Christopher H. Bidmead’s adaptation of his third (and final) classic Doctor Who script, “Frontios” restores parts of the script that were dropped either due to budget constrnts or they were considered too dark at the time, making this seem like a glimpse of what could have been on our screens.
Bidmead’s “Frontios” novelization was one of those Target novelizations I missed in my days of collecting them (as a younger viewer, the story wasn’t among my favorites). So coming to it now as an older reader/listener, I must admit I was intrigued by the small flourishes that the adaptation indulges in. (It’s also interesting to have the DVD now with the extended and deleted scenes and get some idea of where those scenes would go in the context of the story).
The TARDIS crew arrive on the edge of the Time Lord’s knowledge of time and space, drug down to one of the last colonies of humans by a mysterious force. In trying to not become too involved in these later days of humanity, the Doctor is drawn into the mystery of the colony on Frontios. Seems that the colony has been enduring attacks from the skies for thirty plus years with no signs of the invaders coming to follow-up. In the course of one attack, the TARDIS is destroyed, stranding the TARDIS crew in this time and place possibly forever.
As far as cliffhangers go, the TARDIS’ destruction is a pretty effective one. It’s also a memorable one that was, to my younger self, the only real highlight of the show. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the story a bit more — and Bidmead’s adaptation has helped me see what could have been if they’d had the budget for it. The Tractators who come across on screen as a bit silly are given a bit more menace in the novel. There’s also the grim detail that the mining machine used the monsters of the week uses human parts to tunnel under the ground in Frontios as opposed to having it be all mechanical.
And yet for all of this, the same weaknesses that I see in the story are still on display here. Namely, it’s a bit oddly paced at times. There are times when it feels a bit too much like the old Doctor Who cliche of wandering down a corridor and biding our time as we wait for something to happen.
As with his previous two scripts, Bidmead reads his own adaptation for the audiobook. And once again, he does a solid enough job, though it’s not quite as memorable as some of the other readers we’ve had in the past couple of months.