Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space.
Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water, Roger Delgado returns, the Master’s smile as cutting as a dorsal fin ripping through waves. Series regular Malcolm Hulke’s “Frontier in Space” (Story Production Code QQQ) starts out with verve and pace, dropping the Doctor and Jo immediately into a tangled web of interstellar intrigue. Two great empires of the 26th Century, that of Earth and that of Draconia, find themselves unwittingly lured into war by a mysterious third party employing highly advanced ultrasonic technology that disguises their mercenary Ogrons as the other side. Months of raids by the incognito Ogrons on Earth and Draconian shipping has left tensions between the two powers strained to the breaking point.
By the middle of the third of six episodes, the viewer has been lulled into suspecting one of the characters already introduced—perhaps the warlike Earth General Williams or the honor-bound Draconian Prince—of organizing this subterfuge in order to further some hidden agenda. Two and a half episodes seems like just enough time to wrap up a political potboiler. But then, pretending to be the representative from an outlying Earth colony, swoops in the Master, and the entire story turns on a dime.
The strategy of withholding Delgado from the story for so long works brilliantly here, and one is forced to look back at hints the Doctor dropped about the fear-based disguise technology being far too advanced for the Ogrons, essentially just brute muscle, to have developed themselves. One even, perhaps, briefly moots the possibility of the Daleks being in play because of the Ogrons’ prior association with them (in “Day of the Daleks.”) And then, behold, the Master appears, putting rest to all those suppositions. It’s an electrifying moment, a real triumph of pacing and patience and plotting.
And yet, there’s immediately a sense of trepidation. For as pleasant as Roger Delgado’s appearances are, the Master’s plans don’t tend to result in gripping psychological or political drama, nor do they frankly ever make much sense. He’s more often than not a delightfully screen-stealing blowhard who falls prey to his own skulduggery. Will that be the case here?
Well, yes. But only until the real villains show up…