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Tractators on Frontios with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough
In ‘The End of Time’, the TARDIS caught fire from the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration!
In ‘Frontios’, the TARDIS gets destroyed! I enjoyed ‘Frontios’! This is a four-part adventure by Christopher H. Bidmead. It’s an interesting story with lots of ideas and concepts, especially as it depicts humanity’s future.
Frontios is the last potential surviving outpost for humanity in a region of space where the Time Lords aren’t allowed to interfere. Although some elements of the story like the Tractators don’t do the story justice as intended, I enjoyed this fascinating story featuring good performances from the cast.
The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive on Frontios and they discover the colony is under attack. Despite his insistence not to interfere, the Doctor offers to help Frontios and its people. The Doctor learns more about the history of Frontios, and clues sink on how people are sucked down into the ground.
The Doctor soon goes underground where he faces the Tractators, as they can control the gravity of the planet. They’re potentially a great threat to the lives of the Doctor, his friends and the people of Frontios. Can the Doctor sort them out, even when his own TARDIS has been destroyed?
Chris Bidmead was script editor on Tom Baker’s last season in ‘Doctor Who’. He also wrote the two stories ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’ in the ‘New Beginnings’ trilogy that depicted the regeneration from Tom Baker into Peter Davison. I enjoy Chris Bidmead’s stories as they’re very intriguing to watch.
It’s fitting therefore that Chris gets to write another story for Peter Davison’s final season as the Doctor. Chris was commissioned by script editor Eric Saward to write a story for that season and he delivered a fascinating science-fiction tale that reflected some of his earlier work from ‘Doctor Who’.
The inspiration for ‘Frontios’ came from when Chris Bidmead’s flat was infested by a family of woodlice. He thought that they would make a really good ‘Doctor Who’ monster. Sadly, the realisation of the Tractators doesn’t come off well on-screen, but it was interesting and a good attempt.
Also the idea of a human colony suffering bombardments from the sky and the twist of the real threat down below, underneath the planet, is very intriguing and gripping to watch. There are lots of ideas and concepts throughout this story by Chris Bidmead and I found them enjoyable to watch.
Stories that depict humanity’s future are open for debate. Whether the future events in those stories will happen is a matter of opinion. I like some of the ‘Doctor Who’ stories that depict humanity’s future. It’s been done in ‘The Ark’, ‘The Ark In Space’, ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Utopia’.
This story suffered a couple of tragedies during production. The first was the suicide of a production designer before work commenced on ‘Frontios’. The second was the brutal murder of actor Peter Arne, who was meant to play Mr. Range in the story, before he was hurriedly replaced by William Lucas.
I enjoyed the guest cast featured in this story. Jeff Rawle guest stars as Plantagenet, the son of the deceased Captain Revere and the leader of the colony of Frontios. He assumes command of the colony planet after his father’s death and distrusts the Doctor and his friends before he gets sucked down into the ground.
Peter Gilmore (from ‘The Onedin Line’) guest stars as Brazen, one of the colony’s commanding officers. Seeing Peter Gilmore from ‘The Onedin Line’ in this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure was a delight and a treat. Some criticise Peter Gilmore’s acting, but I don’t think he did a bad job with his character.
William Lucas guest stars as Mr. Range, Frontios’ physician/science officer. Range is the voice of reason when he protests against Plantegenet’s accusations about the Doctor. But there’s something Range is hiding when Tegan discovers a file called ‘deaths unaccountable’, which is a clue to the mysterious bombardments.
Lesley Dunlop guest stars as Norna, Mr. Range’s daughter. Norna helps her father during the bombardments and is under pressure when restricted to danger zones aboard the Frontios bunker. I liked the scene Norna shares with Turlough when talking about ‘the earth’ being ‘hungry’.
Peter Davison as the Doctor is a highlight for me in this story. Chris Bidmead writes well for him, as he makes his character sharper, fierier and a little bad-tempered sometimes. I liked some of the humour added to Peter’s Doctor, which makes him more professorial. Peter gets to wear his glasses a lot, which I liked.
Mark Strickson is very good as Turlough. This is a good story for Turlough, as we learn more about his character compared to other TV stories. Turlough gets to experience a ‘race memory’ of the Tractators when he goes underground with Norma and goes into a frenzy part-way during the story.
Janet Fielding is good as Tegan, although it’s not a standout story for her. Tegan gets to help the sick and the wounded in the bunker with Mr. Range. I liked it when Tegan discovered the ‘deaths unaccountable’ files and she confronts Range about it. Tegan gets to join the Doctor underground and face the Tractators.
