Frontier in Space ****

Can a space war be averted between Earth and Draconia, in the last story featuring Roger Delgado's Master?

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
Frontier in Space ****

Season 10 – Story 67

"I give you a final warning. The path you are treading leads only to war. And in that war, Draconia will destroy you" - the Draconian Prince

Storyline
In 2540, an uneasy peace exists between the empires of Earth and Draconia with the galaxy divided across a frontier in space. In a spate of raids, mounted by Ogrons, a hypnotic device convinces the humans and Draconians that they are attacking each other. The Doctor and Jo are charged with espionage and imprisoned, but when the Master appears on the scene, they realise he is engineering a space war, after which he and his allies - the Daleks - will seize power…

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 24 February 1973
Episode 2 - Saturday 3 March 1973
Episode 3 - Saturday 10 March 1973
Episode 4 - Saturday 17 March 1973
Episode 5 - Saturday 24 March 1973
Episode 6 - Saturday 31 March 1973

Production
Location filming: September 1972 at Hayward Gallery, South Bank and Highgate, London; Beachfields quarry, Redhill, Surrey
Filming: September 1972 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: October 1972 in TC4, October/November 1972 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
The Master - Roger Delgado
President of Earth - Vera Fusek
General Williams - Michael Hawkins
Draconian Prince - Peter Birrell
Hardy - John Rees
Stewart - James Culliford
Gardiner - Ray Lonnen
Kemp - Barry Ashton
Draconian First Secretary - Lawrence Davidson
Draconian space pilot - Roy Pattison
Secretary - Karol Hagar
Professor Dale - Harold Goldblatt
Patel - Madhav Sharma
Prison governor - Dennis Bowen
Cross - Richard Shaw
Sheila - Luan Peters
Lunar guard - Laurence Harrington
Technician - Caroline Hunt
Draconian captain - Bill Wilde
Draconian Emperor - John Woodnutt
Draconian messenger - Ian Frost
Earth cruiser captain - Clifford Elkin
Congressman Brook - Ramsay Williams
Newscasters - Louis Mahoney, Bill Mitchell
Pilot of space ship - Stanley Price
Chief Dalek - John Scott Martin
Daleks - Cy Town, Murphy Grumbar
Dalek voice - Michael Wisher
Ogrons - Stephen Thorne, Michael Kilgarriff, Rick Lester

Crew
Writer - Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Cynthia Kljuco
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Paul Bernard

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
"It's a quirky script that goes in all directions," remarks Barry Letts on the DVD commentary for this six-part serial. "You're constantly being surprised, which is the mark of a good script. This is not full of clichés."

It's a salutary reminder, because, for me, Frontier in Space has lost much of its appeal over the decades. Familiarity has bred contempt or at least ennui. Is it just a lumbering wannabe-epic with screeds of padding, duff cliffhangers and endless scenes of the Doctor and Jo banged up? Is it just screaming out to be renamed Prisons in Space? I have to cast my mind way back to remember its initial impact and remind myself that, yes, on first viewing, it is surprising and exciting.

For once in this era the Tardis doesn't return to Earth. It lands again in a cargo hold but this time it's inside a spaceship. A puttering sound makes humans see the Doctor and Jo as Draconians - but why? The Ogrons return unannounced, shoot the Doctor and steal the Tardis. There are space vessels galore. The President of Earth is a woman, and sympathetic (five years before Blake's 7's beastly Servalan)...

The Master walks nonchalantly into her office in episode three. The Doctor is deported to the Lunar Penal Colony with a life sentence, and is later revealed to be a noble of Draconia. In the final episode, Daleks glide into view along a clifftop. And this story doesn't end. Jo and a wounded Doctor must pursue the Daleks into the next six-parter…

So yes, Letts is right and, as he also points out, this rather expensive story is "full of production values". It's all there on screen. Cynthia Kljuco's set designs are unusually grand in scale and often even have ceilings. Bernard Wilkie's numerous spaceship models look fine for the period. Jon Pertwee's spacewalk outside the Master's prison ship may confound physics but it's well mounted.

The Draconians' splendid Samurai-influenced garments are an early feather in the cap for costume designer Barbara Kidd (in 2009 she won an Emmy for the BBC's Little Dorrit). She also kits out Jo in a stylish prison outfit, a fetching black karate suit. "Who are you fighting tonight?" remarks the Doctor.

Full credit, too, to the guest monsters: the dim-witted but terrifying Ogrons (from Day of the Daleks) and the remarkably convincing, albeit daftly named, Draconians. Both races are collaborative efforts from the production team, although John Friedlander gets principal credit for sculpting their half-masks. Pertwee always cited the Draconians as his favourite aliens, and it's surprising - given their status and impact here - that they've never returned to the series.

It's notable that the production team have fleshed out a time frame for Earth's Empire, placing Frontier in Space in the 26th century, firmly between Colony in Space (2472) and The Mutants (the 30th century). Here once again, writer Malcolm Hulke wears his left-wing credentials boldly on his sleeve and his dialogue is often sparkling, especially in the many two-handers between the Doctor and Jo.

Filler it may be, but it's lovely to hear Pert telling Jo about his Time Lord trial, that they "changed my appearance" and how meeting her "alone made the exile worthwhile". Katy Manning even gets to ad-lib a massive chunk, as Jo burbles about life at Unit while the Doctor is planning an escape.

But the fact that the heroes spend perhaps two-thirds of the story locked up is tiresome and cannot be overlooked. Indeed, the Lunar Penal Colony segment is quite superfluous. One of Russell T Davies's edicts for 21st-century Doctor Who was never to stifle the action by showing the Doctor incarcerated.

Director Paul Bernard is a master of composition and fluid camera moves, and unafraid of extreme close-ups (even on Draconian masks). He still doesn't know how to show the Daleks at their best, but wisely keeps an obscene waterbed - passing for an Ogron-eating blob - at a distance. Unforgivably, however, the denouement falls apart before our eyes: the "Ogronovore" fails to turn up, the Ogrons flee anyway and the Master abruptly vanishes.

Of course, this would prove a significant blunder, not just for this story but for the ongoing series itself. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were planning to revive the third Doctor's fabulous nemesis for one final showdown in season 11, but on 18 June 1973 Roger Delgado was killed in a road accident in Turkey - a tragedy that had a profound effect on his colleagues.

The renegade Time Lord would, eventually, regenerate into other actors, but for those who adored the original Master, Delgado was irreplaceable. For me, the enduring appeal of Frontier in Space is the last-chance-to-see, undisguised rapport between Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Roger Delgado.

- - -

What Katy did next…
“Our last story with the Master. That was a horrendous experience, driving along with Jon and seeing the board outside the newsagent saying ‘Doctor Who star killed’ and we didn’t know who. We were all very close friends. I used to go to dinner with Roger and his wife Kismet. He was such a wonderful character, such a funny man. So lovely! He and Jon complemented each other perfectly, playing off each other. Not wishing to disrespect the actor, but I thought Anthony Ainley’s moustache-twirling was a joke. That wasn’t a threat. And once again, John Simm, great in Life in Mars, but for me it’s best to undercut it.” 
(Talking to RT, April 2012)

Radio Times archive material

RT billings 

Bernard Wilkie and John Friedlander spoke about their work on the series in RT's Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special.

[Available in the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Dalek War]

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