Doctor Who – The Frontier In Space Review (or ‘A Sad Farewell to One of the Show’s Greats’)

There’s a certain sadness in watching The Frontier in Space.

It marks the final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master. I assume anyone going to the trouble of reading a review of this story will know that he was tragically killed in a car accident a few months later while filming The Bell of Tibet in Turkey.

I also assume you know that had he not died, Delgado was planning to leave the show in the near future anyway, and the idea was for the Master to sacrifice himself to save the Doctor in what could have been the Third Doctor’s last hurrah. I think that would have been a suitable way for the Master to go. There’s no doubt in my mind that Delgado’s Master is the best one – the definitive one.

Any actor that took on the role after him didn’t really get the character. The Master is all about evil grand schemes to conquer the Earth of the Galaxy, but despite that he’s a gentleman; the sort of person who the audience will like. Future Masters were just two dimensionally evil, and frankly a bit tiresome. There’s only one Master, and it’ll forever be Roger Delgado as far as I’m concerned.

As the Frontier in Space…

Doctor Who – The Frontier in Space Review: What’s This One About?

With the help of the Ogrons, the Master plans to start a war between Earth and Draconia. They use a machine that makes the Ogrons appear to be what a person fears the most, so when they attack the Earth ships, the Humans think

Look! It’s my boy Lobos from the Space Museum. He looks like a guy not to be trifled with…

Draconians are hijacking them and vice verca.

And the Doctor and Jo end up caught up in it all.

Oh, and the Daleks show up at the end because it turns out that they are the ones employing the Master.

Thoughts – Repetition and Padding

I like the Frontier In Space; it’s a decent story in a setting that makes for a nice change of pace from most Pertwee adventures. My major issue with it though is that it’s too long.

The first two and half episodes – before the Master turns up – are spent with the Doctor being moved from one cell to another while he fails to convince the authorities of what is going on. And having the Ogrons show up as often as they do without anyone other than the Doctor & Jo realising what is going on is flogging a dead horse. That could easily have been truncated.

Similarly, in Episode 6 the scene where the Doctor goes outside to repair the hull of the ship is nothing but filler. We’d already seen the Doctor go outside into space a couple of episodes earlier, and we absolutely did not to see it again.

Also, despite the Doctor failing to convince the Earth President and General Williams of what was going on earlier, the way they accept his story – to an extent – in Episode Six is a little bit too convenient. It’s as if the writer decided ‘Ok, we have to move things along now’, even if it doesn’t ring particularly true.

And would it not have saved years of bloodshed if Williams and the Draconians had had that chat about the misunderstanding that started the earlier war, sooner?

Despite that though, it’s still a decent serial. It just would have worked better as a four of five parter.

Another Masterful Performance

Once again this is a story where Roger Delgado steals the show as the Master. As I’ve said now in both the Sea Devils and Time Monster reviews, he has fine tuned the character to perfection. Like in those stories he plays the part as far more

Wash your hair love; you look like you’ve been rubbing butter in it.

than a sort of bland villain; he’s a bit like a loveable rogue, even if his plans aren’t all that nice.

Delgado once again plays off the rest of the cast extremely well, from calling the Daleks ‘stupid tin boxes‘ to his fantastic straight man act against the Comedy Ogrons. No matter how many times I watch this, I still laugh at the exchange of dialogue between him and the Ogron navigating his ship…

Master: “That must be them. No other ship would be on a course for Earth at a time like this”
Stupid Ogron: “WE are on a course for Earth”
Master: (Incredulously) “Well naturally because we’re chasing them!!”

The delivery of the lines from both actors is just spot on.

Similarly, the way he feels rather deflated about the idea of killing off the Doctor through long-range missile strike because it ‘Lacks the personal touch’ is brilliant.

What works best though is his interaction with the Doctor and Jo. When he has them as his prisoners he acts more like they are all friends, telling them to hold on tight and asking them whether they are ok. It’s unique.

With Jo, the scene where he tries and fails to hypnotize her is a wonderful and poignant ‘full circle’ moment. When they first met back in Terror of the Autons, the Master easily hypnotised her and got her to do his bidding. But in his final appearance, he fails to do it again. It’s a great moment because it shows how much Jo has grown throughout her time on the show as she

Extra Watch: Spot the guy in the Draconian costume who has is recovering from a heavy session the night before

too prepares to leave.

The Ending

Sadly, what ruins the Master’s unwitting final farewell is that the ending of the story is completely botched up. The original plan was for the Doctor to use the fear machine to set the Ogrons into a panic – as they would see the Doctor turn into the Ogron-Eating Monster that they fear the most – and in the confusion the Master would get away.

Unfortunately due to a cock-up on the part of the director, they weren’t able to film that because the monster – which had only been used on location – was too big to realistically fit inside the studio, and so what we have instead is a really bad ending where the Doctor activates the fear machine, the Ogrons just run about in a circle, the Master shoots the Doctor and then the room empties, because the next bit was filmed during the production of the next story.

