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Frontios
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Synopsis


The Doctor with a Tractator
The Doctor with a Tractator
 As a strange force takes hold of the TARDIS, The Doctor and his friends find themselves grounded in the inhospitable planet of Frontios, where the last survivors of the human race scratch out a desperate existence far away from their long dead homeworld.

 The colonists are gripped by fear and paranoia as the planet is battered by attacks from space and they watch as the bodies of their dead are sucked into the ground. But The Doctor only appreciates the true gravity of the situation when he finds that the TARDIS has been destroyed...

Source: BBC VHS Video


General Information

Season: Twenty One
Production Code: 6N
Story Number: 132
Episode Numbers:609 - 612
Number of Episodes: 4
Percentage of Episodes Held:100%
Working Titles:"The Wanderers"
Production Dates: August - September 1983
Broadcast Started: 26 January 1984
Broadcast Finished: 03 February 1984
Colour Status: Colour
Studio: BBC Television Centre (TC6)
Location: None
Writer:Christopher H Bidmead
Director:Ron Jones
Producer:John Nathan-Turner
Script Editor:Eric Saward
Production Assistant:Valerie Letley
Production Associate:June Collins
Assistant Floor Managers:Ed Stevenson and Joanna Guritz
Designer:David Buckingham
Costume Designer:Anushia Nieradzik
Make-Up Designer:Jill Hagger
Incidental Music:Paddy Kingsland
Special Sounds (SFX Editor):Dick Mills
Studio Sounds:Martin Ridout
Lighting:John Summers
Visual Effects:Dave Havard
Title Sequence:Sid Sutton
Title Music:Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Arranged by Peter Howell
Number of Doctors: 1
The Doctor: Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor)
Number of Companions: 2The Companions: Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka) and Mark Strickson (Turlough) Guest Cast: Jeff Rawle (Plantagenet), Lesley Dunlop (Norna), Peter Gilmore (Brazen) Additional Cast: William Lucas (Range), Maurice O'Connell (Cockerill), Richard Ashley (Orderly), John Gillett (Gravis), George Campbell (Tractator), Michael Malcolm (Tractator), Stephen Speed (Tractator), William Bowen (Tractator), Hedi Khursandi (Tractator), Alison Skilbeck (Deputy), Raymond Murtagh (Retrograde)Setting: Planet Frontios (far future) Villains:Gravis and Tractators

The Episodes

No. Episodes Broadcast
(UK)
Duration Viewers
(Millions)
In Archive
609Part 126 January 198424'39"8.0PAL 1" colour videotape
610Part 227 January 198424'35"5.8PAL 1" colour videotape
611Part 302 February 198424'30"7.8PAL 1" colour videotape
612Part 403 February 198424'26"5.6PAL 1" colour videotape

Total Duration 1 Hour 38 Minutes


Audience Appreciation

Average Viewers (Millions) 6.8
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (1998)70.99%  (Position = 61 out of 159)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2009)69.65% Lower (Position = 104 out of 200)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2014)68.15% Lower (Position = 147 out of 241)


Archives


 All four episodes exist as PAL 1" colour videotapes.



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Notes


This story was the result of a return to the programme by Christopher H Bidmead, a former Doctor Who Script Editor, who contacted the production office in the summer of 1982 about writing a new script. Christopher H Bidmead’s last contribution to the show had been Peter Davison’s debut story - the 1982 story "Castrovalva".

It has been reported that Christopher H Bidmead was happy to return to Doctor Who, but was rather more dubious about Producer John Nathan-Turner’s desire to feature monsters heavily in Season Twenty One.

It has been revealed that Christopher H Bidmead conceived the gravity-controlling Tractators which were inspired by wood lice which had infested the garden of a former residence and the desolate, Blitz-like setting was influenced by reports of fighting in Beirut at the time.

The original title of this story was "The Wanderers". Various other titles noted in BBC documents include "Frontious", "Froutious" and "The Frontios" but these are almost certainly misspellings or misprints.

