Each year, the IBM Hursley Club publishes a giant crossword in its festive newsletter. The Club is onsite at the location where I work.
This year, their crossword setter is “Omega.” He or she has included 12 Doctor Who related answers, and the grid features four question marks. What fun!
December 10, 2016
Each year, the IBM Hursley Club publishes a giant crossword in its festive newsletter. The Club is onsite at the location where I work.
December 5, 2016
This year I was honoured by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC), which is the industry body for information development. They awarded me their Horace Hockley Award for 2016. And then they elected me as an Honorary Fellow, in recognition of outstanding service to the profession.
I was pleased to accept both, make an acceptance speech at this year’s conference, and write an article for their journal Communicator.
Here’s what I said in the article.
A few comments on recognition
Horace Hockley Award 2016 honoree Peter Anghelides says “thanks for the feedback”
How splendid to receive this year’s Horace Hockley Award. Major Hockley established standards for the technical communication profession, and was himself recognised with an OBE in the 1968 New Year Honours list.
We should welcome feedback about our work that’s timely, evidence-based, constructive. It’s a culture shift in our industry: to seek professional feedback instead of mere evaluation.
That’s important to us at IBM, where our mission is to deliver the right content, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
The feedback firehose
Feedback can be overwhelming. It may be from our peers, our editors, our engineers, our clients. And the explosion of feedback is a consequence of how we’ve slashed hardcopy entitlement, increased softcopy, integrated online information, and incorporated documentation in development environments and platforms like Eclipse or IBM Bluemix.
We get comments from IBM support, in the IBM Knowledge Center, in forums and collaborative environments like Stack Overflow, or repositories like GitHub. Not to mention the freeform firehose of Twitter and YouTube.
More than half of visitors to ibm.com go there for technical information, and a third of them use IBM Knowledge Center (millions of unique visitors, every week). IDC research (Technology Marketing Blog, October 19, 2012) revealed that vendor information is the second biggest pre-sales influence for technology buyers.
Delighted clients are advocates for our company. And our technical content reveals our company to our clients. That’s why we welcome feedback. We crave it.
Take a page out of my book
But when I first joined IBM in 1988, feedback came via the Reader’s Comment Form (RCF). This was back in the days when you might get your IBM machine delivered on one pallet and your documentation on the next two. Each of those big hardcopy manuals might have hundreds of pages, with one RCF at the back of it. We invited our clients to fill these in, with a request for assessment on Clarity, Accuracy, Completeness, Organization, Retrieval, and Readability.
What optimism! Our hope was our reader would tear this page from the back of the manual, complete it in detail, fold it neatly, and return it by pre-paid post to IBM in Mechanicsburg, PA where our product documentation was printed. IBM Mechanicsburg would then bundle up the RCFs and post them to the appropriate development lab – in my case, IBM Warwick Lab.
For years in Warwick, one client kept sending us RCFs that were completely blank. Nothing on Clarity. No insights into Accuracy or Organisation. We knew they came from one person, because each had the same postmark.
Was our mystery correspondent shy? Using invisible ink? Or a really furious client trying to bankrupt a multibillion dollar corporation one pre-paid envelope at a time?
Then the blank RCFs stopped. For months, we wondered what had happened, until they suddenly began arriving once more.
“What a relief,” said my manager, Roger Amis, “I was beginning to worry that something had happened to him.”
Roles and responsibilities
Roger is the man who hired me into IBM. Over the following three decades, I’ve been a technical author, project lead, talent manager, globalisation expert, and accessibility advisor. I’ve line managed information developers, human factors engineers, designers.
At one point, I even acted as IBM’s Translation Service Centre Manager for UK English (we never had a busy week).
I completed two worldwide assignments for the three IBM Corporate Directors of Documentation, Globalization, and Design. Those were wonderful opportunities to support strategy, process, and tooling for the biggest tech comms population in the world, through times of great transformation in IBM’s core businesses, and therefore great change in how we delivered product documentation in dozens of languages.
I’ve helped my company change from IBM-specific tools and technology, like BookMaster, to establishing and sharing open standards, such as DITA. I’ve seen a company-wide renaissance in design thinking that puts user outcomes at the heart of what we do.
Technical communication is now an institutional competency within IBM. As an upline manager, the latest transformation I led was to integrate information development into the engineering squads, instead of being a separate organisation.
Multi-disciplinary teams mean that design and technical writing are no longer “add-ons,” but integrated with engineering from the outset – essential ingredients in a mix of skills for successful software development.
Staying the course
There have been many colleagues, managers, and mentors in the UK and around the world. But I reflect it was the IBM manager who hired me in the first place who made this all possible.
You sometimes hear it said that “people join companies, but leave managers.” Well, Roger Amis is a big reason why I stayed the course.
By happy coincidence, he also introduced me to my wife.
I’d like to recognise Roger as a role model for what it means to be a technical communicator, a manager, a collaborative colleague, and a mentor. He made it possible for me to set off on this path.
And I thank the ISTC for this much-appreciated recognition of my subsequent journey over the years.
Peter Anghelides is Outreach and Publicity Officer, IBM UK Lab Campus
This article was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Winter 2016.
October 24, 2016
You know what they say: every generation has an odd family member that the other relatives talk about behind their back. And if you say that your family doesn’t do that, well, the bad news is that it’s you they’re talking about.
The joke is that you don’t know what you don’t know. We all make assumptions, and assumptions have biases.
Say that again
Outside of my day job, I like to tweet stuff. It’s not a work blog, and more of an odd combo of lame jokes (see above), news items I find noteworthy, and exchanges between me and others. Those other tweeps (yeah, that’s the term, get over it) are a variety of friends and colleagues in IT, technical communication, and various media fandoms that I enjoy. And a whole crowd of others who like to listen in; I’m not all that choosy.
If I see something that amuses or interests me, I will share it on Twitter. Or if it’s already on Twitter, I may forward it (adding my own comment) or retweet it unchanged as I first saw it. If I do the former, it appears with my Twitter name on the tweet when it pops up in other people’s timeline; if I do the latter, the original person’s name appears.
The other month, my wife pointed out to me: “You don’t often just retweet women.” And she was right. It wasn’t something I’d done consciously, but a combination of:
- What I’d chosen to share
- How I’d chosen to share it
- Who I’d chosen to follow
The third one was a bit of an eye-opener. Because if I don’t follow a diverse range of people, it’s less likely that I’ll spot and retweet their stuff. Like any social media, and social sharing, Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber of people Just Like You.
Obviously I want my Twitter experience to be more like a convivial gathering at my local, rather than a bar-clearing brawl. But I hadn’t thought, before my wife pointed it out to me, that I’d been so selective about who I followed… or perhaps I mean, not selective enough.
This came to mind again when I read this terrific post on Etsy’s Code as Craft blog by Toria Gibbs and Ian Malpass. It’s an eight-minute read full of interesting stuff, including:
- How software engineers communicate to themselves, and others, about craftsmanship
- Diversity in recruitment, retention, and role models
- Unconscious bias
The post is called Being an Effective Ally to Women and Non-Binary People. I like it because it’s written like a human being, not like an Open University lecture. And it contains some “no excuses” resources about (for example) photos of women in IT that you can use, for free, in your business presentations rather than perhaps perpetuating the stock set of picture of men we may have been using previously.
Worth a read now. Or if you’re busy, worth bookmarking. Consider this my social sharing.
Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat
June 12, 2016
I wrote last year about this, and said:
I expect I’ll need to come out again in the future when I meet new colleagues, clients, suppliers, and stakeholders.
It was my intention to reblog that this year, during Pride month. The horrific events at Pulse in Orlando this morning mean this cannot be the celebratory piece I hoped it would be.
But it emphasises, more than ever, the importance for each of us to be visible allies.
May 22, 2016
Winner! Best Eighth Doctor novel in the annual Doctor Who Magazine reader’s poll.
First published by BBC Worldwide in November 1999, ISBN: 0-563-55589-0
After writing Kursaal, I kept in contact with the other writers of the BBC Eighth Doctor range via e-mail. We would discuss forthcoming books, offer support and advice to each other, and encourage better continuity and continuing development of the series – especially the characters of the Doctor and his companions.
BBC Books editor Steve Cole let us in on a big secret—the idea of a story arc kicked off by Lawrence Miles’ book Interference, and which would centre around a new companion introduced in that book, called Compassion. The rough outline of how Compassion would develop was established over an initial five-book plan, and authors were invited to pitch for the five available slots.
As part of these discussions, I provided a very candid assessment of why I thought Compassion would be extremely difficult to write for, and that as a character she introduced lots of problems for writers.
However, after some nagging from Steve (who also provided a somewhat pained defence of Compassion against some pushback from the writers), I rashly provided a proposal for the third book in the arc, and found I then had to write for the character!
Rather than ignore what I saw were problems (by sidelining her), I decided to give her a central role in my novel. And, by the end of it, I decided I quite liked her as a character after all. (I’m so fickle.)
You can see from draft 2 of my proposal to the BBC that I wanted readers to join the story mid-way through the action; so the Doctor and his companions have been there for a while before we join them. Have a look also at Chapter 2 to see some of this in the published version.
At the proposal stage, Steve and I judged that some of the stuff about Compassion was too obvious, and so I played that down a little. In the outline, the subplot of Reddenblak is not so much to the fore, and two characters from earlier books (Alien Bodies and The Taking of Planet Five) make a cameo appearance – which I subsequently removed from the finished book. Other stuff was introduced into the novel while I was writing it, as usual.
I was more involved in the design of the cover of this book than for any of my other published novels.
In-jokes: Fitz adopts the persona of Frank Sinatra, and all the chapter titles are songs that Sinatra sang. In the acknowledgements I name “Francis Albert” – which are Sinatra’s christian names. And “Frontier Worlds” was the name of a fan magazine I devised in 1979 with my friends Peter Lovelady and Tony Murray. They came up with the name of the fanzine—I had wanted, foolishly, to call it “Darkling Zone”—so Peter and Tony get an acknowledgement in the novel, too, for bringing me to my senses two decades previously.
This page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.
What strange attraction lures people to the planet Drebnar? When the TARDIS is dragged there, the Doctor determines to find out why.
He discovers that scientists from the mysterious Frontier Worlds Corporation have set up a base on the planet, and are trying to blur the distinction between people and plants. The TARDIS crew plan to prevent a biological catastrophe – but their plan goes wrong all too soon.
Compassion finds her undercover work so engrossing she risks losing her detachment. Fitz seems too distracted by the local population to keep his eye on Compassion. So when the Doctor gets trapped in a freezing wilderness, who can stop him falling victim to a lethal experiment in genetic modification?
For something else has been lured to Drebnar, something that Frontier Worlds Corporation will ruthlessly exploit without care for the consequences – an ancient alien organism which threatens to snuff out Drebnar’s solar system.
This is another in the series of original adventures for the Eighth Doctor.
This page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.
This is the proposal I sent to the BBC in May 1999. Because I’d already discussed the development of the continuing story (which some people have called “the Compassion arc”), this outline is perhaps a bit more detailed than you would usually expect. If you’ve read the book, you’ll also notice that there are several sequences which were not in the original outline.
