THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "THE TAKING
OF PLANET 5" AND
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
What Lures people to
the planet Drebnar?
When the TARDIS is
dragged there, the
to find out.
scientists from the
have set up a base on
the planet, and are
trying to blur the
people and plants.
The TARDIS crew plan
to prevent a DISASTER
- but their plan goes
wrong all too soon.
has been lured to
that THE Corporation
will SEEK TO exploit
without care for the
consequences - an
which threatens to
snuff out Drebnar's
Frontier Worlds just goes to show how a novel’s release date can make or break
it. Had Peter Anghelides’ follow up to Kursaal come on the back of books like Beltempest and The Face-Eater, it probably wouldn’t have been received half as well as it was dragging the range out of the post-Interference continuity quagmire. A customary romp with a fairly compelling plot and some great characterisation, Frontier Worlds is nothing world-beating or provocative, but after the three preceding novels that’s virtually an endorsement.
Indeed, by any objective standard, Anghelides’ yarn is fairly routine. The tale is one of terror and torment as a sinister corporation seeks to exploit a space-faring, sentient plant species for commercial gain, with predictably disastrous consequences. Inevitably, it calls to mind The Seeds of Doom, only with a significant shift of locale and some underlying topical bite. What really sets Frontier Worlds apart from Robert Banks Stewart’s 1976 six-parter though is Anghelides’ dry indictment of contemporary corporate mentalities. Barely a chapter goes by in this book without the author cruelly poking fun at buzz words and flash suits, reminding me very much of Eddie Robson’s later radio drama, Human Resources, albeit with a little more restraint. Below: Frontier Worlds coincided
with BBC 2’s Doctor Who Night....
Where Frontier Worlds makes its mark though is in the
author’s deft handling of the regular characters, especially
the Doctor’s two companions. Fitz, for instance, is handled
with both humour and heart. One moment, he’s going about
his oh-so glamorous undercover work - analysing stool
samples under his “Frank Sinatra” alias - and in the next
he’s grieving for a lover who’s been brutally killed. We are
also afforded glimpses of his deepest-rooted fears, as he
frets over how his travels in time and space and particularly
the events of Interference might have changed him – what
if the TARDIS didn’t remember him properly? What if he’s
not him anymore? Anghelides even plays upon previous
authors’ failure to provide readers with a decent physical
description of the character, simply branding him as “ugly”.
Hindsight has since robbed this amusing shock tactic of
much of its mirth, however.
And the freckle-strewn Compassion is handled even better. Building upon Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham’s dexterous handling of her in The Taking of Planet 5, here the author presents us with Compassion at her cruellest; Compassion at her best. Her shared ordeal with Fitz skilfully tricks the reader into thinking that a twisted sense of kinship has been forged between the two disparate companions, only for Compassion to completely resile from this with one brutal line right at the death, leaving the reader as dumbfounded
as poor Fitz. No matter what Fitz or the Doctor do, Compassion won’t be changed against her will. It’s beautifully executed.
Moreover, Anghelides’ Doctor is
a brilliant snapshot of the eighth
Doctor in his prime. Here he is
energetic and upbeat, yet prone
to odd, fleeting moments of both
humanity and profundity; it’s text-
book Paul McGann, really. It’s
just a little ironic that the most
recognisable Doctor in at least
six months’ worth of books had to be clad in a 1980s power suit with the sleeves rolled-up and ankle-swinging trousers.
Finally, though Frontier Worlds is a self-determining tale, free from continuity trappings for the most part, the author does sew several seeds betraying Compassion’s ultimate fate. At one point in this book, the Doctor dreams of Compassion flinging herself into the depths of the Time Vortex, and dancing with his oldest companion. And then in the final scene, when she’s caught on the hop by one of Fitz’s throwaway questions, Compassion reveals that she dreams of the Vortex too…
At the time of its publication, Frontier Worlds offered readers some much-needed respite from the range’s intricate story arc that had infused most of its late 1999 novels. Today, it is still an engaging and enjoyable Doctor Who caper, ticking all the requisite boxes but never really challenging the reader. More of a comfy bedtime read than a convoluted classic, this one does exactly what it says on the tin.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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