The producers of Doctor Who really decided to push the boat out in the show’s 10th season. After featuring all three doctors in the eponymous serial, and giving the Doctor back complete control of his TARDIS, they commissioned what effectively comprised a twelve part space epic to rival The Daleks’ Master Plan. The second six episodes would form the next serial, Planet of the Daleks, while the first six formed Frontier in Space.
Depending upon your viewpoint, this was either a bold and courageous move, or lunacy. The problem it leaves for viewers like myself, born a decade after the original airdate, is that it is (just) possible to enjoy Planet of the Daleks as a standalone episode. Frontier in Space however does not end satisfactorily without then moving on to the next serial – making it a very long stretch to commit to!
That said, this story has all of the charm that I most enjoy and appreciate in the Pertwee era. Six episodes gives you the time to learn to appreciate the characters and to immerse yourself in the story. In this case, the Doctor arrives in the future to discover that someone is trying to manipulate two galactic empires, those of Earth and Draconia, into commencing a war. Strong parallels of course to the mistrust at that time caused by the Cold War, all of which are evident in the production values, and Pertwee’s Doctor does a marvellous job of acting as the would-be peacemaker between the two factions to highlight their true enemies.
And ‘enemies’ is indeed the appropriate word – because although the Doctor’s best enemy the Master is directly responsible for using Ogrons (returning after their previous appearance in Day of the Daleks, and a brief cameo in Carnival of Monsters) to impersonate attacks by humans and Draconians, he is in fact in league with the Ogrons’ true masters – the Daleks. Their reveal in episode 6 is indeed one of the stellar reveals in the whole of the classic series.
Along the way, there is all of the action, confusion, and general mayhem you come to expect from a six-part Pertwee adventure, and as ever it is impossible not to enjoy any scene featuring Roger Delgado and Jon Pertwee. It is therefore the greatest pity that the last we see of Delgado as the Master before his untimely death, is for him to shoot the Doctor with a stun bolt and disappear into the background. As I lamented in my review for Planet of the Spiders, Delgado deserved a much more appropriate swansong to his time in the role.
Frontier in Space is a great story, with plenty of action, and lots of ambiguous moral choices for the discerning viewer to chew over. It is only a pity that to properly enjoy it you need to set aside the time to watch the following serial soon afterwards.