Frontier in Space
|(Doctor Who Story No. 67, starring Jon Pertwee)
- written by Malcolm Hulke
- directed by Paul Bernard
- produced by Barry Letts
- music by Dudley Simpson
- 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: An air of distrust has brewed up between
the galactic empires of Earth and Draconia, fueled by
violence and accusations of piracy, and the Doctor and Jo
find themselves caught in the middle. Who really stands
to benefit if war were to break out? And what is behind
the strange hypnotic sound experienced by the pirate victims?
DVD Extras include:
- Audio commentary by Katy Manning (Jo Grant),
producer Barry Letts,
and script editor Terrance Dicks.
Moderated by Clayton Hickman.
- "The Space War" making-of featurette (18 min.) with Manning,
Vera Fusek (President of Earth),
Michael Hawkins (General Williams), and
visual effects designers John Friedlander and
- "Roger Delgado: The Master" biography featurette (32 min.)
- "Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier" featurette (30 min.)
- Featurette on the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in comics (16 min.)
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- Photo Gallery
- bundled with "Planet of the Daleks" (the next story).
In-Depth Analysis Review
by Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for
those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers,
read the Buyers' Guide version instead.
In concept, this story has a huge load of selling points going for it.
It's got a pro-peace sociological message struggling through a highly
conspiracy, it's got the Draconians, the Ogrons, the Master, and the
Daleks, it is set all across the galaxy from the Earth and Moon
to Draconia and the Ogron planet on the far side of the Frontier,
and it's billed as the first half of a disguised, modernized
Dalek Masterplan (see story no. 21).
And so, the audience's anticipation is huge, and remains huge all
throughout a first viewing/reading of the story. BUT.... (and this
but is bigger than ever), from scripting to directing to music and
effects and heavy post-production fixes, "Frontier in Space" does
not deliver well, becoming in my opinion one of the lowest quality
and slowest-paced stories in the entire Jon Pertwee era. This view may
be an upset against the opinions of many other fans who love this space
opera crusade for peace, truth, and justice from the noble,
societally-conscious pen of well-meaning Malcolm Hulke, but the gulf,
between what the story desperately wants to be and what it actually is,
is too wide to be ignored.
By far the biggest design flaw in the writing of this story
is that, no matter where in the galaxy the story takes us, it finds a
jail cell from within which to tell itself. The excitement of the
characters and the conspiracy is rapidly eaten away by the persistence
of the capture and escape routines that occupy a bulk of the screen
time. But Hulke's trademark flaws are also in full swing: even with all
the effort to make the characters individual in their beliefs and
motivations, they are all unbelievably excruciatingly bad listeners,
and many times the Doctor pathetically gives up even trying to explain
himself to the characters of the outside world, and has a nice little
faithless "they'd never believe us" chat with Jo in some cell somewhere.
The Draconian race fulfills for this particular script Hulke's
need to include reptiles in all that he writes solo. Everyone seems
to love the Draconians, and with good reason. The
combination of costume, mask, and make-up is extremely effective, and
in comparison with regular Earth people, the Draconians are different
and equal, and kind of cool at that. They're almost a template for
the modern Klingon, only less brutal. But I have never heard praise
for any individual Draconian characters. Like their Earthling
counterparts, they rather blandly dig their heels into their
prejudices and drag the plot out with overdrawn arguments that make
little progress. Of course progress must be made eventually, and for
this Hulke has created a misunderstood incident which comes off as an
unbelievable thin motivation to support all of General Williams'
hostility. If it can be rectified so easily by a simple conversation,
one has to wonder why that conversation hadn't happened right after
diplomatic relations re-opened!
In the end, this all adds up to an extremely slow pace in the
final script: a parade of moronic characters who aren't very interesting
and get nowhere when they talk to each other, plus lots of marching to
and from jail cells, sitting in jail cells, escaping from jail cells to
get recaptured, and then more tiring fruitless arguments. The
conspiracy angle is not spot on in this one. The Earthlings and
Draconians are insufferably ignorant, but as such, taking the Doctor
and Jo prisoner is logical for them as they are diplomatically
civilized. It is not logical for the Master, the Ogrons, or the Daleks,
because permanently shutting up any potential leaks to keep their
masterplan secret should be their priority, but of course it is not
permitted for them to knock off the main character of the TV show.
For this reason, the Doctor and Jo would be put to better use
freely investigating the behind-the-scenes plot while the Master
and the Ogrons erase their leads and informants. Malcolm Hulke
in particular is usually far better at writing this dynamic, but he
doesn't get it remotely right this time. The Doctor and Jo should also
be using the TARDIS to go anywhere in the galaxy that a clue should
lead them, just as they might use Bessie to travel all over England
in a UNIT story, but for this story the TARDIS too is stuck in the
"Marco Polo"-style capture-and-escape plot mistake (see story no. 4).
