It opens like a James Bond film's pre-credits sequence - the Doctor trying to stop a scientist from killing himself, then falling off a mountain ledge onto some cable car wires, scrambling inside with the help of Fitz and escaping down a nearby tree. After that, they get chased by guys on skidoos and motorbikes.
It's one of those openings that fills you with excitement as you're immediately brought into the novel's world, shown around the local area, given a brief introduction to the bad guys and left with a number of questions to be resolved later on. The prose is spot on - interesting descriptions spotted with a smattering of wit, being fairly wordy but not difficult to understand. In fact, the wordiness adds to the overall excitement, as events are relayed in a somewhat breathless manner.
There's little in the way of continuity, which is very much in demand after Interference and the Taking of Planet 5, which I found to be heavy going at times. Free of the shadow of the (4th?) great time war with the Enemy, Frontier Worlds is allowed to flourish and develop a narrative of its own - an expose of corporate dealings and culture, and the kinds of villain it can produce, together with a warning about how we might become less human by trying to become superhuman.
The regulars are on top form, with the Doctor being both central to the plot and yet not entirely the centre of our attention, leaving Fitz and Compassion room to develop and interact with the world and each other. Fitz falls in love with a native woman, whose untimely demise allows Anghelides to introduce a whole new worldview to Fitz's character, renewing him and preventing him from becoming a caricature of himself. Meanwhile, Compassion disobeys the Doctor and listens to signals on the planet, becoming vulnerable to outside influence in the process. At the end of the novel, she imparts that she's aware the Doctor has been trying to exert some form of control over her, using the TARDIS to subtly influence her overall attitude.
As for the villains, you can't fault 'evil corporate overlord becoming less human due to his meddling'. What's particularly interesting is that the villains possess a form of regeneration - they slough their skin off like a snake. This is due to an infusion of plant DNA, which is slowly converting them into, well, plants. Each villain (and non-villain) that has been augmented in this manner has had the most prominent aspect of their personality exaggerated over and over through their many 'regenerations.'
My favourite villain is Griz Ellis, Fitz's IT supervisor. The guy is so repulsive in so many ways; you can't wait for him to die. Thankfully, his death is well judged. It's not left until the end of the novel, so that his continued existence pisses you off, but he's allowed to live long enough so that you're presented with even more reason to hate the bastard, before he's finally killed off in an extremely violent and satisfying manner.
To top it off, all the plot elements made sense, and the jokes were laugh out loud funny, if slightly underused. I can't fault Frontier Worlds for what it does provide, since it's an entertaining, exciting, involving page-turner.
What sets it below the true greats of the Who novel canon is that it offers very little in the way of new ideas. Perhaps fittingly, it's more evolution than revolution. Nevertheless, go and read it, because it deserves your appreciation.
Review by Tom Hey
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