Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Frontier In Space - "Got a trouble maker, have we?" "That's what I'm in for."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Frontier In Space - Details

Season 10, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #67)

"Frontier In Space" is a six-parter that runs directly into "Planet of the Daleks," also a six-parter. I'm a little concerned about my ability to handle what is, effectively, a twelve part epic in a timely fashion with the way work-life balance is tipping back towards work and my desire to stay on top the Series 8 stories as they come out. Since I mushed "Kinda" and "Snakedance" into one post when they're not quite so closely tied together, at least not in sequence, I leaned towards taking on "Frontier," then putting its write-up on ice until I can get to "Planet of the Daleks" so they could go out together. Watching his right after "Listen" though, I wanted to strike while the iron was still hot, so "Planet" will get its re-watch later and its own post.

What struck me about "Frontier" was, while quite a different beast than "Listen," it is linked thematically, and by a few particulars, in a way that resonated powerfully with the investigation of fear that ran through "Genesis of the Daleks," back through "An Unearthly Child," and into "Listen."

On the surface, "Frontier" could hardly be less like "Listen." The former is a political space opera with Ogrons raiding Human and Draconian ships to drive a wedge between the two uncomfortable allies. The Ogrons, brutish mercenaries we last saw in "Day of the Daleks," are revealed to be in the employ of the Master, who expects to step into the galactic power vacuum he's hoping to create by turning the two empires against one another -- with a little help from his "employers". (The Ogrons are a giveaway, to us if not the Doctor, what force stands behind the Master.) Ogron raiding parties strike all over the galaxy, boarding ships and bursting into government offices. We meet the President of Earth, her belligerent general, the Draconian royal family, political prisoners plotting escape from a lunar penal colony, the colony's corrupt staff, and on and on. The latter is a claustrophobic character piece that tracks the Doctor, Clara, Danny Pink, Orson Pink, and a monster that may or may not even be real, through a handful of locations.

The Master reads "The War of the Worlds"
Image via I Am Not a Politician, I'm a Spy
What they have in common though is an injunction not let fear overrule our better natures. The Master has provided the Ogrons with a device that makes them look to their victims like that which they fear most, so humans think they are being attacked by Draconians, and vice versa. Both sides of the alliance want to keep the peace, but have political realities to manage, and those realities include fearful warmongers in positions of power. Fear is what allows the Master, and the Daleks, to manipulate the powerful empires they seek to displace. The Doctor recognizes this, and with Jo's help -- the Master can't get over on her! -- ultimately helps sustain the alliance and bring the more bellicose members of the two sides into common cause.

Watching "Frontier," there were two times I snapped my finger, pointed at the screen, and thought, 'Moffat had this in mind when writing "Listen"': the first was seeing the Doctor get knocked out and his forehead bloodied -- when it happened in "Listen," I thought, 'we almost never see him actually cut in a scuffle', so when it happened again in "Frontier" it felt like a deliberate repetition; but, I might not have even remembered the thought if the second thing hadn't happened, the Doctor using the TARDIS's telepathic interface on the center console, which Clara uses in "Listen."

Maybe I'm noticing coincidental similarities and it's just my pattern recognition heuristics running hot, but this is a perfect example of what I'd hoped would happen when I decided to do this complete series re-watch non-sequentially, that bouncing back and forth between classic and new series stories would spark recognition of similarities or differences around thematic elements that I might otherwise not recall if fully immersed in one era.

Here's a nifty bit of casting: the news anchor reporting on reaction to another presumed Draconian attack on an Earth cargo ship, he's played by the same actor, Louis Mahoney, who played the aged police officer Sally Sparrow spends a rainy afternoon with in "Blink"!

Image via Doctor Who Randomness

Image via Doctor Who Randomness
A few of the props used in the is production are decidedly unfuturistic looking. The sippy cups used by the prisoners of the lunar penal colony for one. The chairs outfitted with seatbelts for the various space ships look like they came right off the showroom floor of a local furniture gallery.

On sad note, this is the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master. He died in a car crash a few months after this story aired while working on location in Turkey.

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