One concept, devised by Christopher H Bidmead, which did not make it past the scripting process was the Gravis was to be accompanied by a translator built out of colonist body parts. However, director Ron Jones - making his first Doctor Who story since "Arc of Infinity" a year earlier - objected, believing that it would limit his selection of shots, and would require considerable effort to achieve with little substantive gain.

Early on, it had been decided that this story would be entirely studio-based so as to save money for more expensive stories to follow. These being "Resurrection of the Daleks" - an action packed Dalek story - and "Planet of Fire" - Doctor Who’s third story to be filmed overseas (this time in Spain).

One of Ron Jones’ key guest performers for this story was veteran actor Peter Arne, who had appeared in more than fifty feature films, including Return of the Pink Panther, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as well as several guest roles on The Avengers. However, just prior to the start of recording he was discovered murdered at his home. Peter Arne had been cast to play the part of Range. Ron Jones was therefore forced to hastily recast the role, hiring William Lucas to replace Peter Arne.

Peter Arne’s death was not the only tragedy to befall this story. About a month earlier, designer Barrie Dobbins had committed suicide after accomplishing much of the preparatory work. Barrie Dobbins’ assistant, David Buckingham, therefore finished "Frontios" in his place.

Peter Gilmore, well known for his starring role as sea captain James Onedin in the BBC’s period drama serial The Onedin Line, plays Brazen.

Jeff Rawle, one of the stars of the Channel 4 comedy show Drop the Dead Donkey, is seen here in the very different role of the colony’s deputy leader, Plantagenet. Jeff Rawle also later played Mr. Harding The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Mona Lisa’s Revenge".

Lesley Dunlop later played the part of Susan Q in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "The Happiness Patrol".

John Beardmore appeared uncredited as Captain Revere.

Just prior to the recording of this story, in August 1984, John Nathan-Turner held a press conference to unveil the actor who would replace Peter Davison as The Doctor. This was Colin Baker who would be joined by Nicola Bryant as new companion Peri Brown near the end of Season Twenty One.

Recording of this story proceeded smoothly except when it came to the scenes with the excavation machine. Christopher H Bidmead had envisaged this as being entirely fabricated out of human remains, much like his unused translation machine. This concept however, had already been scaled back to make it less gruesome, but Ron Jones was nonetheless unhappy with visual effects designer Dave Havard’s creation, and shot around it as much as possible.Much as they had on "Warriors of the Deep" costume woes plagued "Frontios". In Christopher H Bidmead’s original conception of the Tractators, they were able to curl up into a ball, and would kill their victims by encircling and smothering them. To achieve this the actors hired to play the Tractators were all trained dancers. Unfortunately, Costume Designer Anushia Nieradzik’s completed outfits were very constraining and inflexible and so did not allow for this movement. This forced Ron Jones to abandon these plans. Also between takes the actors had to be fed oxygen via a tube under the base of their costumes, as they were insufficiently ventilated for the hot conditions of the studio recording.

The helmets worn by Brazen’s guards were originally used, as the helmets of the Federation troops, in Blake’s 7.

Episode one, which ran almost nine minutes overtime, was cut heavily including sequences that were later referred to in the text (such as the Gravis’ knowledge of The Doctor and that The Doctor and Tegan Jovanka’s voices echoed through the Tractators’ tunnels). Much of the cut scenes involved Cockerill and explored his deepening sense of rebellion, such as by allowing Tegan, Vislor Turlough and Norna to skulk about the colony without alerting Brazen. Another cut scene saw Tegan and Turlough return to the TARDIS to find it surrounded by curious colonists. Turlough later refers to this in a segment retained for broadcast when he remarks that they've lost their ‘news value’.

For the first time in many years, The Doctor is heard to refer to TARDIS as standing for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’.

The TARDIS hat stand makes a re-appearance and at one point Turlough brandishes it as if it is a weapon. He then gives it to Plantagenet as a gift.

