Sunday, 8 May 2022

Doctor Who - Frontier In Space

Master Plan

Doctor Who -
Frontier In Space

UK Air date: February - March 1973
Six Episodes
BBC Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Slight spoilers.

So Frontier In Space is the third story of the tenth series of Doctor Who, as reissued in the nice Blu Ray set of that season from the BBC. I was five years old when this story aired but I only seem to have hazy recollections of this one. Whereas, the next two stories in the box, I have a lot of childhood memories of terror. Looking back on it now, though, I have to say that it’s easily one of the best of the John Pertwee Doctor Who stories I’ve seen.

This one’s a six parter and involves The Doctor and Jo Grant (played by the always brilliant Katy Manning) getting involved with a cold war climate powder keg in the far future between the people of Earth and the people of Draconia (who are kind of a short hand version of ancient Japanese style lizard people, in terms of their manner and codes). The TARDIS is taken away from our two heroes more or less from the start of the tale and the majority of the first three episodes sees them being imprisoned by various people and spending a lot of time in jail cells, as the plot moves along without them in some areas. It sounds boring and padded but, well okay it possibly is padded but it’s nothing short of interesting and exciting since, you know there’s going to be some jail break or other set piece in each episode.

The plot is kickstarted by an outside party committing hostile acts of space piracy on the two species and using a sound based, hallucinogenic gadget to make the victims believe they are seeing the other race, humans or Draconians, committing these crimes, in order to start an intergalactic war. Fairly soon it turns out that the actual people committing these acts are the Ogrons, a race of quite dumb mercenaries for hire which were on a lot of merchandising such as jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid but were only actually in two stories in the Pertwee era (I’m not counting their cameo in Carnival Of Monsters, reviewed here and nor am I counting the 1990s Eastenders charity crossover, Dimensions In Time). The Ogrons, of course, are being directed by a higher power and it soon becomes evident that this is a master plan of... um... The Master, kind of. In the last episode it is revealed that he is working (although he plans to double cross them) with the Daleks, who only turn up in that final episode.

The story is absolutely superb and it has a great script. Katy Manning’s always watchable Jo Grant is given more to do here and there’s a wonderful scene where she is holding up a very long, one sided conversation with The Doctor to hide the fact from a security camera that he’s already escaped the cell... demonstrating that Jo Grant can talk the hind legs off a donkey with ease when she has to.

The Master is, once again, played absolutely brilliantly by Roger Delgado (aka Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto) who, alas, died quite violently while shooting a television show in Turkey when the car he and two other crewmen were in plunged into a ravine, just a few months after Frontier In Space aired on television. It was a real loss and I think it’s probably why Jon Pertwee opted to leave the show a year later. Delgado’s last scene in this story is of him shooting The Doctor down, before Jo helps the wounded Doctor into the TARDIS at the end of the last episode. The Master would not return again until he was pictured as a kind of melted looking monster in the Tom Baker story The Deadly Assassin in 1976. He’s been played a few times by different actors since then and, in at least two of the incarnations of this time lord, the actors have somewhat resembled the look of Delgado in the role.

The special effects in this one aren’t great as the story calls for things like space walks and so on but, it never really bothered us as kids. Even then, I’m sure, we could see those big cables holding the actors up but, you know, how else do you tell a story like this on a TV budget in the early 1970s. I look on them now as a kind of comforting presence in these things and count myself lucky that, unlike some other films and shows put out in high definition, the copyright owners haven’t tried to tart up the special effects and turn them into something they never were (although they have in some of these Blu Ray sets, it’s true.... but there's always the option to watch the original version). I like that the cell holding the prisoners here wobbles when they bash it and stuff like this should always be left in. It’s not just entertainment... it’s art and, as importantly, a historical document of its time. So leave it alone is always my view on the decision to intervene too much with modern technology.

The Target novelisation of the story, always a big winner with kids... I guess they were the Harry Potter novels of their day to some extent, when it came to promoting children’s reading... was one of the few of their adaptations not to use the name of the story for the book title. Instead of going on the shelves as Frontier In Space, the book version was called Doctor Who And The Space War. I probably enjoyed this one along with all the others... I certainly had a copy of this shelved with around 60 others at one point, I’m sure.

The next story in the series and on this Blu Ray set is Planet Of The Daleks, which I assume follows on directly from this story. I only remember a few things from it which haunted my nightmares but I also remember being disappointed with it when I watched this one again on a VHS tape in the late 1980s so... yeah, we’ll see how that one goes. Frontier In Space, though, is an absolute corker of a story and probably, it turns out and much to my surprise, the real jewel in the crown of this boxed set.

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