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Frontier in Space

The Third Doctor and Jo find themselves at the heart of an escalating dispute between two mighty empires. It could mean war... in space!


Scratching beneath the surface of Doctor Who’s most fascinating tales...

Modern-day viewers of Frontier in Space might well shudder when its final episode presents us with a red-faced American politician whooping his furious followers into a frenzy with vows to avenge his people’s perceived humiliation at the hands of alien powers: “There is only one solution now!” he rages. “War! War! War!” Fortunately, a liberal-minded woman President stands in the way of such belligerent populism – if the military will let her, of course. And some presume to call Doctor Whofantasy…!

It might have aired 43 full years ago, but Frontier in Space was always designed to have a political dimension – except that back then, the late Malcolm Hulke was using Earthmen and Draconians as proxies to write about the ongoing Cold War between East and West. He admitted as much, in a profile piece published in DWM 91: “The two sides as far as I was concerned were the Soviet Union and America and somebody else trying to tickle ’em up and get them at war with each other when they were quite capable of living at peace.”

Would Hulke have been surprised to learn that Frontier in Space has remained relevant, long after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Probably not. Because Frontier in Space tells us that the warmongers will always be with us – in 2540 just as they were in 1973, and just as they are in 2016 too.

Episode One


In space, Earth cargo ship C-982 is in flight. Following Draconian attacks on two other Earth vessels, Hardy (John Rees) fears an interplanetary war; but his only shipmate Stewart (James Culliford) thinks it’ll all blow over.

◼ The Frontier in Space guest cast included a great many actors whom director Paul Bernard, formerly a designer, had encountered before. John Rees (1927-94), for example, had played a ‘Derek Smith’ in a Bernard-designed Sunday-Night Play: Hedgehog (broadcast 2 September 1962); he’d also featured as a Sonar Operator in a Bernard-directed episode of the scientific thriller series R3: Experiment in Depth (27 July 1965). James Culliford, meanwhile, had played one ‘Alf Noble’ in a Bernard-directed instalment of ATV’s street market soap Honey Lane (25 March 1969).

◼ “We shall be entering hyperspace in 50 seconds,” announces Hardy – seemingly the first use of the term ‘hyperspace’ in Doctor Who, despite it having been in common science-fictional use for many years: in Isaac Asimov’s short story Little Lost Robot (1947), for example, the physicist Gerald Black describes how ‘fooling around with hyper-space [sic] isn’t fun… We run the risk continually of blowing a hole in normal space-time fabric’. To the television-watching public of the early 1970s, however, the concept would have been more familiar from the ‘warp drive’ used aboard the USS Enterprise in Star Trek (1966-69) – a series that Frontier in Space writer Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks are known to have watched keenly, modelling their jointly authored volume The Making of Doctor Who (1972) on its Star Trek equivalent (published 1968).

The President of Earth remonstrates with the Draconian ambassador.

◼ Stage directions likened Hardy and Stewart to ‘a couple of long distance lorry drivers’ – and just like long distance lorry drivers, their ‘cab’ is decorated with pictures of sexy ladies: ‘eg Jane Fonda in “Barbarella” is stuck to the bulkhead’ suggested Hulke. Alas: neither of the pictures seen on screen – which appear to have been torn from magazines, then Sellotaped to the wall – derives from director Roger Vadim’s saucy space romp of 1968. Despite exhaustive effort, The Fact of Fiction has been unable to identify their origin: their style isn’t unlike that of the influential women’s magazine Nova (1965-75), noted for its far-out fashion spreads by the German ‘art’ photographer Helmut Newton (among others); they’re mildly reminiscent, too, of the sci-fi ‘photo stories’ published in the late 1960s psychedelic/erotic magazine Zeta, which begat the psychedelic/erotic movie Zeta One (1970). If anyone knows for sure where they came from, though: please write in, it’s driven The Fact of Fiction half-mad.

The ship jumps into hyperspace, but is forced to pull out when a mysterious object – the TARDIS – appears in its path.

◼ Hardy is “preparing to enter hyperspace at 22 oh-nine 72, two thousand, five hundred and forty EST” – garbling the scripted line, which specified ‘22.17’ [ie, the time], then ‘seven two’ [ie, the date: 7 February], then finally the year – 2540. But Stewart’s subsequent line was (we presume erroneously) scripted as ‘Pulling out of hyperspace now at 22.19, seven two, seven two four zero’; on screen, James Culliford alters the time to ‘22.13’, but leaves the messed-up year intact!

