeting where one wishes, "May you live a long life and may energy shine on you from a million suns," only for the other person to reply, "And may water, oxygen and plutonium be found in abundance wherever you land." After a few of those, the whole exchange gets rather tedious, making one wonder if it was cut from the TV version for precisely that reason. Some of Hulke's changes to dialogue are clunky, such as Jo's whole "What cheek!" speech in front of the Draconian Prince and his father the Emperor that goes on for an entire paragraph on page 102. Hulke also gives away the plot twist of certain baddies turning up partway through the novel as a throwaway gag, rather undermining their big reveal later on. In defense of the latter, they were put on the cover of the VHS release a couple of decades later, so Hulke doesn't commit that inexcusable a sin there. All of which does serve to undermine his work elsewhere in the book, however.

While it might not be on the level of The Cave Monsters, Hulke's work on The Space War still makes it an intriguing read. His "writer's cut" of Frontier in Space takes an underrated TV story and makes it shine, even with some of the mistakes he makes along the way. It's what viewers could have seen on TV in 1973, in an ideal world. And that makes it worth reading, all on its own.