Magic Bullet Productions

60 Stupid Things About “Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks”
(And 40 Cool Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 409/10 

1. Let’s get this out of the way right now: How, in any practical sense, can you have a “frontier in space”? Particularly one with patrol ships?

2. At that, the title suggests a space-Western type story, so perhaps something along the lines of “Cold War in Space” might have lead to less confusion.

3. If both the Earth cargo ship and the TARDIS are travelling towards each other in hyperspace, and the TARDIS avoided a collision with it by returning to normal space, how did the TARDIS wind up on board the vessel?

4. The opening shots show the cargo ship apparently drifting idly through the galaxies, making it the most un-hyperspace-like hyperspace in telefantasy.

5. When Jo Grant looks at the Ogron spaceship, it blurs, then turns into... an Ogron spaceship. Shouldn’t it turn into something that Jo might find actually disturbing rather than something she’s never seen before?

6. When under the influence of the hypnotic device, Jo sees a Drashig, and the crewman sees a Draconian, but the Doctor sees nothing out of the ordinary. This might seem like a Stupid Thing, but, since the Master designed the device, it’s probably just that he was smart enough to make sure it didn’t work on Time Lords, which is confirmed during the attack on the Draconian palace in Episode Five, when Jo can hear the sound of the device but the Doctor can’t.

7. The selection of the Parliament Building in Brasilia as the Presidential palace might not simply be because it looks sort of modernist-futuristic; in 1959, John Wynham’s novel The Outward Urge posited a future Earth in which Brazil is top nation.

8. The script apparently emphasises that the President’s gender should not be remarked upon and should not be used to make any sort of point related to “women’s lib”. Considering Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks’ usual patronising treatment of female characters in any sort of role outside the kitchen, Hulke probably felt he had to make that point.

9. Though annoyingly, we do get a heavy handed “I think it’s about time women’s lib was brought to Draconia!” from Jo in Episode Five.

10. Pertwee Era Recyclingwatch, Part I: It’s a bit surprising that, after the Doctor explains how the hypnotic device works to her, Jo doesn’t make any reference to the events of “The Mind of Evil”.

11. If you want people to live in your brand-new Arctic-region cities, it might help not to name them after Montreal and Glasgow.

12. Enclosed cities, overly-ambitious military leaders, offworld prisons, bolshy territories, social control and equal-opportunities politics: Take out the various aliens, and this might as well be Blake’s 7.

13. Or, if you like, the United States of America, circa 2013.

14. Between the costumes, the lighting, and the sets (with ceilings!), this is certainly a good serial for production values.

15. Shame about the Seventies electric-organ soundtrack though: Less Radiophonic Workshop, more Hammond.

16. “You know how stupid computers can be”, the Doctor observes, proving that such remarks predate the development of Microsoft Windows.

17. “A sort of hairy jellyfish with claws, teeth and a leg”.

18. South Bank! For all your dystopian needs!

19. Why is it that it doesn’t occur to any of the Earth authorities to search the Doctor? Or, that it might be a bad idea to lock the two prisoners in the same cell?

20. For that matter, if the sonic screwdriver is confiscated by the Moon prison authorities, why don’t the Earth authorities do the same? Also, how is it that the Doctor has somehow got his sonic screwdriver back by “Planet of the Daleks” Episode Two?

21. And in Episode Six, despite having had a change of costume, Jo still has her skeleton keys, meaning that the Earth authorities must have allowed her to keep them. What exactly is wrong with these people?

22. With the two worlds on the brink of war, the Draconian ambassador apparently thinks it’s a good idea to stage an armed raid on an Earth prison. The phrase “thick as two short planks” does leap to mind.

23.  The President has a nice line in coloured hair extensions.

24. The Doctor has been to the Moon four times: “The Moonbase”, “The Seeds of Death”, this story, and “Smith and Jones”. Make of that what you will.

25.  “The lunar surface is a painted cyclorama” (DVD infotext). Well, that’s going to disappoint the Apollo programme.

26. The prison governor’s name is Stevens.

27. The idea that a criminal would help a politico escape, on the assumption that his fringe party is going to take over, is naïve, and the whole thing just screams “setup”. It’s no wonder Professor Dale is in a penal colony, it’s just surprising he actually managed to get a professorship somewhere beforehand.

28. Fun fact: The spacesuits used by the American space programme were designed and manufactured by Playtex. This doesn’t have anything really to do with “Frontier in Space”, but it’s an amusing thing to keep in mind while watching it.

29. The resolution to the Episode Three/Four cliffhanger is that the Master saves the Doctor’s life. And you really have to ask why.

