1957, New Mexico. Bernice wanted to see the early stages of mankind’s exploration of space but they arrive amidst a spate of UFO sightings. They soon find that the army have been infiltrated by the Tzun, able to merge their DNA with other species their hybrid agents have taken control.
They are aided by the Master, in return for technology that will rid him of both the Traken and Cheetah DNA that corrupts his body. In a tense confrontation Ace shoots the Master, triggering his regeneration into a new incarnation.
It always surprises me how late in the New Adventures run that ‘First Frontier’ occurs (it is the 30th book in the series). I think that is because it is pretty much the perfect model of the range.
Bernice and the adult Ace are at their best here. It features the return of an iconic villain, in the form of the Master and the 1950s setting is such a good fit you wonder why no one thought of it before. Even the cover is great, highlighting the three elements of the book (Ace in her battlesuit, a UFO and a 1950s car against a New Mexico landscape).
The Tzun are another fun addition to the Doctor Who universe. Coming in a variety of forms with their pilots, the S’Raph’, appearing like the typical ‘Grey’ aliens so popular in UFO mythology. Their habit of incorporating the DNA of conquered species makes me wonder if they influenced Toby Whithouse when he created the Krillitanes in ‘School Reunion’.
They turn up again in the later Past Adventure book ‘Mission: Impractical.’ There is also a very subtle reference to their invasion attempt in the ‘Short Trips: How The Doctor Changed My Life’ story ‘Swamp of Horrors (1957)-Viewing Notes’.
With the 1950s setting visited in ‘The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon’ and ‘Dreamland’ I’d like to see this adapted for television.
It could be argued that this is just another alien invasion story where the Master works with another race who he eventually betrays but it still feels like a good traditional Doctor Who story to me.
The Tzun are good for any UFO centred stories, especially if you want to have an adventure in the model of ‘The X-Files’. Their hybrids, the Ph’Sor, allow them to have secret agents, forming a conspiracy.
Although their Confederacy is destroyed in 2172 they exist for a larger period of time, over 20 thousand years in total. The Doctor has a past history of defeating them allowing many stories to be told of earlier conflicts or for new player characters to meet them.
There is no point in providing a write-up for the species since they can incorporate the traits of many different species. This allows a games master to adapt them to whatever environment they are found in. This makes them a very versatile species to use.
In many ways they are the organic version of the Borg from ‘Star Trek’. Their goal is to eventually incorporate every single species in the universe into the Tzun. Due to this they have a great respect for the races they conquer, since they are now part of their extended family.
The Master gains a lot from his alliance with the Tzun and gives as an insight into what can be achieved with sufficiently advanced technology. The most important thing, from the Master’s perspective, is that he is able to give himself a new regeneration cycle.
This is a major development as all previous indications were that only the Time Lords could grant this. Why else would the offer of a new life cycle be so tempting to him in ‘The Five Doctors’.
It must be a closely guarded secret, since only the High Council seemed to be able to bestow this gift. It does makes sense, however, that a race like the Tzun, who have such mastery over DNA, might have discovered a clue to the process by studying the Master.
This raises the question of if the Master gained access to this technology? It would certainly be a powerful tool to bring other Time Lords to his side. We’ve seen that Time Lords can become desperate when they run out of regenerations and the Master, as his name implies, would love to have people enslave themselves for the chance of a new cycle.
Even the knowledge that another species can replicate this process is dangerous. In this story the Master destroys the Tzun mothership so they don’t take advantage of having his DNA but what if they were able to transmit the information to other fleets?
It is established that the Tzun can’t meld their DNA with a Time Lord but they might still keep an eye out for the species in the hope of examining their genetic structure. Time Lord player characters could find themselves captured for that very reason and have to prevent the race from learning the secret of regeneration.
The Master also uses their technology to summon his TARDIS. The knowledge that this can be done could be very useful to player characters. Such technology should be rare, after all the Doctor can’t use the Sanctuary Base to recover his TARDIS in ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.’ It does still give hope if the characters find themselves light years away from their TARDIS there might still be away to call it to them.
The Master escapes at the end of this story. It is is a shame that this particular incarnation isn’t seen again, to my knowledge, in the books. The Master does return in the 8th Doctor BBC books but in a different form.
Here the new Master still has his beard and moustache but is slightly taller and thinner than his earlier incarnation. He has the air of an aristocrat, dressed in his black tailcoat and jade cravat.
This gives the games master another version of the Master for the player characters to encounter. Perhaps this incarnation decided to avoid the Doctor for a while and set his sight on a different set of opponents.
There is more examples of the Doctor retroactively influencing the events of the adventure, in this case booking his companions and himself rooms at a motel. There may very well be players who wish to try a similar trick, making a mental note to go back in time to set things up for themselves.
I suggest that such actions should be done by spending Plot points. This should only be done by either a Time Lord or someone who has an accurate Time Machine. Minor actions, such as filling a fridge or booking rooms should just cost 1 plot point.
If they help at critical moments in the plot then the cost should be much higher. This makes it a much costly measure than simply trying to live in the moment and overcome the crisis at hand.
The upper limit of this should be the Time Lord physically coming back to help. For a player character to do something akin to what the Doctor does in ‘The Big Bang’, freeing himself from a trap so he can come back and free himself from a trap, should require a huge amount of plot points.
Rival time travellers should have the option of spending their own plot points to sabotage the tinkering of their player characters, leading to the scene from ‘The Curse of the Fatal Death’ or the end of ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’.