After vanishing, the TARDIS has in fact rematerialised in the Hold – Dr Who (Jon Pertwee) having made a last-minute course correction.

◼ At storyline stage, the near-collision was described from the opposite point of view – with the cargo ship appearing on the scanner of the Doctor’s TARDIS.

“I came in order to warn you that this man is plotting a war between Earth and Draconia!”

While he goes back inside his TARDIS to check their exact time/space location, his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) observes that the ship is carrying a cargo of bulk flour.

◼ Jo is wearing the same ensemble she wore in the preceding adventure, Carnival of Monsters (1973) – in which the TARDIS had also materialised inside the cargo hold of an Earth ship, the 1920s steamer SS Bernice. On that occasion, the TARDIS had been en route to the planet Metebelis III; now, however, the Doctor claims to be attempting to return to Earth, without explanation (dialogue in The Green Death, two adventures hence, will confirm that they never made it to Metebelis).

Through a porthole, she sees a distant spaceship – but then hears a strange noise, whereupon the ship changes shape. On the Flight Deck, Hardy and Stewart also see the “weird-looking crate” become a Draconian battle cruiser.

◼ The Doctor will soon claim that the ‘hypnosound’ makes people see what they fear most. Certainly, Hardy and Stewart fear being attacked by a Draconian ship – but why should Jo share their exact same delusion, given that she’s never even heard of the Draconians before? Clearly, it’s set to conjure up a very specific image in the minds of those affected… n The production team’s desire to feature ‘space hardware’ heavily in this adventure was aided by the fact that BBC Visual Effects had recently acquired a large stock of models and other pieces cast off by Gerry Anderson’s Century 21 company. One of the ships seen here, for example, was modified from a previous appearance in the UFO episode Close Up (1970).

While Stewart transmits an emergency message, the Doctor observes that the approaching ship is about to link up with the Earth vessel, via an Airlock.

◼ Well, the two ships are joined together by a sort of tunnel, you see…” explains the Doctor. The proposed linking of two superpowers’ space vessels by just such a mechanism made headlines while Hulke was still writing his scripts: on 24 May 1972, during a state visit to Moscow, US President Richard signed an agreement committing American astronauts in an Apollo spacecraft to link up with Soviet cosmonauts in a Soyuz ship in orbit above the Earth. (The historic docking eventually occurred three years later, on 17 July 1975.)

He walks into Hardy, fetching blasters – but when the strange noise is heard again, Hardyperceives the Doctor as a reptile-like Draconian, bearing a gun.

◼ Originally, Hulke pitted Earth against the Empire of another galaxy altogether – that of the Andromedans, humanoids with ‘distinctive acquiline features’, according to his storyline. These beaky-nosed bandits didn’t become the Draconians until script stage, when they were described as ‘basically humanoid’, with ‘clawed’ hands and ‘dragon-like’ heads.

◼ Ex-designer Paul Bernard devised the Draconians’ look (originally with flimsy film-like fins fanning out from the back of their heads, across their shoulders); their half-masks were then realised by sculptor John Friedlander.

Jo, however, sees Hardy as a terrible Drashig…

◼ … ie, one of the savage omnivores native to a moon of Grundle that she so recently encountered as part of the monstrous menagerie held inside a MiniScope (in Carnival of Monsters). But the Drashigs were (of course) enormous – so why should Jo now perceive one as more-or-less human-sized?

On the Flight Deck, Stewart sees a Draconian Space Pilot (Roy Pattison) order him to open the Airlock hatch – and is astonished when Hardy brings in two ‘Dragons’ (ie, the Doctor and Jo), since the other ship is still locking on.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

DWM 502 looks forward to the new TARDIS team of the Doctor, Bill and Nardole! Contents include exclusive interviews with showrunner Steven Moffat and with casting director Andy Pryor; artist Mike Collins shows how he created the storyboards for the 2015 series Doctor Who; the new comic strip, The Pestilent Heart by Mark Wright continues; the history of DWM with BBC Enterprises in the mag's earliest days is revealed; the Time Team watch Amy's Choice; The Fact of Fiction focuses on the 1973 Third Doctor adventure, Frontier in Space; plus prize-winning competitions, official news, reviews, previews and much, much more!