Saturday, 20 July 2013

Frontier in Space

Publicity shot with the three stars.
So they decided to do a space opera, and Who fans got ‘Frontier in Space’. Malcolm Hulke put his pen to paper for this one, unmistakably his in tone and politics. However, it’s not one of his best efforts. It’s dull and slow for the most part, although the final two episodes have a lot of pace and then we have a nonsensical ending which is incredibly rushed.
They try to do an awful lot in this one, and almost succeed each time without actually succeeding. We start on a cargo ship, then Earth, then a prison on the moon, then on the Master’s prison ship, then on the planet Draconia, and finally the planet of the Ogrons which doesn’t even get a name. That’s six major locations in 6 episodes, plus a couple of other ships, two space walks, the list goes on.
Yet with all this diversity, the story is for the most part very dull. The Doctor and Jo keep getting put in a cell, interrogated, escaping and repeat. The Doctor is sent to the moon, but that’s a prison, they are prisoners of the Master, they must be prisoners for half the story. Nobody believes them at all, it’s ring-a-ring-a-rosies and it becomes old very quickly. Then suddenly everyone changes their minds at the end of episode five and helps the Doctor.
A Draconian
The Doctor twice goes outside a space ship. Once to fix a shot motor or something, the other to sneak up of the Master. The first is just ridiculous. The Master turns the ship as a course correction whilst the Doctor is outside. The Doctor barely moves considering, and then uses his oxygen via a tube to propel him back to the ship. I don’t know if the ship’s gravity would keep the Doctor nearby, or if he wouldn't suddenly be 100 miles from the ship, but I’m pretty sure a stream of oxygen from a tank wouldn't move you far in space at all. If at all!
Roger Delgado and Katy Manning in the prison ship.
We are left with no real resolution. We can presume that General Williams escaped and so did the son of the Draconian Emperor, and averted a war, but the last we saw they could easily be re-captured by the Ogrons. The Master’s fate is even less clear. There are gun shots fired, one of which hits the Doctor, as he turns on the Master’s fear device to escape sending the Ogrons into mad panic. Sadly this is the last we will see of Roger Delgado, not long after the episode was aired he was killed in Turkey in a car crash. He was a wonderful Master, pity that this story had him working for the Daleks.
So really we don’t know if the space war between Earth and Draconia was stopped or not. The Draconians themselves were wonderful creatures, well conceived and well portrayed by the actors under the masks. Not perfect on close up, where you could see joins and the like, but the actual design was very attractive.
Unlike the design of much of the story. It’s all so grey. Okay, a fair approximation of what the author thought might be Earth’s future, but grey concrete everywhere on Earth, grey interiors for all the ships, the planet of the Orgrons was a boring grey quarry, the only thing which wasn’t 100% grey was the moon prison! When I think of ‘Frontier in Space’, I think of the colour grey.
Vera Furek relaxes as the President.
The cast was mixed. Delgado never gave a bad (or indeed understated) performance as the Master, but I found General Williams, played by Michael Hawkins, to be quite unbelievable in the role. Dare I say it, it needed a big tough American in the role? The President of Earth was a woman – a good move because there were hardly any female parts in this one apart from Jo, and Vera Fusek was ok but seemed to stumble over lines here and there. John Woodnutt, though, was wonderfully lyrical with his performance as the Draconian Emperor. His dulcet tones and long rolled ‘r’s were wonderful.
At the end the Daleks arrive and disappear very quickly, and I feel the story needed to be shortened in the first half and lengthened in the second. The Doctor is shot and Jo helps him into the TARDIS where he calls the Time Lords for help – the Daleks are massing an army and he has to stop them.
Oh, but that’s another story...


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