Doctor Who: Frontier in Space
(6 episodes, s10e09-e14, 1973)
The Time Lords might be regretting restoring the Doctor’s driving privileges. This story starts with an Earth cargo ship getting ready to jump to hyperspace, but the TARDIS nearly collides with the ship before materializing inside it. The humans are already on high alert since there’s a war brewing between them and the Draconians. Almost on cue, Jo spots a ship through the viewport that looks like a derelict, but it changes shape into a Draconian battle cruiser. The human cargo pilot, Stewart, sends a distress call while his co-pilot, Hardy, goes to retrieve their weapons in preparation for repelling boarders. Hardy encounters the Doctor and Jo, but Hardy sees the Doctor as a Draconian. While the Doctor tries to talk Hardy down, Jo freaks out since Hardy appears to her as a Drashig.
Back on Earth, the human president – A woman president on television in the 1970s! – and the Draconian ambassador (who is also the Emperor’s son) are confronting each other as the distress call comes in. The president dispatches General Williams to supervise the rescue attempt, which is becoming a political football as riots break out on the planet over the string of altercations. On the ship, the Doctor and Jo are confined while the pilots deal with the Draconian assault. The sonic hypnosis field they encountered caused Jo and the pilots to see their greatest fears, hence the mistaken identities, but it seems to be only keyed into human physiology. The Draconians break through the airlock, and Hardy tries to use the Doctor and Jo as hostages. The boarders are Ogrons, not Draconians, and they stun the pilots and the Doctor while I wonder if the Daleks are not too far behind.
The Ogrons confine Jo and steal the cargo and the TARDIS, but the Doctor questions their actions after he comes to and releases Jo. The Ogron actions don’t make sense since, while they are mercenaries for hire, they resealed the airlock and left everyone alive. While he muses on this turn of events, an Earth battlecruiser docks with the cargo ship, and the cargo pilots accuse the Doctor and Jo of being Draconian spies. Back to the jail cell they go, which gives Jo the fun opportunity to brainstorm an escape from the cell.
The cargo ship arrives at Earth and the President wants to question the Doctor and Jo in the presence of the Draconian ambassador. The Doctor reasons with the President that a third party is manipulating both sides to induce a large-scale war, and after the general has them taken away, and the sympathetic president takes the political road of lodging a formal protest with the Draconian Emperor.
Speaking of footballs, our heroes certainly fit the role. The Draconians are curious about the Doctor’s claims, so they break the Doctor out and interrogate him, but he escapes only to be re-captured by the humans. The Ogrons show up and try to break them out again, this time under the guise of Draconians, which cements the idea with the humans that the Doctor and Jo are indeed working for the Draconians.
General Williams convinces the President to break off negotiations with the Draconians and expel them from Earth, but she refuses to attack them without proof. Williams uses a mind probe on the Doctor, but it overloads as he keeps telling them the truth and they keep turning up the power. The President tries compassion one last time, but ends up sending the Doctor to the lunar penal colony. On the moon, the Doctor meets Professor Dale, a member of the Peace Party, who shows him around.
The President receives criminal records from Sirius IV for the Doctor and Jo, and the commissioner arrives to extradite them. Thus marks the return of the Master, who explains to Jo that he is working with the Ogrons to overturn humanity, and has only arrived now because (surprise!) his minions brought him the TARDIS.
Back on the moon, Professor Dale is working with an overseer named Cross who has left two spacesuits for escapees to cross the lunar surface and steal a ship to return to Earth. Dale believes the Doctor’s story and asks him to be his accomplice for the escape attempt. But Cross pulls a double as he depressurizes the airlock after sabotaging the spacesuits. The Master ends up saving them and gains custody of the Doctor, fully intent on taking him and Jo to the Ogron homeworld because his employers are very interested in the Time Lord. Jo stages an impressive distraction (including a James Bond reference, which appears to be a constant inspiration for the Pertwee era) as the Doctor breaks out of the cell on the Master’s ship, dons a spacesuit, and crosses the ship’s hull to the flight deck.
I really enjoyed the accurate lack of sound in the spacewalk sequences.
The Master figures out the ruse and threatens to throw Jo out of the airlock, but the Doctor gets the jump on him. During the confrontation, neither of them see the Draconian battlecruiser approach, and they board through the airlock where Jo is being held. The Draconians take all of them hostage and set course for the Draconian homeworld, but of course, the Master signals the Ogrons for help.
The Draconian emperor unwittingly shares the Earth president’s desire of not wanting to start a war without proof, and the Doctor, who is holds a title of nobility on Draconia, tries to convince the emperor of the plot. As luck would have it, they are interrupted by an attacking Earth force, which is really the Ogrons under hypnotic guise. The Ogrons rescue the Master, and as the hypnotic field fades, the emperor is finally convinced of the Doctor’s story. The Doctor, Jo, and the Draconian ambassador take an Orgon prisoner and the Master’s police ship back to Earth to convince the president of the plot, but the Master is following to destroy the evidence. The Master fires on the Doctor’s ship, causing a distraction that allows the Ogron to escape to the flight deck. The Master’s ship docks, and they rescue the Ogron and kidnap Jo.
And the Doctor is using a gun again. Huh.
The Doctor’s ship is intercepted by an Earth battlecruiser. The president hears the tale and while she is sympathetic, the general is unwilling to help the Draconians until a certain revelation is made about his past (and previously unknown) military mistakes. They all set course for the Ogron homeworld, where the Master’s ship has arrived. The Master tries to enthrall Jo and use her and the TARDIS as bait, but she has conditioned herself against the Master’s spell. He also tries the hypnotic sound, but she resists that as well. As she is taken away, she swipes a spoon, which she later uses to escape. She signals the general’s ship as it reaches orbit, but the Master surprises her and explains that she sprung his trap. The transmitter was a short range model, and only the Doctor could have heard her distress call.
The general’s ship lands and his team is ambushed by the Ogrons, who are then driven away by a large creature called the Eater. The Master is angry, and after yet another ship lands, he ambushes the rescue party with the help of his employers: The Daleks.
It was a nice twist that was telegraphed with the presence of the Ogrons, and in this cameo appearance, they conveniently kill all of the rescuers except the Doctor and the Draconian ambassador. It’s at this point that I really missed the old Dalek ray sound and their old voices. The Master convinces the Dalek leader to leave the Doctor unharmed so that his nemesis can see Earth in flames before he is exterminated, and the Doctor gets introduced to yet another jail cell. He escapes after jury-rigging the hypnotic signal, and he sends General Williams and the Draconian ambassador back to Earth with news of the new threat. As the Doctor and Jo make their way to the TARDIS, the Master intercepts the them. The Doctor startles the Ogrons with the hynoptic signal, the Ogrons jostle the Master, the Master shoots the Doctor, and this story ends on an excellent cliffhanger as Jo helps a weakened Doctor to the TARDIS where he contacts the Time Lords and sends a warning.
This story had its moments, but overall it felt like an elaborate setup serial with some excellent performances. Jo was great, and the Master was fun to watch. Looking ahead though, it is sad that Roger Delgado would never reprise that due to his untimely and accidental death. This was a good, yet completely unintentional send-off.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.