No, we're doing
spacecraft for vehicles of choice this story, and the production team
somehow believe that spacecraft are so interesting and sci-fi that
this already slow story can still afford to stop periodically to
allow someone to slowly wander about outside the spacecraft.
Not this time, for Dudley Simpson, Paul Bernard, and the film/video
editors can't manage to make such sequences interesting or well-paced.
The spacecraft models are also quite a letdown, even if they were
created from Gerry Anderson's usually excellent leftovers, because
the script pivots on the idea that the spacecraft are clearly,
recognizably different from each other along racial lines, and the
model maker has fashioned them all to be essentially shaped like
one boring long tube. Only the Master's stolen police ship seems
to be recognizably different, and even that's not by much.
The story does have its share of plusses. The idea of two
empires mistakenly blaming each other for the actions of a
calculating third party is actually a good intriguing idea,
capable of sustaining about an episode and a half single-handed.
Add a mind-altering sound technology to be discovered, explored,
and defeated, and it may give you two good episodes. It just doesn't
work if you stretch it out to five and a half episodes, and have
no other quality plot elements working along side it.
Master of Acting
Things do get better when the Master arrives on the scene, not
because the plot or the pace picks up at all (it in fact slows down
some in my opinion), but because Roger Delgado is the one actor
inspired enough and talented enough to put a really enjoyable
performance into this production. Jo Grant's character has been
written to continue her recent trend of being far more clever
and capable than in her season eight and nine antics, best evidenced
by her overcoming most of the challenges that the Master throws at her
alone on the Ogron planet, and it is in her scenes opposite Delgado
that Katy Manning seems to shine as an actress. Most of her other
scenes are typically average Jo, good but prone to be a bit flippy,
with extra ham on the screaming bits. Jon Pertwee seems largely bored
with this story, perhaps with good reason, but this is dangerous since
it will encourage the same in the audience.
Even though supplied with an inferior script, director Paul
Bernard himself seems to have let many elements slump, particularly
the timing and pacing of the story. Too much time is given to captivity
and moving to and from captivity, whereas more could be spent on
planning and executing better action sequences (in the video studios
if money for outdoor film is tight), and on getting the Doctor's
dialogue scenes in the out-of-jail world to display juicy, dramatic
acting performances that are worth savouring on screen a little longer.
This might have made the adjusted episode endings more justified;
as it stands I think they are more the result of poor pace planning.
Plus Bernard went on the cheap with regards to a visual TARDIS
materialization, eating into his visual literacy marks. Even worse,
he neglects to show any
open space on the other side of the airlock door in
episode five. Without any dialogue either to prepare the audience,
the whole sequence of the Doctor and the Draconian Prince trying
to close the airlock is very confusing until it is all over.
And as far as the bright orange inflatable raft monster on the Ogron
planet goes, what were its designers thinking in the first place?
The new music in this story lacks emotional teeth, both in
composition and instrumentation. The only really good bits are the
ones that Dudley Simpson composed way back in season eight. The new
version of the Master's sting used on his entrance in the story works
more on humorous lines than suspense or threat, while the version of
the hypnosis track from
"The Mind of Evil" (story no. 56)
is perfect backing the
Master's attempt to control Jo, neatly and nostalgically reminding
viewers of Jo's past experiences and helping to highlight how far
she's come since. Considering the transitional style of much of
this story's footage, one would have thought that Simpson could
step up and help fill the emotional gaps, as he did so excellently in
"The Ambassadors of Death" (story no. 53),
but the job is either
not attempted or poorly done here. There seems to be an overall
theme for the story or the Earth forces, but it sounds irritating
and doesn't really work.
"Frontier in Space" Episode One (1:46) and
"Hypnosis Music" (0:36) are available on:
"Frontier in Space" Episodes One & Two (5:37) and
"Hypnosis Music" (0:36) were released on:
||Audio CD -
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)
Illusions of Progress
Episode five begins a breath of fresh air for the story,
as the Doctor manages to stay out of obvious captivity for
more than five minutes at a time, and actually makes some
progress resolving the main misunderstanding at hand. Unfortunately,
the progress is short lived, because episode six is mostly dead
in the water all over again. With so much at stake on the galactic
stage, and with Hulke having knocked his protagonists back to square
one so often, there is a lot of good stuff needing to be taken care
of. But what conflicts do we spend our screen time combatting? The
Doctor farts around floating outside the spacecraft, then worrying
about the repair he did there -> all way off topic. Jo and the Master
do yet another overcomplicated captivity number just to bring the
Doctor to the scene, which is really unnecessary since he's coming
anyway. The action should be at its most serious on the planet's
surface, yet it remains silly and is probably the most boring
location footage in the entire Jon Pertwee era. You can still do
exploration in the final episode of a Doctor Who, but I think
exploration at a leisurely pace won't work well after the midpoint
of a story, particularly if the Doctor's party and the audience
already have all the answers to all the questions so far posed
by the narrative.
