Doctor Who #345: Frontier in Space Part 6

"Yes, they are coming! Which means that dispense with your doubtful assistance!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.31 1973.

IN THIS ONE... The good guys land on the Ogron planet, meet Doctor Who's rudest monster, and then the Daleks. It's also Roger Delgado's last appearance as the Master.

REVIEW:
Can Jo resist the Master's fear machine as well as his hypnosis? I guess so! I can't help but be proud of this companion who had to come such a long way from her first appearance. Not only does she beat a machine that's disabling soldiers from Earth and Draconia, but she's pretty impressive in how she escapes an Ogron cage (yes, another escape, followed by a re-capture, then a re-escape) using nothing but a spoon. I was wondering why the Ogrons had a thick layer of soft top soil in there (hopefully not the Ogron version of the cell's W.C.), but I don't think the fact the Master set her up to succeed so she'd become a lure actually takes anything away from her achievement.

Though Jo does well, the episode's own ambitions really exceed its reach. The Doctor has another spacewalk (maximizing the flying time in the studio, I suppose), but not only have we done this before, this time, thick black wires are visible. I can try to imagine they're a tether connected to a small crane on the ship, but the footage doesn't really bear this out, does it? The Ogron planet, first seen in the previous episode, is the same old quarry we always see, with the same kind of sound effects put on it (though the spacey music's fun enough). And then the Ogron-eating monster shows up, something that's meant to be reptilian, and well, we can't keep the camera on it for more than a few seconds, and even that's too much. It's featured so little, it's barely worth using it at all. Show the Ogrons worshiping a mural of something actually reptilian, and it can still serve as what the Ogrons see when the fear machine is on.

By the time we reach the end, the Daleks have been revealed as the true power behind the Master's actions, but they'll never get the chance to betray him (as his allies invariably do), because sadly, Roger Delgado died in a car accident before the Master could happen again. (This wouldn't have been in the next serial, mind you, but soon, and for the last time; he'd asked to go out in a blaze of glory.) It's particularly sad because though the story gives him ample chance to show personality and humor, it leaves us without a sense of closure. The ending is a mess of rushed editing in which he makes his getaway, and because of Delgado's untimely end, the character would be retired for the next four years, not quickly regenerated (out of respect, it's hard to disagree with the decision). But this is Frontier in Space as a whole. There's no real closure to be had. It was just a prologue to Planet of the Daleks after all, and we leave behind the characters and places we met over the past six episodes. We leave Earth facing a War Party (so the Peace Party stuff from episode 4 has NO BEARING AT ALL on the story) and even the Ogrons, Dalek minions though they are, won't show up in the next serial. We've explored an interesting world and met interesting people along the way, and it was all for naught as Terry Nation returns to the program with a retro-vengeance. It's disheartening.

THEORIES: There's a strange moment when the Doctor feels like he's having a premonition. He has that strange feeling just as the Daleks arrive on the planet. That's not the first time this has happened. He had a similar feeling in The War Machines which is pretty much simultaneous with the Dalek presence on Earth in Evil of the Daleks! So there's a connection there, which might even resonate through time from the Time War, something like the Doctor's own "sound of drums". That connection might mean you can't have the Doctor without the Daleks and vice-verse, and it could be what stops him from preventing their creation in Genesis of the Daleks. A paradox that would unravel all of the Doctor's own history. So "feeling the turn of the universe" as he does, he might get a kind of twinge when the pepperpots are in the area, especially if they're trying to change history (presumably, the second Earth-Draconia war never happened since we saw the end of the Empire in The Mutants and humanity hadn't been overrun by Daleks).

VERSIONS:
Entitled Doctor Who and the Space War, the Target novelization is more self-contained and rewrites en ending in which the Doctor, in good health, simply states he must deal with the Daleks, and the Master is given a fist-shaking goodbye.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- Jo's great, the Master's great, but it just doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't help that the production can't possibly keep up with the script's demands.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- Repetitive to the point of being a drinking game, and ultimately just an unending introduction to the next story, it's a small miracle that Frontier in Space turns out to be so likeable! Nice design ideas (last episode excepted), fun character moments (for Jo in particular), and great new aliens (the Draconians deserved to come back again and again), all contribute its success. In retrospect, it's really too bad this had to be Delgado's last story, as it doesn't offer any kind of closure, but it's still a good showcase for his charm and underrated comedic abilities.

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