The Doctor and Jo find themselves in the midst of heightening tensions between the Earth and Draconian Empires, but soon discover that a third party are escalating matters for their own gain.
Frontier in Space is a story that should not work as well as it does, seeing as the Doctor and Jo seem to spend most of their time being arrested, imprisoned and escaping. Malcolm Hulke manages to keep this interesting by changing up the settings, as well as creating a effective world.
Malcolm Hulke manages to build a convincing vision of the planet Earth, which makes this story feel all the more compelling. The fact that there are secondary details, like the Earth making the Arctic habitable and trying to incentivise people to settle there by allowing them to have a second child, make this all feel a bit more real, and we are also given glimpses of the protests taking place on Earth as relationships between the Draconians and humans sour. We hear that a Draconian Consulate has been burnt to the ground in Helsinki, whilst there are protests in Los Angeles and riots in Belgrade and Tokyo. While these are relatively small moments, they really add flesh to the bones of a story without the production team having to spend a lot of money and makes this a story that feels as though it has quite high stakes. We also are introduced to members of the Peace Party in the Lunar Penal Colony, which again, make this society feel more alive and the threat of war between the two Empires feel more serious. I think there are some elements that undermine this, however, such as the fact that General Williams, a character who supposedly has such contempt for the Draconians, a remnant from the First Draconian War, that he is a fierce advocate for a declaration of war, but this gets very quickly resolved later on in the story. Directorially, Paul Bernard makes this all move along with a sense of pace and the minature work when it comes to the spaceships looks pretty great.
The Draconians are a great example of a part make-up, part prosthetic and part face monster, and it is easy to see why Jon Pertwee spoke so favourably about acting opposite these monsters rather than the Daleks. Like the humans, they have a leader who is not so keen on war, but equally the Prince Regent is all for it. Despite how striking the Draconians look, this is their only appearance in the televised show, which is perhaps a little surprising, but there is not a particularly distinct performance in here, allowing the audience to feel particularly attached to one in particular.
The Master’s sudden appearance in Episode 3 reveals him to be the third party attempting to escalate tensions between the Earth and Draconia, and Roger Delgado makes this story a lot more entertaining and unpredictable. We are so used to seeing the Master being the mastermind behind the schemes the Doctor pits himself against here, so it is a shock to see that he has teamed up with the Daleks, with the expectation that he will get overall control of the Earth after the war between the two empires has ended in mutual destruction. Delgado brings his usual charm to the role, as well as a good sense of irony, especially in his mock concern for the Doctor after rescuing him and Professor Dale from the Lunar Prison Colony. His final appearance is full of such great moments, like praising Jo for her performance when the Doctor has snuck out of captivity yet again. I love the idea of the device that makes the two sides see their perceived foes, when it is just the Ogrons, who are another welcome return. If there is one criticism, it is that the Master just seems to disappear without consequence in that mess of a final scene of the episode, and ultimately, circumstances beyond the production team’s control, mean that this is the last broadcast footage of Delgado in the role.
The Doctor and Jo spend a lot of time in this story being captured and escaping, but this does give a lot of time for the two actors to spend time together and their chemistry shows through in the sequences, especially the first time they get captured, where Jo is trying to work through their various ploys for escaping exactly this situation. Jon Pertwee tries to turn on the charm in various scenes as he tries to escape, and Katy Manning shows true strength as she fends off the attempts of the Master to scare her through the techniques he has had success with in the past. The two have a real sense of friendship and clearly enjoy each other’s company, which will only make the eventual parting at the end of this season all the harder.
Verdict: Frontier in Space is a much better story than it has any right to be. It is overlong, and repetitive, but manages to avoid boredom by changing venues for the Doctor and Jo to be kept captive. The twists also work really well. 8/10
Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Roger Delgado (The Master), Vera Fusek (President of Earth), Michael Hawkins (General Williams), Peter Birrel (Draconian Prince), Lawrence Davidson (Draconian First Secretary), Timothy Craven (Cell guard), Ray Lonnen (Gardiner), Barry Ashton (Kemp), John Rees (Hardy), James Culliford (Stewart), Louis Mahoney (Newscaster), Roy Pattinson (Draconian space pilot), Karol Hagar (Secretary), Harold Goldblatt (Professor Dale), Madhav Sharma (Patel), Dennis Bowen (Prison Governor), Richard Shaw (Cross), Luan Peters (Sheila), Caroline Hunt (Technician), Lawrence Harrington (Lunar guard), Bill Wilde (Draconian captain), John Woodnutt (Draconian Emperor), Ian Frost (Draconian messenger), Clifford Elkin (Earth cruiser captain), Stephen Thorne (First Ogron), Michael Kilgarriff (Second Ogron), Rick Lester (Third Ogron), Ramsay Williams (Congressman Brook), Bill Mitchell (Newscaster), Stanley Price (Pilot of space ship), John Scott Martin, Cy Town and Murphy Grumbar (Daleks) & Michael Wisher (Dalek Voice).
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Paul Bernard
Original Broadcast Dates: 24 February – 31 March 1973
Behind the Scenes
- The story had the working title of Frontiers in Space.
- This story is the final appearance of Roger Delgado, who died in a car accident in June 1973 in Turkey whilst filming the movie Bell of Tibet. The Master was intended to return for the final story for the Third Doctor, The Final Game, which was scrapped following his death. The character of the Master was retired until The Deadly Assassin, where a decaying version of the character was played by Peter Pratt.
- This story saw a new model of the sonic screwdriver model that debuted in Colony in Space. This version of the sonic screwdriver would remain in place up to the retirement of the prop when the screwdriver was destroyed in the Fifth Doctor serial The Visitation.
- This story and Planet of the Daleks were originally intended to be a 12-part story, and they are often unofficially considered as such.
- The story’s original outline had the Master teaming up with the Cybermen, before they were replaced by the Ogrons.
- The Draconians were Jon Pertwee’s favourite monsters, as he liked how expressive they were and believed them to be easier to act against than the Daleks.
- The President of Earth being female was the suggestion of Terrance Dicks, whilst Malcolm Hulke was responsible for stating that she was not the first female President.
- Timothy Craven would go on to play Robinson in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Short in Robot.
- Barry Ashton had previously played Franz Schultz in The Moonbase and Proctor in The Time Monster.
- Louis Mahoney would go on to play Ponti in Planet of Evil and the elder Billy Shipton in Blink.
- Roy Pattison also played Zazzka in The Hand of Fear.
- Richard Shaw had previously played Lobos in The Space Museum and would go on to play Lakh in Underworld.
- Luan Peters played Chicki in The Macra Terror.
- Caroline Hunt played Danielle in The Reign of Terror.
- John Woodnutt had previously played George Hibbert in Spearhead from Space and would go on to play Broton and the Duke of Fothergill in Terror of the Zygons and Seron in The Keeper of Traken.
- Ian Frost previously played Baccu in The Ark.
- Stephen Thorne previously played Azal in The Daemons and Omega in The Three Doctors and would go on to play Eldrad in The Hand of Fear.
- Michael Kilgarriff played the Cyber Controller in The Tomb of the Cybermen and Attack of the Cybermen and the Robot in Robot.
- This was Rick Lester’s third time playing an Ogron – he had previously played one in Day of the Daleks and in an uncredited role in Carnival of Monsters.
The eventual reveal of the Doctor
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.
Are you feeling all right, old chap?
Previous Third Doctor review: Carnival of Monsters