“FRONTIER IN SPACE” – Season 10, Serial 3, Story 67 – Written by Malcolm Hulke; Directed by Paul Bernard and David Maloney (uncredited) – The Third Doctor and Jo get embroiled in the Master’s plot to get Earth and Draconia involved in an interstellar work. There’s lots of going back and forth and lots of “we don’t believe you” and “why should we believe you.” And yeah, it’s one of those classically padded serials that takes too long to get anywhere, but there’s a lot of good here, too, and a bit of sad. Because This Is The Final Bow For Roger Delgado As The Master.
There is no official goodbye, unfortunately. The Master’s plan begins to crumble at the hands of the Doctor, his hired Ogrons panic and flee, and the Master shoots the Doctor in the head and then runs off in the growing confusion.
And that is the last we see of Roger Delgado. A few months after this final appearance, Delgado was tragically killed in a car wreck in Turkey, and the Master wouldn’t be seen on screen again until 1976 (THE DEADLY ASSASSIN) and not again with a human face until Anthony Ainley took over the role in 1981 (THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN). It must have been a noticeable absence for regular viewers at the time, as Delgado’s Master had been a consistent presence since his debut two years earlier (TERROR OF THE AUTONS).
Delgado was almost always entertaining, almost always able to bring the most out of the sometimes incredibly daft scripts he was given. The script for FRONTIER IN SPACE is an average one but in the scenes where the Master is placed alongside the Doctor and Jo, he shines.
One of my all-time favorite Master scenes takes place near the end of FRONTIER, when he’s captured Jo for the second time and plans to use her to trap the Doctor. First, he tries to hypnotize her, but she rebuffs him by reciting nursery rhymes. He’s foiled but gains some respect for “Miss Grant,” so he tries to use his fear-inducing machine on her, and again, she proves herself too mentally strong for that machine. He can’t help but be impressed, and I had a sudden desire to see The Adventures of the Master and Jo Show.
Delgado is great playing off the Doctor, too, and he feels so integrated into the Pertwee/Manning personality dynamic this time around that even after all these appearances I really found myself wishing for more. For not the first time you get the sense of a shared bond between the two Time Lords and a reason why, even though the Master keeps trying to kill the Doctor, there’s feelings between them. This relationship between Pertwee’s Doctor and Delgado’s Master is a clear inspiration for the Tennant/Simm relationship during the relaunch.
The plot of FRONTIER is workmanlike is concept and sometimes dreary in execution. The Master is manipulating hostilities between Earth and Draconia by using a fear machine to get each side to think the other is attacking them, when really it’s the Ogrons doing all the attacking and raiding. This leads to some really, really tedious time on Earth. The Doctor and Jo are believed to be Draconian spies by the Earth forces, and no matter what they say, they’re not believed. The Earth President is inclined to want peace, her main military chief is inclined to want war, and thus he continually acts like a roadblock. It gets a bit frustrating because we have to see it over and over again. Once is really all we needed to see to get the point.
Once the Master shows up, Malcolm Hulke’s script does its darnedest to keep things going, and FRONTIER is one of those odd serials that feels bloated at the beginning rather than the end. There’s a bit too much back and forth, but at least there’s movement. When we get to the end we get a really interesting twist; instead of the Doctor defeating the Master and having a pretty bow put on the story, the Daleks show up out of nowhere, the Master shoots the Doctor, things get chaotic, and Jo helps a wounded Doctor into the TARDIS where he sends a telepathic warning call to the Time Lords. It’s a rather exciting final few minutes, and doesn’t just lead into the next serial – it shoves everyone forward into PLANET OF THE DALEKS.
FRONTIER is a serial, then, that sits on the other side of mediocre. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, and it’s well worth watching for all of the great interaction between Pertwee, Manning, and Delgado. In fact, their interaction does elevate the serial beyond the tedious political bits and if you’re looking for some good old fashioned WHO, you could do a lot worse.
It also has a bit of special meaning to me, as this was the serial being broadcast when I was born. Not, you know, in the room when it was happening, but it was during this run that I emerged into the world, which means the first episode of DOCTOR WHO broadcast after I got a name featured the Master and the Daleks.
I’m sure 1 day old me would have been mighty impressed.