This can happen when you’re writing a book – you find you’ve got to get the characters to a particular place, or someone’s motivation isn’t clear enough. In the case of Frontier Worlds, examples of this include: the third-person narration for the seventh sequence, the change to third-person narration at the book’s conclusion, the Prologue and Epilogue; and (my favourite) the combine harvester chase.
You can also download a PDF of my proposal here: Frontier_Worlds_proposal.
Proposal for a Doctor Who novel featuring the eighth Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion
Proposal for an 85,000-word Doctor Who novel by Peter Anghelides
Draft 2, 27 May 99 (6,600 words)
The planet Drebnar is one of a number of frontier worlds settled by humans in the future. Drebnar is a rare find – a planet with substantial areas of fertile land, no intelligent life forms, and stable tectonics. At this stage in its history, with the planet being ground-broken by exploratory Earth corporations, it has a population of only about five million. (This will seem a lot to Fitz – it’s more people than live in the London of his era.). The planet has become the breadbasket of the array of nearby planets.
This is a story about genetically-modified organisms, and an attempt by a group of humans to extend their lives by adopting a plant-like regenerative cycle. There is, of course, a pleasant irony that this mirrors not only the Doctor’s regenerative abilities but also the way that Fitz (Kode) and Compassion were repeatedly regenerated in the Remembrance Tanks (in Interference).
However, there are no dependencies on other Eight Doctor novels or previous Doctor Who continuity – despite a couple of nonessential references to Alien Bodies and Interference. As third in the five-book arc, it does introduce further evidence of Compassion’s continuing slow evolution into a TARDIS, but the idea is that you don’t need to know that… it’s just nice for regular readers if they notice it.
Other books in the story sequence seem to separate Fitz and Compassion, so I have kept them together in this book. This also plays to the Doctor’s agenda for Compassion.
The Doctor is on the very edge of a research station, which is perched on a craggy outcrop of a snow-covered mountain-top. The Doctor is trying to persuade a man, Dewfurth, out of throwing himself to his death on the rocks below. The Doctor fails, and Dewfurth vanishes onto the jagged rocks below. The Doctor then hurries away to join Fitz, and the two of them start fleeing from some unnamed pursuers from the research station.
During the chase, we learn something about what they’re doing – investigating a research corporation called Frontier Worlds, which is involved in dubious research on the planet Drebnar. The TARDIS was drawn here by odd fluctuations, which may have come from the Weather Control Platform above them. (This is a crude arrangement – a huge football-field-sized atmospheric balloon tethered by giant hawsers, holding up what is effectively a low-orbit satellite. Cheap, ugly, nasty, efficient.) Fitz and Compassion have been trying to break into Frontier Worlds Corporation, while the Doctor has been investigating a similar biodiversity company called Reddenblak elsewhere on the planet. His investigations at Reddenblak’s Market Intelligence group led him to this Frontier Worlds facility, and contact with Dewfurth who wanted to sell out to the rival Corporation – hence this rendezvous.
At one stage during the ensuing chase, the Doctor and Fitz are forced to flee towards a Lake of Ice, as they attempt to get round a convoy of big green loaded motorised sleds. Fitz strays on to the ice, but the Doctor draws him back – below the ice are weird piranha-like creatures, who can track sound above the ice and break through the thinnest parts to devour unwary prey. (We see a local animal being dragged to its death this way.)
The Doctor points out that their pursuers are only aware that he was in the research station – Fitz should try to get back down the mountain to Compassion, while the Doctor draws them away. (As it’s the Doctor’s POV, we can learn that this is still part of his plan to have Fitz and Compassion spend time together to “humanise” her). Don’t worry, says the Doctor, I’ll e-mail you instructions. Fitz reluctantly agrees, though he’s only just getting to grips with this new electronic communications stuff: “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” he observes.
Unseen now by Fitz, the Doctor races off – across the ice! Behind him, the pursuers halt by the edge of the lake, take aim, and fire weapons at the Doctor. The Doctor is shot, but struggles to the side of the lake and into rough undergrowth.
While hiding, the Doctor sees the pursuers stop. Their leader, Temm Sempiter, has found the Doctor’s fresh blood in the snow. Sempiter scoops up a handful in a curious gesture… even if he gets away, they can track him down. He taps his foot in the snow in a characteristic, impatient gesture.
We’re in first-person narration by a man called Frank. Frank has worked on Drebnar for the Frontier Worlds Corporation for two months. We get a distinct, somewhat cruel perspective on Frank’s colleagues at Frontier Worlds, the dull days, his network of friends, his main squeeze Alura Trebul, and his sister Nancy. Eventually, we’ll twig that Frank and Nancy Sinatra are actually Fitz and Compassion; Fitz is livening up his undercover work in the way only he can. he’s quite fond of quoting Sinatra lyrics in conversation, explaining that he is descended from King Elvis, fully aware that the other workers don’t get the gag.
Fitz and Compassion have already been working in Frontier Worlds HQ for about two months. (When Fitz asked why he wasn’t working with them at Frontier Worlds, the Doctor alleges that he somehow failed the job interview.) After obtaining some information about the mountainside research centre Fitz had gone to join the Doctor on their earlier rendezvous (previous sequence). After their close escape, and with the Doctor still not in contact, Fitz has returned to his undercover work.
To one side of the Frontier Worlds HQ is the mountain, to the other is forest and jungle, and beyond that are supposed to be further Frontier Worlds facilities.
So Fitz is working as personal assistant and dogsbody to Griz Ellis, a huge and grubby man who is conducting research at HQ into the effects of electromagnetic forces on plant life. Fitz has been inoculated – but isn’t sure whether this is to protect him from research accidents or from Ellis’s dubious personal hygiene. Ellis drives Fitz mad with his pedantic corrections and unwelcome advice about everything: “You’re doing it that way? Oh, big mistake. And that way too? Big mistake. Mega mistake.” And his constant harping on about how he wished he could go back to Earth where he was a biologist – “back to the land, putting down some roots”. It’s all talk – he’s doing nothing about it.
Fitz originally established a relationship with Hannaw Applin, who is executive secretary to their main boss, Temm Sempiter. Hannaw likes a good gossip, and although they’re no longer seeing each other, she will call Fitz up during the day (on his mobile phone, which is in a headset with speaker and ear piece) to bleat at him about her problems and then, when she’s dumped on him, let him talk; Fitz can tell she’s not listening after this point, because he can hear her typing in the background and the sound of her having a sneaky ciggie. Applin does reveal information to him about Frontier Worlds’ big rival company, the Reddenblak Corporation, who also have research facilities on Drebnar.
Compassion, in comparison, is working as a humble data entry clerk. The Doctor wangled them accreditation when they joined the Corporation (though they still had to provide the usual – ugh! – tissue samples when joining a food company). After this, the Doctor had left in the TARDIS – Compassion can sense that it is no longer nearby. She loves to get plugged into the Frontier Worlds planetary network (though is constantly frustrated by their security measures and company firewall). Compassion’s brain, like the TARDIS, is self-teaching, self-repairing, ever-evolving. Cut off from the TARDIS and unable to absorb information from there, she spends long periods attached to the Frontier Worlds systems, devouring what information she can.
Fitz is a bit worried about this obsession, particularly since they haven’t heard recently from the Doctor. Compassion is beginning to receive data from the newly-formed and still-growing parts of her own mind (these are the scaled-down versions of the TARDIS’ block transfer systems developing right there inside her own head), but she thinks she’s getting instructions and directions from the distant TARDIS. (The Doctor will later tell her that this is impossible.) This all comes out in a conversation with Fitz about how he can understand the alien tongues on this planet.
Since Compassion seems preoccupied with her work, however, Fitz spends more time getting familiar with Alura Trebul’s alien tongue. Alura is amused by Fitz’s apparent paranoia about his apartment being bugged. We know, from his own narrative, why he’s worried about being caught as a spy. He doesn’t let her into any of his spying secrets.
Compassion’s colleagues include Natalie Allder, a rather dim office worker who strikes up an unlikely friendship. Natalie used to have a “thing” with Ellis, they were practically married, but he’s gone all distant and strange recently.
Before all this office intrigue gets a bit too dull, you’ll be pleased to hear, Compassion uses a cipher than Fitz has managed to get out of Ellis, and discovers that there are genetic experiments happening on Level X of the building.
She’s also discovered one of the samples that they’re experimenting on… a DNA sample which she recognises as the Doctor’s. (Reference to the 69 chromosomes divided into 23 homogenous triads, mentioned in Interference.)
Fitz goes to investigate Level X, using Ellis’s authority pass which he has appropriated. He meets an ill-looking Sempiter in the lift, bumping into him by accident; Fitz bumbles about with an apology, saying that he was going to deliver a printed report to Sempiter. Sempiter mumbles back that Fitz should e-mail it to him. “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” Fitz says, and hurries away. Sempiter still looks a bit groggy, so Fitz leaves him to it.
While looking around Level X, Fitz is surprised when Sempiter coming in after him! Sempiter doesn’t notice him, and looks pretty grim and grey, tapping his foot rhythmically as usual. Sempiter takes a swig of baby bio, slumps in a chair, and appears to drop dead. Then, worse, he shrugs off his outer “skin”, and a wrinkly new Sempiter slumps forward onto the desk. Fitz throws up in a bin and leaves before the new Sempiter opens his pruney new eyelids and sees him, but bumps into Ellis on the way out. Ellis doesn’t realise that Fitz has been in the room, so Fitz gives him his authority pass back (as though he’d just dropped it when they collided). Ellis is distracted because he’s telling Sempiter that two visitors from Reddenblak have arrived. Sempiter groans – Ellis will have to deal with it, he needs to get to the mountainside research centre – his assistant Applin has his car ready.
Compassion was unable to join Fitz on his investigation, because just as she was setting off she was assigned to chaperone a couple of customer visitors to a meeting. She explains all this to Fitz when they meet up: she was puzzled by the request, and a bit suspicious, because she’s supposed to be a data entry clerk But, she explains, she went along anyway – the two customers had come to find out about the wonderful new foodstuff that Frontier Worlds has created, a genetically-modified crop called “Darkling” (because it grows throughout the night as well as the day).
Compassion is unnerved by this visit – not because she recognised them (she didn’t), but because she can’t understand how they knew about the Top Secret Darkling Project that she’d just unearthed on the computer system. Suspecting it must be a test of her loyalty, she warns Fitz that they may have been rumbled. Did they show on the planetary records, asks Fitz? No, says Compassion, they were off-worlders. Their names were Mr Homunculette and Ms Marie.
The twist here is that regular readers (only) will recognise these characters, and expect them to play an important part in the novel. But we know that they’re just there to monitor Compassion’s development, and they won’t play any further part in the novel, so it will be doubly unnerving… first that they appear here in the first place, and secondly that, by the end of the novel, they haven’t reappeared… so what’s going on? Casual readers will assume that the point is that Fitz and Compassion have been rumbled, and later that the two customers really work for Reddenblak.
