The Compassion/TARDIS arc
|ISBN||0 563 55589 0|
|Synopsis: Scientists from the mysterious Frontier Worlds Corporation are trying to blur the distinction between people and plants. The TARDIS crew plan to prevent a biological catastrophe, but their plan goes horribly wrong.|
A Review by Finn Clark 13/1/00
Frontier Worlds didn't strike me as significantly unlike Kursaal. If you liked that former Anghelides opus, you'll like this too. There are differences, sure, but for the most part they're similar stories told in similar ways. Both have unscrupulous corporations, all-threatening monsters, good wallopings of gore and a straightforward approach to storytelling. There's nothing self-consciously radical about Frontier Worlds.
I suppose, yes, it's "trad". However that doesn't mean it's a bad book.
The biggest difference is the TARDIS crew. In Kursaal, Peter Anghelides struggled manfully with the eighth Doctor and Sam, for which noble service he has earned the reward of being let loose on Fitz and Compassion in Frontier Worlds. The lucky dog! They're good characters, so good that they rather take over the book. They hog the narrative, keeping things human-scaled, while somewhere on the sidelines the Doctor impersonates James Bond in big action set pieces that actually drive most of the plot but feel like asides.
On reflection, this actually makes sense. The eighth Doctor has big hills to climb as a fully rounded character, so it shouldn't be too surprising that most of his screen time involves daredevil escapes and good old-fashioned violence. (Some of the most action-packed bits didn't read too smoothly, though; more than once I had to stop and backtrack a few paragraphs to pick up on something I'd missed.)
Meanwhile in the quieter sections, Fitz and Compassion keep the character-based stuff bubbling along. It's mostly told from Fitz's viewpoint, thus letting us gawp in alarm at Compassion's antics. She may be travelling with the Doctor and working on the side of the angels, but she feels more like an ongoing villain than a companion. Even Turlough was never this scary. Maybe she'll mellow into a more traditional role, but in the meantime there's a definite ambiguity about her allegiances. It's hard to call her likeable, but she certainly holds your attention.
Fitz Kreiner is the nearest thing we have to a hero, but it's a tribute to - um, someone - that the label sits more uneasily on him than it did on any of his predecessors in the TARDIS. He gets a romance, but it's a gazillion light-years from the easy liasons of Chris Cwej. It's... well, realistic. A weird word to use in a Doctor Who book, but it fits. It didn't take long for the authors to introduce sex into the first Virgin novels, but this made me realise how much of it has been at a teenage wish-fulfilment level.
There aren't many links with the other so-called arc books, but Fitz does get some thought-provoking paragraphs of reflection on what's recently happened to him. This was terrific stuff, exciting reader interest without getting bogged down in continuity details.
Oh, and Fitz also unleashes the famous Anghelides wit, sadly missed in Kursaal. The flippancies initially struck me as forced, as if the author was trying too hard, but eventually I laughed.
Overall, I thought it was okay. It didn't really grip me (with the exception of one subplot which I won't name here) but it passed the time pleasantly enough. Incidentally, I've decided that it's misleading to refer to the "What the F*ck" story arc started by Interference. The half-dozen books preceding Interference were actually linked far more strongly than the ones which followed it...
A Review by Sean Gaffney 5/2/00
After a short mid-book break to take in Perfect Timing 2, I was able to return to Frontier Worlds. It wasn't easy to break away from. This book doesn't start off slow and build to an electric climax, it's starts with the electric climax and then gives you about eleven more. There's a reason so many people suggest this book should be the Doctor Who movie...
The most compelling, of course, being the dialogue. This book has so many GREAT lines that it needs an appendix to list them all. Don't do what I did and secretly read it at work, or else Fitz will say, 'Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant' and you'll laugh so hard you'll get caught and reprimanded. I know this should go in the 'style' section, but I wanted to mention it right away, as it's the major reason this book works so well. Other reasons follow:
THE DOCTOR: For several reviews I said that the Doctor worked well enough but I never really got a handle on him well enough to see if he was McGann or not. This is not a problem here. Besides the callbacks to the TV-movie helping, the entire attitude is so 8th Doctor it sings. The man is so energetically emotional about everything you want him to pick you up and spin you around. And he also gets to be glib and clever, too.
FITZ: Fitz gets all the best lines, of course, and gets to take half of the Turlough characterization (Compassion getting the other half). He also gets the angsty bit of the book, but that's the one bit that didn't work as well. Still, I sympathized with him, and it's good to see Interference's shadow hasn't left him entirely.
COMPASSION: She's STILL the main reason I've gotten back into these books. Wonderfully, droll, dry, angry, irritable, being sweet and nice to Fitz in a moment that's so jarringly out of character it's as if she's writing 'I AM A FISH' on Fitz's forehead (Fitz, of course, is the ONLY person in the universe who believes she means what she says), defying the Doctor's attempts to make her into his own personal science experiment... SPIN-OFF PLEASE!!!!!