The idea of the TARDIS being destroyed was irresistible for Chris Bidmead. There was a lot of speculation about whether the TARDIS would be destroyed forever, but that never going to happen as it’s so iconic. I like how the Doctor and his friends discover the TARDIS corridors when in the Tractator’s hideout.
It’s quite a frightening concept with people being sucked down into the ground. Those images of horror in the TV story are very gruesome and shocking. I wonder what happened to those people when they got sucked down into the earth, even though the realisation of the effects is pretty poor.
The Tractators are giant woodlice monsters. These alien monsters are led by John Gillett as the Gravis. They’re meant to roll up into balls and were played by dancers. But the result was disastrous, since the Tractators looked stiff and immobile. It’s also difficult to take them very seriously.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a making-of documentary called ‘Driven to Distraction’, some ‘deleted and extended scenes’, a photo gallery of the story; an info-text option commentary option to enjoy, an isolated music option by Paddy Kingsland, and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story. There’s also an audio commentary with Peter Davison, Jeff Rawle, John Gillet, script editor Eric Saward and sound designer Dick Mills. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘Earth Story’ DVD box set, which contains ‘The Gunfighters’ with William Hartnell, Peter Purves and Jackie Lane, and ‘The Awakening’ with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson.
‘Frontios’, whilst a flawed story in terms of its production, is a very interesting tale from the Peter Davison era. I enjoyed it and it’s a brave story by Christopher H. Bidmead. It features some very good performances and it’s an interesting tale about Earth’s future with a certain twist throughout. 🙂
‘Frontios’ rating – 8/10
‘DOCTOR WHO – FRONTIOS’
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Driven to Distraction with the Tractators
At last! I’ve checked out Chris Bidmead’s Target novelization/audiobook of ‘Frontios’!
At the ‘Bedford Who Charity Con’ in October 2021, I purchased the paperback edition of the ‘Frontios’ Target novelization, along with the 8-disc CD audiobook of ‘The Roundheads’. They were good purchases! I especially wanted to check out the ‘Frontios’ novelization after seeing the TV story.
‘Frontios’ is Christopher Hamilton Bidmead’s third contribution to the Target novelization range of ‘Doctor Who’ books. He previously penned the Target novelizations of ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’, based on his original TV scripts. It was fun to be checking out the ‘Frontios’ Target novelization here.
With that said, I think it’s fair to say I’m more familiar with ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’ than I am with ‘Frontios’. This is due to me seeing Seasons 18, 19 and 20 more than Season 21. Also, Nyssa doesn’t appear in ‘Frontios’. That’s a huge contributing factor. No Nyssa, less amount of interest for me. 😀
I know that’s a biased opinion, but for me, the Peter Davison era wasn’t that good after Nyssa left. The Fifth Doctor ended up with Tegan and Turlough as companions. Not to say I didn’t enjoy them as much as Nyssa. It’s just they weren’t as loyal and friendly compared to how Nyssa was in the series.
I still enjoyed ‘Frontios’ when I saw it on DVD in 2011 and I still enjoyed it when I revisited the story in 2021 for this review. But I can’t say I’m familiar with every line of dialogue that features in ‘Frontios’ compared to being very familiar with the lines of dialogue in ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’.
The reason why I revisited ‘Frontios’ on DVD was so that I’d know what would occur as I read/heard the ‘Frontios’ novelization/audiobook. It’s always good to be familiar with what comes up next in a TV story when checking out a novelization/audiobook. The reading and listening experience is easier.
‘Frontios’, in some respect, is unique as a ‘Doctor Who’ story featured in Season 21. It’s not as bombastic and violent compared to other stories like ‘Warriors of the Deep’, ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’. It’s also a more imaginative and creative story by Chris Bidmead. 🙂
Despite the setbacks this story endured, such as the two tragedies involving deaths and the production values not being as good as hoped e.g. the Tractators’ costume designs, I still found merit when checking out the TV story. But could ‘Frontios’ work just as well as a Target novelization here?
That’s what I endeavoured to find out as I ventured forth into the ‘Frontios’ Target novelization/audiobook. The novelization was originally published in hardback format on the 10th of December 1984. Oh goody! A nice Christmas gift ten months after the story was shown in that year!
The original ‘Frontios’ TV story was shown from January to February in 1984. The book later got a paperback edition in 1985, I believe. The story is divided into 12 chapters: the same way that Chris Bidmead divided his stories of ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’ into 12 chapters as Target novelizations.