The Doctor has been hiding out in the mountains, having survived his gunshot wound. He is surprised to stumble across Dewfurth again, who miraculously survived his fall – he is half-naked, and the Doctor discovers him near to the shrugged-off remains of his previous body. Dewfurth is in despair – he can’t even kill himself!
The Doctor comforts the distraught man. Dewfurth reveals how he had been experimenting with fast-yield crops which could better exploit the very fertile land which covers much of Drebnar. The other two majority shareholders in the company were an engineer, developing machinery to expedite crop production, and a physicist, developing a weather control system. But they soon realised that none of them would live long enough to enjoy the results of their lives’ work. Then the engineer, Sempiter, discovered that he was dying from a wasting disease. He tried to develop a mechanical device, a robot to continue his work in his likeness, but that failed because he couldn’t find a suitable fast-growing synthetic flesh. And then they discovered an extraordinary source of alien tissue on a mountainside site near their research facility…
Dewfurth takes the Doctor to the site. The Doctor is amazed to see the decaying corpse of a long-dead Raab, a huge plant creature the size of a blue whale, smashed into the mountainside. Raab travel for hundreds or thousands of years through space, absorbing the minute amounts of energy and sustenance as they travel between planets, and usually land heavily on barren asteroids or small moons; the impact spreads their seeds all over the immediate area. A handful of the many billions of seeds will make it through the rest of the cycle: growing with dramatic speed (mere months) as they absorb hugely greater amounts of sustenance than they did in space, until they’re large enough to be able to spring their small new shoots from the asteroid, and continue to grow over the next hundreds of years in space as the cycle starts again – searching for another asteroid. What could have brought it into the gravity well of this planet?
What could have brought both of them, asks Dewfurth. Both of them, repeats the Doctor? And then he discovers that, just over the hill, there is another Raab, which is still just alive, and being guarded by Frontier Worlds security. The Raab has been so confused by the signals that it wasn’t prepared for impact, and its huge seed load is still contained inside its tough outer husk.
Both Raab are being guarded because they’re being exploited by Frontier Worlds. More horribly, they’re being gouged into chunks and fed into portable shredders carried by the security guards; the chunks are then being carted back to the research centre in the convoy of big green loaded motorised sleds that we saw at the start of the novel. Dewfurth says he helped to conduct the first Raab analysis, and he and his fellow scientists were able to change the DNA of some fish (which reproduced quickly, and showed early results). Then the scientists changed their own DNA by using the same invasive tissue from the Raab. Then they discovered that it was changing the fish – they are the piranha creatures in the Lake of Ice.
Sempiter still thinks it’s a triumph, and now wants to extend the methodology to more conventional foodstuffs. Dewfurth knows what he has surrendered of himself to achieve this kind of immortality… the Raab element grows stronger with every “rebirth” that they endure, and although they only change annually, or when they are fatally injured, that’s still too fast to stay at all human. That’s why Dewfurth tried to kill himself when the Doctor tracked him down: he is responsible for the DNA changes, and he will be responsible for what happens to the rest of the planet when Frontier Worlds succeeds in growing its first crop of Darkling.
The Doctor is alarmed by this, but Dewfurth has finally gone over the edge. He stumbles off towards the Lake of Ice. The Doctor struggles with Dewfurth, fighting to prevent him going onto the ice as he becomes more delirious, seizing him by his torn jacket. What’s bringing the Raab here? What is the Darkling crop, and where is it? Dewfurth looks to the skies, and while the Doctor is distracted by this gesture, slips out of his jacket and stumbles off towards the Raab crash site. The Doctor is unable to reach him before he throws himself at one of the security guards’ shredders (yuk).
The Doctor reasons to himself that the Raab must be crashing unwillingly to their doom, drawn off course by the climate control system. And that control system is housed beneath the huge tethered balloon in the distance. In the torn jacket, the Doctor finds Dewfurth’s personal authority card.
The Doctor uses the authority card to get up to the Weather Control Platform beneath the atmospheric balloon, using a cable car attached to one of the giant hawsers. Up there, he sabotages the mechanics which are both controlling the weather and drawing the Raab creatures off course and to their doom on the mountainside. He also hunts out some information about Darkling, and learns about the Reddenblak Corporation. Reddenblak are looking to increase their market share by a strategy of: diversify, embrace, extinguish. (This is the same method that the Raab would use, unwittingly, if the seed load scattered on this fertile planet – with no way for the new seedlings to escape from the planet’s gravity.) The Doctor makes some changes to the computer systems and the company firewall, but when he tries to contact Fitz and Compassion he realises he’s been discovered and captured. Captured, in fact, by a robot guard which behaves uncannily like Temm Sempiter, right down to the impatiently tapping foot. As the conversation proceeds, the robot starts to pick up characteristics of the Doctor’s.
The Doctor is put into a cable car, which makes its way down one of the huge hawsers towards the mountainside research station. He is frustrated to find that he can’t get out, but notices an escape glider attached to the side of the balloon (also frustratingly unreachable).
When the cable car touches ground, the Doctor is taken to see Sempiter, who is present at the mountainside research centre. Sempiter is looking a lot fresher than when we last saw him. (He’s also, bizarrely, brought with him his pet budgie in a cage. It’s a robot bird.) As the Doctor is hustled into the room, he can overhear an argument that Sempiter is having with Ellis (who is still back at Frontier Worlds HQ, at the base of the mountain).
Ellis is explaining that representatives of the Reddenblak Corporation have asked to meet the Frontier Worlds board to offer an agreed buyout of the company. Ellis thinks they should sell up, accusing Sempiter of being a control freak – they could still carry on their research, while letting Reddenblak take the strain of the day-to-day business; but Sempiter refuses, and is furious when he realises that the Reddenblak people obviously know about the top secret Darkling crop. Who could have leaked the information? A check on all outgoing e-mail reveals it was Dewfurth. But Dewfurth killed himself, surely? And the last person seen with him was… that intruder (the Doctor) at the research station! A search of the Doctor reveals that he has Dewfurth’s authority card.
They take the Doctor to a laboratory, where they plan to investigate his DNA, which has intrigued them since they got the tiniest sample from his blood earlier. Sempiter notes that the Doctor’s gunshot wound seems to be healing remarkably quickly – in fact, the ordered nature of his unusual DNA suggests that he could be even more useful than anything they’ve found on this planet so far (reference again to the triple-helix mentioned in Interference – these are the results that Compassion recognised earlier on in her database search).
Sempiter also wants to know who the Doctor was trying to contact in Frontier Worlds HQ just before he was captured – could there be others like him? Sempiter gets his assistant, Applin, to instigates a search of employee DNA sample while he gets on undisturbed with taking a larger DNA sample from the Doctor. A fairly substantial sample in fact… not something he’s likely to survive.
The Doctor stalls the experiment by exploiting what he’s learned from the late Dewfurth, quizzing Sempiter about the Raab, explaining how terribly risky it is to use the Raab corpses, and discovering (to his horror) what Sempiter is now doing. Sempiter reveals he and his research colleagues have changed their own DNA to prolong their lives, using Raab tissue. Now he is extending this to natural foodstuffs, and has created the Darkling wheat crop on the fertile ground of this frontier world – and what’s more, he’s fertilising it still more with the Raab mulch (ikk!). This will get around the problems they currently have with the altered DNA, which requires a painful annual “shedding” of their outer layer to survive. It is also a more subtle way of extending the programme to the rest of the population and, eventually, other frontier worlds who will be dependent on the output of Drebnar.
The Doctor tells him that this help the Raab wipe out the human race on all the frontier worlds. Sempiter seems strangely unmoved by this intelligence. Besides, Sempiter and the Doctor seem very much alike – they both have tissue-deep regenerative abilities. The Doctor manages to escape his shackles in a neat feat of escapology, and locks Sempiter in the laboratory. There’s no way that Sempiter can contact anyone while he’s locked in here, says the Doctor. To demonstrate this, he pulls the wires out of the wall to disable the intercomms system: “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” he tells Sempiter. Then he waves something at Sempiter and vanishes.
This is Sempiter’s POV, for the first time in the novel). Thirty minutes later, Applin comes to see how Sempiter is getting on with his dissection. Sempiter recognised the Doctor’s comment about e-mail, because Fitz used the same phrase to him earlier in the Frontier Worlds HQ. Sempiter tells Applin to search out the specific DNA samples for Frank Sinatra, and anyone hired about the same time. Applin says no need – that must be his sister, Nancy. (And to think she once fancied him, the traitorous git.) Sempiter sees the DNA results for “Frank” and “Nancy”, and realises that they have regenerative qualities in their tissue. “Nancy” is particularly interesting.
Applin says that she will call Fitz and activate his phone headset, then keep busy while the guards move in. They can then recapture the Doctor when he tries to contact or reach his associates. Sempiter makes a call of his own. Then he decides to go back to the HQ for himself – and realises that what the Doctor was waving at him when he left were the keys to his flyer, pick-pocketed from him.
In Fitz’s apartment: Alura is quizzing Fitz about his career plans again. Fitz fobs off her growing suspicions with a metaphor from his days on Earth, which he’s never told anyone else… how in another life he could have been Franz-Joachim Kreiner, if his father had made a different choice. Alura (who thinks that Fitz is called Frank Sinatra of course) confesses that she’s found who she wants to be; she’s exactly the Alura Trebul she wants to be, now that she’s with him. (Ahhh!).
Fitz and Compassion discover lots of dreadful genetic experimental horrors, lashing around on Level X. Compassion has mysteriously been able to tap into the computer network and get them unlimited access (what is this strange power she has?).
Fitz takes a call from Applin. He suspects that she’s trying to keep him occupied, find out where he is – because she’s not talking about herself, and he can’t hear her having her sneaky ciggie and tapping on her keyboard. He makes an excuse to pause the conversation, and tells Compassion that they’ve been rumbled. Compassion wants to escape immediately, but Fitz wants to go back to the apartment to take Alura – she’s waiting at home for him, but he cannot get through on the phone to her. Compassion isn’t convinced, but reluctantly goes with him. Fitz leaves his mobile phone headset behind, leaving the line to Applin open.
They find the apartment is wrecked, and Alura (waiting at home for Fitz) has been murdered, and the phone is off the hook – connected to the security services! Alura must have been calling the cops, but was killed. As Fitz and Compassion make this horrible discovery, the cops arrive – except that they’re really Frontier Worlds security staff! Fitz and Compassion flee out the back way. As they’re leaving, they run into Griz Ellis in the street. He says he’s come to find Fitz – he’s discovered the experiments on Level X, and is shocked and surprised by them, Sempiter’s been keeping things from him! Ellis flees with them, much to their disgust – otherwise he’ll take the rap for the experiments.
Making the best of it, Compassion gets Ellis to let them use his company short-range flyer, planning to get them to the mountain and search for the Doctor and the TARDIS. But they are pursued by the security staff. Ellis infuriates Compassion with his unwanted advice (“not a good idea”/”Bad move”/”Big mistake”/”Mega mistake etc.).