OTHERS: The book's one weak point is Alura, who comes across as rather flat, so her fate and Fitz's reaction don't resonate as they should. Ellis and Sempiter, by contrast, are wonderfully done (anyone else thinking Peter Miles as Sempiter?), and the robot is someone I'd like to see more of.
VILLAIN: That'd be Sempiter, above, who's a nice snarling Doctor Who psychopath. The Raab, oddly enough, barely register, not even getting the chance to speak through Sempiter in their own voice.
STYLE: Gorgeous. James Bond Meets The Avengers in a Doctor Who Back Alley, with a Fred and Ginger movie thrown in as buffet. THIS, unlike Kursaal, is where Peter flexes his muscles as rec.arts.drwho quotefile champion. This is a fun book, hilarious, yet still gripping.
OVERALL: Not much more to say. Aside from Alura, which is really a minor quibble, I loved this. Audio, video, big-budget blockbuster, anything would do, I just want this dialogue converted to sound so it can melt in my ears. Now, please.
The email of the species is funnier by Robert Smith? 21/3/00
I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Frontier Worlds. I'm of the opinion that Kursaal bought the big one and I've never been very enamoured of Peter's short stories (an unfair measuring stick, it's true). All published Anghelides fiction thus far has seemed like a pale shadow of the author's far superior abilities on rec.arts.drwho. Just where is the comic genius of the newsgroup in his fiction?
The answer, oddly enough, is that he's still nowhere to be found in Frontier Worlds. Oh, he tries, don't get me wrong, and there's something to be said about the chutzpah involved in turning your own sig.file into a pivotal plot point (!), but (like Kursaal) the jokes are either very old, very lame or both. Instead of a comic genius in his natural environment (the newsgroup), we've got the novel equivalent of everybody's father with a collection of jokes that were never particularly funny in the first place, recycling them with comfortable regularity every birthday party.
Still, the Who novels, especially the po-faced BBC books, have never been particularly noted for their humour, so it's not fair to judge a book by this criteria.
Which is a good thing, because this gripe aside, Frontier Worlds is very good indeed. It's no worldshaker, true, but at the moment I think that's very useful. Oddly, it seems far more important than some of the worldshakers that have preceded it, mainly because we finally see some decent characterisation. I honestly can't remember the last time we got characterisation this good or rewarding. It feels very much like a good Doctor Who tale, well told. I like that.
What's more, this is the Fitz novel that we always knew had to come eventually. I can't believe it's taken this long: honestly, Fitz isn't a tricky character, he really isn't (and why the books want to spend so much time on a difficult character like Sam but ignore an interesting one like Fitz is one of those mysteries that I'm sure secretly powers the BBC's generators). He has the potential to be really wonderful and it's a complete mystery why the authors have been sidelining and Turlough-ising him so much.
The first person narrative is wonderful and I'm really sorry we didn't get the whole book like this. I can see why not, because Fitz isn't involved in some of the important stuff, but it might have been fun. I'm a bit disappointed that we needed to have this explained within the text itself, though... and that must have been one long helicopter ride, I must say.
Frontier Worlds puts a lot of the other EDAs to shame: I'd honestly forgotten about Fitz's tendencies to imaginative impersonations and the like, since we haven't seen hide nor hair of it since his second book. It did make for a nice effect here, though, probably far more than the author had any right to expect.
The romance between Fitz and Alura works astounding well... especially considering she's barely in the book at all! This is truly astonishing and had the potential to go very very badly indeed. I'm officially impressed.
The Doctor has his moments, especially his interactions with the robot at the weather-monitoring place (easily my favourite character in the book), but he still doesn't seem to be able to sustain an interesting character. The first scene is really good and a lot of the Doctor's infiltration is entertaining, but any time he has to be active or we get his character thoughts he just seems really... commonplace. I can't figure out how you can take a truly complex and fascinating literary character like the Doctor and make him average, but that seems to be the books' primary aim with the eighth Doctor.
It's tough to see the authors almost visibly struggling to give the Doctor things to do (and a bit of a shame here, in that it probably would have been more appropriate to have Fitz deal with more of the situation than he did, in the resolution). I appreciate the effort, but it's still coming across as very forced.
There's some decent stuff with Compassion as well which works nicely. It's good to get more of a sense of her as she's a bit of an odd character, almost unintentionally complex. I liked all the references to Interference here, which really helped establish a lot of perspectives on the aftermath of that juggernaut.
The entire thing feels very much like a Doctor Who book should, which is every bit a compliment. It's got all the right ingredients for a good Doctor Who story. I should probably include a naff monster in that: the Raab have presence only because they're mostly off-screen, as it were. Had the back (and front) cover not informed me, I don't think I really would have figured out that it was turning people into plants (and indeed, that's not really what's going on anyway, as far as I can tell). And sadly, the Raab are just too powerful to make an appearance (which is a shame, but they work best as mostly seen -- or rather not -- here). We have a big buildup for a monster that really can't be done in any effective manner... so you see, it really is Doctor Who!
