In the summer of 1984, a review appeared in DW monthly magazine about the forthcoming release of Frontios in book format. I had missed most of this when it came out on television, the odd O level exam that year proving a distraction, but after all that I was looking at this review (that review) and was captivated. The description of the excavating machine seemed to indicate it was made out of bits and pieces of dead colonists (rotting hands, bones etc) and the implied assumption was that this Gravis did many a grisly experiment with living and dead humans. This surely cannot be, not in a DW book, I thought to myself; but needless to say could hardly wait for the book to come out. Also needless to say, its actual release date was not until January, a mere seven months after the review appeared! Lots of other DW books that I couldn't have cared less about, then, would appear beforehand. And us fans didn't even have a preview of what the cover would look like, to keep us going!
Well, the book finally appeared, with a fantastic looking cover. Reading it, apart from the excavating machine and one or two other bits, it was really the standard DW type story: my imagination had run a little wild with Frankenstien-type images over the long summer and autumn. It was still a most enjoyable story. I always enjoy CHB's portrayal of the Doctor as extremely woolly at times but in deadly earnest at others, and this Doctor was every bit as riveting as the one in Logopolis and Castrovalva. Trying to fool the Tractators (spectacles, comprendo?) as opposed to the foes trying to fool him, was the fifth Doctor's finest hour. The Tractators I also thought to be really cool looking monsters and the gradual build up in chapters 4 to 6 till their eventual appearance is steeped in atmosphere. They looked excellant but, awesome gravitational powers aside, the actual threat they posed to the humans was unclear - I suppose the Gravis chopping them up is the implied threat.
And the Gravis itself was well realised - it can't speak for one thing, which makes perfect sense. Why should all these monsters, in this vast universe, all have the ability to converse in english? And as for the grisly description of the translating machine, which was essentially the head and arm of a dead colonist and some machinery - brilliant! The humans all have such splendid names - Brazen, Revere ,(Plantagenet!) and are all interesting characters.
It is most difficult to find fault with this story, even though I sort of like the Earth-based ones better. It is excellantly paced, never gets dull and is just, well, different!