Compassion steers the craft on a collision course with the pursuing craft, and the chicken run results in a collision. The other flyer is destroyed in mid-air, while their flyer plunges into the jungle far beyond the HQ. Compassion is hurt, Fitz is remarkably unscathed, and Ellis is knocked out. Compassion takes an axe from the wreckage, and they start to hack their way through the jungle. She also persuades a reluctant Fitz to leave the unconscious Ellis behind.
In the jungle, it’s going to be a long trek to the other side of the jungle – where they will find the Darkling facility (and perhaps a way of escaping). Compassion doesn’t want to eat, so Fitz guzzles what rations they’ve taken (He’s wildly overloaded, of course, having overestimated what he can carry on their trek. Compassion takes the pack off him, and carries it effortlessly for him.)
Fitz worries about sleeping in the jungle. In fact, he’s worried about what he will dream. Compassion will not be drawn on what she dreams about, but Fitz explains to her that he’s worried about how he’s been remembered by the Faction; usually, you worry about how you will be remembered in the future (posterity) – he’s worried about how he was remembered in the past. Are his dreams really his? Some nights, he’s frightened to sleep. The TARDIS was supposed to bring him back to his previous self – but has it changed him?
They are surprised when Ellis catches up with them. They struggle on until they choose a spot to camp for the night. Overnight, they leave him again – Compassion seems to need no sleep, much to Fitz’s tired disbelief.
Despite her injuries in the crash, Compassion’s body seems to be slowly reconstructing itself, piece by piece (as though concentrating on one injury at a time). She seems to have a high pain threshold. Fitz is beginning to despair, so she gets him focused again by boosting his morale about his role with the Doctor, etc. He believes her, and they get going again.
Then Ellis catches up with them again, full of his usual irritating confidence (“You’re doing such-and-such. Oh, big mistake.” etc.). In a quiet moment, Compassion reveals to Fitz that she can detect faint transmissions – even without her ear piece in (how odd, Fitz thinks). They set off without Ellis once more, but Compassion gets them to double back so that Ellis is ahead of them. Then she examines Fitz, and discovers that he has a bug under the skin of his upper arm, where he was “inoculated” by the Corporation when they joined. She removes the bug – somehow displacing it, but she can’t explain how any more than she can explain how Fitz can sing in tune and she cannot. Ellis turns up again, having doubled back himself. In the ensuing conversation, Ellis asks Fitz whether he knows of an employee called Franz-Joachim Kreiner. Fitz realises Ellis can only have heard that from Alura – and at the apartment that morning. There’s a struggle, and within moments Ellis is holding Fitz and Compassion at gun point. And yes, he’s been using the “bug” in Fitz’s arm to track them at close range.
Ellis had hoped that they would lead them to their accomplice, or that their accomplice would come to him. Before she died, Alura had muttered only the name “Franz-Joachim Kreiner” (who Ellis had assumed to be their accomplice). Ellis was aware of the Level X experiments all along, of course, and what’s more he was aware of the unique properties of Fitz’s DNA ever since he joined the company (how else would a complete newcomer get a job as his personal assistant?). But Ellis doesn’t trust Sempiter any more; he thinks that he can do a deal with the Reddenblak Corporation to offer them his own research, including Fitz as research material – he’ll just have to do without the accomplice now. Sadly, Ellis adds, he will also have to do without Compassion as well – he can only manhandle one hostage with him. He seizes the exhausted Fitz, and aims the gun at Compassion. Compassion flings the axe at him with unerring accuracy, and slices his head open. “Big mistake,” she tells his corpse. “Mega mistake.”
Fitz insists that they rest. He’s exhausted, and rather shaken by Compassion’s risky rescue. He sleeps for a while, and Compassion wakes him when they hear a noise nearby. To their horror, they find that it’s Ellis – through the wound in his head, a newly-growing head is emerging. Ellis is another of the DNA-modified scientists. Compassion takes the axe and dispatches him for good. Fitz, of course, is appalled by this. It’s an example of Compassion’s dispassionate, amoral approach – she can kill without compunction, because that’s what she must do to survive. While she’s at it, she also takes Ellis’s authority card.
Eventually, Fitz and Compassion get out of the jungle, and find themselves at a small anonymous research facility where the darkling crop is being grown. They realise that, unlike the jungle, this whole site is unnaturally quiet – no insects, no birdsong, just the sound of the wind through the crop. (This is the “silent spring” element of the novel – Frontier Worlds are disrupting the food chain, and by making crops insect-resistant they’re killing the insects; no insects means no birds; no birds means no birdsong; no birdsong means a silent spring.)
Fitz and Compassion break into the facility, and set fire to the entire 100-acre field. At which point the Doctor turns up, furious with them – they think they’ve sabotaged the Frontier Worlds Corp. plan, but actually what they’re doing is scattering the delicate seeds all over this extremely fertile planet! They watch glumly as the flames lick out of control, hot air rising and carrying seeds into the night sky.
(This is also the point where we realise that Fitz’s first-person narration has been to “you”, where “you” turns out to be the Doctor… “That was the point, of course, when you finally showed up” sort of thing.)
The Doctor has an idea (phew). He could use the Weather Control Platform to get things sorted out. Meanwhile, Fitz and Compassion had better get to the HQ and destroy the genetic experiments there. What with, they ask. Weed-killer, explains the Doctor.
On the Weather Control Platform, the Doctor programs the whole area for torrential rain, to force the seeds out of the atmosphere and drench them in so much water that they will not grow. He has to fight off Sempiter’s robot guard, arguing about what Sempiter’s plans are – what the dangers are to the whole planet, and can’t the robot see that logically? However, in the struggle the controls for the cable car are damaged. The Doctor flees for the roof, trying to reach the emergency escape glider, but the robot pursues him, denying the Doctor’s lies about Sempiter.
They fight on the roof, and in the struggle the robot slips, clutching at the balloon hawsers which become detached. The Weather Control Platform starts to drop. The Doctor clambers into the escape glider, and manoeuvres it to safety. But it has no power…
Fitz and Compassion have been dropped off by the Doctor at Frontier Worlds HQ. They get in using Ellis’ identity card, and shut down the genetic experiments, but are unable to escape – they are confronted by Sempiter and his guards. An attempt to spray Sempiter with Roundup is not a great success, he just stands there tapping his foot in his usual infuriating manner. They try to pull rank, saying that they now have Ellis’s authority (and produce his authority card as proof). Sempiter points out that actually Ellis’s estate goes to his former main squeeze, the delightful Natalie Allder. Natalie turns up, and is given the authority card.
Just as Fitz and Compassion are being escorted from the building, the Reddenblak party arrive again. They confront Sempiter in the main reception, and inform him that their take-over has been approved. They will buy Frontier Worlds and shut it down, because they have their own food crop – the Darkling crop would be too successful, and would put them out of business (like Philips faced with the prospect of an everlasting light bulb). They’re here to complete the transaction, as they now have a majority voting for the merger.
Sempiter doesn’t believe them (and he’s looking a bit grey around the gills by this point). They point out that the votes of Natalie Allder and the Doctor (who currently owns Dewfurth’s share) outvote Sempiter’s. In fact, it was the Doctor who originally contacted them about this take-over plan – where is he? At this point, there’s a terrible crash as a glider smacks straight into the building’s foyer.
The Doctor steps out, and shows his authority card to the Reddenblak purchasers. He tells Fitz and Compassion that they must now go back to the mountainside and ensure that the corpses of the Raab are destroyed. Sempiter is naturally a bit put out by this, and lunges at them with a machine guns snatched from a guard. Fortunately, another guard shoot him down, smashing him out into the muddy street and the drenching rain. But he gets up anyway, and makes a run for his flyer, shouting that he will free the Raab.
The Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion decide they must go after him to stop him – because he is now mostly Raab himself, he can fertilise the dying Raab and destroy the planet. They collect enough of the weed killer from Level X, and then take a company vehicle up the mountain.
On the way, Compassion scorns the Doctor for throwing her and Fitz together – she’s “learned” nothing from her experience (which the Doctor had hoped), and she used Fitz when she needed to (e.g. the morale boost in the jungle). The Doctor thinks there has been some change in her. She says it’s just more information, more data.
Fitz argues with her – he tells her she has changed. She’s even harder than she was when they first met. He reminds her of her behaviour in the jungle, of his human concerns about his dreams, how the Faction may have mis-remembered him. Whereas she has evolved over years and years, and seems less human than ever. Whereas he was changed back into his frail human self by the TARDIS (at the end of Interference). How can Compassion know what it’s like to be changed like that, he sneers? “We’re all evolving, Fitz,” she says.
They’re travelling out to the Lake of Ice in the rain, which is finally easing off. The Doctor and Fitz make towards the Raab remains, while Compassion goes to search for Sempiter. Just as Fitz and the Doctor are about to hose down the huge Raab, Sempiter staggers out and confronts them. Beside him is Compassion, who is being held in a fierce grip by the battered but functional Sempiter-robot, which survived its fall from the falling satellite.
The “real” Sempiter’s wounds from the attack at Frontier Worlds HQ are healing swiftly; in fact, he’s now a rather gruesome-looking naked creature, half-man and half-Raab, and brandishing a flare gun. He’s going to graft himself onto the dying Raab on the mountainside, and get it to explode its spoors into the atmosphere, suitably affected by his genetically-modified DNA.
The Doctor tries to reason with him, pointing out that he’s no longer human, that he’s endangering the whole planet, that his original aspirations have been perverted – just look at what his experimentation did to the insects and birds in the Darkling zone, what it did to the piranha-fish. Sempiter, he says, doesn’t understand the value of life… you could see that from the way he ignores it, preferring to create and control robotic creations like the bird – and even that is still caged.
Fitz realises that the Doctor’s actually addressing all this to the Sempiter-robot, which is obviously moved by the Doctor’s reasoning, releases Compassion and seizes Sempiter. The robot carries the wildly-struggling half-man half-Raab across the Lake of Ice. It stops in the centre, tapping its foot imperiously like Sempiter did, but also cocking its head to one side in a Doctor-like gesture. The piranha creatures break through the ice, and Sempiter and his robot plunge through to their doom.
As they finish their gruesome task of dispersing the remains of the dead Raab, Fitz says he isn’t worried about dreams any more – now he’s more likely to have nightmares! What does Compassion dream of, he persists? She says: “The Time Vortex”. That sounds like a cue for us to leave, says the Doctor, and they make their way to the TARDIS. What does the Doctor dream of? “A nice cup of Earl Grey tea.”
© Peter Anghelides 1999, 2016
This page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Frontier Worlds. The Doctor has escaped from a mountain-side laboratory by dropping on to a cable car rof. Inside the cable car, Fitz is waiting to meet him. I like the Kipling misquotation by Fitz; I used to use it as the concluding footnote (the .sig file) on all my e-mail.
Chapter 3: ‘Here goes’
The Doctor felt as though both his shoulders were going to dislocate. Fitz was hauling him up onto the roof of the cable car. But he could see the anxiety in Fitz’s eyes, even through the maelstrom of ice and wind: his face as white as the snow, his cheekbones more prominent and the stubble more extensive than the Doctor remembered from their last meeting. He thought of Dewfurth’s eyes, staring back at him through the storm on the station roof. So hurt. So distrustful.