Despite some complaints, Frontier Worlds is a very good book. It's frustrating because you can see how it could very easily have been so much better, but what we've got is still enjoyable. It's very Whoish, Fitz is fantastic and the corporation stuff is very well done. It's a little unfocussed in places and the ending really hurts the book, leaving this a far less appreciated book than it otherwise would be, but it still comes recommended.
Sowing the Seeds of Doom by Jason A. Miller 8/4/00
There's very little left to say about this book that hasn't already been said in just about every other review to date. Frontier Worlds, the final Eighth Doctor adventure of 1999, really is the surprise hit of the year. I am quite fond of Demontage (though I appear to be alone in that), but that's because it was written by Justin Richards, and I invariably expect a great novel out of Justin Richards. Peter Anghelides, however, is a different story. I went into this book with low expectations and came out feeling like I'd just discovered a great old restaurant, under new ownership, and had eaten the best meal I'd had in some time. This is a book to savor, a refreshing vegetable feast with plenty of ice in the drinks.
You all know what to expect from a Jason A. Miller review, really -- a strong focus on what previous TV stories and Virgin/BBC novels that the book under examination emulates or rips off. Based on the front-cover illustration of a Vervoid hand and the back-cover blurb which summarizes one of the all-time TV classics, The Seeds of Doom, I really thought that this review was going to be more of the same. I also thought Kursaal was a poor (if harmless) novel and expected tospend time decrying Peter Anghelides inability to write anything longer than a thirty-word rec.arts.drwho Season 18 continuity pun.
So, all over the place, Frontier Worlds defied my every conception. Expecting a TV rehash? Not at all -- this is a new story, contemporary and fresh, examining an alien race and its invasion of a planet without ever showing that alien! Expecting an unfunny, unrevealing book? Not at all -- this book chooses its language the way the late US PBS painter Bob Ross chose his paint colors, with joy and a trace of down-home folksiness (substitute the language of the toilet-training of the two sons to whom Anghelides dedicates the book, in place of Bob Ross' Blue Ridge mountain tales). While I perhaps fear for the use of the word "poo", and references to many other gross bodily functions, in the Anghelides homestead, I at least know that those two boys will speak English with verve and passion.
Also remember that Frontier Worlds follows three consecutive arc-heavy novels, concentrating on how Clever and Post-Modern they all are. Here there is none of that. This book is about people and places. About Fitz, living and working and loving. About Compassion, and her question of identity. About the Doctor, and how he manages to get things done even though he spends nearly every moment of this book (as in all books) in captivity.
Fitz's romance with Alura is the best romance DW has seen since Love and War. Apart from two scenes, it's entirely off-screen. Not for Anghelides the banality of how they meet -- there are no cheesy pick-up lines. Instead, we see Alura mostly through Fitz's thoughts. How she loves him, how he fears commitment, how the relationship ends, as we knew it had to. The writing of this is restrained, and marvelous.
Compassion has become quite my favorite BBC companion -- and I'm speaking as a fierce Fitz loyalist. Even in the too self-conscience arc from Interference to Planet Five, I have enjoyed Compassion's self-centeredness, her self-confidence, her unique perspective on every planet's all-encompassing media-net. Her scenes here are marvelous bits of storytelling -- her fight scenes, her seduction scene, her quiet pep talks with Fitz. We should fear Compassion -- like Kamelion, she is capable of great good, and great evil. But the renewed effort to tie all the Eighth Doctor novels together has borne fruit in the remarkable consistency Compassion's shown from book to book. I eagerly look forward to more.
As we stand on the brink of 2000, the BBC line is as strong as it ever was. Just a year ago, our sole companion was unlikeable, disliked, and brutalized or killed in literally every book. But now, there are Big Things in store for the Doctor. Each of the new companions is fully-drawn, and, for a change, consistent from book to book. We leave 1999 with one of the finest bits of sheer storytelling in the range since Seeing I. Read out of sequence, Frontier Worlds may be more banal than other books. But it is part of a chronology of books, and coming when it did, it's with great regret that I finally had to set aside the story of the planet Drebnar and move on to Parallel 59 in the next adventure.
Some quick thoughts by Dan Perry 16/4/00
After bitching about how The Taking of Planet 5 failed to rise above the level of adequate, I had some severe reservations about Frontier Worlds. I was predicting a trend of decreasing quality which, given how much I loved Interference and The Blue Angel, might be understandable but would certainly be disappointing.
So much for expectations. I loved this book.
Peter Anghelides (and I'm certain I've butchered the spelling) has done what many seemed to think was impossible; he has written an intelligent "trad" book. There aren't any bizarre narrative tricks in this story. There are (arguably) no deep allegories on the human condition, nor are there petty swipes towards the ideas of other authors. What is there is a solid plot, engaging characters, whirlwind action, regrets and repercussions, and some of the coolest genetic mutations this side of the Marvel universe.
