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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Delgado, Diplomacy and Draconians [WHO-50—1973]

January 22nd, 2013 at 8:33

1973The Master:
Nobody could be more devoted to the cause of peace than I! As a commissioner of Earth’s Interplanetary Police, I have devoted my life to the cause of law and order, and law and order can only exist in a time of peace.

The Doctor:
Are you feeling all right, old chap?

[Doctor Who - Frontier in Space, 1973]

As I mentioned last week, 1973 is “my” year of the Pertwee era, and my go-to episodes to watch most come from this year: Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors and the most excellent The Green Death. I really enjoy the more mature Jo of these stories, and the comfortable relationship she has with the Doctor – and while I know in my head that the earthbound UNIT years are a big part of what make the Third Doctor a special snowflake, I do love to see him swanning around foreign planets.

That brings me to Frontier in Space or as I like to think of it, Doctor Who and The Space War. Like Day of the Daleks, this is a story I first experienced as a Target novelisation, and no matter how well it was rendered on screen (and I think they did a pretty good job of it), the book version is the “real” one for me.

I’m genuinely surprised that the Draconian Empire never showed up again, as this particular Earth future and its corresponding space-war political problems are so well-realised in this story. The Draconians themselves come across as a well-developed alien race through careful telling details, and their design looks fabulous.

my life at your commandWas it too Star Trek and not Doctor Who enough? Is that why they didn’t bring them back? Or was it merely that no one thought to put the later Doctors back into the future that had been built for Jon Pertwee to visit?

I’d love to see the Draconians back in New Who, dealing with the Doctor once again. Their story potential has been explored a bit in the Bernice Summerfield audio adventures and some of the books, and more importantly they have been REFERENCED in The Pandorica Opens. So no excuses, then.

But let’s get back to Frontier in Space/Doctor Who and the Space War, the first appearance of this interesting alien race! I recently re-experienced it through the audiobook version of the novelisation, read by the suave Geoffrey Beevers (Caroline John’s widower, who played the Master in The Keeper of Traken and has continued to play him as a voice role in many excellent Big Finish Audio Productions. And it’s really, really good.

I did end up wanting to watch the TV version as well, if only for Roger Delgado’s marvellous performance.

Delgado was not “my” Master because Anthony Ainley got a hold on me too early for me to have a say in the matter, but he is one of the best things about this era of Doctor Who. His tragic death not long after this story means that his run was confined to three years, and Frontier in Space has taken on a certain poignancy in retrospect, as the last appearance of the first Master.

Would he have returned to the role in later years, meeting other Doctors? He certainly would have been invited back for Pertwee’s final story, which might no longer have looked anything like Planet of the Spiders and was intended to leave us with a legacy never followed through on – the identity of the Master as the Doctor’s brother. I’m a bit glad that’s never been confirmed as the question is so much more interesting than any old answer.

Would we have even had Tom Baker as the longest-serving Doctor? The death of his kind and gentle friend has been cited as one of the main reasons that Jon Pertwee chose to hang up his velvet jacket when he did.

imagesThe Master has certainly had a bit of character growth just in time for Frontier in Space, moving him up in the universe – no longer willing to settle for failing to take over the Earth (or, well, London), he has now turned his eye to galactic conquest, and is juggling allies as he stirs up war between the Draconians and humans.

I am a sucker for “sneaky third person starts a war between two parties by making them distrust each other” stories and this is a particularly good example of the type. Of course it’s the Master behind it all! And while it doesn’t quite follow through, it’s pretty cool that he teams up with the Daleks, gets along very badly with them, then escapes to leave the Doctor to deal with the Daleks in a following story.

He also manages to turn up and save the Doctor’s life in the nick of time, and to save Jo at least once from one of the many incarcerations she experiences in this story. Just because he’s a villain doesn’t mean he’s not a gentleman.

It’s lovely the way that Jo is so pleased to see him – sure, he’s the bad guy, but he’s HER bad guy, and more importantly he’s a familiar face at a time when she is surrounded by aliens and futuristic humans who are not making her feel particularly at home. We hear a lot about the relationship between Delgado’s Master and the Third Doctor but I think the Master-Jo dynamic is also great.

196px-Doctor_Who_and_the_Space_WarAfter all, Roger Delgado and Katy Manning joined in the same story, Terror of the Autons, and get to know each other quite well even as he’s regularly trying to hypnotise or thwart her, or get to the Doctor through her. I love that he still calls her “Miss Grant” all these years later, unfailingly polite.

I don’t think any other companion had a similar ongoing relationship with the Master – Tegan and Nyssa perhaps came closest, though Nyssa’s trauma at his stealing her father’s body was largely ignored after Castrovalva, leaving only Tegan to react every time to the latest appearance by the Master in a new disguise – and she usually does this in a light, world-weary way rather than referring back to her own bereavement when he murdered her Aunt.

But Jo and Delgado’s Master have a complex shared history, and it’s oddly nice to see this acknowledged in the story that would be his last appearance. While no one would have chosen this to be Roger Delgado’s swan song, it is splendid for it to be such a BIG story – an epic space adventure across multiple locations with Ogrons and Daleks as well as Draconians and a female Earth president. Doctor Who space opera has not been quite this grand since The Daleks’ Master Plan.

In short: I want the Eleventh Doctor and possibly River Song (or Strax!) to log in some serious Draconian time in future seasons of Doctor Who. I think they’d go rather well with a future of Headless Monks, Sontarans and Silurian armies.

Take us into space, Mr Moffat. Let’s go start a war with some Dragons!

ELSEWHERE ON 1973:

The Three Doctors or a Brotherly Blast From the Past [Fangirl Knits Scarf]

Carnival of Monsters [Wife in Space]

Carnival of Monsters
[The Independent]

Planet of the Daleks Episode 1 [Chronic Hysteresis]

The Green Death [Wife in Space]

PREVIOUS:

1972

NEXT:

1974

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3 Responses to “Delgado, Diplomacy and Draconians [WHO-50—1973]”

  1. Helen Says:

    Jon Pertwee has always been my favourite doctor. Nice to find someone else who appreciates him.

  2. Grant Watson Says:

    I’m not huge on Jo Grant as a companion, but her best scene is still trying to fool the Master into letting her escape during Fronter in Space. (“We’ll let you know, Miss Grant.”)

  3. tansyrr Says:

    I love the bit where she chats to herself for like an hour, pretending the Doctor is still in the cell with her – USING HER SUPERPOWER!

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