Despite being introduced in "The King's Demons", as a new companion, Kamelion again is not referenced or seen in this story.

Turlough is heard to state that the Arar Jecks of Heiradi hollowed a huge subterranean city beneath their planet during the Twenty Aeon War. He also recognises signs of the Tractators from his home planet. This is the first time that a solid reference is made to Turlough’s home planet.

It is revealed that Turlough’s home planet was attacked millennia ago by Tractators - an event that was locked into their ancestral memory. The sight of the Tractators triggers a memory resurgence which causes Turlough to go into catatonic shock. Gradually he recalls more and more of these memories, which allow him to remember who the Tractators were, what their goals were - and more importantly, how to defeat them.

This story remains, to date, the sole appearance of the Tractators in the television show.

The Gravis knows The Doctor and the capabilities of a TARDIS, presumably by reputation. The Doctor leaves the Gravis on the uninhabited planet Kolkokron and without his influence the Tractators become little more than harmless burrowing creatures.

This story contains a number of errors. Namely: In the opening scene, as Captain Revere sees the earth moving beneath him, the fingers of one of the technical crew are visible giving it a helping hand; When the TARDIS explodes, what happens to Kamelion?; When Tegan traps Brazen in the medical unit, she puts a bar across the middle of a door handle. By the next scene it has moved to the top of the handle.

A curious myth has since sprung up, amongst Doctor Who fandom, that this story was originally intended to feature Richard Hurndall in a black and white flashback remembered by Peter Davison's Doctor after hitting his head on the TARDIS control console. It has since been revealed that this was never intended.

The show’s timelines often state the colonies in this story and the 1966 First Doctor story "The Ark" are from the same exodus from Earth, and that both stories may in fact take place simultaneously.

The final moments of this story, where the TARDIS is dragged into a time corridor, is a lead into "Resurrection of the Daleks". It was rewritten by Eric Saward, so as to provide a cliffhanger into the next story, and actually appears the way it was originally scripted at the end of "The King's Demons" which would have led into that story had "Resurrection of the Daleks" stayed in its original slot of being the final story of Season Twenty.

The transmission of the final episode was followed by a trailer of clips for the following story, "Resurrection of the Daleks".

The short story "Life After Queth" (published in the Big Finish Productions book "Short Trips 16: Farewells") details an adventure The Doctor, Tegan and the Gravis had on the way to Kolkokron.

The Big Finish audio story "Excelis Dawns" details an adventure The Doctor had on the way back to Frontios. It occurs between the end of this story and the scene which continues into "Resurrection of the Daleks".

This story was novelised by Christopher H Bidmead and published by Target Books in December 1984. This novelisation includes many gruesome images of the Tractators technology including a hovering translation device. The cliffhanger that led into "Resurrection of the Daleks" is also removed.

"Frontios" was Christopher H Bidmead’s last televised Doctor Who work. Later in 1984 He was approached to see if he would be interested in writing a new story teaming the Tractators with The Master which would likely have been included in the original version of Season Twenty Three. But all the stories planned for that season were scrapped in the wake of Doctor Who's eighteen-month hiatus in 1985 and 1986. This lost story however, is brought back to life (minus The Master) in the Big Finish Productions audio story "The Hollows of Time".

Christopher H Bidmead was also asked to write a story for the new Season Twenty Three entitled "The Last Adventure" (later called "Pinacotheca"). Eric Saward however, was unhappy with Christopher H Bidmead’s submission and so it was abandoned in early 1986. Since then, Christopher H Bidmead has continued to work as a freelance writer, with an emphasis on articles for computer and technology-related journals.



First and Last

The Firsts:

 The first time in many years, The TARDIS is refered to as standing for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’.


The Lasts (Subject to Future Stories):

 The last Doctor Who story to be written by Christopher H Bidmead.