I feel that special mention must be made of Compassion. Others have talked about how great she's been in stories previous to this one. For me, this is the first time that we actually get a handle on her core personality. She's spiky. She's irksome. She's pretty much out for herself. She rocks to the extreme. Many of the qualities that made Turlough one of my favorite companions surface in her, only she completely dispenses with feeling guilty about her extreme ambivalence. Turlough's hook was that he was an amoral good guy. Compassion is an unrepentant amoral good guy, which makes her a lot of fun to read about.
Fitz, on the other hand, seems to be turning into Sam. No, he isn't more annoying than snot. Rather, he seems to be forcing himself into filling the doting companion role. The fascinating thing about this is that it is offset by his tendancy to immerse himself into whatever environment the TARDIS lands in. The entire situation with Alura highlights how torn he is between doing what the Doctor wants and forging off to create his own life.
And the Doctor? He's the Doctor. What more can I say, really?
The villains in this story were also fantastic, from the hovering menace of the alien to the more-palpable menace of the corporation heads. Although, I can't decide if my favorite was the robot, the parakeet, or the pirhana.
The thing that really made my day was the fact that the references to past history were subtle. We don't have a scene where Fitz reminisces about Communist China. We don't get unnecessary visits to the aftermath of The Time Monster and Timelash. And we most certainly don't have a footnote smack dab in the middle of the narrative that screams, "BUY UNNATURAL HISTORY!" This should be mandatory reading for all authors who want to work references to past stories into their story. It even sustains the arc story without explicitly referring to the arc! Joy!
All in all, a resounding success. There's a minor quibble in that a mystery present throughout most of the book doesn't seem to be resolved, but the rest of the book was written so well and the events dealt with are so involving that I ended up not minding.
Dumb and Dumber by Thomas Jefferson 20/7/00
Halfway into Frontier Worlds there is a bit where Fitz breaks into the office of his somewhat sinister boss with an envelope of secret plans. There's a fair amount of tension but to accomplish this Fitz has to do at least 20 utterly, painfully stupid things in the space of about 30 pages. At one point, he describes himself as being in a bedroom farce. It makes me so depressed to see this sort of thing being done to characters I like. I'd never thought of Fitz as being particularly stupid before but here he's like a supporting character in a sit-com who has to be virtually brain dead in their thickness for the purposes of a few quick jokes (witness Joey in Friends, Woody in Cheers, Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous, Kelly in Married With Children etc. etc. ad nauseum). I never thought we'd see this sort of lazy writing in a Doctor Who book.
Peter Anghelides fancies himself as a bit of a humourist. He is certainly funny, as anyone who's ever seen the rec.arts.drwho quotefile will attest, but he seems to have a problem with transferring this to his novels. His previous book Kursaal was a bog-standard Doctor Who tale with a few jokes here and there. Frontier Worlds is a bog-standard Doctor Who tale with a companion who seems to have had a lobotomy.
Anghelides seem to have taken the original outline for Fitz -- a bit of a dreamer basically -- and taken it to its ultimate degree. So he wanders around the book in a world of his own, unaware of anything that happens around him and doing things which people only do in sit-coms. A lot of the novel is presented in first person, and it's no surprise that it takes quite a while before its revealed that this narrator is actually Fitz. I'm all for authors referring to the guidelines, but is Fitz meant to be this wacky? If he was like this from The Taint onwards there wouldn't have been a problem (indeed I wish he was more like this -- Jo Grant with an imagination) but for the most part he's been reasonably intelligent.
Apart from that, we must say hello to some familiar friends for those who've been following the BBC Books thus far: utterly stupid copy mistakes ("I almost fell off my chair and really bruised my buns" p. 115), ambition not matched by capability (the first person narrative wanders around all over the place, as Fitz is required by the plot to do alternatively clever and utterly dumb things) and bad plotting. Frontier Worlds is one of the worst in this regard: the book starts off bravely by dumping us in the middle of the action, but the rest of the book seems to be catching up with this innovation. Getting from Plot Point A to Plot Point B with internal logic, credence and occasionally surprising your reader really is a must if you want to be a good Doctor Who writer, and the amount of times Mr. Anghelides fails to do this frustrates what could so easily have been a good read.
Basically, this book is a run around in which our heroes go to places and meet not-very-interesting characters more to fulfil aspects of the simplistic plot than for anything so outrageous as to entertain the reader. There is also a lot of padding, and one can't help wonder exactly how exciting the original synopsis was -- maybe Mr. A got commissioned on the strength of the first couple of chapters, which are very good.
In fact, there's a lot of similarly good writing here, but those who've seen the wit Mr. A is capable of will be left frustrated. Maybe he needs a few pointers from Paul Cornell: that to write a good book you shouldn't just come up with a story that would make an average TV episode and think that wonderfulness will automatically follow. The concept is just as important as the execution.
But, just like my chief memory of Placebo Effect will forever be that barmily misplaced theology discussion, Frontier Worlds will always live in my memory for the hideous Brian Rix interlude in the middle. Peter Anghelides should be the equivalent of Douglas Adams or Dave Stone, but his plotting's atrocious and he just can't deliver the wit to compensate.