30. The karate pajamas on the prisoners are more or less OK. The plastic sandals, though, would make Gok Wan weep.

31. It’s an interesting reminder of how much things have changed in the past forty years that the Master points out the closed-circuit television camera on the police ship as if it’s an amazing novelty.

32. Although, had there been a few more CCTV cameras around the place, the whole racket with the hypnotic device and the Ogrons would have been completely invalid.

33. Also in the how-things-have-changed department, Katy Manning has a pretty nasty smokers’ cough throughout the story, which sounds strange to modern listeners.

34. Everybody makes a big deal about the fact that the Master is reading Wells’ The War of the Worlds, given that he’s trying to foment interplanetary warfare. However, since the book is actually about the repulsion by Earth people of a colonizing force of Martians, one fails to see any parallels at all.

35. He ought to have been reading that seminal text Doctor Who and the Space War by noted left-wing philosopher Malcolm Hulke. That would at least have given him a few ideas as to where his plan might go wrong.

36. The logo on the Master’s police ship appears to be a stylised Dalek. Has the world of Sirius IV, unbeknownst to Earth, been taken over, or entered into some kind of alliance? Hmm.

37. Pertwee Era Recyclingwatch, Part II: This is the second time in two Malcolm Hulke scripts (both ending with the phrase “...in Space”) that the Master has held Jo captive in some sort of airtight container and threatened to kill her at the press of a button.

38. The Ogron spaceship is described as looking “cruder and more primitive” than the other spacecraft, recalling, the infotext notes, the Ogrons themselves. However, this suggests the Ogrons are capable of building spaceships, which makes them really rather sophisticated as a culture. Logic Fail.

39. On the one hand you have a corrupt democracy that’s one bomb threat away from becoming a military dictatorship. On the other you have a decadent and failing rigid hierarchical feudal society. And the Doctor thinks either of these civilizations are worth defending?

40. Jo says that her trick for resisting hypnotic conditioning involves “filling your head with nonsense”. Which is such an obvious setup line that we’re not going to rise to the bait.

41.  The spacewalk sequence in Episode Six is utterly lacking in tension. Is the Doctor going to die? Is the Draconian ship going to open fire and kill everyone before he completes the repairs? Yeah, right.

42. Yes, yes, the giant orange bouncy-castle-monster. Let’s get that over with.

43. Why can’t the Daleks take the Doctor to Skaro with them? Why leave him in the custody of the Master?

44. In the commentary, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks try to pin all the blame on the (conveniently dead) Paul Bernard for the unsatisfactory ending of the serial, which is distinctly unfair of them.

45. What appears to have happened is rather that, first, the giant orange bouncy-castle-monster did not live up to expectations and so couldn’t be used as part of the climax of the story, second, they suddenly realised that the ending of “Frontier in Space” didn’t match up with the beginning of “Planet of the Daleks” (which had been written three months previously), meaning that the  final scenes were still being rewritten on 31 October 1972, the last day of recording. Which would put the blame more firmly on the producer and the script editor.

46. Despite the complaints that the ending as transmitted wasn’t a very satisfactory one for the Master, Hulke’s original version (in which General Williams chases the Master off set) isn’t much cop either.

47. Wouldn’t it have been a better ending if, instead, the plot resolution comes because the Master, being a chaotic-evil sort of character, winds up screwing over the Daleks and saving the day for Earth and Draconia? Plus this would have finally provided a way to give a satisfying, upbeat, story conclusion for the Master without conveying the message that evil has somehow triumphed over good. After all, why would the Master want the Daleks to conquer the galaxy?

48. This also would not necessarily preclude the tie-in with “Planet of the Daleks”, since the Dalek menace is still out there, and the story could easily be written to have the Doctor wounded in some other way than being shot at by the Master.

49. Though why have him wounded at all? You could have the sight of the Master hailed as a hero by humans and Draconians causing the Doctor to spend the first episode of “Planet of the Daleks” in bed having a massive sulk.

50. Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo are captured by the Earth freighter pilots, then escape, then are locked up again by the crew of the battle cruiser, are transferred to Earth, are imprisoned, escape, are recaptured by the humans and Draconians respectively, the Doctor escapes, is recaptured by the humans, another escape ensues followed by recapture, the Doctor is then transferred to the Moon and Jo to the Master’s prison ship, the Doctor attempts to escape and winds up in the custody of the Master too, the Doctor and Jo escape and are captured by the Draconians, then, while the Doctor hobnobs with the Emperor, Jo is recaptured by the Ogrons, and, once the Doctor et al. have followed her to the Ogron Planet, they are all captured, then escape. And that’s the story.