In terms of the audiobook, it was released as a 4-disc CD set in April 2015. I purchased the ‘Frontios’ audiobook as a download on Audible. Again, like previous ‘Doctor Who’ audiobooks on Audible, it was nice to hear the ‘Frontios’ story in the background whilst reading the novelization in my hand. 🙂
Chris Bidmead is the reader of the ‘Frontios’ audiobook. I was looking forward to hearing Chris’ voice as he read the ‘Frontios’ audiobook, having previously done a good job in reading the ‘Logopolis’ audiobook. However, I can’t say that I was immensely inspired by Chris’ reading of ‘Frontios’ here. 😦
Don’t get me wrong, Chris Bidmead is a decent narrator. He gets the points across when he wants to tell the story he’s written and he reads the exposition with such finesse. You can tell he’s put enough richness into the story’s text as he’s reading it to you on audio, whether as a CD or as a download.
But I’m not entirely happy with how he’s voiced the characters in the story. I recall characters like Brazen (played by Peter Gilmore) and Mr. Range (played by William Lucas) having distinct voices when watching them in the TV version. But I couldn’t tell who was who in the audiobook version. 😐
Brazen doesn’t sound like Peter Gilmore when Chris Bidmead performs him. Mr. Range might sound like he is from the TV story in the audiobook, but very often, I felt that Bidmead’s voicing of the characters were the same tone and pitch. I couldn’t distinguish very much in who’s who in the tale.
This is peculiar considering Chris Bidmead once trained at RADA to become an actor before he became a writer and a script editor. You’d think that Chris Bidmead would have more variety in terms of voices for his characters compared to how he voices Brazen and Range throughout the tale.
When I heard the ‘Logopolis’ audiobook, I easily recall the passion in the Monitor’s voice when he confronted the Master as Chris Bidmead read that story. I couldn’t hear the passion in Brazen’s voice when Bidmead voiced him compared to how Peter Gilmore performed the character with passion.
I know that sounds harsh of me and I’m not trying to discredit Bidmead’s abilities as a narrator for ‘Frontios’, because he does a fairly decent job as far as I’m concerned. I enjoyed his interpretation of Peter Davison’s Doctor compared to how he voiced Tom Baker’s Doctor in the ‘Logopolis’ audiobook.
It’s just I don’t think Bidmead’s efforts as a narrator were as good as they should have been in the ‘Frontios’ audiobook compared to the ‘Logopolis’ audiobook. Maybe it’s down to me not being that familiar with ‘Frontios’ as a story compared to ‘Logopolis’, as I have seen that story plenty of times.
Another issue I have is when Chris Bidmead voices the Gravis in the audiobook. I found the Gravis very hard-going when Chris Bidmead read for him. For one thing, he sounds more sing-song compared to the voice John Gillett gave him in the TV version. He sounds more like a ‘Tenth Planet’ Cyberman!
Now I get why Bidmead voiced the Gravis like that. You see, Bidmead changed the Gravis in that he was incapable of speaking directly and he’s utilising ‘a tall narrow trolley’ where ‘the head and one arm of a dead colonist, connected by improvised metalwork to a swinging pendulum’ is mounted. 😐
The machine is used to translate the Gravis’ thoughts into words. I get why Bidmead did this, as it’s to establish why the Gravis would talk as opposed to the other Tractators that couldn’t. But did Bidmead have to make him sound the way he was in the audiobook, as I prefer John Gillett’s voice for the Gravis.
John Gillett at least sounded menacing and passionate when he performed in the Gravis outfit in the TV story. Bidmead seems to have taken the passion and menace out of the Gravis and made him sound rather…well, silly. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but that’s what it sounded like to me on audio.
Anyway, enough on the audiobook reading! Let’s talk about the book itself. Does it improve the story compared to how the story looked on TV? Well, in a sense, it does. I mean, Chris Bidmead isn’t limited by TV limitations when building the Frontios world and the colonists that live there in the book. 🙂
But I couldn’t really tell much of a difference in terms of comparing the Target novelization to the TV story. Most of the story in the book is exactly as it’s told in the TV version. Maybe with more viewings of ‘Frontios’ as a TV story, I might think differently in terms of how I interpret the novelization.
