Doctor Who: Dalek War – Frontier in Space

November 30, 2014 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782


In 1973, Doctor Who was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary. Jon Pertwee was entering his fourth year in the role and celebrations has already begun with a special story uniting the first three incarnations of the Doctor. This story, appropriately titled The Three Doctors, also saw the end of the Doctor’s exile on Earth and he was at last able to travel freely in time and space once again. But the celebrations were not over yet and the production team had big plans for Doctor Who’s tenth anniversary. Two interconnected six-part stories were commissioned, thus forming a loose twelve-part epic which has since come to be known as the Dalek War.

The first of these two stories, Frontier in Space, was written by Malcolm Hulke who at this point was a veteran Doctor Who writer well known for the strong political and moral elements of his stories. This was no exception. Frontier in Space also marks the last appearance of Roger Delgado in the role of the Master, a character who he had been playing since 1971. Delgado tragically died in a car accident in Turkey not too long after the transmission of this story. It was this deeply upsetting event which, along with the departure of Katy Manning who played the role of Jo, led to Jon Pertwee’s decision to leave the series at the end of the following year. It marked the beginning of the end for Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor and the behind the scenes stability that the series had endured for many years now was at risk of falling apart.

The story itself begins with the Doctor and his companion Jo arriving onboard an Earth cargo ship in the twenty-sixth century. The vessel is then attacked by what the two crew members believe to be a Draconian ship and all the ship’s cargo is stolen, including the TARDIS. However, the attackers were infact Ogrons but a strange sound made the crew see them, as well as the Doctor and Jo, as Draconians. A relief ship then arrives and takes the Doctor and Jo back to Earth as prisoners on suspicion of being human spies working for Draconia. Only the Doctor and Jo know the truth that a third party is hiring Ogron’s to ignite a war between Earth and Draconia but the President of Earth refuses to believe their story. The Master then arrives, posing as an commissioner from the Earth dominion world Sirius IV, with false charges against the Doctor and Jo. He claims that he wants to take them back for trial and the president grants him his request. With the Doctor and Jo now his captives, the Master reveals that he had been employed by an unknown third party to cause war between Earth and Draconia but before he can take them back to his base on the Orgon’s home world his ship is captured by Draconians and taken to Draconia. Here, the Doctor is able to convince the Draconian Emperor of what is really happening but the Master escapes. The Doctor and the Draconian Prince then head to Earth to convince them of the truth but while the President believes them but there is still not enough evidence to convince the two peoples not to go to war. To get the evidence they need to Doctor suggests a joint expedition between Earth and Draconia to the planet of the Orgons and the President agrees. The Doctor arrives on the planet and finds out that the ones behind it all are the Daleks and the Doctor is then taken prisoner again. The Dalek’s then leave to prepare their army and leave the Doctor in the custody of the Master. They are, however, able to escape but the Master shoots the Doctor in the process and Jo has to help him into the TARDIS. Safely within the Doctor sends a telepathic message to the Time Lords, telling them to send him after the Daleks.

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This was my first taste of classic Doctor Who so my opinion may be a bit blinded by nostalgia but nevertheless I absolutely love this story. That doesn’t mean I can’t see it’s flaws but they just don’t seem to bother me as much as they bother some other people. But before we go into the negatives, let’s talk about some of the positives, the first of which being Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. He holds a special place in my heart as my first classic series Doctor and there’s just something about him that makes him perfectly suited for that part. It’s always been a tossup for me between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker as my second favourite Doctor (with Patrick Troughton in first place) and while at the moment it’s probably Pertwee that is likely to change as soon as I watch a Tom Baker story in the future. Moving on from the Doctor, another great strength of this story is Jo. Few companions have grown and developed as much as she has and this story is a perfect example of how much she’s changed since her first appearance. Some of her more clumsy tendencies have gone by now and she’s not just treated as the damsel-in-distress, escaping from her prison and even showing the ability to resist the Master’s mind control. And this isn’t the only example this episode has to offer of women being portrayed well. We are also given a female President of Earth and a strongly characterised one at that. Another great thing about this story is the Master. Roger Delgado portrays my favourite incarnation of the character and if you’ve seen any one of his stories it’s easy to understand why. He’s not mad like many of his later incarnations have been portrayed but rather a swarve and loveable villain who still has a sense of threat about him. His arrival in episode three comes just at the right time when the episode is at risk of becoming tedious but when he gets on the scene it injects the story with much more interest. The one negative I have about him is his exit, which is more to do with the direction than anything else. It wouldn’t be too bad had this not been his final story but his exit just feels clunky with him simply shooting the Doctor in panic and then presumably running off with the Ogrons for no good reason.

Another flaw people often tend to point out with this story is that the Doctor and Jo seem to spend a lot of time imprisoned in a variety of different cells. They call this padding and while there are elements of that here I personally see it as very interesting padding due to the interaction between the Doctor and Jo. And at six episodes long your bound to have some padding along the way. That doesn’t mean this stories length isn’t justified either, as the plot is full of loads of twists and turns and that rather long synopsis I wrote above is, believe it or not, a very simplified version of the plot itself. This is a credit to Malcolm Hulke’s writing as he is able to keep the viewer interested with many different plot twists throughout the story and the great mystery as to the identify of the third party who are trying to cause war. In terms of visuals we have some good model shots but the most impressive thing is the Draconian costume. Jon Pertwee once said they were his favourite monster because their costume was so believably alien and this is very true. The Ogrons, while not as striking, also have very well made costumes and it’s a shame that neither they nor the Draconians have ever got to appear in an episode since. Finally we have the Daleks who only make a brief appearance here at the end of episode six to set up the following story, Planet of the Daleks. Their reveal is particularly well handled but they’re only really showing their face in this and unfortunately doing very little beyond that.

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In conclusion, Frontier in Space comes across as a very strong stand alone story as well as a good first part of a larger one. It’s a definite nine-out-of-ten from me as it’s got an intriguing plot, convincing costumes, amazing model shots, a suspenseful (if a little unrealistic) space sequence, breathtaking performances and a great cliffhanger. This cliffhanger is picked up in second and final part of the Dalek War storyline, Planet of the Daleks. Continuing from where we left off, the Doctor and Jo arrive on the planet Spiridon where a Dalek research team is close to discovering the secret of invisibility. We’ll be taking a look at this one next week but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the story in the comments below.