The Doctor and Leela’s new friend Margaret joins the TARDIS in a new dynamic that lets the Sevateem warrior shine

It’s hard to imagine the thought processes that led classic script editor Robert Holmes to create some of the most successful and beloved Doctor Who stories of all time. Especially as he left this mortal stage long before the days of DVD commentaries. Never mind Behind the Sofa extras, and spending weekends with gentle inquisitors Hadoke and Chapman. But all the same, sometimes one wonders if part of it didn’t involve slowly revolving in a chair in his study, lost both in thought and a swirl of pipe smoke, before rising dramatically and flinging a dart at one of his many bookcases. Perhaps he’d wander over, squinting through his self-generated London fog, at which spine the projectile had buried itself in. “Hmm,” he might have grunted, Nothing Lasts Forever by Richard Thorpe… well, it’s an idea, I suppose.” Repeating the experiment he might have found himself on more familiar ground. “Ah, The Island of Dr Moreau. Yes… there’s possibilities there… Or… both? Why not both?” And if his throws had found such targets, rather than Frankenstein or Who Goes There?, we might well have wound up in 1977 watching something very like New Frontiers.


Doctor Who: Ice Heist! Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish Productions Fourth Doctor Adventures Leela Nerys Hughes Ice Warriors
Doctor Who: Ice Heist! Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish Productions

Ice Heist! casts the Ice Warriors in a heist movie in an ingenious use of Doctor Who’s most ambiguous aliens

People know Thorpe’s novel, of course, better in the form of its 1984 movie adaptation – Die Hard. Not only one of the most successful action movies of the decade, but one of the pre-eminent Christmas films of all time (don’t start) its influence is hard to underestimate. We’ve had Die Hard on a plane, on a boat, and in a football stadium. We’ve even Die Hard in the White House. But one key element that makes it what it is, so often overlooked by imitators, is the wonderful subversion of revealing the “terrorists” are common, sorry exceptional, thieves.

The first story in this set, Ice Heist!, takes that gem of an idea. More, with a stroke of genius, it reinvents it with Doctor Who’s most complex, ambiguous monsters: the Ice Warrors. It’s long been one of the defining characteristics of the lumbering reptiles that while they may have a cultural bias towards glory and honour, they can be both good and bad, violent and thoughtful, acting in aggression or defence. Guy Adams’ script brings this in a fun new direction, invading one of the galaxy’s most exclusive auction houses. Not for honour or glory, but for a billion credit heist of the contents of its elaborately protected vault.

Nicholas Briggs, in particular, so often pressed in as reliable support, gets to shine as Ice Heist’s version of Hans, Schekleer. A former general who fell from grace, he’s delightfully grumpy about how this is all beneath him, while increasingly vexed as his meticulously laid plans go ever more awry. At points you almost feel sorry for him. He’s reduced to all this to keep the lights on, only to find a scarf clad fly in his ointment, and a leather loincloth clad cowgirl yippe-kay-yaying her way through the air vents.


Leela becomes Margaret’s time travel mentor, their relationship becoming one of New Frontiers’ great strengths

The Doctor, Leela, and new friend Margaret just happen to be in attendance at the very same art auction the Ice Warriors intend to raid. Leela explains to the TARDIS’s latest passenger that this is a dependably inevitable fact of life travelling with the Doctor. And underneath all the hostage situations, ice tunnels, and fiddling about with transmats, this new friendship is perhaps the real core of Ice Heist! There’s something really quite special about Leela taking on the mentor role and proving to be very good at it. She forms an effective bridge between the Doctor’s alien remoteness, and Margaret’s inexperience. In doing so, she shows empathy, kindness and wisdom even as grabs her new charge by the hand and jumps with her into the figurative deep end of adventure.

Much of Ice Heist’s run time splits Leela and Margaret off on their own. They hunt Martians, crawl through ventilation shafts, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. It creates the sense of Leela now having a companion of her own. It’s also a lovely opportunity to hear how Leela describes her life in her own words, with many witty, long suffering, descriptions of devoting one’s life to making sure the Doctor doesn’t lose his.


Ice Heist! provides a fun and sprightly adventure with heart

For his part, the Doctor comes up against corporate complacency, and being pressganged into helping Schekleer’s schemes. Throughout too is the nagging suspicion there’s something nastier at the heart of all the vault’s defences than anyone knows. It’s to Tom Baker’s credit too, that he feels comfortable moving slightly down stage of much of the action to give Jameson and Hughes time to shine. Now, that’s something you’re not likely to have seen in mid-1970s Who…

By its end, Ice Heist! deserves no small amount of applause for walking that most difficult of Doctor Who tightropes: being a fun and sprightly adventure story with real heart and emotion at its not-so-icy core.