51. The next serial underwent a number of title changes, including “Return of the Daleks”, “Planet of the Daleks”, “I’d Rather Be Writing The Incredible Robert Baldick”, “Destination Daleks”, and “Planet of the Daleks” again.

52. In the Sixties, the TARDIS furniture was a combination of Victorian antiques and ultra-modern futuristic pieces; in the Seventies, it appears to have been furnished by IKEA.

53. Jo’s futuristic Dictaphone is one of those newfangled microcassettes. Which is the equivalent of having someone talk into a USB stick.

54. You can see the studio reflected in the silver strip on the TARDIS' central column.

55. Any suggestion that this serial was not intended as a homage to “The Daleks” is knocked for a loop by the black-and-white tracking shot across an alien jungle.

56. Episode One is very dialogue-light, but right up until the appearance of the Thals twelve minutes in, t doesn’t actually require any dialogue at all.

57. Terry Nation Auto-Recyclingwatch: Thals (all male bar a single token female), invisible creatures, jungle planets, killer plants, Fungoids, slave-workers, regulars falling ill, person disguised as Dalek, underground cities, cave systems and crawling-through-tunnels sequences.

58. Terrance Dicks was apparently involved with every aspect of this serial's writing. So those inclined to slag off Nation for this one are hypocrites if they don’t also let his co-writer take some of the flak.

59. The fact that the fungus coating the TARDIS suffocates the Doctor inside it, suggests that the exterior of the TARDIS is permeable. Which ties in with a line in “The Chase” (BARBARA: Oh, Doctor, why don't we just stay where we are? DOCTOR WHO: That's out of the question, my dear. The vacuum in space, we should all be dead in no time) but is still utter rubbish.

60. Spiridon (270-348) is an Eastern Orthodox saint whose main claims to fame involve converting a pagan philosopher to Christianity by explaining the concept of the Trinity to him, and being the patron saint of Corfu. None of which has anything to do with the planet Spiridon at all, but is strangely amusing for its very lack of connection.

61. Yes, Terrance Dicks on the commentary track, you’re right: It is completely daft that the expedition are carrying cans of graffiti paint around the jungle with them. Are they planning on writing “Vaber woz Ere” on the ruins,  or something?

62. Weber (1864-1920) was a pioneering German sociologist whose main claims to fame involve writing The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, supporting an anti-positivist and  interpretative methodological basis for the social sciences, and being co-founder of the German Democratic Party. None of which has anything to do with the Thal of the similar-sounding name, but is strangely amusing for its very lack of connection.

63. “If I have to die, I want it to be for a better reason than providing nourishment for a flesh-eating tentacle!” (Vaber, 2419-2450, not Weber, 1864-1920).

64. One has to ask, if the Daleks are so determined to rule the galaxy and are such an effective antagonistic force, why don't they start off with wiping out the Thal opposition on their own planet?

65. Why don’t the Daleks bother to take the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver off him when imprisoning him? They also leave him with a non-sonic screwdriver and Jo’s Dictaphone, which also seems pretty lax of them, considering that the first time they imprisoned the fellow back in 1963, he was able to escape using a cloak and some mud. Have they been taking security tips from the Earth authorities?

66. Rebec and her crew crash their ship into the jungle because they came in too fast at too steep an angle. Talk about an own goal.

67. Ten thousand Daleks? To invade an entire galaxy? “One Dalek can exterminate all” to the contrary notwithstanding, it doesn’t exactly sound like an effective force.

68. And why freeze them? Surely there’s plenty of work for them to do in the meantime while they wait for rolling orders. The Doctor’s explanation about preserving them from aging and degeneration makes no sense, as “The Daleks’ Master Plan” implies they’re immortal, and “The Power of the Daleks” demonstrates that they are certainly capable of sitting in a swamp for 200 years without ill effect.

69. Rebec is described as “a lady of strong character who clashes with Taron about the conduct of the expedition”. So, basically Vaber with boobs then.

70. And the fact that “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, made nearly a decade earlier, included strong women and complex emotional storylines without having to actually specify in the outline that this should be the case, is something of an indictment of the programme.

71. Why do the Daleks have what appears to be a stainless steel coatstand in their base, and why do they leave a Thal's gun hanging on there, right outside the cell in which said Thal is imprisoned?

72. And why does the Dalek cavern also have a serving hatch, with doorknobs, at the eye level of a reasonably tall human? Yes, this has been observed before, but it’s so daft people need to be reminded of it over and over so that it doesn’t happen again.

73. Marat (1743-1793) was a physician, scientist and journalist whose main claims to fame involve being one of the instigators of the French Revolution and being murdered in his bath by a rival dissident. None of which has anything to do with the Thal of the same name at all, but is likewise strangely amusing, etc. etc.