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The Plot

WARNING: May Contain SpoilersHide Text
Turlough and The Doctor
Turlough and The Doctor

In the far future, on the colony planet Frontios in the Veruna system, some of the last vestiges of humanity are struggling for survival following Earth’s collision with the Sun. Frontios though is being attacked by meteorite showers orchestrated by an unknown enemy responsible for the disappearance of several prominent colonists.

The colony’s leader, Captain Revere, is knocked unconscious when some subsidence occurs in a mine. Security Chief Brazen goes off to fetch help, but when he returns Captain Revere’s body has vanished. Following this incident, Security Chief Brazen orders the research room closed - despite the protestations of the scientist Range and his daughter Norna, who feel that the investigations into the meteorite bombardment that the planet is suffering should continue. Captain Revere’s son, Plantaganet, takes over as leader.

At the same time the TARDIS is hovering above Frontios when it is mysteriously affected by a meteorite storm and dragged down to the planet by gravity. The Doctor and his two companions, Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough, emerge to investigate and they discover the colonists who have been injured by the meteorite bombardment are being helped into the medical area, and the travellers - despite The Doctor’s earlier protestations that he cannot get involved - all help out.

Frontios
Frontios

The Doctor needs better light in the medical facility. Tegan and Turlough are sent to fetch a portable mu-field activator and five argon discharge globes from the TARDIS but find that the time machine’s inner door is stuck, preventing them from getting beyond the Console Room. Norna, Tegan and Turlough therefore obtain an acid-battery from the research room to power the lights. On their way back, however, they are forced to knock the Warnsman unconscious to avoid capture. Another bombardment occurs and, in the Warnsman’s absence, catches the colony unawares. But when the skies clear they discover that the TARDIS has dissapeared. Plantaganet wants The Doctor killed, but Turlough intercedes, using a surviving hat stand from the TARDIS as a weapon. Plantaganet tries to attack The Doctor with a crowbar but suffers a heart attack. The Time Lord manages to save his life using the battery, but he is later dragged into the ground by the same mysterious force.

Turlough discovers a passage under the research room and he and Norna explore, only for Norna to be captured by the creatures that live there. These are Tractators. Turlough goes into shock at seeing them, as the experience dredges up a deep racial memory of the creatures invading his own planet. The Doctor and Range also find the tunnel, and then so does Tegan.

Tegan and The Doctor
Tegan and The Doctor

After many narrow escapes from the Tractators, The Doctor and Tegan find their way to the creatures’ control centre and it is there that they meet Gravis, their leader, who explains that the Tractators have been on Frontios for 500 years. They brought the colony ship here 40 years ago, and have been causing the meteorite bombardments for the last 30 years. They need human minds and bodies to run their mining machines, and they plan to replace the current driver - Captain Revere, who is now dead - with Plantaganet. The Gravis also knows of The Doctor and is very interested in his TARDIS.

Meanwhile Brazen, along with his deputy, have been holding an enquiry with Range, Norna and Turlough. Brazen and Range head back into the tunnels, followed by Turlough. In their absence, the research room is attacked by an orderly named Cockerill and a group of retrograde colonists who feel that the present order is breaking down and want their independence.

When Turlough catches up with Brazen and Range, Range goes back to check on Norna’s safety. Turlough rescues Tegan, who has been held in a gravity field by a Tractator, and they then move on to rescue The Doctor. The Doctor tampers with the mining machine and causes the Gravis to suffer an electric shock. The creature falls unconscious and all the other Tractators then mill around in confusion. Plantaganet is rescued from the machine but, in a struggle, Brazen falls into the driver’s seat and becomes hooked up instead. This though causes the machine to go out of control and it crashes into a wall.

Brazen
Brazen

The Doctor then discovers that the Tractators are building a gravity motor with which to pilot the planet out of orbit. Plantaganet reveals that there are in fact two mining machines, and Turlough remembers an important fact about the creatures: if the Gravis is removed from the others, they all cease to be intelligent and return to a docile state.

