Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Frontier In Space"

Written by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Paul Bernard

Dalek: “Do not fail the Daleks.”
The Master: “Right. We’ll see who rules the galaxy when this is over. ‘Do not fail the Daleks’ indeed. You stupid tin boxes.”

And the award for snarkiest line goes to The Master and his less than impressed stance with his latest collaborators. You’d think that after failed alliances with the Autons and the Axons that The Master would leave off teaming up with other alien races that would happily wipe him out in seconds. Apparently he doesn’t learn.

Still while The Master may be reckless, it’s because of his mad scheme that we are rewarded with one of the best stories from the Third Doctor era of the series. The Master’s known for stirring it but this time around, he more than excelled himself.

I could’ve conjectured plenty of things when it was revealed that the increased hostilities between the Earth people and the Draconians was down to The Master and the Ogrons. Having two powerful races wipe each other out would’ve certainly given him an opportunity to take over the universe.

Only this time around, he’s doing it so that the Daleks can have the honour of ruling the universe. I must say that their reveal in the last episode of the story is a genius stroke. It’s especially effective when The Doctor landed on the Ogrons world with the Draconian Prince and General Williams and was reunited with his two most lethal enemies. As tricks go, this is one of the best that The Master has ever pulled.

But what could’ve lead to this meeting of devious minds? Perhaps The Master sought out the Daleks but more than likely it was the other way around. Given how increasingly privy the Daleks have become of The Doctor’s antics, it would make sense to use The Master to do the majority of their dirty work. Plus The Master would also have his own ideas as well.

He clearly didn’t like being under Dalek control, in spite of his attempts to be pleasant with them. I also think that realistically he also knew that he didn’t stand much of a chance in wiping them out, so co-operation was always what he was going to have to do in order to get by.

The first hour of this story is devoid of The Master but even then, there’s no dragging. Nope, the set up is rather beautiful in its little simplicities. The Doctor and Jo landed on a ship, hypnosis made the Earth crew think they were Draconians and when the effects wore off, they were charged with being spies for the Draconians and vice versa when The Doctor was briefly captured by the Draconians.

In fact for this hour, The Doctor and Jo spent most of their time being locked up, interrogated, abducted and disbelieved. Actually this happened pretty throughout the entire story but for some odd reason, it never really bogged down proceedings. There was almost a weird element of playfulness with the perilous situations that The Doctor and Jo were going to and from.

With The Doctor, he got to show how simple it was to destroy a mind probe. Apparently filling it with nonsense is one method and telling the truth is another. Even when he was sent to a prison on the Moon, he was pestering fellow prisoner, Professor Dale on an escape. When one came up, it nearly killed the both of them. This was one of the few times in which The Master actually saved The Doctor’s bacon.

Of course by rescuing The Doctor, The Master then ended up being his captor and even then, The Doctor was able to give him the slip long to try and get to the airlock. Even talking nonsense can fool The Master. Well that and of course, Jo Grant.

Without a doubt this was one of the best stories for Katy Manning hands down. While she didn’t get to have fun with fooling a mind probe, she talked long and hard enough to herself in order to buy The Doctor enough time to escape from The Master. Then there was her getting captured by the villainous Time Lord again.

The best scene out of this entire story was the one where The Master attempted to hypnotise Jo and he failed, simply because she filled her head with nonsense. Even his little fear machine wasn’t enough to deter her. Jo Grant, you really have come leaps and bounds, haven’t you? Though The Master did trick her into getting The Doctor to land on the Ogrons home world at the wrong time. Still can’t win them all.

As many people know, this story was Roger Delgado’s last as The Master as the actor died tragically after it was made. As a final story to his Master, it may not have a satisfactory conclusion but it encompassed everything brilliant about the actor’s take on the villainous Time Lord.

The Master is pretty happy to put The Doctor through the ringer but he won’t let his old friend get marooned on a Moon prison nor will he allow the Daleks to exterminate him on the spot. I think it’s because of things like this that make The Master far more complex an adversary compared to the Daleks.