74. The Doctor and Codal just happen to have escaped and be wandering down the right corridor at the right time to save the rest of the Thals from being engulfed in freezing liquid in the shaft, and two Daleks just happen to pass by in time to be hit by the fluid. Hell of a set of coincidences, even by Doctor Who standards.

75. At that, the uncontrolled liquid must have filled up the corridor and caused a major logistical situation in the Dalek operations, which goes completely unmentioned and unacknowledged in the rest of the story.

76. The rock that hits Jo would have killed a normal person, suggesting her head is solid bone.

77. A group of Daleks get blown up by a bomb set by the Daleks earlier. Seriously. Is there no communication among these beings?

78. What kind of culture do the Spiridons have, apart from wandering around clad only in purple fun-fur, and constructing a few statues?

79. Possibly, given the contents of the jungle, they are the remains of an ancient civilisation which specialised in genetically engineering plants which naturally grow their own pots, which would be useful for gardeners.

80. The fact that a report on television violence had recently come out which complained particularly about Doctor Who may explain the heavy-handed thread of moralising about war and courage which runs through this story.

81. Likewise, a report by a consumer organisation complaining that the scene of the Thals wearing vaguely bell-jar-like headgear would cause children to put plastic bags on their heads, somehow didn’t think that the same children might well try and levitate using hot air and a piece of plastic sheeting.

82. There seems an unreasonable assumption that the creatures on the Plain of Stones are dangerous. How do the Thals know they aren’t shooting the Spiridon equivalent of koala bears?

83. “If they come in ones and twos, we might manage to beat them off”.

84. Despite knowing that the Spiridons are slave-workers, and despite all his earlier guff about peace and tolerance, the Doctor’s first reaction upon seeing Wester is to try and bash his head in with a short stick.

85. If the Thals’ suits have thermal liners, why did they need to go to the Plain of Stones to keep warm?

86. Watch out for Zippy the Dalek, going from 0-60 in Episode Five.

87. Scorch marks from where the Dalek on the anti-gravitational disc crashed landed in the cooling chamber are visible in production photographs, but barely shown on screen. Perhaps because it might have raised the question in the audience’s mind of why such a catastrophic explosion doesn’t seem to have done much damage to the Daleks’ cooling unit.

88. The gold-black-and-purple Disco Dalek, despite its pimpin’ colour scheme and peculiar top-section movement, is a lot more impressive than any of the others in this serial.

89. And even the gold-black-and-purple colour scheme is better than the primary-colour Duplo Daleks of the present day.

90. This serial saw the development of three experimental Dalek props, which had a ring modulator built into the casing itself, meaning that the Dalek operator could also voice the Daleks. In May 1973, two of the props were stolen and later turned up, one with a smashed ring modulator. Although the mystery was never solved, we suspect Roy Skelton and Michael Wisher may have had something to say about it.

91. The Doctor’s initial plan to foil the Dalek invasion of the galaxy was to lock the controls of the refrigeration unit in the “on” position. Talk about undramatic.

92. The  images of stars and the planet Skaro that appear on the TARDIS scanner at the end of Episode Six look distinctly reminiscent of the images of stars and the planet Skaro that appear on the TARDIS scanner in “Edge of Destruction/The Brink of Disaster”.

93. What is the point of the Dalek invisibility project? Do they plan to take over the galaxy by stealth?

94. Louis Marks Recyclingwatch: Daleks fomenting war on Earth in order to take over.

95. Louis Marx Recyclingwatch: A ten-thousand Dalek army. And if you don’t get this joke, you have to hand back your DWAS membership.

96. Towards the end of  “Frontier in Space” the Master is informed that with Earth and Draconia on the brink of war, the gold Dalek and its escorts will now “return to base and prepare the army of the Daleks”. Six episodes later the Dalek Supreme lands on Spiridon and gives instructions that their frozen army should be released. Why did it take him so long?

97. Perhaps, given that his appearance changes completely between serials, he stopped for a makeover.

98. The Daleks engineer a disease which will destroy all non-immunized animal and plant life on Spiridon, leaving only the Daleks and their slaveworkers untouched. So, what happens when the Dalek Supreme and his entourage arrive then? D’Oh.

99. Considering that it would have taken the Master months, at most, to foment war between two already-hostile empires, it seems distinctly odd that the Daleks are taking the trouble to invade a planet, excavate a base, and put most of their force in cold storage.

100. Terrance Dicks, on the commentary track, makes cutting remarks about how Doctor Who in the RTD Era (screening at the time), consisted largely of plotless, illogical moving about from exciting moment to exciting moment. A valid criticism, but not really one you want to make in comparison with this particular serial.

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