As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re looking back at some of the pivotal tales of all of time and space, taking on one Doctor each month, running up to November – and An Unearthly Child…
It’s been hailed as one of the best stories of Season 10, and criticised for being full of padding… but Frontier in Space is a bold space opera that introduces us to a new universe of characters, while indulging in past successes, and doing Star Wars before – – well, before Star Wars!
A Future Amongst The Stars
Doctor Who covers all of time and space, sure, but it was rare to see such an explicit space opera on the small screen. In 1972, Day of the Daleks experimented with time, setting the Doctor’s most famous enemies against a bending story about a massive paradox. And Frontier in Space set out to explore the show’s other remit.
The Whoniverse was always well fabricated and believable (once you ignore the bubble wrap, the strings and the Macra) and 1965’s The Web Planet took the ambitious move to have no humanoids apart from the regular cast, instead featuring the Zarbi, the Menoptera and the Animus. While it wasn’t entirely convincing, it was a big step in the right direction to creating a credible universe. Showcasing Earth in the year 2540, a prison on the moon, Draconia, a plenitude of space craft, and the Ogron homeworld (as well as reminding viewers of Skaro, and hinting to a confrontation on the planet Spiridon in the following serial), Frontier in Space spans as much of the Whoniverse as it can.
Mat Irvine, visual effects designer on stories including The Creature from the Pit, The Face of Evil and Warriors of the Deep, began his Doctor Who career on stories like Frontier. In the DVD documentary, The Space War, he said:
You had got miniatures; you’d got special props (I built a couple of them myself); you’d got the floor effects happening; you’d got location work; and, of course, you’d got special costumes – the Draconians particularly, as well as some of the other creatures in it. ‘Cause there was a lot of creatures in it, actually…
The Draconians, especially, are notable for their excellent costumes and make-up. John Friedlander, from the visual effects department, was responsible for the innovative masks, being told to create something ‘dragon-like.’ These latex faces were more comfortable for the actors inside the bulky, ceremonial-esque costumes, and allowed them to express emotions easier than in previous serials. The Draconians, then, were a race with shared ideals, but seen as individuals, a distinction many other aliens in Who history have sadly lacked.
Frontier in Space began as a step in recreating the success of The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965/66), a 12-part story that saw the First Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions facing up to the titular villains, and their sinister Time Destructor. Day of the Daleks proved that the general public were hungry for the return of the 1960s Dalekmania, and so producer, Barry Letts, and script editor, Terrance Dicks, thought another Master Plan-like tale would satisfy the masses.
Though it was conceived as one 12-part story, it was, instead, split into two, linked serials: Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks, the latter to be written by Dalek creator, Terry Nation. Malcolm Hulke, who was great friends with Dicks and Letts, was chosen to write the former story after previous well-received serials including The War Games, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and The Sea Devils.
There was certainly a reptilian theme running through Hulke’s writing, and the Draconians followed in a similar vein as the Silurians and their underwater cousins, the Sea Devils. The last thing he’d write for Doctor Who was 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
The Who production team was obviously influenced by the success of big sci-fi stories like the popular 2001: a space odyssey movie, described as ‘an epic drama of adventure of exploration.’ (In fact, it seems that this very tagline was written for Who!) Exploration of the unknown was a big interest for a 1970s audience: after the first moon landing in 1969, US President, Richard Nixon (later portrayed in Doctor Who by Stuart Milligan in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon) ordered the development of a space shuttle program in January 1972.
But another popular craze influenced the visual effects team, Bernard Wilkie, Rhys Jones and Mat Irvine: the works of Gerry Anderson!
In the 1960s, Gerry Anderson’s creations were incredibly popular. Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, amongst many others, are still seen as classics today, and Irvine remembers what influence they had on his own design work:
They showed that, in fact, in deep space, you don’t need sleek rockets. Why have you got sleek rockets? There’s no atmosphere that you have to push through, as it were.
UFO ran from 1970 to 1971, a TV series based on an alien invasion of Earth, and when the visual effects team on Doctor Who heard that some Gerry Anderson props were up for grabs, they jumped at the chance. Of course, they all had to be modified for Frontier in Space… but they perhaps got away with more than expected, as Irvine explains:
The Ogron ship, I’m pretty sure, was left over from UFO, and there may have been some small changes, but it’s pretty near-damn as it was for UFO.
“There’s always tomorrow.”
When the 1976 TARGET novelisation of Frontier in Space was written, its linked ending was altered; the Doctor wasn’t shot, and instead followed the Daleks. The Master’s last remark in the novel was, “there’s always tomorrow.”
Roger Delgado was born in 1918 in Whitechapel to a Belgian mother and Spanish father. He’ll forever be remembered as the archetypal Master: scheming and clever, witty and brilliant. When he was onscreen, your eyes would seldom look away. But he’d also worked on his beloved documentaries; acted extensively on the radio and theatre, notably playing Shylock in The Merchants of Venice; enjoyed writing and illustrating; and even worked on comedies like Comedy Playhouse and the spoof, James Bond, Where Are You? Producer, Barry Letts, recalled how the facade of the Master betrayed Delgado’s real personality so mesmerisingly:
Roger was a very gentle person. He was so unlike the Master that you couldn’t imagine. He hadn’t a nasty cell in his body. Everybody liked him… and he never seemed to quarrel with anybody.
Letts had previously worked with Delgado, and so when there was talk of a Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, there was only one name in the hat. Script Editor, Terrance Dicks, explains in the DVD tribute, Roger Delgado: The Master:
Nobody else was considered for a moment for playing the Master… It was always going to be Roger.
He debuted as the renegade Time Lord in 1971’s Terror of the Autons and appeared in every serial in Season 8, such was the popularity of Delgado and his character. He appeared in some of the best-loved stories, like The Claws of Axos, The Sea Devils and The Daemons, the latter of which featured Damaris Hayman, who remembers the extraordinary man:
Because he was such a nice, good person, he could play villains wholeheartedly – whereas people who’ve got a dark side of their own can’t go for it 100% because they’re afraid of giving themselves away. Roger hadn’t got anything to give away, you see; he could do 100% nasty.
As his role (which he nonetheless loved) prevented him from getting much other work, Delgado regretfully asked to be written out at the end of Season 11. The team planned for the Master to die saving the universe, after finally making up with the Doctor. But in between filming, he went to Turkey to star in the comedy film, Bell of Tibet. Though he always wanted to be beside her, Roger told his wife, Kismet, not to come, as his working hours were too extensive and they wouldn’t get to be together. In this way, he saved her. He was involved in a car crash, and passed away, aged just 55.
It shocked everyone, and made Frontier in Space the last appearance of Roger in Doctor Who.
But one thing is for sure: he loved playing the Master. And he’ll never be forgotten. All together now:
“I am the Master… and you will obey me.”