Best known for their range of Doctor Who audio adventures, Big Finish launched a series of new original productions in 2018 – the latest, from the mind of Doctor Who voice artist and Big Finish creative director Nicholas Briggs, is The Human Frontier, an intergalactic thriller with themes that nonetheless hit home on Earth in 2020.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Briggs describes The Human Frontier as “a leap in the dark”, a series unlike anything Big Finish has attempted before in the past two decades.
“I mean, it’s science-fiction and we’ve done a lot of that, but it’s adult,” he explains. “I asked my wife to describe it and she said it was like a grown-up Lost in Space with a bit of His Dark Materials thrown in. I’ve talked about The Expanse, which I liked… it’s of that ilk.”
The series follows two sets of Earth colonists, both setting out to colonise an alien planet in the far-flung future – one crew takes the long route, sleeping for 1000 years, in secret, on a ship called The Human Frontier, while a second crew sets off hundreds of years later, at hyper speed.
Technological advancements mean the second crew arrives first and when the sleepers arrive on planet MD492, they find the planet has already been occupied for 300 years. “I thought about how human beings from different eras are very, very different,” Briggs says.
“I mean, what would it actually be like – really, not in a Doctor Who way – if you had someone from the 1600s suddenly turn up here, or for us to really go back there? It would be almost impossible for them to relate to each other, because their assumptions about life, and everything, would be so different so I thought, well, in a science-fiction setting, how would that be?”
The Human Frontier also explores ideas of control, free will and the impact that artificial intelligence will have on mankind, but Briggs adds, “I’m a great believer in it having to be a human story and it is very much a love story as well, and a break-up story, so there’s that element. I would hope that someone who isn’t a science-fiction fan could listen to it and relate to these people.”
Leading the cast of The Human Frontier are Genevieve Gaunt and Pepter Lunkuse, playing Daisy Bailey and Anna Swift. “Daisy is the commander of the Human Frontier – she’s quite smart and quite sure of herself, she’s in control,” Gaunt tells us. “But then when Anna comes along, Daisy – who is actually her superior – kind of falls head-over-heels, so she has to somehow deal with being in charge, and also falling for this woman, and then them having a real clash of moral outlook.
“I loved this kind of double element of it being quite a dangerous professional mission for my character but then also having the tension and the drama of this romance with Anna, because the personal and the professional really collide.”
“These people are just human,” says Lunkuse. “They have emotions and they suffer the same way that we do on an everyday basis, but it’s set against this incredible other world, which is the thing that makes it really exciting.”
Besides emphasising human relationships, another way in which The Human Frontier looks to route its story in the now is by tackling the topic of colonisation, putting a sci-fi slant on a very real issue as Daisy and Anna uncover the devastation humanity has wreaked on the planet Triton.
“It brings up some quite important questions about taking over a new planet and the damage that can be done, which is what Anna and Daisy encounter – the damage that is done by another Earthlings to a new planet that they discover,” Gaunt explains.
“The colonisation of Triton, that I found really interesting because you can link that back to our own history of colonisation,” Lunkuse says. “It’s that thing of… in this world where we think of ourselves as liberal and we look at colonisation as something awful, is that not what we’re planning on doing when we’re exploring space? It does make you think – actually, are we just going to revert back?”
Recorded in studio earlier this year, the four-part first series of The Human Frontier is available now to download, with Lunkuse and Gaunt both expressing an interest in reprising their characters in a sequel.
“There are many possibilities,” writer/director Briggs says of a possible follow-up. “We could go forwards from the point the story ends, or we could go back to when the spaceship first set off from the Earth to, or when [the hyper speed crew] first arrived on Triton to colonise it… I’ve got lots of ideas for potential stories!”
The Human Frontier is now available as a digital download from the Big Finish website, priced £16.99