Monday, May 11, 2015

There's a War Coming - Frontier in Space

I’m not sure what I expected here. I knew the next serial hinged on Frontier in Space. No one recommended it, so I figured a pretty shaky story just to get to some Dalek action. Instead we get a 70’s sci-fi version of 24, by which I mean lots of political intrigue, war brewing and some casual torture thrown around.

It’s utterly brilliant and unexpected.

However, every single character does suffer incredibly bad from the small mindedness TV usually loves to give to war minded Generals. In a political powder keg against the Draconians, where they and Humanity keep refusing that they aren’t responsible for the attacks on the transport ships, no one wants to believe them. The closest you get is the President of Earth who is at least willing to say it might be renegades.

It gets silly the amount of scenes we have where high class political dignitaries from one side accuse the other, and the immediate retort is along the lines “Nu-uh. You Did It!”

Then the Doctor turns up, offers an explanation that a third party is faking the whole lot, and not one single person will listen to him. Even the President, who was once trying to find a solution that war wasn’t brewing, just wants him to admit his culpability to being a spy for the Draconians. I half expected Jack Bauer to turn up and shoot his kneecaps in an effort to get him to ‘talk’. No matter how far they go, the Doctor sticks to his story. Obviously, since it’s the truth. But no one can even process that it’s possible and just insist they come clean.

The decision of keeping the Master, the man behind it all, hidden for two parts is masterful. Bringing in the Ogrons brings to mind the Daleks, since that’s the only people we’ve seen them work for so far. So throughout, we’re in the same predicament as the Doctor and Jo. Just who is behind it? It keeps an air of mystery in the proceedings, which I feel this era is all to happy to throw away if the Master is involved.

The for it all to be a double bluff, and the employer the Master’s vaguely referred to, to actually be the Daleks and precisely why the Ogrons be involved is another great touch. It might be ruined by the fact we know Planet of the Daleks follows on from this, but in the story it doesn’t feel like it’s a foregone conclusion.

The Draconians are a great race. Nice design, bit too Japanese influenced. By that I mean, western idea of classic Japanese ideals. But it’s definitely nice, even compared to other ambiguous races like the Ice Warriors they come off a lot better. It’s a shame they’ve never appeared in the show again. But then again, these guys are the exact reason I’m doing this detour, for their appearance alongside the Sixth Doctor and Charley.

Female president of Earth in the early seventies is great. That and Pertwee tells Jo off for referring to Draconians as Dragons, something she’s overheard from the locals, because it’s a nasty derogatory term. It’s a nice reminder of what Doctor does, and especially obvious after the rather OTT Talons of Weng Chiang.

the escape attempt from the master’s ship is a brilliant bit of tele, where Jo just doesn’t shut up. Her resisting the Master’s mind control with nursery rhymes, then doing it again with the auditory device was damn epic of her too. Almost as good is when the Doctor is put under a mind probe and is genuinely amused at it breaking under the pressure of his own brainwaves. It immediately brought to mind a great line from Caerdroia where McGann moans about how many people drag the damn things out and are really a waste of time.

This serial is pretty much only on the list because Planet of the Daleks is a direct continuation of it. Yet it’s possibly one of my favourites of Pertwee to date. Maybe it suffers a bit because the resolution of the pending war gets almost brushed past as we get the reveal that the Daleks are behind the whole thing. The bit in the prison seems almost pointless and simply to make time and vaguely paint a slightly worse image of what’s going on back on Earth.

After my first stint with Pertwee he was the one Doctor I really didn’t like. He’s no longer that. Now I don’t mind him. I wouldn’t complain if I was to watch one of his serials, which by Inferno I certainly was. Despite it coming after Ambassadors of Death which I’d say is a perfect serial in many ways. Recently though Pertwee’s Doctor has certainly mellowed out a lot, and his relationship with Jo is a big part of that. It’s utterly fantastic. It’s possibly become one of the best Doctor/Companion relationships I’ve seen in Classic Who. There’s better companions, but for chemistry between our two leads, Pertwee and Manning are up there with Tennant and Piper.

Second art piece courtesy of Doctor Who Magazine.
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