It all looks very botched and spliced together at the last second, and what we’re left with is an ending doesn’t make sense and a really poor and unsatisfying send-off for such a terrific character.

A great pity.

From listening to the commentary on the DVD (where you’ll hear a full blow-by-blow account of what went wrong at the end of the story), it would seem that the novelization of the story gives the Master a more apt final scene, which is something I suppose.

Random Observations

  • The enforcer on the Lunar Prison is Stuart Reviews Stuff favourite, Richard Shaw, who played Lobos (he of The Great Exposition) in the Space Museum. He’s aged a wee bit, hasn’t he?
  • And on the subject of the Lunar Prison, the way the Doctor acts is a bit presumptuous. From the moment he arrives he’s decided that he knows that the Professor plans to escape and presumes that he will go with him. If I was the Professor, I’d be more than a little apprehensive of taking this curiously bold chap who I’d only known for about 3 hours as my partner in an escape bid that I’d been planning for months. It would have seemed a little suspicious.
  • You’d think the President of Earth would wash her hair…
  • On that note actually (not the hair part but the President of Earth bit) is it not a bit unrealistic how easy the Doctor and Jo manage to get audiences with both the President of Earth and the leader of the Draconian race? Surely there are procedures and red tape to get through first? Or am I looking too deeply into things?
  • The Doctor Who wikia site says that when the Doctor appears as a Dalek to one of the Ogrons in Episode 6, that Dalek is voiced by Michael Wisher. No it isn’t. You can clearly hear that’s Pertwee doing the voice. Sloppy reporting guys, very sloppy.
  • Whenever I see this story, it reminds me a wee bit of the first series of Blake’s Seven. I think that’s mostly because of the stuff on the moon and how it is quite similar to the way Blake is sent off to a penal planet in the second episode,

    The Daleks pop in for a brief chat to let people know they’ll see them next week.

    but it’s also the general feel of it, the similarity of the sets and location filming in what looks like a carpark, as well as the scene where the Doctor gazumps the Mind Probe.

  • The cliffhanger to Episode Four is a good one in that it isn’t a ‘Doctor In Peril’ moment, but rather an advancement of the plot. Rather than thinking ‘How will the Doctor get out of this one’, it’s an ‘Oh, they’re in trouble next week’ style one with the Master sending a distress beacon out to the Ogrons. I think it works far better.
  • The Draconians may well have a rather unsubtle name, they do look good. And as you’ll know, Jon Pertwee loved their half masks that allowed for more expression. Compare them to some of the other ‘masked’ Doctor Who characters – not least from the previous story – and you’ll no doubt agree that the look very effective. Indeed, those Draconian outfits would stand up well in modern Who.
  • From listening the commentary, the bit where the guard pushes the Doctor into Jo and she almost bursts out laughing, saying “Oops, no need to push” was not in the script. A nice bit of improvisation th0ugh.
  • One regular complaint with ‘Old’ Dr Who is that the lighting is terrible. People accuse it of being too brightly lit which makes it look cheap, but I have to say I was impressed with the way it was done here, not least on board the prison ship.
  • There are two ‘That Doesn’t Make Sense’ moments here. The first is that surely this whole affair could have been sorted in Episode One when the Doctor & Jo appeared as Draconians to the guards then changed back to Humans later. The second is that the Doctor would have been lost in the vacuum of space when the ship changed its course. Surely the ship was moving? Ah well, little concerns I suppose…
  • The Daleks turn up to do little more than say ‘See you next week lads’. Had they not been in Day of the Daleks the year earlier, their reappearance would have been a true ‘Holy Shit’ moment. As it was, it was a bit of a damp squib, and once again they failed to kill the Doctor when they had the chance, giving him the opportunity to thwart their plans yet again.

Doctor Who – The Frontier in Space Review: Final Thoughts

You just can’t talk about the Frontier in Space without focusing on Roger Delgado. It’s such a shame that he died when he was the best thing about the show in this period. I feel that had he lived and gone on to film that final appearance when he was going to save the Doctor’s life, it would have been a real landmark moment in Dr Who and would have been fondly remembered by all.

And it would have saved us from the likes of Anthony Ainley and John Simm.

But sadly that’s not what happened. This is Delgado’s final farewell, and though he gets a really shitty ending, he shines once again in a story that would have been far worse without him.

As it is, the Frontier in Space is – while maybe a little too long – a good story, and well worth your time.

3 Responses to Doctor Who – The Frontier In Space Review (or ‘A Sad Farewell to One of the Show’s Greats’)

  1. Boo… I like Anthony Ainley and John Simm..

  2. [...] Curse Of Peladon The Sea Devils The Mutants The Time Monster The Three Doctors Carnival Of Monsters Frontier In Space Planet Of The Daleks The Green Death The Time Warrior Invasion Of The Dinosaurs Death To The Daleks [...]

  3. Hinchyc says:

    Wierdly, I actually really like Frontier In Space, its one of my favourites. I showed it to my friend as his first classic who story and he loved it!

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