A Review by Graeme Burk 31/7/00
Frontier Worlds was the last ongoing Doctor Who story of 1999, the 20th century and indeed the second millennium. I'm not sure how well it befits the last two categories. What I can say is that in terms of the books in 1999, it's a delightful improvement.
1999 must go down as the worst year ever for Doctor Who prose fiction. It started promisingly, with The Face-Eater, a Robert Holmes-esque tale of body horror and well defined characters, and The Taint, which established Fitz Kriener, perhaps the best new companion since Bernice Summerfield was introduced eight years earlier.Then the rot set in. First there were the forgettable books: Demontage and Revolution Man. Then it was the excerable, badly written book: Dominion. And then there were the badly written books which had Big Things To Say About Doctor Who: Unnatural History and Autumn Mist. But this was the rumblings before the storm. Next came the books with Really Big Things To Say About Doctor Who, Life, Intellectual Politics and Everything. The first of these, Interference was good in spite of its leaden examination of these themes. The Blue Angel veered wildly between genius and substandard. And the less said about The Taking of Planet Five, the better, except to say that Robert Smith? is right -- it really is the book that almost destroyed Doctor Who.
The Past Doctors range fared even worse, with nothing other than the delightful Players achieving anything better than 'mildly entertaining'. And they had Deep Blue and Divided Loyalties, which were two of the worst books ever written in any Who-related fiction range. All in all, things were looking pretty bad. It was as if the editor of the range had completely lost interest in the series altogether (Divided Loyalties very existence confirms that this is true) and left to their own devices the authors wanted to out-Miles and out-Magrs each other when they weren't busy indulging themselves.
And then came Frontier Worlds.
Frontier Worlds is by no means a perfect book. It takes only a few risks, but takes them in a calculated fashion, which is to say that most of the time it plays it safe as an action-thriller. Some of the narrative threads are predictable (hands up everyone who guessed what would happen to Alura and what would happen to Fitz as a result?)
But damned if it isn't good. And damned if it doesn't actually resemble Doctor Who a good sight more than just about all of the books published since February 1999.
First and foremost, Frontier Worlds treats the Doctor with respect. He's not in the novel nearly very much (in fact I think he's contracted "New Adventures" sickness since Interference or so, making appearances slightly more than Alfred Hitchcock did in the Three Investigators books of the 1970s). But those scenes he's in, he's unmistakable as a character. We finally, after almost 7 months worth of books where the Doctor is completely impotent and incompetet, get a Doctor who is in control of the situation. Given the opportunity to torture the Doctor as Sempiter does, Lawrence Miles would have him do it repeatedly just to point out that the Doctor is ineffective in real world settings. Blum and Orman would do it only to have a contrived and fluffy restoration scene later in the novel. Paul Leonard would do it just for the sport of it. Peter Anghelides, instead, does something tremendously novel: The Doctor manages to win against the torturer. Oh how shocking! How horribly Trad! some will say. To which I reply: Bollocks. The Doctor is meant to be a larger than life character. He's meant to be a paradox of vulnerable and indefatigable. That's why he's so interesting to readers and viewers. If I didn't want a character take on a big ugly bad guy with wit, humour, strategy, contrived escapology and a bonk on the head, I'd read something other than Doctor Who.
The Doctor positively shines in Frontier Worlds. He is everything the Eighth Doctor should be: Quick witted, physical, funny, sweet, caring, whimsical, working a few steps ahead and a few steps behind simultaneously. It's amazing how present these qualities seem in Anghelides characterisation, so much so that the absence of them in many of 1999's book seem all the more obvious.
Frontier Worlds is the first book where I've had any faith whatsoever in the Fitz/Compassion pairing, or indeed in Compassion herself. Anghelides goes to some real effort to characterise Fitz and restore some of the outsider and pretender qualities that made him so appealing in The Taint and have subseqently been ignored since Demontage. The attempt to pass himself off as "Frank Sinatra" are very amusing, and the first person narration is very effective to get into Fitz's head. But Anghelides is really very clever in how he does it: He starts very shallowly with the "Frank Sinatra" identity in the first person narration, and gradually it's stripped down until we get deeper and deeper into Fitz. And it works brilliantly. I came away from Frontier Worlds with a better sense of Fitz's character than I have in ages. Similarly, Compassion is made to be more than a clone of Star Trek: Voyager's Seven-of-Nine. Using Fitz as an interpreter of her gives us a staggering insight into what Compassion is capable of, and it's shocking what she's actually capable of doing and being.
