Last week, I posted on Facebook about the release of Frostgrave: Tales from the Frozen City – a short story anthology to which I contributed. I also mentioned that it contained a story by a writing hero of mine, David A. McIntee. He’s a writer who’s turned his hand to plenty of different works over the years, but I know him through his entries in the Missing Adventures and New Adventures lines of Doctor Who novels. ‘Writing hero’ isn’t an accolade I wave around much. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m a grumpy bastard, and see the flaws much more readily than I acknowledge the shiny. I reckon it’s therefore worth explaining why I make an exception here.
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Doctor Who wasn’t popular. By the end of the eighties, after years of steadily decreasing budgets (I remember reading that by the time Sylvester McCoy’s final season rolled around, one episode of Red Dwarf had a bigger budget than an entire fourteen episode series of Doctor Who. I can’t verify that claim, but I believe it.) and other woes too numerous to list here, the BBC finally cancelled the series. In its place arose a series of original novels, published by Virgin, and penned by a mix of new writers and series veterans – the New Adventures. This range was successful enough to not only spawn a sister series of Missing Adventures (original stories featuring past Doctors), but also to ensure that when Virgin’s licence came up for renewal in 1996, the BBC decided that they’d rather keep all that lovely income for themselves: Virgin’s licence wasn’t renewed, and the BBC continued the two series in all but name until 2005, largely with the same continuity and stable of writers.
Now, to tell the truth, I didn’t really get on with the New Adventures. Possibly it was because I was younger than the target audience, but the style often meandered too far from that of the series for my taste – an attempt to establish the 7th Doctor, and especially Ace, as more rounded ‘adult’ characters. A lot of them also had more pages to fill than they had story to fill them. I much preferred the Missing Adventures which, by and large, better captured the spirit of the series, but I’ve still a few of each on my bookshelves. There are some genuine treasures there: The Infinity Doctor by Lance Parkin, Managra by Stephen Marley, Zeta Major by Simon Messingham, System Shock by Justin Richards, and Corpse Marker, by Chris Boucher, to name but a few. Others are curiosities – Assault on Planet 5 is almost unrecognisable as a Doctor Who story, for example. There’s even a gap waiting for the copy of Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow I suspect I’ll never own. But the most precious to me by far, is The Face of the Enemy, by David A. McIntee.
First of all, The Face of the Enemy is a Doctor Who story in which the Doctor doesn’t appear (except for very brief scenes at the beginning and the end). In fact, he’s off on Peladon the whole time. Instead, our protagonist is the Master – the original and best, as portrayed onscreen by Roger Delgado. It’s not the first time that the Master has appeared in a Missing Adventure and it won’t be the last, but here the characterisation is spot on. It’s classic anti-hero stuff. In the Doctor’s absence, the Master is drafted to serve as advisor to UNIT, which he does (of course) for his own reasons. There’s just the right amount of whose-side-is-he-on tension (to which the answer is, of course, his own), humour, and millisecond glimpses of the nobler Time Lord he used to be (literally, in one case) – all of which could have been overplayed. That the Master is charming, likeable and still black-hearted as ever speaks to how well McIntee got under the character’s skin, and is a fine tribute to his creators: Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, and Delgado himself.
That alone puts Face in the top ten of original Who fiction – is there really any joy greater than seeing someone write a favourite character and do it justice? But the story has even more going for it. The Face of the Enemy is that rare thing: a licensed novel that immerses itself in continuity and setting, but in a seamless and nonintrusive fashion. In addition to all the key players from UNIT, a couple of Hartnell-era companions (Ian and Barbara) play significant roles. Hell, the entire premise of the threat the Master is ‘helping’ UNIT manage originates from the classic Pertwee story Inferno. In other hands, Face could have collapsed under the weight of continuity, but in McIntee’s, it soars.
The Face of the Enemy is not just a good Master story, it’s not just great Doctor Who, it’s brilliant science fiction and a cracking read. And that’s why McIntee’s one of my writing heroes.