"Finn Clark"

02/03/2004 10:25 AM

Read-a-thon 51: First Frontier (SPOILERS)

Sorry I didn't post anything yesterday. Mondays are always awkward for me;
thinking about it, there's a chance I might end up skipping Mondays on a
regular basis.

SPOILERS... or, to be specific, the spoiler. There's a big twist in First
Frontier which I couldn't avoid mentioning, so read no further if you don't
want to know.

First Frontier, by David A. McIntee
The 30th Virgin NA, published in September 1994
Starring the 7th Doctor, Benny and New Ace
ISBN 0-426-20421-2

In 1994 I found this book boring. Ten years later I discovered things I
liked about it, but I still couldn't really care about its characters or its

The characters are the biggest problem. First Frontier's humans are goons
from the US army, being manipulated by everyone and played for chumps.
They're stupid, unimaginative, rulebound and incapable of working out what's
going on for themselves. They're losers. However unfortunately the
non-humans, the Tzun, are also pretty tedious. Not only are they as
straight-laced and unimaginative as the humans, but they're nearly as
stupid. They have more technology, but they're dopes. This story is about
losers being outwitted by losers, with both sides being played for chumps by
the TARDIS crew and Major Kreer.

If you're looking for characters, there's Kreer and his assistant Stoker.
That's about it, really. Nyby is sometimes allowed a personality and I
quite liked Major Marion Davison (yes, Davison), but even Nyby is still a
goon and Davison barely does anything but follow around the Doctor as a
temporary companion. In fairness I suppose there wasn't much scope for
making this a character-based piece, since the humans are clueless and the
Tzun are nominally bad guys.

However worst of all was the ending. With nearly fifty pages to go, the bad
guys give up and head for home! A certain person takes over as primo
villain, but even so it's not exactly thrill-a-minute. Will the alien
invaders defeat the Master or will they be destroyed? Why I should care?
It's another Two Alien Factions story in fancy dress, with the humans and
heroes relegated to the sidelines. Those last fifty pages are surreal, as
if the Master is suddenly the hero and we're meant to cheer his evil. (Face
of the Enemy tried a similar trick, but far more successfully.) The big
Doctor-Master scene is predictable and dull. There are a few good scenes
towards the end, but by that point I was flicking through the pages.

The TARDIS crew are good, though. The 7th Doctor is very Sylvester McCoy,
more like the goofball TV version than in any other McIntee book. Sometimes
it's almost disconcerting. Benny and New Ace are both good too, the latter
being a huge improvement on the Ace of White Darkness. I liked that.

There's other good stuff too. The Master is great, as always, and he's
specifically Ainley rather than Delgado. I also liked the Tzun's
background. McIntee wanted to play with stories of alien abduction and
X-Files-eque 'Greys' but also make his aliens look human. The easy option
would have been to make them shapeshifters or disguised with holographic
technology, but the different Tzun races here are much more interesting.
Finally this is a McIntee historical (if 1957 counts as 'historical') with
the usual high level of research and detail. That's all laudable.

Unfortunately McIntee seems to think he's writing Bond-esque action, though
you'd never guess that from reading the bloody thing. It's as exciting and
fast-paced as the same author's Lords of the Storm (i.e. not even slightly).
There was potential for fun with the alien abduction angle and X-Files-ish
atmosphere, but that falls flat too. It's hard for aliens to seem spooky
when Tzun point-of-view cutaways mean you've just overheard them saying:
"Ph'Sor specimen #337. Execute collection as per Precept 1765-3." There
are a few alien-abduction scenes, one of them slightly amusing, but for the
most part this isn't what the book's about. A shame. I reckon this
material had potential.

I nearly choked on the in-jokes. "Kreer" is the name of a character played
by Roger Delgado in an Avengers episode. Stoker smells like a King's Demons
reference. Many soldiers are named after the creators of fifties SF films -
Jack Finney and Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Ed Wood (Plan 9
>From Outer Space) and Christian Nyby (credited for The Thing From Another
World, though it was really directed by Howard Hawks). There's Lovecraft
wank on p110 and a Dimensions in Time sideswipe on p54. And as for
'Nykortny' Cosmodrome... Stop, please, stop!

As a conclusion to McIntee's Master trilogy (but the first-written), it
works surprisingly well. It resurrects the Tzun-Veltrochni stuff from The
Dark Path (though in real life 'twas the other way around) and even has a
Face of the Enemy reference on p107. I don't know what that was meant to
be, but that's what it looks like. Unfortunately First Frontier is
slap-bang in the middle of the train wreck that is the Master's
post-Survival continuity, along with The Eight Doctors, Perry-Tucker, the
TVM, the DWM comic strip and more. It's not McIntee's fault. He got here
first. But it's not even good enough to pretend that the Master's lying on
p264, since a certain plot development means this must follow 'Stop the
Pigeon' and Prime Time in the 7th Doctor's timeline. Ah well.

There's plenty to like in First Frontier, if you're in the right mood. The
Master, the Virgin regulars and the period detail are all good.
Unfortunately it's a stodgy tale that thinks it's an action movie and
doesn't have much in the way of characters to hold your attention.

Finn Clark.