McIntee presents a story where the United States Army under the general paranoia of the era as they are incredibly secretive within their own ranks. The arrival of the alien Tzun force, who claim to be Venusians, are only allowed to be known by a select few at the very top. Anyone found leaking the information could easily be shot and disappeared from society. The character of Major Marion Davison, in charge of the press for the Nevada Army Bases featured in the novel, almost serves as a gateway for the reader into the time period. As a woman, she’s relegated her career to more secretarial matters, but is an example of the American Dream, willing to serve her country for the freedom of all. She’s a character who won’t stand for corruption and almost acts in a classic companion type role, sticking with the Doctor through a majority of the novel. There’s a small scene halfway through that cements her as a memorable character as she fights to expose the aliens to the general public with a television appearance. I say she’s a classic companion as by this point in the Virgin New Adventures, the actual companions of the novel have morphed beyond the classic companion formula.
Ace as she appears in this novel is the hardened version of the character and McIntee shows he has a grasp on what she has become. She is a character who knows exactly what she needs to do to further the situation. Much of her story in the book is attempting to do a stealthy espionage mission, but bumbling her way through it as she has become detached from the human element. She also steals a plane at one point, flies it recklessly, and eventually crashes it which feels like something Ace in any of her appearances would at least try. Bernice Summerfield shows just why she is my personal favorite companion in this novel, going through the book with a sense of sheer wit to the villain of the piece. She stands toe to toe with some of the greatest Doctor Who villains and laughs in their faces. McIntee also does an excellent job of characterizing the Doctor throughout, as this is a situation where the TARDIS arrives by accident. Yes, there is some manipulation in setting things up, but this wasn’t some grand scheme set up by the Doctor until after the book finishes. It’s a nice aspect of the novel to have this not be one of the Doctor’s grand plans as that’s something that can easily feel like all the novels are too similar to one another.
McIntee also excels with creating the Tzun race. The Tzun are aliens with a heavily enforced caste system and physical appearances which resemble the grey aliens most commonly associated with the setting. They are also incredibly devious throughout the novel, and are wishing to use Earth almost in the way of an outpost for their own space conquering purposes and to achieve that they have an ally. First Frontier is the first original Doctor Who novel to feature the Master, meaning it is also a successor to Survival, as readers discover just how the Master is still alive. It’s also the first novel to feature a regeneration as the Master gets a new body, at last, one more time and sheds Tremas’s stolen form once and for all. This version of the Master is unique to McIntee and the Virgin New Adventures, looking similar to a young Basil Rathbone and acting close to the Delgado version of the character. Sadly, however, the characterization is slightly derivative of other stories with his plot ending in the most predictable manner. Still, First Frontier manages to be a highly enjoyable novel and on reread is like coming back to an old friend, especially if you’re a fan of the Virgin New Adventures. 8/10.
Read the original review here!