The pine trees loomed close. The Doctor risked a look down, and realised for the first time that he couldn’t see the ground below. Were there rocks, standing out like teeth, ready to devour them if they fell? Would he and Fitz drop to the distant earth in silence, uncaring?
‘Now!’ he yelled, and leaped for the branches of the nearest tree.
The journey down was agonising. The sharp pine needles cut into their arms as they struggled down, branch by branch. The storm seemed to be subsiding as they got lower, and gradually the punishing sting of ice and snow on their faces and hands receded. Even so, the slippery tangle of branches meant it was more than half an hour before they reached the lowest bough. The Doctor felt weaker than ever, his breath whooping out of him like an exhausted athlete.
Fitz was able to scramble down the lower part of the trunk, cursing loudly as he struggled over the sharp bark. He was ready to help the Doctor down, but the Doctor simply dropped like a stone into a deep pile of snow. He was aware of Fitz scrabbling desperately to dig him free.
Then they heard the engines.
‘They’ll have searched all the cable cars by now,’ said the Doctor. His uneven breaths formed white clouds in the still air. ‘And they’ll work out what we did. They’ll be searching for me.’ The sound of engines grew louder, and the Doctor gestured away from the trees and towards a wide expanse of flat white in the middle distance, a frozen lake which reflected the sun towards them. ‘We have to go that way. We’ll leave no tracks on the ice.’
They scrambled down the shimmering bank, ploughing a meandering, uneven furrow through the undisturbed snow.
‘We won’t make it in time,’ said Fitz, gasping for air. He gazed past the Doctor, staring at the smooth dome of snow which covered the hill behind them. The roar of engines grew louder.
Then the dome seemed to explode into millions of fragments of ice, filling the air with glittering particles in the mid-morning light. The Doctor flung himself backwards into the snow, as though trying to burrow to safety. After a moment, he seized Fitz by the back of his trenchcoat, and dragged him down into cover.
The explosion of snow subsided to reveal an enormous green motorised sled. The wipers scraped away furiously at the windscreen of the square cabin at the front, the driver’s dark face peering out. The sled churned its way across the slope of snow, dragging a trailer containing a heaped pile of something roped in place under a thick black tarpaulin. Pipes to either side of the cabin spewed snow, like factory chimney stacks, up into the air and over the surrounding area.
Moments later, another spray of ice and snow announced the arrival of a second sled, belching smoke and snow like some arctic dragon. And then a third hauled itself over the horizon, shaking the ground as it powered its way after the others.
Above the growl and roar of the sleds, the Doctor could hear the tinny buzz of smaller engines. Through the haze of thrown snow, he could make out half a dozen smaller vehicles, snowbikes humming around the larger vehicles like birds around elephants. The drivers were heavily coated, with thick dark goggles poking out of the front of their hoods. They were scanning the surrounding area, and their machine guns were starkly visible behind them, black and ominous against the lime-green of each driver’s uniform.
The monster sleds passed within two hundred metres of where the Doctor and Fitz lay sprawled and helpless. The vehicles continued their unheeding progress down the mountain’s lower slopes, and slowly the artificial snowstorm faded and settled. The Doctor sat up, noticing that their previous tracks were now covered.
The roar of the sleds and the high-pitched buzz of the smaller vehicles had faded, but the Doctor could still hear the puttering sound of an idling snowbike. The driver was examining the furrow in the snow which led back to the pine trees, his back to them.
‘Time to go,’ said the Doctor to Fitz. They continued their slow progress towards the frozen lake. Well beyond it, looming like a stormcloud, was the grey shape of the geostationary balloon. As the air cleared, the Doctor could see the black oblong of the weather station beneath it, and a dozen curving dark lines leading upwards. He could just make out a smaller dark shape making its way up the steep angle of the nearest of these hawsers.
‘Of course,’ said the Doctor. ‘The line of cable stanchions curves off towards the research station—I didn’t realise we were so close.’
They reached the lake, slipping down the frosted banks. The wind had cleared the all traces of the powdery snow from the ice, and through its translucent surface they could see weeds waving in the underwater currently directly below their feet. Two hundred metres along the bank was a tangled clump of bushes, leading up to an untidy pile of snow-dusted scree which had tumbled against the sheer face of the mountain.
There was a sudden clattering noise above them, and they flattened themselves against the hard mud of the bank. Fitz gave a little squeal of fear as several furry quadrupeds skittered down the bank past them and onto the ice. The Doctor studied his reaction, amused to see him struggling to regain his composure as he got his breath back.
They watched the little creatures tumble onto the ice. There were four of them, each the size of small cats, round and dark brown, with thicker back legs which they thumped like rabbits, as though signalling to each other. They had large pear-shaped floppy ears which tapered to a point, and which sat up to attention and rotated side to side like radar dishes. Their soft fur and large liquid eyes suggested they were young animals.
’I think they’re just playing,’ smiled the Doctor. ‘You’ve seen Bambi, haven’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ muttered Fitz. ‘I remember what happened to his mother, too.’
The animals’ ears perked up again, scanning rapidly until they all comically pointed in the same direction—towards the Doctor and Fitz. The Doctor could just hear what had alarmed them. It was the sound of approaching snowbikes.
Three of the four animals skittered further out across the ice, leaving the fourth as it scavenged scraps of food. The Doctor noticed a flurry of activity below the ice, dark shapes following the animals. Then from over their heads he could hear the snowbikes spluttering to a halt.
Fitz began to stray further on to the lake, trying to make his way along the bank under cover of the overhanging branches. Again, the Doctor noticed a flurry of dark shapes below the ice, and was startled to see a shoal of fish staring up at them, like spectators at an aquarium. ‘Stop, Fitz!’ he hissed, seizing the tail of his trenchcoat. He stooped to look at the creatures below the ice. From what he could make out through the ice, they were each the size of his hand, with broad foreheads which were glowing a soft red.
From above their heads, up on the bank, a muffled voice shouted: ‘Mr Sempiter! The track ends here.’
Another voice, too far off to distinguish, and then growing louder. A nasal tone, imperious, confident. ‘I’d prefer him alive. Do you think you could manage that?’
Out on the ice, the three startled furry quadrupeds set up a rhythm of foot-stamping, warning the fourth one of the danger. There was a sudden flurry of movement beneath the Doctor’s feet, and the strange fish darted away towards the centre of the lake. Dark shapes seemed to be converging on the same spot from other directions too.
Within seconds, the ice was softening, melting. Two of the three quadrupeds fell through the cracking surface with an eerie shriek, and the water threshed and bubbled. The third animal turned to flee. But two of the bizarre, big-headed fish leapt through the fresh hole in the ice, seized it by one of its ears, and dragged it squealing into churning, bloody water.
Fitz stepped back towards the Doctor, and immediately more dark shapes moved back under the ice towards them. The Doctor gave a rapid gesture with his thumb, and he and Fitz hopped swiftly back onto the frozen mud of the bank.
The Doctor stroked his lips thoughtfully. ‘They were attracted by the vibrations, I suppose. They hunt in shoals, and I think they must channel warm blood into their foreheads and melt the ice. I’ve never seen anything quite like—‘
He broke off as the muffled voice sounded above them. ‘Just a clutch of baby leppos, Mr Sempiter. Learning the hard way. Bye-bye, furry friends.’
‘The tracks are too deep for leppos.’ Nasal voice again, Sempiter. ‘Check for him again.’
There was a flurry of fresh movement above them, and the Doctor realised that the guards were moving closer. He put his mouth close to Fitz’s ear. ‘They don’t know you’re here. Get back down the mountain. I’ll draw them away from you, I can hide out here—‘
Fitz hissed back: ‘You’ll freeze to death, especially in your condition.’
‘Nonsense. I have a much stouter constitution than you, a lower body temperature, and I can survive for much longer than you in these conditions. Rejoin Compassion, and I’ll contact you like before.’
‘A postcard pushed under my bedroom door, right?’
‘An e-mail containing encrypted instructions,’ said the Doctor with exaggerated patience.
‘The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,’ said Fitz.
‘Very droll,’ said the Doctor.
‘I’m misquoting Rudyard Kipling,’ said Fitz, obviously very pleased with himself.
‘Yes, I know,’ said the Doctor, and then added: ‘Good luck, Fitz.’ He stepped out onto the ice, immediately aware that the bizarre fish were moving towards him again. Testing the soles of his shoes for purchase on the slippery surface, the Doctor made off across the looped section of ice that separated him from the next section of bank, and the shelter of overhanging bushes.
He thought he was going to make it, half-running and half-sliding, conscious of the shoals of dark shapes converging on him beneath the ice. Then he heard an angry shout from above and behind him, and the sudden clattering noise of a machine gun. He risked a look back, but Fitz had already gone. Above their former hiding place, two figures in bright green were clearly visible above the bank. One figure stood half-turned towards him, and seemed to shudder as his automatic weapon discharged. Ice spat up around the Doctor a second before he heard the rattle of the gun, and he flung himself onward as the surface of the lake cracked behind him.
He had almost reached the bank when he felt a punching pain in his shoulder which threw him into the overhanging branches. He sprawled on the ice, his cheek pressed to the surface. The sight of the fish gathering beneath him spurred him on, and he dragged himself up into cover, scrambling up the bank, trying to ignore the fresh agony in his shoulder where he had been shot.
At the top of the bank, he flopped down onto the untouched snow. From far away, he could hear more shouting. The guards were coming around the bank. With a weary groan, the Doctor slipped back into the bushes, pondering his options.
The dull ache sounded through his whole body like the slow, bass note of a tolling bell. His inner voice was telling him to sleep, to recover, to protect himself; his rational mind fought to stay in control, until he could convince his instinct that his companions were safe.
Fitz would be able to get back down the mountain, he told himself, to rejoin Compassion. That was the plan all along, after all.
Within a minute, he could hear the two Frontier Worlds men scrunching over the snow, and coming to a halt above him. Through the bushes, he could only see their legs. The guard with the machine gun stood stock still, listening. Sempiter, standing next to him, was tapping the toe of his snow boot repeatedly in the snow, an unconscious gesture of irritation. It was a kind of warning, like the leppos, of present danger.
‘He must be close by,’ said Sempiter. He stooped down, and the Doctor could see his face for the first time. A hawkish nose protruded beneath the snow-visor. He removed the goggles, revealing cold, pale eyes. Sempiter’s mouth was a grim, lipless slash in his faded grey face.
The Doctor could see that Sempiter was pointing at a shape in the snow, and realised with a little thrill of horror that it was where he himself had fallen at the top of the bank. There was a small, stark patch of pink snow where he had bled from his shoulder wound.
‘He’s still very close.’ Sempiter removed his thick gloves, revealing long hands, greyish skin with gnarled knuckles, like a living marble statue.
Suddenly, in the distance, the Doctor heard the sound of a snowbike’s engine over-revving, then wailing off into the distance. The guard standing by Sempiter swore, then apologised.