Here are some notable deviations in the Target novelization from the TV story according to TARDIS.wiki. I’m sure these are ones I’ve come across when checking out the novelization/audiobook. I hope to share my thoughts on them as we go through each point in turn. 🙂
In the TV story, the excavating machine was made out of metal and it had an enslaved human pilot. In the novelization, the machine is now a nightmarish vision composed of corpses of the colonists that the Tractators had pulled down to their domain. It’s a frightening image conceived by Chris Bidmead. 🙂
It’s emphasised when Bidmead writes it at the end of Chapter 9 of the story. Mind you, it’s not something I would have picked on very quickly as the excavating machine aspect of the story didn’t excite me in both the TV version and the novelization/audiobook. The Tractators were more interesting.
However, the scenario does lend a little more credence as to why Turlough had envisioned the Tractators as ‘evil’ during his race memory moments. I can appreciate that angle, especially when Bidmead is adding more depth to Turlough’s character, as he’s been an enigma for most of the series.
There are two colonists featured in the novelization called Kernighan and Ritchie. Apparently, they were named after Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, two well-known people in the computer world for writing the definitive guide to the C programming language. I wouldn’t have known that piece of trivia!
I know I did an Information Systems university degree course in Computer Science at Cardiff University, but the C programming language wasn’t something I came across much. At the beginning of the story, Turlough is tying knots in the Doctor’s scarf. I assume that was the Fourth Doctor’s scarf here.
Wait a minute! Didn’t Peter Davison’s Doctor tear up that scarf to shreds at the beginning of ‘Castrovalva’? Was there a spare Fourth Doctor scarf hanging around then? Not the multi-coloured one, please! Couldn’t Turlough have played a chess game with Tegan instead, as he tried to in ‘Enlightenment’?
In the book, Plantagnet is described as having white hair as opposed to being dark-haired in the TV story when Jeff Rawle played him. Not sure why Chris Bidmead decided to have Plantagnet white-haired instead of dark-haired in the novelization. Was he trying to make him a bit older than he was?
There is a scene where Cockerill, who secretly eats his lunch in the state room, allows Tegan, Turlough and Norna to pass through in order to get some extra lightning for the sick and wounded in the bunker. I liked that scene. It’s interesting that Cockerill allowed them to go free and didn’t report them.
During the ‘Part Two’ cliffhanger scene (I believe), the Doctor is the one who distracts the Tractators that are attacking Norna, rather than being captured himself and needing Tegan to rescue him. I think that makes sense. The Doctor was captured too easily by the Tractators by ‘Part Two’s climax. 🙂
Say, remember that Deputy character played by Alison Skilbeck when she moderated Mr. Range’s trial in ‘Part Three’? Why Bidmead didn’t give the Deputy a name in the book, I don’t know. Well, apparently, the Deputy is introduced earlier, accompanying Brazen on an early tour of the colony.
That’s nice. A shame we didn’t get to know more about her, as she seemed a pleasant person. 😀 The Retrogrades are also portrayed as more of a chorus rather than all the dialogue being given to one individual. I assume they’re speaking all at the same time rather than talking one at a time in this. 😀
There’s a new scene featured in the story where the Doctor is pretending to need his glasses in order to slip away and explain his plan to Tegan. I believe that scene is included in the ‘deleted and extended scenes’ of the ‘Frontios’ DVD. I saw a bit of that scene in the ‘Driven to Distraction’ documentary. 🙂
At the end of the story, Cockerill tries to keep the colonists calm and helps them during the Gravis’ defeat, rather than disappearing from the narrative. Plantagenet also gets things reorganised, with the Retrogrades being reintegrated back into the colony, as they say farewell to the Doctor. 🙂
The story ends with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough leaving in the TARDIS. And the cliffhanger scene leading into ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ isn’t included in the ‘Frontios’ novelization. Eric Saward must put that cliffhanger scene in the TV story, since he wasn’t able to put it in at the end of ‘The King’s Demons’. 😀
There’s a dedication made at the beginning of the Target novelization, which says ‘To Alan and Marcus and the machine that made this possible. I’ll miss their company’. I assume Chris Bidmead is talking about the computer that he used to write this story and the company who supplied it to him.
‘Frontios’ as a ‘Doctor Who’ Target novelization/audiobook is okay. I can’t say I’m excited by it, but I’m glad I was able to check it out after checking out the ‘Logopolis’ and ‘Castrovalva’ novelization/audiobooks. It’s not as brilliant as them, but I found it decent enough to read and hear.
Chris Bidmead also provides a decent reading to the story in the audiobook, but it’s not as exciting compared to when he read the ‘Logopolis’ audiobook. It’s a shame, as on one level, I appreciate Chris Bidmead’s storytelling. Maybe with more reads/listens, I’d be able to appreciate the novelization/audiobook more. 🙂
‘Doctor Who – Frontios’ rating – 7/10
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