Chapter 25. Doctor Who and the Space War (1976)

Synopsis: In the year 2540, an uneasy peace exists between the empires of Earth and Draconia. When the Doctor and Jo are mistaken for space raiders, only they recognise the true culprits as the Ogrons, who have been employed to shatter the truce between the two worlds. At the centre of the conspiracy is the Master, but the Doctor’s old enemy is also working for an equally familiar foe…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Link-up in Space
  • 2. The Draconian Prince
  • 3. Stowaways
  • 4. The Mind Probe
  • 5. Kidnap
  • 6. Prison on the Moon
  • 7. The Master
  • 8. Space Walk
  • 9. Frontier in Space
  • 10. The Verge of War
  • 11. Planet of the Ogrons
  • 12. The Trap

Background: Malcolm Hulke adapts his own scripts for the 1973 serial, Frontier in Space. This is the last novelisation to have a significantly different title to its TV original (unless we’re counting ‘The Mutation of Time’ or ‘The TV Movie’).

Notes: We get a single use of the name ‘Doctor Who’ very early on. There’s another brief recap of Jo’s entry into UNIT thanks to her uncle, a high-ranking civil servant who pulled strings to help her, and how the Brigadier’s decision to dump her onto the Doctor has led to her exploring the universe. There’s a particularly breathless exchange with the Doctor where Jo spells out her position at UNIT: 

Some people think intelligence work is all very romantic, all glamorous dinner parties with James Bond types. Instead, I’m either filing letters at UNIT Headquarters or I’m off with you in some ghastly place being chased by monsters…

The President and General Williams had a relationship when they were younger, but politics saw them as opponents in the last election. The President selected Williams as her military adviser in the hope that it would unite the voters behind her policy of peace. The President is respectful towards the Draconians, even noting that Willliams’ accusations of espionage have caused them offence and Hulke adds a rather florid form of etiquette between the Draconian Prince and the Earth President: The Draconian says ‘May you live a long life and may energy shine on you from a million suns,’ to which the President responds ‘And may water, oxygen and plutonium be found in abundance wherever you land’ (and the Master uses the same greeting to the President later on).

We’re shown Williams’ first interrogation of the Doctor and Jo and presented with a lot more detail about the journey to their first prison cell, as well as the jailor’s sadistic enthusiasm at the thought of starving his prisoners a little (and later it’s said that he’s been ‘conditioned to have no feelings for prisoners’).

In a detailed flashback, the President recalls how the previous war with Draconia began, when she was a young aide to a diplomat en route to a meeting with Draconians. Williams was a communications lieutenant on the ship and when their ship was caught in a ‘neutron storm’, the ‘inexperienced’ Williams was left as the sole surviving officer. Hulke tries to provide a version of events sympathetic to Williams’ point of view – before revealing that after Williams blasted the Draconian diplomatic vessel to pieces, the resulting war led to the deaths of 500 million Draconians and Earthmen (combined figures!) in just three days. 

The Master’s disguise is a commissioner from Alderberan Four, not Sirius 4. He specifically references the time the Doctor visited him in prison and laments that his partnership with the Sea-Devils wasn’t a success. He also reveals to the reader halfway through the book that he’s in league with the Daleks and is much more callous than the Delgado performance suggests, telling Jo that, unlike the Doctor, she is ‘totally useless’ to him.

‘There are men with an eye for a girl with a pretty face, adventurers with a touch of pity for the innocent victim of a situation. I am not one of those men.’

Jo gets particularly affronted by being told females cannot speak in the presence of the Emperor, much more than on telly (she refuses to let it go – quite right too!).

The beast that terrorises the Ogrons is a giant lizard, replacing the whatever-that-was in the TV version, and Jo finds an Ogron chained up, awaiting sacrifice to the lizard. The ending, which is a bit of a mess on screen, is simplified, but it also loses the Doctor being shot and sending a message to the Time Lords – which is a shame, considering the next release in the range. 

Cover: Another classic from Chris Achilleos as an Ogron dominates a starfield, with a Draconian inset and the Master’s prison ship blasting off. The ‘Changing Face of Doctor Who’ note on the title page tells us that the cover ‘portrays the third DOCTOR WHO’… except it doesn’t show the Doctor at all!

Final Analysis: We might be used to Malcolm Hulke’s personal politics influencing his writing but there’s something here that I’ve only just picked up on. Hulke draws attention to the pilot of a spacecraft fastening his seat belts; seat belts in cars were a recurring theme in the 1970s, with TV adverts recommending them with a ‘clunk click every trip’ slogan while the issue was debated in Parliament – while it was UK law to have a seat belt fitted in a car from 1968, it wasn’t mandatory for all occupants of a car to wear the things until 1991. After his escape from the Draconian Embassy, the Doctor is recaptured by a driverless car, so er… is this Hulke pushing a road safety agenda?

As we’d expect from Hulke, he treats his characters with respect, their motivations guiding their actions. Hardy’s blind adherence to the claim of the ‘Dragon attack’ is driven by preexisting racism, which he casually reveals with his frequent use of the slur ‘Dragon’, even in front of the President. The President herself is idealistic but also politically aware enough to know her best chance of success is with alliances and compromise, while the bullish Williams is shown to have been placed in an impossible position at a relatively young age, the burden of which he carries into middle-age. Even the Draconian Emperor is shown as a pragmatist, pushing aside protocol in allowing Jo to speak and forcing his wayward son to join forces with the apologetic Williams in chasing down the Master. In fact, it’s really only the Master who appears more shallow than he does on the telly. It shows just how much Roger Delgado brought to the role, adding a layer of charm that the script alone didn’t offer.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 25. Doctor Who and the Space War (1976)

  1. Another Hulke another wonderfully expanded book, showing much more than we see on the telly. I remember reading it and thinking this even back then.
    It’s a very good scfi thriller of a novel. One of my faves

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A much nicer ending for the original Master here, being left alone in his base while the Doctor and Jo go off chasing the Daleks. He prepares to leave before the Earth-Draconia reinforcements can arrive, gathering his papers and musing on his failed plan of galactic conquest with a trace of optimism (and a promise of more adventures to come, even though Hulke knew at the time they could not star Mr Delgado): “Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.”

    Liked by 1 person

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