Doctor Who: Antillia the Lost. Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish Productions Fourth Doctor Adventures Nerys Hughes Anjli Mohindra
Doctor Who: Antillia the Lost. Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish Productions

Antillia the Lost brings the trio to a rendezvous with a mysterious island… in space!

The second half of New Frontiers takes place on more familiar ground in Antillia the Lost. Even if this ground is that of the artificial ‘space island’ Antillia, it draws on more traditionally Doctor Who sources for inspiration than Bruce Willis’ finest. The TARDIS team collides, almost literally, with the Blade and its crew of explorers. They’re a mix familiar to fans of Verne and Wells. There’s Markway, the courageous and principled journalist documenting the trip who, played by Anjli Mohindra, unavoidably feels like a space age Rani Chandra.

Meanwhile Richard Lumsden is Dr. Vance, the scientist who built the Blade to fulfil his obsession with finding Antillia. There’s the strong silent type in the form of security officer Brett, played by Keziah Joseph. And of course, ‘the money’ in the form of Andrew Wincott’s Craske, an exec from the corporation sponsoring the journey and voted most likely to later on greedily meddle with something that ought to be left alone.


There are hints of Clarke and Niven in the early scenes of exploring Antillia too. An artificial, flat planetoid hanging in space, the hows and why of its forests, seas, and underground tunnels are the initial focus of Phil Mulryne’s script. These explorations even come complete with a dangerous crossing of the station’s lake which is reminiscent of Rendezvous with Rama. But the motley band of marooned adventures push on, seeking the mysterious space island’s creator.

Vance simply wants to learn the secret of Antillia’s disappearance fifty years before. But Craske’s secret reason for funding the trip is a quest into the heart of darkness for the maverick scientist, Gilman Hari (Adrian Rawlins). Most listeners will be familiar with the classic tropes that makes up this particular cocktail of adventures. So it’s no spoiler that they do find Hari, and his intellect is as towering as promised. Nor that it turns out to be twisted to dark purposes.


For a newly introduced companion, Margaret is pushed to the background before she has a chance to establish herself

The story provides a satisfying series of escapades. Our heroes encounter the sad creatures resulting from Hari’s bizarre experiment, learn the space island’s secrets, and plot their escape. But its array of characters and buffet of ideas means less time for our main cast.

Margaret draws a particularly short straw here. After being so well established in Ice Heist! with its unusually sensitive look into the culture shock of joining the TARDIS, she gets much more generic companion duties to perform here. It doesn’t always play to her strengths. She gives what’s theoretically a rousing speech about throwing off the shackles of fear to grasp the chance for liberty. But Hughes approaches it with the understated everyday humanity you’d expect. Accordingly, it’s rather more like grabbing Our Sandra on the way out of Tesco for a quick word about how That Kevin’s no good for her, you know. Still, it seems to do the trick.

Ultimately, Antillia the Lost brings few surprises across its four episodes. But it’s nevertheless pleasing to spot all the places on the bookshelf that Mulryne’s darts have hit home. And it all unfolds in quite the sprit of adventure, as the Doctor himself might say. Accommodating such myriad ideas and guest characters in a challenge that’s caused stories to run aground before now. But Antilia keeps everything clear and relevant while everything, ultimately, pays off in one form or another. Only the status of the space island as both an Atlantis like myth and somewhere that’s only been ‘lost’ for five decades doesn’t quite work.


New Frontiers sets up a cosy new friendship at the heart of the TARDIS for future sets to build on

Taken together the two stories of New Frontiers hint at the beginning of a cosy new era of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. With the addition of Margaret and her close friendship with Leela, there’s a gentle warmth here. But it largely replaces the guffawing whirlwind of chaos we normally associate with Tom Baker’s appearances. It’s early days, though, and while Margaret has successfully integrated into the Doctor’s life, it’s yet to be seen exactly how writers will build their plots around the new trio. Angels and Demons arrives in June, and with it our first real idea of how this new team will work.


Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures: New Frontiers. Cover by Ryan Aplin. (c) Big Finish Ice Warriors Nerys Hughes Leela Anjli Mohindra
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures: New Frontiers. Cover by Ryan Aplin. (c) Big Finish

Doctor Who: New Frontiers

Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures: New Frontiers is now available to own as a collector’s edition 4-disc CD box set (+ download for just £24.99) or a digital download (for just £19.99), exclusively here. Both stories in this box set, Ice Heist! and Antillia the Lost, are also available to buy separately as a download only (for just £12.99 each).


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