‘So,’ said Sempiter, scooping up the patch of bloodied snow in his bare hands. ‘Not as close as we thought.’ He breathed a long stream of air through his nose, a sibilant signal of resignation. ‘See if we can cut him off before he gets down the mountain.’
‘And if we can’t? ‘
‘You’re head of security, Kupteyn. I’d have thought he’d try to break in at HQ, wouldn’t you?’ Sempiter’s tone brooked no argument. ‘Meanwhile, you’ll need to start walking… it’s a long way back to the research station.’
Kupteyn stepped away from Sempiter, speaking rapidly into his communicator, issuing fresh instructions to capture a man fitting the Doctor’s description who had stolen a snowbike. His snowbike.
The Doctor felt his hearts-rate slowing. He was rapidly slipping into a protective coma. Through his fading vision, and peering through the dense foliage, he could see Sempiter was still crouched down in the snow. The grey-faced man was putting a sample of the blood-stained snow in a plastic container.
‘You can’t escape forever,’ said Sempiter, his voice a whisper now. He was… sniffing his fingers? ‘I love the smell of DNA in the morning.’
Then he stood up. The last thing the Doctor saw before his breathing slowed to nothing was Sempiter’s foot, tapping its unconscious rhythm in the flattened snow.
© Peter Anghelides 1999, 2016
You can download a PDF of this article here:Frontier_Worlds_cover_story
I was impressed with the cover that the design house Black Sheep had produced for the BBC to use for my first novel, Kursaal. But I had some particular ideas about the cover for Frontier Worlds. Here’s how things evolved…
The Natural Graces of Rene Magritte
I had liked the idea of spoofing a Rene Magritte painting, especially those in which plants and animals blended one into the other. Magritte is perhaps better known for Ceci n’est pas un pipe or bowler-hatted men with a face full of apple, or even a man staring into a mirror and seeing the reflection of the back of his own head.
However, I particularly admired The Natural Graces, in which a green crop evolved into a flight of birds (see detail on the right), which seemed appropriate for the novel’s theme of unnatural genetic manipulation.
Vienna Paint’s Cabbage Head
But I’d also seen a series of amazing monochrome illustrations in Creative Review magazine. I’d spotted a copy of this in my office, and had been drawn to it by a particularly striking image of a man turning into a tree. (Not to be confused with a scene by Pip and Jane Baker.) I investigated further, and found these images were originated by a chap called Albert Winkler for an Austrian company called Vienna Paint. In these gruesome photomontages, people mutate before your eyes into plant life—a man reaches up at the clouds, his arms twisting and distorting into branches which clutch at a lowering sky; a woman’s spine is revealed to be a row of peas in a pod; a man’s knee is snapped like a piece of celery.
Best of all, though, was “Cabbage Head” (see detail on the right: originated by Vienna Paint’s Albert Winkler, and photographed by Jorit Aust). It is a woman staring into the lens as her head morphs into a cabbage, her lip curled (in disdain? resentment? just by the mutation?).
McGabbage rears his ugly head
You may have noticed that there are very few Doctor Who books with eighth Doctor Paul McGann on the cover. This is largely because, with only one film in character, he hasn’t been photographed in costume all that often, and so there are few suitable portrait shots available. Perhaps you’ve also seen the cunning way in which Doctor Who Magazine and Big Finish audio covers have to reuse this diminishing supply of original material.
I’d been impressed (and envious) of Justin Richards’ cover for Demontage, and asked BBC Worldwide if they could do a “mutation” of McGann into a cabbage. The result wasn’t felt to be a complete success – being more reminiscent of Little Weed than the Creature from the Black Lagoon (see detail on the right).
L’Estate we’re in, courtesy of Guiseppe Arcimboldo
Meanwhile, I did some research into Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th Century painter who wittily drew attention to the ephemeral nature of human existence by creating faces from even more short-lived flowers and fruit. He was the inspiration for, among other things, the Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” video. After considering what McGann would look like with bananas for lips, the BBC vetoed this idea (probably very wisely). But to see the kind of thing I was thinking about, I’ve included an example of Arcimboldo’s work on this page (entitled L’Estate, on the right).
We toyed briefly with the idea of the Doctor’s face picked out in a field of wheat like a crop circle effect (too difficult, and also perhaps too similar to the cover of the Kate Orman novel for Virgin called Return of the Living Dad). Then we considered a butterfly with barcodes for wings (the brilliant Vienna Paint people again).
The Tomorrow People
And then I remembered an image from the opening sequence of ITV’s original series The Tomorrow People: a hand opening up, and a fast zoom into an open palm—see detail on the right.
Incidentally, I cannot remember who sent me this image, but if anyone reminds me then I will happily credit them.
A big hand for Jon Tuttle
In the end, an enthusiastic graphics student at my workplace volunteered to design, in his spare time, a hand “growing” out of the ground like a tree. I also suggested he could use DNA spirals as part of the design.
This bright young man, Jon Tuttle, produced a draft (see detail on the right) which I sent to Black Sheep, and from this they designed the final version.
The result is, I think, one of their best covers for the BBC’s Doctor Who range.
© Peter Anghelides, 2001, 2016
These reviews of my second Doctor Who novel are from newsstand publications, online bookstores, and the web — including various online fan sites. Since I first collated these some years ago, several of these review sites may have gone offline.
“Exhilarating,” wrote Vanessa Bishop. “Had the Fox network continued to produce Doctor Who movies, fare such as this would have suited them well […] Like the Movie, Frontier Worlds cuts through all of Doctor Who’s pretensions, returning it to being designed to frighten.” She commented on the book’s “slick, cheeky and unbearably tense action, paced with espionage, chase sequences and seductive interludes [… a skilful] fusing of Doctor Who and 007-style exuberance […] The pace is maintained even when dealing with the Doctor’s terminally dysfunctional companions.”
“On the other hand,” she observed, “Frontier Worlds isn’t so fast that it forgets its heart. It soberingly explores both senility and suicide, but—as is the novel’s rule of thumb—also finds action with which to illustrate these ideas.” In sum: “Anghelides writes a roller-coaster.”
Frontier Worlds was voted best Eighth Doctor novel of 1999 by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine. Of 486 people who voted for any book, 336 rated the novel and it achieved an average score of 73%. “Hoorah!” said reader Colin Francis. “This is real TV Movie material. I can easily imagine Paul McGann in this. More importantly, this book was fun!” Paul Laville added: “The best thing I’ve read in ages. The plot was slightly contrived in places, but there was an action-packed storyline that gripped from the first page to the last. No recurring Doctor Who monster or villain, and no cod characterisation.”
“I thought I was done with the Eighth Doctor books for good,” explained DWM reader Tom O’Leary. “But Frontier Worlds saved the day. Can you tell the new books editor that we want more stories like Anghelides’, and less like Miles’, Magrs’and their ilk?”
“Traditional Doctor Who, somewhat incongruously placed within a radical story arc [that] adds depth and style to the usual formulas.” John Binns gave Frontier Worlds 8/10 in TV Zone, though “readers who are whole-heartedly enjoying the Arc, I suppose, can add a point or two to the above score”. John wrote that “Anghelides’s take on Fitz is perhaps the best of the range so far and easily the novel’s best asset”. He felt there were echoes of the TV serials “The Caves of Androzani” and “The Seeds of Doom”.
Not an enthusiast for the continuing story arc, John observed that the book contained “plot details the size of France [that] are simply irritating, no matter how skilfully acknowledged they are.” Nevertheless, he thought the book had “a generally high standard of writing and certain passages—such as a blinding ‘Doctor versus villain’ dialogue scene—an absolute joy to read.”
“The plot […] is well told, and starts with a fabulous ‘pre-credits’ sequence that wouldn’t disgrace an Indiana Jones movie,” wrote Paul Simpson. “Although it becomes a little preachy in places, this is an enjoyable novel.” Paul disliked the “annoying” first-person narration by Fitz: “while Peter captures some of his nuances, he becomes a little too two-dimensional. Compassion, on the other hand […] is starting to become the most intriguing figure of the series.” He rated the book 8/10.
“A fairly traditional story, which is no bad thing when handled this well,” wrote Paul Reeve on the alphabetstreet site (now defunct), rating the book 8/10. He thought the first-person narration “initially a little OTT but quickly settles down into an interesting character examination.” And he thought the book featured “a fantastic robot, which was a lot of fun”.
Paul Holgate rated the book 9/10, describing it as “a heady mix of James Bond style action, laced with the classic Who style of the Hinchcliffe era.” He thought the book could almost be a contemporary version of TV serial “The Seeds of Doom”: “It would be quite easy to imagine this as a glossy TV movie, had the original McGann film been successful, firmly bringing the series into the new millennium with a fast paced, visually stylish production, whilst maintaining the classic shock value and horror that Doctor Who provided so well in the early 70’s.” While acknowledging that it is not “a thinking man’s science fiction story”, he concluded that it was “a fast paced adventure you will find this exhilarating […] Excellent stuff.”
Tim Phipps thought the book more traditional and “far less oppressive and depressive than the last three books in the series”. He preferred it to Kursaal, and it reminded him both of a Justin Richards-style novel and “the days of Ace being frosty in the [Virgin Publishing] New Adventures”. Tim was one of the earliest reviewers to observe that “the arc has less to do with the Time Lords, Faction Paradox, the nature of the universe and everything as it has to do with Compassion.” He rated it 8/10.
The reviewer wawan garenk also rated it 8/10, describing it as “a fairly traditional story, which is no bad thing when handled this well: corporate espionage meets genetic engineering and the traditional men with deadly secrets. Parts of the book are written in the first person, which is initially a little OTT but quickly settles down into an interesting character examination, and there are just enough twists and turns to easily keep the reader’s interest (and a fantastic robot, which was a lot of fun).”
“The universe is not enough!” was Kevin Patrick Mahoney’s punning reference to the contemporary Bond film in his review, which rated the book 4/5. Kevin (one of amazon.com’s Top 500 Reviewers) spotted “daredevil stunts”, “hired grunts on skis” and “even blood-red fisheyes. The only thing missing is the theme music, although the adrenaline of the prose more than makes up for it.” He noted that it was “another very topical Doctor Who novel [though possibly] the author has revealed a great lack of imagination by not bothering to provide much of an alien environment.”
Kevin also notes a previous-story connection, both in the monsters and the Doctor’s violent behaviour, but “to his credit, Anghelides makes no reference to ‘The Seeds of Doom’, and instead concentrates on telling his own story, which is highly compelling and very witty.” He thought the book “a joy to read”, and the characterisation “superb”, particularly Fitz: “What Anghelides has managed to do seems impossible: he has breathed life into Fitz, given him new vibrancy [by] having much of the novel narrated by Fitz in the first person, and in doing so performs miracles. It’s a device that works incredibly well here, and harks back to the very first Doctor Who book, when David Whitaker presented the Doctor’s exciting adventure with the Daleks through the eyes of Ian Chesterton.” All in all, he decided a considerable improvement on Kursaal.
An unnamed British TV Fan from United States also thought the book much better than Kursaal. “The only problem I had was the fact that the TARDIS crew was in the middle of a mêlée at the start of the book, but things did catch up about 40 pages later. After that moment, things did pick up to where the story wrapped up nicely.” He rated it 4/5. (This review seems to have vanished from the site subsequently.)
