THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
ENGLAND" AND "ST.
DAVID A. McINTEE
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
When Bernice asks to
see the dawn of the
space age, the Doctor
takes the TARDIS to
the United States of
America in 1957. The
Cold War is raging,
bringing the world to
the brink of atomic
But the threat facing
America is far more
deadly than Russia.
The militaristic Tzun
made Earth their next
target for conquest –
and the aliens are
already among us.
Two warheads have
been stolen; there are
traitors to HUMANITY
in the highest ranks
of the army; and
have assumed human
form. Only one person
seems to know what’s
going on: the army’s
adviser, Major Kreer.
First Frontier isn’t perfect any stretch of the imagination, and had it directly followed All-Consuming Fire or Blood Harvest, then I suspect that I’d have found it rather middling. However, in their wisdom Virgin pencilled David A McIntee’s second novel into their schedule hot on the heels of the unpardonably awful Strange England, and as such I found myself enjoying it far more than I probably should have!
Although I wasn’t immediately drawn into David A McIntee’s first novel, White Darkness, I admired his style and especially his keen eye for historical detail. First Frontier is further evidence that McIntee has really got the Doctor Who pseudo-historical nailed. I’ve studied the Cold War myself and I love how McIntee manages to infuse almost every chapter with
the underlying fear and rampant paranoia of the time. Moreover, the time period that he’s chosen is also famous for ‘little green men’ – a subject matter rife for exploitation in a Who novel. Set in 1957, this story is only ten years after the alleged Roswell incident and as such it is littered with references to UFOs, Hanger 18, and the like. McIntee even offers us a Who explanation for the infamous ‘grey’ aliens that alleged alien abductees so often describe.
This brings to me to the Tzun – one of the most fascinating alien races that I’ve ever read about within the pages of a Doctor Who novel. They are a race of warriors that conquer
other species through assimilation; a sort of purely-organic Borg. This means that there
are various different kinds of Tzun – the greys, half-human hybrids… it’s all very X-Files! However, the Tzun aren’t downright evil, and as Benny points out late on in the book, their assimilation of 20th century Earth might even have done humanity some good.
What’s more, the twist found in the last third of the book is absolutely inspired and to my knowledge has never been attempted in the series before. The Tzun simply decide that Earth is proving to be too much bother for them to assimilate and so they decide to leave
the planet alone. They don’t even want to blow it up for spite – they’re far too honourable for that! There’s also a certain tragedy to the Tzun that runs throughout the book as the Doctor, Benny and the Master (and as such the reader) all know that this enlightened warrior race is destined to die out over the next couple of hundred years.
Of course, the big talking point of First Frontier is the return of the Master and his inevitable regeneration. For the most part I think that McIntee handles him very well, although I did think that ‘Major Kreer’ should have been unmasked as the Master far sooner; the last 100 pages or so of the novel benefit tremendously from his distinctive brand of evil.
McIntee has to be given a lot of
credit for this new Master. He’s
without doubt the same man,
right down to the satanic beard,
but the writer has given him
something of a personality face-
lift, ridding him of many of the
camp eccentricities that have
plagued the character for too
many years now. That said, this
doesn’t stop the writer milking
those same camp traits to death whilst writing for the Anthony Ainley version of the Master. The pre-regeneration Master is still suffering from the effects of the Cheetah virus that he contracted in Survival; so much so that he’s covered in fur. As part of his deal with the Tzun, they use their genetic knowledge to rid him of his condition and give him a new life cycle into the bargain. Initially, the Master just uses the Tzun’s technology to rid himself of his infection rather than ‘waste’ a regeneration - until Ace kills him, that is…
The new Master’s showdown with the Doctor is without doubt the highlight of book – this Master seems just as adept as winding the Doctor up as his predecessor was. The pair engage in a fierce debate about the Doctor’s pacifism which, as the Master points out, is pure hypocrisy – and he’s right. The Doctor will kill and destroy in the name of what’s right, but only from a distance – just look at what happened to Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks, or how he used Nemesis to wipe out of the Cybermen in Silver Nemesis… and that’s without even going into the stunts that he’s pulled over the course of the preceding
Where First Frontier falls down though is in its dull characters and its poor pacing. Most of the supporting characters are militia or FBI and to be honest they just don’t cut it – I found them far too generic. On top of that, the first 100 pages are tediously slow, and whilst the second 100 are action-packed in the extreme they aren’t particularly interesting. However, as I’ve amply illustrated above, there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff in this novel, especially if, like me, you’re into all the X-Files / UFOs / Government conspiracy stuff that is all the rage these days.
Oh, and just in case you’ve been losing sleep over where Dimensions in Time fits into the Doctor Who canon (if it all) then worry not: McIntee’s sorted it. It was just a dream...
…or should that be nightmare?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
It is difficult to reconcile the events of this story with those depicted in Prime Time and Dust Breeding, which are set earlier despite being released later. This is mainly because Dust Breeding makes it explicit that the Master’s Trakenite body was stripped from him by the power of the Warp Core, returning him to his moribund, pre-Keeper of Traken state.
The best theory that we can posit is that following Dust Breeding, the Master is somehow able to restore his Trakenite form (Cheetah infection and all), as he did once before when the Trakenite body was torn from him
in the novel The Quantum Archangel. If this were to have the convenient side-effect of disrupting a few of his recent memories, then this might also explain why in this story he seems to think that he’s travelled straight from the Cheetah planet to Earth.
This story is also remarkable for the Master as it sees the Tzun use nanites to provide him with a new cycle of regenerations, one of which he makes use of when Ace shoots him in cold blood. According to this novel’s author, the ensuing, exclusively-prose version of the Master looks uncannily like Basil Rathbone….
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