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The Frobisher Files

By Jon Preddle

Big Finish Productions' audio drama The Holy Terror features the Sixth Doctor and his companion Frobisher, a shape-shifting penguin. Actor Robert Jezek plays Frobisher, giving him a sort of New York Jewish accent, though it does seem a little odd to feature a character capable of taking on different appearances in an audio-only adventure!

Frobisher first appeared in Doctor Who Magazine Issue 88 in an adventure called The Shape-Shifter, written by the prolific Steve Parkhouse. Frobisher is a 45-year-old Whifferdill, working as a private investigator called Avan Tarklu on the planet Xenon. In the story Voyager (DWM 90) he first adopts the monicker ‘Frobisher’ (“in deference to the Doctor's love of all things English” — and apparently after one of the Queen's dray horses!), and adopts the familiar form of a King penguin.

In The Shape-Shifter, the Whifferdill sets out to capture the Doctor in order to collect a large bounty. The Doctor manages to convince the detective that they ought to work together, but as we discover in DWM 106, Frobisher's meeting the Doctor was not at all coincidental. In fact, it was destined to happen as it had been prophesied in an ancient Draconian legend, which foretold that a Gallifreyan and a Xenon, along with four others (including Peri), would be brought together and join forces to save the galaxy...

In DWM 103, Frobisher and the Doctor are subjected to the effects of time in reverse. While the Doctor regresses through his previous regenerations, Frobisher changes back into his natural state before ending up as a small blob of something on the TARDIS floor. Frobisher's natural form — also seen in The Shape-Shifter — is humanoid, a few feet tall, with a bald, spherical head but without nose or mouth. He also wears round glasses.

Whifferdills have the power to change into any shape or form, regardless of size, from a small fly (with glasses!) to the TARDIS console (with glasses!). Throughout the course of the strip series, Frobisher adopts a variety of shapes and forms. In DWM 110 he comes down with a rare affliction called mono-morphia, which robs him of his ability to change his shape, trapping him in the form of a penguin. However, this is only a short-lived condition, and he is soon back to normal in DWM 115.

In total, Frobisher appears in 45 issues of DWM (he is absent from 117) and has a cameo in several later strips. He also features in the BBC Sixth Doctor novel Mission: Impractical by David A. McIntee. In his introduction to his book, McIntee states that the novel is set between two DWM strips — WarGame and Funhouse. However, this placement is impossible given that the Marvel strips are clearly set prior to the Doctor's trial, whereas the novel is definitely set after the Doctor's trial. On this basis, it is best to ignore McIntee's intention since neither strip is even referred to in the book.

We now come to the latest instalment in Frobisher's travels with the sixth Doctor. The Holy Terror is set between The World-Shapers (DWM 130-133) and The Age of Chaos, a 1994 Marvel comics special written by Colin Baker himself. Chaos itself is set more than ten years after the Doctor's trial from the perspective of the Doctor's own time stream. This means that some retro-continuity analysis is required to work out what happens to Frobisher during Season 23.

In terms of his own continuity, Frobisher's last regular appearance is in DWM 133, in the seventh Doctor's strip debut, A Cold Day in Hell. No explanation is given as to how and where Frobisher fits within the Seventh Doctor's timestream, so it is again left to fans to create a suitable series of off-screen events to cover this period in the Doctor's life. I have created my own version of Frobisher's timeline.

Frobisher Timeline

The following timeline places all Frobisher's adventures into context. Notes given in square brackets [ ] are my own speculation, utilising off-screen elements to explain contradictions.

  • Revelation of the Daleks
    [Peri stays in New York, 1985, and the Doctor travels alone for a while]
  • The Shape-Shifter (DWM 88-89) (The Doctor meets Frobisher)
  • Voyager (90-94)
  • Polly the Glot (95-97)
  • Once Upon a Time Lord (98-99)
  • War-Game (100-101)
  • Funhouse (102-103)
  • Kane's Story/ Abel's Story/ The Warrior's Story/ Frobisher's Story (104-107) (Peri is reunited with the Doctor in New York, 1985)
  • Exodus/Revelation!/Genesis! (108-110)
  • Nature of the Beast (111-113)
  • Time Bomb (114-116)
  • Salad Daze (117) (Frobisher is mentioned but does not appear)
  • Changes (118-119)
  • Profits of Doom! (120-122)
  • The Gift (123-126)
  • The World Shapers (127-129)
    [Frobisher leaves the TARDIS]
  • The Trial of a Time Lord
    [The Doctor returns Mel to her own time and place, and travels on his own for a while before reuniting with Frobisher]
  • Time and Again (207 — cameo only)
  • The Holy Terror
    [The Doctor and Frobisher visit Peri on Thoros Beta and meet her daughter. After this, they travel for 10 years — as noted in The Age of Chaos]
  • The Age of Chaos (Marvel Comics Special) (10 years have passed since the Doctor and Frobisher last visited Peri and her family. Frobisher leaves the TARDIS for a break. The Doctor later picks up Frobisher from his holiday)
  • Mission: Impractical
    [Frobisher leaves again.]
  • Time and the Rani - The Greatest Show In The Galaxy
    [The Doctor drops Ace off in the past then travels on his own for a while, reuniting once more with Frobisher]
  • A Cold Day In Hell (130-133) (Frobisher permanently leaves. The Doctor goes on to have a series of strip adventures on his own, before collecting Ace...)

Frobisher was interviewed in DWM 149, and also makes cameo appearances in these later strips:

  • Planet of the Dead (DWM 141-142)
  • Party Animals (DWM 173)
  • A Life of Matter and Death (DWM 250)

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).