Andrew McCaffrey lists the novel on amazon.com as one of his Top 12 BBC Doctor Who novels (see also Andrew’s review below), and Jason Miller puts it in his Top 10, commenting “Doctor Who” returns to clever storytelling” (Jason also has a review below). djperry also puts it in his Top 10, and if this is the same as Dan Perry you can read a review of his below too.
“If only the more recent TV outings of Doctor Who were as consistently inventive and exciting as this BBC series of novels!” exclaimed Barry Forshaw in the first of two main reviews for the novel on amazon.co.uk. “With Peter Anghelides’ Frontier Worlds, we have another adventure of the eighth Doctor written with wonderfully created new locales, plotting that fires on all cylinders and a characterisation of the Time Lord that is richer and quirkier than anything we’ve seen in TV Doctors in years.” Barry liked the book’s “rich atmosphere and menace, and the extra attention given to the TARDIS crew pays off in dividends.” He was reminded of Ridley Scott’s movie Alien. “Another winner in an ambitious and arresting series.
David Howe agreed: “A magnificent adventure yarn. Engrossing and very, very enjoyable.” The novel’s “nail-biting start” reminded him of a James Bond film. In addition, “Anghelides has managed to do what none of the previous authors have managed and this is to make Fitz and Compassion come startlingly to life” and the Doctor “is also extremely well-written and defined”. He expressed the view that the regulars’ interactions were “so well drawn that it’s a pity that Anghelides is not writing the next few books.”
A highpoint for David was the emotional aspect to Fitz’s attachment to Alura: “the eventual outcome will leave you reeling with surprise and horror.” He also suggests there are similarities with a previous TV Doctor Who serial though “handled here in a somewhat different manner.” In sum: “A fine return to form for the range.”
In another customer review, an unnamed reader from the UK rated it 5/5 and said the book “should be up there with the Doctor Who classics” as it was “one of the best of the BBC book range. It is gripping throughout.”
Another unnamed London, UK reviewer gave it 3/5, rating it “Disappointing–too slow and uncertain […] All the ingredients were there for an exciting story but somehow they never managed to make up a satisfying whole for me. The characterisations were strong and memorable but the plot less so, a bit too much intrigue and espionage and not enough solid action.”
Reviewer “dirk” thought it was an “entertaining mix of killer vegetables and office politics”, a great book which “reads terribly easily, dragging the reader through a plot that blends genetic experimentation and sinister corporations in a style that owes an awful lot to a Bond movie.” He thought the books greatest success was the portrayal of Compassion, “the Doctor’s superbly amoral new companion. It’s worth reading just for the scenes with her in as she plots, schemes, kills and scowls her way through with all the grumpy charm of a hungover Emma Peel.” He rated it 4/5.
From Lisbon in Portugal, reviewer “jvalmeida” thought “the strange narrator changes, the atmosphere, the coluors and the sound he shows to the reader are on the verge of a big novel, whatever the genre or time”. He picked out the depth of characterisation in the Doctor, and the “beautiful puzzle” of the story, and gave it 5/5: “decent, professional and creative writing that is offered. Not some lunch-time-writing so often published in this kind of spin-off books. Thanks Mr Anghelides.” (Thank you, jvalmeida.)
John Montz added: “I really enjoyed reading this fast-paced and exciting book. Fitz and Compassion come alive in this book. A must read.” He rated it four stars out of five on barnesandnoble.
As with Kursaal, original reviews at Robert Smith’s Ratings Guide site were less enthusiastic.
“Dumb and dumber” was the assessment of pseudonymous reviewer “Thomas Jefferson”, whose abiding memory of the book is one sequence where Fitz breaks into Sempiter’s office: “to accomplish this, Fitz has to do at least 20 utterly, painfully stupid things in the space of about 30 pages […] I never thought we’d see this sort of lazy writing in a Doctor Who book.” He adds: “Peter Anghelides fancies himself as a bit of a humorist [but] he seems to have a problem with transferring this to his novels. His previous book Kursaal was a bog-standard Doctor Who tale with a few jokes here and there. Frontier Worlds is a bog-standard Doctor Who tale with a companion who seems to have had a lobotomy.”
“Thomas” sometimes missed the point (for example, he misreads the American slang “I almost fell off my chair and really bruised my buns” as an “utterly stupid copy mistake”), but anyway he was thoroughly unimpressed with the style: “ambition not matched by capability [and] bad plotting […] There is also a lot of padding”. He disliked the first-person narration (“wanders around all over the place”) and spotted everything in the book before it happened (internal logic, credence and occasionally surprising your reader really is a must if you want to be a good Doctor Who writer”). In sum: “His plotting’s atrocious and he just can’t deliver the wit to compensate.”
Robert Thomas said he didn’t expect to like it from the moment he looked at the cover. “Then along came a poll in a magazine proclaiming it as the best EDA of the year. I purchased the book out of curiosity, looked up the previous reviews and started reading with optimism.” He was to be sorely disappointed: “I thought it was all a joke nobody had told me about. Be warned the beginning is dreadful, one of the worst starts to a book ever.” And although he thought the book picked up in the middle, “towards the end though things rapidly sink to average bearing on mediocre. Fitz and Compassion take centre stage and nearly [ruin] the Doctor’s plan. Don’t ask how, I’d given up paying attention at this stage.”
“Surprisingly good,” wrote the site’s editor-in-chief Robert Smith, though “it falls apart a bit at the end […] the book peaks at the moment Reddenblak turns up […] the rest of it runs fairly predictably” with one twist at the end “painfully clear”. In addition “the jokes are either very old, very lame or both […] the novel equivalent of everybody’s father with a collection of jokes that were never particularly funny in the first place, recycling them with comfortable regularity every birthday party.”
Robert thought the Doctor had his moments, “especially his interactions with the robot […] but he still doesn’t seem to be able to sustain an interesting character.” All too often the Doctor was “commonplace. I can’t figure out how you can take a truly complex and fascinating literary character like the Doctor and make him average […] It’s tough to see the authors almost visibly struggling to give the Doctor things to do.”
Nevertheless, these gripes aside, Robert concedes that “Frontier Worlds is very good indeed. It’s no world-shaker, true, but at the moment I think that’s very useful.” It was “a novel that’s traditional in all the best ways […] The entire thing feels very much like a Doctor Who book should, which is every bit a compliment”. It had “all the right ingredients for a good Doctor Who story. I should probably include a naff monster in that.”
He particularly picked out the characterisation of the companions: “I honestly can’t remember the last time we got characterisation this good or rewarding.” The Compassion material “works nicely. It’s good to get more of a sense of her, as she’s a bit of an odd character, almost unintentionally complex. I liked all the references to Interference here, which really helped establish a lot of perspectives on the aftermath of that juggernaut.”
As for Fitz: “It’s about six months late, but we’ve finally got the Fitz novel we always knew the line was capable of […] I can’t believe it’s taken this long: honestly, Fitz isn’t a tricky character, he really isn’t.” He bemoaned the absence of a physical description for Fitz, though “this allows for shock tactics like the one seen in this book: we find out that Fitz is ugly.” That said, “The first person narrative is wonderful and I’m really sorry we didn’t get the whole book like this [and] I’m a bit disappointed that we needed to have this explained within the text itself.”
Top marks from Robert for the Fitz/Alura romance, a “heartbreaking love story […] Peter Anghelides cleverly recognised that not only do we not need to see the cheesy pick-up lines and all the getting-to-know-her scenes, but the book becomes far stronger for not seeing them. Alura’s importance was astonishing, since we saw her through Fitz’s eyes.” Thumbs up for the book’s portrayal of Fitz, then: “Frontier Worlds puts a lot of the other EDAs to shame: I’d honestly forgotten about Fitz’s tendencies to imaginative impersonations and the like, since we haven’t seen hide nor hair of it since his second book. It did make for a nice effect here, though, probably far more than the author had any right to expect.”
So “despite some complaints, Frontier Worlds is a very good book. It’s frustrating because you can see how it could very easily have been so much better.” Robert’s conclusion: “A little unfocussed in places and the ending really hurts the book, but it still comes recommended.”
Jason Miller also hadn’t expected to like the book so much. It “really is the surprise hit of the year […] I went into this book with low expectations.” This was because of his suspicion that the book’s cover was a Vervoid hand [from TV story “Trial of a Time Lord”] and the book’s blurb summarised TV story “The Seeds of Doom”, combined with his belief in Kursaal as “poor (if harmless)” and in its author’s “inability to write anything longer than a thirty-word rec.arts.drwho Season 18 continuity pun.”
“So, all over the place, Frontier Worlds defied my every conception […] this a new story, contemporary and fresh, examining an alien race and its invasion of a planet without ever showing that alien!” Jason also liked the handling of the companions: “Compassion has become quite my favourite BBC companion […] Her scenes here are marvellous bits of storytelling—her fight scenes, her seduction scene, her quiet pep talks with Fitz.”
Fitz too impressed Jason, especially his relationship with Alura, “the best romance DW has seen since Love and War […] The writing of this is restrained, and marvellous.” Indeed, this was a good conclusion to the decade: “We leave 1999 with one of the finest bits of sheer storytelling in the range since Seeing I. Read out of sequence, Frontier Worlds may be more banal than other books. But it is part of a chronology of books, and coming when it did, it’s with great regret that I finally had to set [it] aside.”
Graeme Burk also saw the novel as “a delightful improvement” on some other 1999 books. In another of the reviews written for this site, Graeme said: “1999 must go down as the worst year ever for Doctor Who prose fiction […] Frontier Worlds is by no means a perfect book. It takes only a few risks, but takes them in a calculated fashion [and] most of the time it plays it safe as an action-thriller.”
Although he thought the Doctor was absent for much of the novel, “those scenes he’s in, he’s unmistakable as a character. We finally, after almost seven months worth of books where the Doctor is completely impotent and incompetent, get a Doctor who is in control of the situation […] The Doctor positively shines in Frontier Worlds. He is everything the Eighth Doctor should be: Quick witted, physical, funny, sweet, caring, whimsical, working a few steps ahead and a few steps behind simultaneously.”
Frontier Worlds restored Graeme’s faith in the companions, too. He liked the view of Fitz’s “outsider and pretender qualities [and] the first person narration is very effective to get into Fitz’s head.” Graeme is one of the few reviewers to comment on the slow change in Fitz’s narration from shallow impersonation to deeper insight. “It works brilliantly.” He also thought the narration “gives us a staggering insight into [Compassion]. It’s shocking what she’s actually capable of doing and being.”
So Graeme enjoyed it as an action-thriller with “clear, crisp prose that, a lot of in-jokes aside (the exchange between the Doctor and the robot on page 228 is very droll), isn’t written to show how much cleverer than the material the author is”. It had “an engaging story which is surprisingly ambitious in its scope”. He rated it 8.5/10: “One hopes that the books for 2000 will take the lead more from Frontier Worlds than from other, perhaps more ambitious but much less satisfying books published this year.”