It is, pure and simple, an action-thriller, and it does what the sub-genre requires to make such a story work: make us empathize with the characters, worry about their predicaments and carry us through a lot of physical action. Anghelides gives us a lot more than that, as evidenced by the aforementioned first person narration device with Fitz, but he does everything else with clear, crisp prose that, a lot of in-jokes aside (the exchange between the Doctor and the robot on page 228 is very droll), isn't written to show how much cleverer than the material the author is. Best of all, Frontier Worlds has an engaging story which is surprisingly ambitious in its scope. There aren't a lot of twists, or "Frank"'s narration aside, metafictive techniques, but it does have a story that is fresh and original. The ongoing story arc features at a few key points, but it's done unobtrusively for the most part.
Now these things may all seem pretty damn simple, but during 1999 it eluded more than half the authors who contributed to the Eighth Doctor range. One hopes that the books for 2000 will take the lead more from Frontier Worlds than from other, perhaps more ambitious but much less satisfying books published this year.
Three For The Price Of One by Robert Thomas 3/9/00
I've got to be honest when this book first came out I took one look at the cover and blurb and thought, 'this isn't for me'. Then along came a poll in a magazine proclaiming it as the best EDA of the year. I purchased the book out of curiosity, looked up the previous reviews and started reading with optimism.
At first I thought it was all a joke nobody had told me about. Be warned the beginning is dreadful, one of the worst starts to a book ever. It centres on The Doctors escape and some bad comedy chapters of Fitz and Compassion infiltrating a business.
It picks up in the middle with a great section when The Doctor finds out what's happening. The Fitz and Compassion chapters improve, but sadly appear least as this the best part of the book. An original technique of The Doctor discovering what happens helps the book greatly.
Towards the end though things rapidly sink to average bearing on mediocre. Fitz and Compassion take centre stage and nearly ball up The Doctor's plan. Don't ask how I'd given up paying attention at this stage. The great Doctor characterisation of the middle section also disappears. At one stage I thought it was a twist of The Doctor being imitated.
So there we have it terrible, great and average in turn, Frontier Worlds feels like three separate books.
There are equally many good points and bad about this book. The good being :-
Ellis, a complete nightmare to work for.
Alura, a figure caught up in circumstances beyond er control.
Raab, a great threat.
The robot, the book needed more of it
The bad :-
The idiots who work for the company including Hannaw ( 'w' where the 'H'
should be? That'll be the future).
Sempiter, nice idea but it didn't work.
I've got to be honest, I would recommend this as there enough aspects to the book to make it enjoyable. But be warned after you laugh you'll soon be cringing.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 5/12/00
There is a lot of good here, truly a wealth of interesting ideas and characterizations. Yet, not unlike the previous adventure, The Taking of Planet 5, something seems missing, something that really leaves me scratching my head saying, "Yeah, it was good, but..". I am unsure of what it is, perhaps after I have read Paul Cornell's Shadows of Avalon, it will all come together (either way, expect some sort of comment or two in that particular review). The story is one that Anghelides has tread before (in his previous 8th Doctor adventure, Kursaal): issues of environmental corruption and abuse, what effect does manipulation of the ecosphere seem to have on the Universe as a whole. Yet, here, it seems to work better than then. Despite my opening criticism, the story is far more interesting, and better executed than his first foray into the WHO-niverse.
Once again, Corporations are cast in a Less-Than-Favorable Light, as caring naught for anything but to be the "King of the Hill", and the fact that it didn't matter how they achieved that goal, even at the expense of whole entire species! Sadly, this isn't that far from the truth, despite the futuristic setting. It was also the way he handled this whole approach that aided in my continued reading, eventually making it to the end.
There wasn't a whole about the story that I could write about, so I feel now would be a good time to bring up his treatment of the Characters, both main and otherwise..
The Doctor: WTF (again)!! I thought I was reading a Virgin 7th Doctor Adventure for a moment..! I mean, here is a Doctor who wants to make amends for some of the Paths he walked in his previous Incarnation, yet here he is taking a sidelines approach, while Compassion and Fitz do all the legwork. I dunno, everyone in the WHO fandom community has seemed to praise this book , yet this seemed to be a complaint by these same fans against Virgin's treatment of the 7th Doctor!
Fitz: This was actually, for me, one of the book's strongest suits, and one of the main reasons I hung on until the end.. Anghelides does an extraordinary job of peeling back the layers of Fitz's sub-conscious in an effort to show how he is dealing with his post-Interference life. There is a lot of hidden angst and confusion, buried deep enough, but seeping through when he is well and truly asleep. One genuinely feels bad for Fitz, for he is caught, wondering whose Memories aided in his Recreation back on Anathema, and how does this version of himself differ from the prior one, if at all. A lot of Inner Doubts, which I am hoping the other writers will pick up and use, perhaps allowing Fitz to overcome them, growing further during his TARDIS journeys..
Compassion: You know, it's funny, but everyone I know (or read) bitched and moaned about Sam Jones, saying that she was a 2nd-Rate Ace, that she had no development as a Companion, yadda-yadda-yadda.. Yet, we have here a character who is just a bland, crank-ass b*tch, who really doesn't fit in with either this Incarnation of the Doctor or any of his previous Selves! I haven't really read any of the reviews after this one, so I have only a vague idea as to what is to become of Compassion.. I dunno -- to me, it seems as if the EDA line of books is running out of steam, a view that I began to develop after reading The Taking of Planet 5. More on this as I finalize my opinion..