The Daleks appearance are brief in this story and they’re interesting but it’s The master who dominated the four out of six episodes he appeared in and his rapport with The Doctor and Jo certainly provided some of the best moments. The scene where he blithely suggested to the Draconian Emperor that he dedicated his life to law and order made me chuckle before using an Ogron attack to escape.

The inter-galactic politics between Earth and Draconia were also handled well. Sure, you had the likes of General Williams and the Draconian Prince both gunning for bloodshed but at least the Madam President and the Draconian Emperor showed reticence in wanting to strike the other first. And this was during the lengthy time it took both of them to actually realise that The Doctor and Jo were telling the truth.

The end of this serial is probably the strangest one of the bunch. The Daleks disappeared as quickly as they left, the Ogrons are gone, The Master gets to shoot The Doctor and Jo was the one who had to drag her mentor back into his TARDIS. It’s definitely a cliff hanger alright and a pretty good one at that. Honestly there’s too much to enjoy with this story for me to raise any real criticisms.

Also in “Frontier In Space”

This story is continued (sort of) with the next one, “Planet Of The Daleks”. Sadly no Master in that one.

Jo (re TARDIS): “Well, I’m never going in that thing again.”
The Doctor: “Oh, come on, Jo, be reasonable.”
Jo: “Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space.”

When Jo was affected by The Master’s fear box, she saw a Drashig and a Sea Devil as well as a mutant.

The Doctor: “That’s funny. The Ogrons have repaired the airlock.”
Jo: “That was nice of them.”
The Doctor: “If they hadn’t, we’d been done for.”

The Doctor (to Jo): “It’s a pity the Ogrons didn’t succeed in kidnapping us. Perhaps we should’ve been more helpful.”

I quite enjoyed the Ogrons in this story. I also noticed that the ones of the Ogrons was kind to Jo, probably the one that The Doctor briefly had captive.

Jo: “And why are you taking us with you?”
The Master: “Oh need you ask. How could I leave two dear friends in such dire straits?”

The Master: “In reminiscent mood are you Doctor? Poor Miss Grant, you have my deepest sympathy.”

The Master’s choice in reading material was HG Wells, “The War Of The Worlds”, which was an excellent choice for the story.

The Master: “Thank you Miss Grant, we’ll let you know. Where’s The Doctor?”

The Master: “How well you know me, Doctor. Now come on, smarten yourselves up. We want to look our best for a royal audience you know.”

Jo talked a lot about her insecurities and the downside of working with UNIT while The Doctor mentioned his forced regeneration from “The War Games”, also written by Malcolm Hulke.

Draconian Prince: “Emperors have been deposed before now.”
Draconian Emperor: “An emperor who does not rule deposes himself.”

The Master (to Draconian Emperor): “I too welcome your decision your majesty. Nobody could be more devoted to the cause of peace than I. As a commissioner of Earth’s interplanetary police, I have devoted my life to the cause of law and order and law and order can only exist in a time of peace.”
The Doctor: “Are you feeling alright, old chap?”

One of the extras on the DVD set is a wonderful profile on actor Roger Delgado, who prior to The Master had build up a comprehensive CV of comedic and villainous roles.

Jo (to Draconian): “I know, I know women aren’t allowed to speak. You know I think it’s about time that Women’s Lib was brought to Draconia.”

The Master: “Congratulations my dear. I seemed to have failed again.”
Jo: “Yes, you do, don’t you? Never mind, you can’t win them all.”

The original title for this story was going to be “Frontiers In Space”, so not much of a difference to what actually became the title for this story.

Dalek: “You will obey the Daleks.”
The Master (re The Doctor): “You know as well as I do that this man does not fear death. I want him to suffer a much worse punishment.”

The Master: “Going somewhere, Doctor?”
The Doctor: “You know you really are incredibly persistent, aren’t you?”

This came out on DVD in October 2009, along with “Planet Of The Daleks”. There’s a commentary by Katy Manning, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts, the latter who sadly passed away shortly after the release of this box set.

It might not be a story that reaches top twenty lists or anything but “Frontier In Space” just flies by in its six episodes. No pointless padding, just wall to wall excellence and some wonderful twists and turns though it is Roger Delgado’s Master who really does steal the show in such a beguiling way.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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