Frontier In Space is a cracking yarn. The story is straight forward – two mighty empires – Earth and Draconia – are pushed to the edge of war by the Master who is using a hypnotic device to convince each side they are being attacked by the other when, in reality, they are being attacked by Ogron assault troops controlled by the Master. Dropped into the middle of this the Third Doctor and Jo try to convince each side what is going on, whilst trying to stop the Master – but he has secret allies, and they’re heading his way…
Nothing in this story should work. The action is mostly off screen, the model work is a bit ropey and the story consists of constantly locking up the Doctor and Jo for episodes at a time. However, it’s a testiment to Malcolm Hulke’s script that the narrative pulls the viewer along with gusto. The dialogue is, with the exception of a couple of clunkers, very good,the characters well developed and Jon Pertwee, who at first seems to have phoned in the performance, proves what a laid back and fabulous Doctor he was with some wonderful one liners and a sparkling relationship with a feisty and resourceful Jo Grant. His attempt to escape from Jail No. One – only to be foiled by an approaching guard – is met with a “Oh, how very embarrassing!”. Wonderful!
Although the model work is what you’d expect from 1973, it somehow managed to create a suspension of belief – probably due to the cast playing it absolutely straight – and even a space battle worthy of Battlestar Galactica feels real as the Master attacks an approaching Earth ship. And there is some very good space walking too. Much better than some ten years later.
The triumph though, is the design of the Draconians. Why these aliens haven’t returned to Doctor Who is a mystery. A rich, diverse and realistic culture, they are fabulously brought to life by some wonderful prosthetics, which rival anything done today. A tour de force.
And of course no mention of Frontier In Space would be complete without a mention of Roger Delgado’s final performance as the Master. A bit of a incongruous ending for this incarnation – due to the tragic death of the actor soon after – it’s a real shame he didn’t get a proper send off. However, in this story he’s witty, cool, charming and utterly spinechilling. He talks to the Dctor and Jo as friends, and indeed saves their life occasionally, but has no compunction when throwing Jo into an airlock, or disengaging a ship that’s still attached to an open airlock of another. Genius, from start to finish.
There extras too are fantastic in this boxset. A rather odd, but interesting, pseudo-documentary/fiction discussing the socio-political influences of the serial featuring real interviews, fictional ones from futuristic characters and a narrative, is a weird mix, but fun, and very interesting, and a documentary about Roger Delgado is fitting and very, very touching. Add to that a lively commentary featuring Clayton Hickman refereeing old hands Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, abley assisted by Katy Manning lying her head off, and it makes for an entertaining and infortmative commentary. All in all, well worth the money on its own. However, we also get…
…Planet of the Daleks. In this story, an injured Doctor sends a message to the Time Lords who send him and Jo to Spirridon, an inhospitable, jungle planet with an ice core, where a Dalek army is experimenting with invisibility and a couple of Thal assault teams are trying to stop them.
This is typical Terry Nation fare, but it’s not bad for it. Nation uses high concepts drive a thin plot, but, hell, he’s Terry Nation! There’s a lot packed into the six episodes, but, like Frontier In Space, one wonders how much better it could have been with todays brutal editing. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it. The characters are given time to breath, are well drawn and have proper motives. The Daleks too have a typically bonkers and grand ambition, and Jon and Katy sail through with chemistry and aplomb. Episode three, recently recoloured by the restoration team, fits in seemlessly. It really is a wonderful job.
This story has been derided in the past, but I urge people to watch it with an open mind. There is much to recommend it.
The extras too are extensive and fun, with another crazy fiction/fact documentary and a great piece on the recolouring of Episode Three. My favourite though was a hystercially funny collection of Blue Peter articles featuring friend of Skaro Peter Purves, on the trail for two Dalek props that someone had nicked from outside Studio Eight. With a twinkle in his eye, Peter turns roving reporter, aksing a policeman, a witness and a small boy on the where abouts of these Daleks, and, when they are recovered, in earnest, reports on their discovery. The ending, with Peter, John Noakes and Lesley Judd trying to push John Scott Martin up a ramp into a transit van is cryingly funny.
The commentary this time, mistakingly in my opinion, drops Clay for Katy, Barry and Terrance to be accompanied by Prentice Hancock and Tim Preece and, although again it’s a lively and informative discussion (including Terrance being a little unkind to the new series…) it seems to lack the structure of the first.
All in all this is a wonderful boxset with plenty to recommend it.