The Villains: I'm sorry, but despite their..well, villainy.. they weren't much more memorable than the Villain-Of-The-Week, back on the TV series, Airwolf. Basically, Corporate People are all interchangeable, Money and Profit are their sole concerns, and Damn anyone who gets in their way -- these are the impressions to be gleened from this adventure. Need I say more?
As for Final Comments.. Is it worth seeking out? I dunno, I guess, about as much as any of the current EDAs. For me, the one positive remark I can make about this book is its portrayal of Fitz, as he comes to terms with his post-Father Kreiner persona, is worth it, as the poor fellow has quite a lot on his plate, and I hope the current books deal with it! 'Nuff said. Oh, be sure to check back as next up is my review of Paul Cornell's foray into the EDAs, The Shadows of Avalon Cheers..!
Frontier Worlds presents temporary relief for Insomnia by Eva Palmerton 14/5/01
It took me far too long to plod my way through this book. I really wanted to like it. It just didn't quite work for me. I was happy with the plot and overall storyline. It just took forever to actually get into the story. All the answers are revealed far too quickly. The first few chapters set everything up, then nothing exciting happens until Chapter 15! Thankfully, I can say that from that point on it was considerably harder to put the book down.
I thought the characterisation was very good for Fitz and Compassion. The interactions between them were very well written, and allowed me to really get a much better grasp on their personalities. The Doctor was also well done. The villains are quite convincing, but I had some issues with Ellis. Supposedly, splicing in Raab DNA results in accentuation of one strong character trait. This was well demonstrated with Sempiter, Dewfurth and Mozarno... but what trait was I supposed to be seeing accentuated for Ellis? I never could quite figure it out. Oh, and the Reddenblak agents just seemed like throwaway characters...
Throughout the book, I never could get a clear mental image of most of the characters and surroundings. Descriptive prose was not a strong point at all. Although for some bits, I think I'm glad of this. I've never been overly fond of blood and gore or human waste. But I do like to be able to picture what's happening, which was difficult except in a few places. Anghelides uses very broad brushstrokes in his writing. All the details go into the personalities of the people, while the physical detail of the people and scenery is a bit like a fuzzy photograph. Even the major science in the book is described in the broadest possible terms.
Anghelides was also a bit overly ambitious with his point of view changes. I don't mind switching between third person storytelling and first person narration. However, I was a bit annoyed with the random two and a half pages at the start of chapter 7 where there's an odd first person narration about the author being a passenger on the same transport with Fitz and worrying that he would miss the connecting transport - then suddenly we're back to first person narration from Fitz's point of view! Why was that bit even there?! I may have been able to excuse it if there had been some point to it, but it really served no purpose. Also, well into the novel when the Doctor rejoins the companions in the Darkling field, the first person Fitz narration that had been referring to the Doctor in the third person throughout the book suddenly changed to refer to him in the second person - as if Fitz had been telling his story *to* the Doctor the whole time! I'm sorry, but that just didn't work at all for me. I have to say that I enjoyed the present tense dream sequences involving the cosmic dance imagery. Those worked really well to conjure some beautiful mental pictures. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of them before the Doctor woke up. It just seems that point of view experiments may best left in the short story realm... or should at least be limited to only 2-3 distinct points of view in any given novel.
I really loved the whole Sinatra gag. That's essentially why I decided to actually keep going when the book slowed down so much early on. But I seriously disliked all the toilet humour. Some of it made sense considering the job Fitz was doing, but the Ellis fart jokes got old fast. And reusing the same one-liner is never a good plan. "The email of the species..." thing was only vaguely funny the first time. Using it as a plot device was just painful!
This isn't the worst book I've ever read by any means, but I can't say it was better than average.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 23/9/01
Frontier Worlds is one of the most entertaining EDAs that I've read. It's a fairly standard runaround with a relatively unambitious plot, but it's so well written that we can forgive it that. The characters and their adventures are built up very convincingly, making this book feel above the average output of the BBC line.
This is the first book in which Compassion reads more like a companion than a grumpy, faceless, arc-related plot-device. Fitz also comes across quite well, and the adventures of the two companions separated from the Doctor make for very worthwhile reading. Peter Anghelides has really brought to life two companions who had started to slip into blandness in the preceding books. Their interaction suddenly made the two of them appear like real people, rather than just generic characters hanging out inside the TARDIS. Telling much of the story from Fitz's point of view raised the book from a fairly standard runaround to an interesting story told with a lot of wit.
The Doctor is not present for a significant portion of the adventure, though the scenes he is present for are rather enjoyable. For once, he seems mostly in charge and actually appears to know what's going on around him. This is such a refreshing change after so many of the previous books in which the Doctor is removed from the plot (sometimes by other characters, sometimes by the author) and contributes almost nothing to the story. Although Fitz and Compassion get more on-screen time, the lack of active involvement by the Doctor doesn't diminish the appearances that he does have. He's charming, witty, easily distracted, intelligent and resourceful - everything that the Eighth Doctor has the potential to be.
