Planet of Fire
One thing that doesn't detract is the location shoot - to be honest I never really took much notice of where it was shot, and it's hardly distinctive from a typical quarry. This does beg the question of why they filmed there in the first place, but at least we don't get lots of distracting running around in front of local landmarks in the final episode.
Anyway, talking of landmarks, I have to mention the obvious. Doing these reviews in a totally random order this is actually the last Nicola Bryant story I've had to cover, so I'm probably going to repeat myself here. But I would, big time. Unfortunately my video of Planet of Fire is a rather shabby copy of a copy from the off-air transmission, whereas what I'd really like to have is a pan and scan DVD version. Or maybe the real thing. Okay, she's knocking on a bit now, but I wonder if Nicola'd let you have a look if you offered her two grand?
As disturbing and depraved as such thoughts may be, they are as nothing to the site of yet more out-of-control ham from the normally likeable Mark Strickson. His "You're finished, Kamelion!" is a low point of the episode to go with the Doctor's lame "obsessed and depressed" and the amazingly wooden charms of Jonathan Caplan as Roskal. After this, even Sarah Sutton didn't seem so bad…
But this is a strong, pacey and highly watchable episode of Doctor Who, something that can't be said of the previous six stories. Okay, you might point out that Peri's "American" accent is very English sounding and nothing like it was in any other story, and the bit where she shows off her ample jugs is unfortunate and blatant sexism. But for the first time since Enlightenment this was Doctor Who telling a clear and focussed story, and must be commended for that if nothing else.
One thing that comes clear from Peter's last two stories is what a good companion Peri could have been. With Colin's Doctor she becomes just a big-breasted whiny foil for the Doctor's ego, but with Peter she had a form of energy and genuine characterisation. It's a shame for both of them, really - Nicola because she never got to fulfil any kind of potential beyond showing her cleavage, and Peter because he was able to become the Doctor far more fully around her than with any other companion he had. Hasn't she got a wide mouth when she shouts, though? Worth thinking on, that…
One strong point of note with Planet of Fire is that every character has a perfectly conceived motivation, even the Master. This might not seem like such a boast, but there's many Doctor Who stories where characters have no real motivation whatsoever… most of them involving the Master. For some bizarre reason Ainley always seems at his worst opposite Peter Davison, perhaps due to the different acting styles. While Tom, Colin and Sylvester are all more than a little guilty of going OTT on occasion (!), Peter's underplayed portrayal and realistic context for the series sit badly with Ainley's innate crapness.
If you wanted to flip a Freudian perspective on Planet of Fire, then you could check out all the phallic imagery, as I've just noticed the large jutting rock that Peri sees when she seeks salvation from the Master-Kamelion, not to mention the TCE reintroduced in the following episode. In fact, men are her opposition all throughout the story, from her stepfather Howard, to Turlough carrying her into the Tardis, to the Doctor taking her away. And maybe it would have been better if they'd shot the Earth scenes in the usual quarry, as it's often confusing what planet they're supposed to be on. "This is Sarn." Is it? Looks just like the place they were in two minutes ago to me. As an episode then this does get dragged down a little, because while Peri shows an independent streak she would later abandon, the emergence of the story with the secondary characters is really of little interest at all…
I hadn't remembered that this one was directed by Fiona Cumming, which surprises me after the boobfest that is episode one. It's hardly her fault, though, and Peri does, as I've said, come out as a spunky persona. But it's thanks to Fiona that Planet of Fire has a pace and energy that no other story in season twenty-one matched, save for the obvious example of the following tale. The actual storyline (really just a backdrop to the Doctor's own developments) is a typical "archaic society embracing false Gods" cobblers that has been done to death in the series, but Fiona makes it all so fresh. It looks good, too, a rare example of Doctor Who looking like it had the budget it actually required, rather than making ends meet. Not expensive, note, but adequate.
Crap bits? Well, if I was feeling generous I'd overlook the awful cheese of Briant's "Oh, you've done it! The fire's out!" but I'm not so I won't. She's good in her debut, though, so she's allowed one dodgy delivery. Then there's the Master's "your puny mind" and his all-black Tardis, possibly worse than question mark collars. I'm surprised watching it again though just how fast-moving Planet of Fire is. Maybe it's watching it straight off the back of a 60s story (Marco Polo), but it rattles along with barely a pause, yet still draws you in. Some Who stories you have to watch a bit at a time, but I flew through this one and scarcely got bored. Finally, I always thought the cliffhanger to this instalment - villain in apparent danger - was a little weird, but it's in perfect keeping with the Who spirit, a great "What the…?" moment.
One thing I haven't mentioned is Peter Howell's incidental music, which isn't a standout, but is nicely memorable. Turlough's leaving scene turns out to be not very poignant though, largely because the character was too strong to complement Davison's softer take on the lead role. Even less so is the Doctor having to destroy Kamelion, the crap robot that no one cared about. You could argue that Kamelion begging to be killed is a Euthanasia parallel, though why you'd want to say such a stupid f***ing thing is beyond me.
It all ends with the Doctor taking Peri away to their destiny on Androzani… except for years later, when fan culture would write and record about ten billion "missing" stories to plug the gap. Listen to fifty Big Finish plays, read a hundred books and then come back to Tomb to read the review of the one in the caves…
A very strong and entertaining entry for season 21, much undervalued. Rapid and well-made, it's a fairly slick product that makes you feel the Davison era was finally starting to come together… just as it was about to end.
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