The Daleks are a complete surprise to the plain, unhyped narrative,
and a completely lame one under Bernard's direction. They simply
show up while the Master taunts and laughs. A good shootout
should ensue, but the Earth soldiers simply keel over in a negative
image, without any footage of any person or creature firing a weapon.
Visually illiterate, on top of the lame lacking of visual laser effects
or an emotionally energetic action sequence, and it's all over in half
a second. So much film wasted in the quarry on idle wandering,
and then nothing for the Daleks' only action scene in the story?
Unforgivable. No wonder Jon Pertwee is bored asleep with the Daleks.
So the Daleks arrive, unbelievably become completely satisfied with
locking the Doctor and the galactic leaders in a cage, and then promptly
leave again. What the hell did they even bother showing up for?
Unresolved and Unlinked
Episode Six conflict remains as poor as a pauper, as our
protagonists are confronted with the overused escape from jail
problem for the millionth time in one story. The solution is
unique this time around, and is the only remotely entertaining
scene of the story's conclusion. Jon Pertwee turns the tables
on the recurring mental deception of the story, and becomes a
high ranking Dalek for half a minute, albeit a particularly
bored and uncharacteristically automaton one, when an angry
and threatening Dalek would be more of what was required.
Turning the tables brings a much needed satisfaction to the
story on the emotional level, but on the philosophical, it is
kind of sad to see Hulke saying that deception works and
honesty fails, and lowering his protagonists to the moral
level of the villains.
Worst of all, one stupid capture and escape routine is
all that is accomplished by the Doctor's party in episode
six, and Jo gets the credit for providing her "rescuers" with the
fear-box in the first place. Each Ogron ship must have its
own fear box, if the Master can demonstrate one box to Jo
on the planet while several Ogron ships simultaneously stir
up more trouble between the two Empires, and Bernard has squeezed
the end of Jo's demo scene and the Ogron report all into one continuous
shot. So even if one can say that the Master's little fear box
was destroyed in the poorly edited excuse for concluding action,
or removed from the time/space scene by the Doctor, there should
still be as many as needed to carry out the deception plan.
And nothing else is really resolved either. The heroes
of the two Empires have not captured the Ogron base, and may indeed
not even make it back to their ships if any of the Ogrons have half
a brain. The Master has inexplicably disappeared, his plan
barely threatened. His TARDIS has been mysterious by its absence
all story; it would have been far more tactically sound for him to
disguise it as a police spacecraft and use it to collect the Doctor,
instead of stealing a real police spacecraft which is much slower
and more vulnerable.
"Colony in Space" (story no. 58)
was much better off for
combining the ideas of Master's TARDIS with disguised spaceship.
The final insult is the ridiculously chopped ending.
Trying to link the two halves of this modernized Dalek masterplan
with a good cliffhanger is a noble goal, but since Terry Nation's
following story "Planet of the Daleks" doesn't go anywhere near
the conflict between the Master, the Ogrons, and the two Empires,
Doctor Who's writers should have made sure their conflict was resolved
somewhere at some point in the series. Instead, they further destroyed
what little resolution "Frontier in Space" had.
Question: Does the original ending taped by Paul Bernard still
or was it taped over by the new ending, without ever being duplicated
or transmitted or archived or telesnapped or anything? It may
at least shed some welcome light on the motives behind the
creation of this story, and would make a great DVD extra.
However, it looks like we'll be settling for more talk about the
ending on the 2009/2010 DVD, rather than seeing the original ending
In the end, I think I have to say that this is Malcolm Hulke's
least successful Dr. Who script, one small good story idea with great
underdeveloped and overblown into a long, boring, and essentially
unresolved mess that failed to inspire quality or ingenuity from
most of the rest of the production staff.
This story is available on DVD (bundled with the next story) and VHS video.
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for pricing and availability:
|DVD NTSC Region 1 Box Set
for the North American market
in the U.S.
|DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
in the U.S.
in the U.S.
for the U.K.
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