A lot of what I have praised the book for sounds rather simplistic. It's the execution of these simple ideas that makes the book as delightful as it is. It doesn't shake up the Doctor Who world beyond all recognition, but it is a very fun book that tells an entertaining tale. It's a simple story, but it feels fresh and new. Recommended.
A Review by Brett Walther 26/4/04
I've always had a soft spot for Doctor Who stories in which our time travelling heroes "go native" upon landing somewhere. Where they've got to actually adopt a life and identity in a specific time and place, as a result of either a TARDIS malfunction or some secret mission, as is the case in Frontier Worlds.
Focusing on the slice of life that Fitz and Compassion have created for themselves on the planet Drebnar allows for a depth of characterization that other, larger-scale adventures are often lacking. Here, they're brother and sister office workers at the Frontier Worlds Corporation who share a dingy apartment and have to take public transit into work every day. The office setting in which they work isn't too far removed from the workplaces you and I are familiar with. There's a revolting, hygienically challenged supervisor, an organizational hierarchy that reflects itself in the archictecture of the building (management on the top floor, naturally), terrible canteen coffee, and workplace relationships that run the gamut from the bitchy PA who only calls you when she wants to whine about her personal life to the security guard who wants you to put in a good word for him with your sister.
This may be the future, and it may be light years from Earth, but it works in Frontier Worlds' favour that it's in no way alien. In the early parts, in fact, it reads remarkably like an Are You Being Served-ish workplace comedy, all disgruntled front-line workers being bossed around by revolting management figures.
As one of the lowly staff himself, Fitz's first-person narration throughout much of the book helps things to no end. He's as charming and fallible as ever, but he's rarely been as endearing and as he is here. He gets a heartbreaking doomed romance while under cover, is forced to rely on Compassion as she hacks their way through a jungle with a machete, and, in one of the scariest moments in the book, watches in horror from inside a wardrobe as an apparently normal man suddenly sheds his skin. He also gets to show off what a softie he really is when he and Compassion face the moral dilemma of destroying the inhabitants of a cruel animal testing lab.
Unfortunately, this is all window dressing to a rather dull plot about two corporations vying for dominance in food production for a planetary system of colonists. The Doctor's admission in the end that by assisting one of the corporations get a leg up over the other may not have succeeded in making things better merely points out the story's deficiencies. It also highlights the Doctor's rather ambiguous reasons for getting so heavily involved in things on Drebnar in the first place. You'd think by the James Bond antics and espionage that the fate of the universe was at stake. Nah, it's just big business battling it out.
And I can't have been the only one who felt let-down that Frontier Worlds didn't seize the opportunity to resurrect any of Doctor Who's perhaps surprisingly decent vegetal foes (Krynoids, Vargas, etc.). Sure, there are human/plant hybrids aplenty, and a gigantic bean sprout the size of a mountain, but deep down, I was hoping the Vervoids would make a return appearance.
Alas, no... And Frontier Worlds is relegated to the growing pile of "the instantly forgettable".
A Review by Steve White 25/1/15
I quite enjoyed Peter Anghelides previous Eighth Doctor adventure, Kursaal, despite the plot going off the boil a bit around the halfway mark, so I was hopeful he'd manage to craft a more lasting story this time around.
The TARDIS crew are drawn to Drebnar by a signal and, upon arrival, the Doctor sends Fitz and Compassion to do some undercover work within Frontier Words Ltd, whilst he himself does some digging of his own. It soon transpires that Frontier Worlds are using an alien plant to alter genetics and must be stopped.
The Doctor is a little off in honesty and reads very much like the 3rd. I like this style of Doctor but it's an Eighth Doctor novel. To compound matters, he then goes missing for a huge chunk of the middle of the novel for absolutely no reason at all. This means that, for the most part, Frontier Worlds is truly a Fitz and Compassion novel. Both are well written, with the undercover sub-plot being very interesting to read and offering a much-needed glimpse into Compassion's psyche. Fitz is still as lovable as ever, more interested in shagging than doing any real work, either for Frontier Worlds or the Doctor, but, when push comes to shove, he is there for him, albeit next to useless a lot of the time.
Anghelides has created a vivid world with Drebnar and filled it full of interesting characters. The Frontier Worlds founders are all as corrupt as they come and have prolonged their life using the alien plant to often disastrous effect. Sempitar comes off the worst, losing his sense of morality and is quite happy to extinguish life in the whole solar system just so he can make money. It's not true villainy to start with, and you do feel compassionate to him at times as the alien plant begins to take over.
Frontier Worlds is miles ahead of Kursaal but still isn't quite as good as it could have been. The story and the characterization of everyone but the Doctor is excellent, but it does drag in some places and you can't help think it could have been a good 40 pages shorter and suffer little ill effect for it.