Wandering in the tunnels, Tegan is horrified when she comes across bits of the TARDIS’s inner walls. While being chased by some Tractators led by the Gravis, who has now regained consciousness, she comes upon one of the TARDIS’s inner doors. Going through it, she finds herself in the TARDIS Console Room, which has bits of rock wall mixed in with its normal walls. The Doctor, Turlough and Plantaganet are already there. The Doctor ushers the Gravis in and then goads it into reassembling the TARDIS using its power over gravity. When the outer plasmic shell forms, the Gravis is effectively cut off from its fellow Tractators, which revert to a harmless state.

The Doctor then drops the Gravis off on the uninhabited planet of Kolkokron. Returning to Frontios, The Doctor gives Plantaganet the hat stand as a farewell token and asks that his own involvement in the affair not be mentioned to anyone – especially the Time Lords.

Once the TARDIS has dematerialised from Frontios, its engines start making a worrying noise when an outside influence starts to affect it. Unable to do anything The Doctor tells Tegan and Turlough that something is pulling them toward the centre of the universe. He does not know what it is, but anticipates that they are soon going to find out…

 
Hatstand Defence!
Hatstand Defence!
Turlough
Turlough
The Colonists on Frontios
The Colonists on Frontios
Norna
Norna
 
A Tractator
A Tractator
Range with The Doctor
Range with The Doctor
Brazen with The Doctor
Brazen with The Doctor
The Doctor with a Tractator
The Doctor with a Tractator




Quote of the Story


 'Oh, marvellous. You're going to kill me. What a finely tuned response to the situation.'

The Doctor



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Release Information

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)Code NumberCover ArtRemarks
Video
VHS
FrontiosMarch 1997BBCV 6120Colin HowardDouble cassette release Released along with "The Awakening"
Video
DVD
FrontiosMay 2011BBCDVD 3004Photo-montage


In Print

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)PublisherAuthorCover ArtRemarks
Novel
Novel
FrontiosDecember 1984Target No. 91Christopher H BidmeadAndrew SkilleterISBN: 0-426-19780-1
Novel
Novel
Frontios1985Target No. 91Christopher H BidmeadBook: Andrew Skilleter
Box: Graham Potts
Re-released as part of The Seventh Doctor Who Gift Set
ISBN: 0-426-20206-6
CD
CD
FrontiosApril 2015Target No. 91Christopher H BidmeadAndrew SkilleterAudio version of the Target Novel read by Christopher H Bidmead.
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision)Issue 73 (Released: August 1997)
Doctor Who Magazine - PreviewIssue 85 (Released: February 1984)
Doctor Who Magazine - ReviewIssue 89 (Released: June 1984)
Doctor Who Magazine - ArchiveIssue 101 (Released: June 1985)
Doctor Who Magazine - ArchiveIssue 220 (Released: December 1994)
Doctor Who Magazine - Time TeamIssue 385 (Released: August 2007)
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of FictionIssue 418 (Released: March 2010)
Doctor Who DVD FilesVolume 100 (Released: October 2012)

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Photo Gallery


The Doctor and Companions

 
Peter Davison
The Fifth Doctor

   

Janet Fielding
Tegan Jovanka
 
Mark Strickson
Turlough
   




On Release

VHS Video Cover
VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
 
DVD Cover
DVD Cover

BBC
VIDEO
   


In Print

Target Book Cover
Target Book Cover

Target
NOVEL
The Seventh Doctor Who Gift Set
The Seventh Doctor Who Gift Set

Target
NOVEL
Target Audio CD Cover
Target Audio CD Cover

BBC
CD
   


Magazines

Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 73
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 73

CMS
Doctor Who Magazine - Preview: Issue 85
Doctor Who Magazine - Preview: Issue 85

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - Review: Issue 89
Doctor Who Magazine - Review: Issue 89

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 101
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 101

Marvel Comics
   
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 220
Doctor Who Magazine - Archive: Issue 220

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 385
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 385

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of Fiction: Issue 418
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of Fiction: Issue 418

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 100
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 100

GE Fabbri
   


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