Dan Perry wrote for the site as yet another person who “had some severe reservations about Frontier Worlds.” But “so much for expectations. I loved this book.” He liked it as “an intelligent ‘trad’ book” with no “bizarre narrative tricks [..] no deep allegories on the human condition, nor are there petty swipes towards the ideas of other authors.” He enjoyed it for its “solid plot, engaging characters, whirlwind action, regrets and repercussions, and some of the coolest genetic mutations this side of the Marvel universe.”
He especially liked Compassion’s character (“she rocks to the extreme”), and was fascinated that Fitz was becoming a doting companion. And “the entire situation with Alura highlights how torn he is between doing what the Doctor wants and forging off to create his own life.” Was the Doctor credible? “He’s the Doctor. What more can I say, really?” Plus the villains were “fantastic, from the hovering menace of the alien to the more-palpable menace of the corporation heads”.
Dan also commented that the novel “should be mandatory reading for all authors who want to work references to past stories into their story. It even sustains the arc story without explicitly referring to the arc!”
Ratings Guide: Eva Palmerton
Eva Palmerton summarised the novel as “temporary relief for insomnia […] I can’t say it was better than average”, and scored it 5/10. “It took me far too long to plod my way through this book […] I was happy with the plot and overall storyline. It just took forever to actually get into the story. All the answers are revealed far too quickly […] nothing exciting happens until Chapter 15! Thankfully, I can say that from that point on it was considerably harder to put the book down.”
Highlights for Eva included the characterisation of the regular cast which “allowed me to really get a much better grasp on their personalities”. She also liked “the present tense dream sequences involving the cosmic dance imagery”.
She was less enthusiastic about the other characters and surroundings, who were either confusing or “throwaway characters”. “Anghelides uses very broad brushstrokes in his writing. All the details go into the personalities of the people, while the physical detail of the people and scenery is a bit like a fuzzy photograph.” She didn’t like the point of view changes either, which was “overly ambitious”, especially the disorienting opening to Chapter 7. And although Eva enjoyed the Sinatra gag, she could have lived without “all the toilet humour” and the use of “the same one-liner […] as a plot device”.
Ratings Guide: Andrew McCaffrey
Andrew McCaffrey wrote that “Frontier Worlds is one of the most entertaining EDAs that I’ve read.” Despite its “relatively unambitious plot” it was “so well written that we can forgive it that”. He commented favourably on Compassion (“more like a companion than a grumpy, faceless, arc-related plot-device”) and Fitz, saying “Peter Anghelides has really brought to life two companions who had started to slip into blandness in the preceding books.”
He liked the first-person narration, which “raised the book from a fairly standard runaround to an interesting story told with a lot of wit.” As for the Doctor, it was “a refreshing change” to have him know what’s going on, and to see him being “charming, witty, easily distracted, intelligent and resourceful – everything that the Eighth Doctor has the potential to be.”
Ratings Guide: Mike Morris
Mike Morris, reviewing the ‘Compassion Arc’ on the Ratings Guide, had this to say about Frontier Worlds: “A fine book, very Who-ish, that manages to be a rather exhilarating adventure even as it sticks to the themes of the arc itself. Quite an achievement.”
GallifreyOne: Edward Funnell
Edward Funnell enjoyed Frontier Worlds more than he’d enjoyed Kursaal. It was “very traditional Who”, and he also seems to have read reviews that I haven’t which refer to Hitchcock, Alistair McLean, and Frederick Forsyth. “But what it also has more than any other book this year is a feel for a good Who story.”
Writing on GallifreyOne, Edward noted the topical issues of genetically-modified food and a link to the Krynoid of “The Seeds of Doom”. “ The concepts are dealt with efficiently, and the broader implications of the exploitation are rendered intelligently. However, a degree of sophistication might have been useful in truly examining the ethics of characters directly involved in exploitation.” As for the people involved in the book, “morally they are redundant”, though he likes the dilemma faced by Fitz and Compassion: “Can you destroy what should never have existed is an interesting point for confrontation.”
Edward thought that the author created “a real world,” recognisable in the everyday aspects of the Frontier Worlds Corporation. There is a “good plot” with a number of intriguing mysteries, but “the prosaic prose takes a little while to define them” Like a couple of other reviewers, Edward is also disappointed that the reason for the TARDIS arriving on the planet is not made clear (it’s in the book but obviously not clear enough!). At least he enjoys the action scenes, where the book “succeeds in not alienating the reader by making each incident intelligent”.
As to the regular characters, Edward ilkes the fact that “the Eighth Doctor is not a superhero [and] Anghelides is the first to get this across convincingly.” He also note the Doctor’s reliance on his companions to be “part of a team to effect whatever result he has in mind”. And in particular, “Fitz has never been better than he is in this book. Anghelides provides emotional depth which elevates him from cheeky chappy.” (Edward particularly praised the Alura story.) And the scenes with Compassion were “the most sensible portrayal of the character thus far.”
“In the end,” he concludes. “Frontier Worlds is a surprise. There is no doubt about it. […] Anghelides has matured and has produced one of the best traditional books in the range.”
GallifreyOne: Lea Ann Hays
“Frontier Worlds fleshes out the characters of Compassion and of Fitz especially with considerable skill, while being a classically-themed science fiction tale,” wrote Lea Ann Hays. She thought Fitz’s masquerading as “Frank Sinatra” was “ a wonderful delusion of grandeur “. She recognised his “wounded pride” and was “a character to empathize with in first-person narration.” And she recognised that Compassion “wants to be that same cold and unfeeling person.”
Lea Ann comments on the environmental aspects of the story, as well as a “seeming soapbox about personal responsibility for that corporation’s hypocrisy in professing to produce more food while destroying the environment.” She mentions similarities between the story and TV’s “The Seeds of Doom”, picking out Sempiter’s character as “ever-so-closely resembling that of Harrison Chase”.
For Lea Ann, the book succeeds “in focusing on genetic experiments and their implications.” She noticed a walk-on role called Rhadoon Haroon, whose name was inspired by the Venusian lullaby lyrics in the TV story “The Curse of Peladon” (in the absence of anything better coming to mind when wrote I that character). And she is the only reviewer I’ve read who noticed that the chapter titles are all “named after Sinatra songs, but still tried to capture the essence of the chapter, which I found entertaining.”
GallifreyOne: Brian Copeland
“I can’t honestly rave enough about this book,” said Brian Copeland, “from front to back, it’s a treasure.” Fitz and Compassion’s disguise was “absolutely hilarious”, with scenes of them together “really wonderful”. He liked the Doctor’s arguments with the robot. Indeed he seemed to particularly enjoy the regular cast: “It is humorous, has some great dialogue, we finally get to see into Fitz’s thoughts again, and get to understand Compassion a little more. The Doctor is very Doctor-ish.”
The way the TARDIS crew are discovered already in action was a bonus: “very reminiscent of the Seventh Doctor stories from the Virgin line […] quite refreshing and a nice change of pace.” Brian was definitely a satisfied customer, and enjoyed the whole book: “From its amazing front cover to the epilogue.”
“Frontier Worlds didn’t strike me as significantly unlike Kursaal,” wrote Finn Clark on the Ultimate Eighth site, “for the most part they’re similar stories told in similar ways. Both have unscrupulous corporations, all-threatening monsters, good wallopings of gore and a straightforward approach to storytelling. There’s nothing self-consciously radical about Frontier Worlds.”
He thought the companions “rather take over the book” and sideline the Doctor so that he is confined to impersonating “James Bond in big action set pieces that actually drive most of the plot but feel like asides”. Finn would have preferred a more rounded characterisation of the Eighth Doctor, and was confused by some of writing in the action scenes which he thought should have been smoother. He was, however, intrigued by Compassion, at whose antics he would “gawp in alarm […] She may be travelling with the Doctor and working on the side of the angels, but she feels more like an ongoing villain than a companion. […] It’s hard to call her likeable, but she certainly holds your attention.”
Finn really liked Fitz’s romance, even if the ending was “a little convenient; but it’s still the standout no-contest best bit of the book.” He also enjoyed the humour: “Fitz also unleashes the famous Anghelides wit, sadly missed in Kursaal. The flippancies initially struck me as forced, as if the author was trying too hard, but eventually I laughed.”
The absence of overt links to other parts of the story arc was noted, with the exception of Fitz’s introspective moments that were “terrific stuff.” In summary: “I thought it was okay. It didn’t really grip me […] but it passed the time pleasantly enough.”
“This book doesn’t start off slow and build to an electric climax” wrote Sean Gaffney on his Happy Guy review page, “it starts with the electric climax and then gives you about eleven more.”
Sean liked the style of the book: “There’s a reason so many people suggest this book should be the Doctor Who movie […] the most compelling, of course, being the dialogue. This book has so many great lines that it needs an appendix to list them all.”
There were some bits that Sean disliked: the “angsty bits” where Fitz recalls the events of Interference, and Alura “who comes across as rather flat, so her fate and Fitz’s reaction don’t resonate as they should.” But the other characters made up for this. Compassion: “Wonderfully droll, dry, angry, irritable.” Ellis and Sempiter: “Wonderfully done.” And “the robot is someone I’d like to see more of.”
Another highlight for him was the Doctor. In previous books, Sean couldn’t determine whether the Doctor was Paul McGann or not. “This is not a problem here. Besides the callbacks to the TV-movie helping, the entire attitude is so 8th Doctor it sings.”
In summary: “This is a fun book, hilarious, yet still gripping […] Audio, video, big-budget blockbuster, anything would do, I just want this dialogue converted to sound so it can melt in my ears.” So he gave it 10/10.
Don’t be put off by the “pulpy” blurb on the back cover, was the message on the (now defunct) Jagaroth site’s review. “It is, in fact, a great horror/thriller, breathing fresh air into the series of books with its breakneck storytelling and impressive twists […] The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.”
Like the Doctor Who Magazine assessment, this review said: “Think Bond done by Cronenburg, and you’ve basically got it.” However, the reviewer suggested it was more The Thing than “The Seeds of Doom”, because it had “some quite horrific imagery”.
The Fitz and Compassion stuff was praised (“it is nice to actually see some character development”), but the Doctor’s violence was not. And the conclusion was “rather low-key”.
The Cosmic Café
“A wealth of interesting ideas and characterizations [yet] something seems missing,” was Dominick Cericola’s view on the (now defunct) Cosmic Café site. “Perhaps after I have read Paul Cornell’s Shadows of Avalon, it will all come together.” Dominick recognises environmental issues from Kursaal, but “ here, it seems to work better […] the story is far more interesting, and better executed.”
He felt that the eighth Doctor was closer here to Virgin Publishing’s seventh Doctor. Fitz, on the other hand, was “one of the book’s strongest suits, and one of the main reasons I hung on until the end. Anghelides does an extraordinary job of peeling back the layers of Fitz’s sub-conscious in an effort to show how he is dealing with his post-Interference life […] A lot of Inner Doubts, which I am hoping the other writers will pick up and use.” Compassion struck Dominick as being “bland”, and the villains “weren’t much more memorable.”