THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
AND THE NOVEL "THE
PLANET OF FEAR
'KAMELION TALES' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2738)
RELEASED IN JUNE 2010.
A STRANGE SIGNAL FROM
THE EARTH DRAWS THE
TARDIS TO THE ISLAND
OF LANZAROTE, WHERE
TURLOUGH RESCUES A
YOUNG AMERICAN GIRL,
PERI, FROM DROWNING.
WITH HER IS A STRANGE
ARTEFACT BEARING THE
VERY SAME TRIANGULAR
MARK THAT TURLOUGH
HAS BRANDED INTO HIS
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
WHEN KAMELION FALLS
UNDER THE CONTROL OF
A POWERFUL MIND, AND
THE TARDIS TRAVELS TO
THE VOLCANIC WORLD
OF SARN. AS TURLOUGH
IS FORCED TO FACE HIS
PAST, THE DOCTOR MUST
STOP HIS OLDEST ENEMY
FROM HARNESSING THE
OF NUMISMATON GAS...
Planet of Fire
23rd february 1984 - 2nd march 1984
Tasked with scripting a serial that would see both Turlough and Kamelion part ways with the Doctor, the Master killed off “for good”, and a new companion introduced, it isn’t surprising that Peter Grimwade’s Planet of Fire went through countless drafts before going before the cameras. Yet, whilst producer John Nathan Turner’s extensive shopping
list imposed substantial constraints on the writer, Planet of Fire somehow managed to turn out rather well. In fact, at times it’s most impressive.
For starters, Planet of Fire is visually unique. Thanks to the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote, viewers don’t have to suspend their disbelief quite as far as usual – Sarn looks alien, even without the special edition’s CG trickery. However, the production team had to get as much mileage out of their overseas shoot as they possibly could and so Lanzarote is also used as, well, Lanzarote. Seeing the Doctor and Turlough out of uniform (which begs the question as to why they don’t change their outfits when visiting sweltering alien worlds, yet do so for a hot island on Earth) strutting along a beach is as incongruous an image as you’re likely to see in Doctor Who, except maybe those that see debutant companion Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown thrashing about in the sea in her little bikini…
infamous bikini scene is
as iconic to Doctor Who
as Ursula Andres coming
out of the sea in Dr No
is to James Bond. Until
this point the series had
always tried to include a
little “something for the Dads”, but Planet of Fire really does serve them well, Peri endearing herself to the series’ male audience quicker than any other companion ever had or probably ever will.
“I’m Perpugilliam Brown, and I can shout just as loud as you can.”
In fairness though, Peri’s Dallas-inspired introduction is a lot more impressive than just the gratuitous, particularly when considering that it was Bryant’s first television appearance. An American botany student visiting Lanzarote with her mother and odious step-father, Peri is
a plucky and indomitable young woman with attitude, and here – despite her patent fear – she acquits herself exceptionally well, for most part combating the Master alone.
In fact, the only thing about Peri that I’m not enamoured with is her awful accent; it’s Tegan
all over again. I can see what John Nathan-Turner was trying to do, overturning the tradition whereby most of the Doctor’s companions hail from Britain, but when you’re producing a show about an alien who travels through time and space in a battered old police box, you really don’t need to be too concerned about such things. Besides, the Doctor’s travelling companions generally hail from our green and pleasant land because it’s the Time Lord’s favourite country on his favourite planet – simple as.
Turlough’s final appearance is executed just as well as Peri’s first, Planet of Fire rounding off young Vislor’s story arc with surprising sophistication. Grimwade’s script affords the surly youth a little more dignity than I would have expected, painting him as a political exile from
a planet called Trion, and putting him in a position that at first calls the Doctor’s dilemma in The War Games to mind. In fact, Mark Strickson’s heroic performance marks probably the most affecting companion departure of Peter Davison’s tenure; it certainly puts Kamelion’s utterly unmoving death scene to shame.
Having finally accepted that the technical problems associated with the Kamelion prop were insurmountable, at Nathan-Turner’s behest the Doctor’s android companion was also for the chop – the sixth Doctor’s era would be a veritable clean sweep. I’ve always thought it a pity that the difficulties with Kamelion couldn’t have been overcome because the idea behind the character is so fascinating, and Planet of Fire (rather ironically) shows just how effective the character could be. With hindsight, I suspect that killing Kamelion off was more of a cathartic measure for the cast and crew than it was a dramatic gesture. Having the Doctor reluctantly put the writhing robot out its misery with the Master’s bulbous weapon is admittedly a neat and potentially stirring end, but given everyone’s feelings about Kamelion it inevitably falls flat.
“Silver puppet dancing on a string. String cut.”
But Kamelion isn’t the only character for whom the bell tolls... at least, that was the intention.
At the end of this serial the Master is burned alive; an excruciating death, even for him. And believe it or not, with Anthony Ainley’s contract at an end, this really was intended to be the final end for the renegade, hence his tantalisingly foreshortened last words “won’t you even show mercy to your own-”, the connotations of which are still debated amongst fans to this day. Of course, the Master’s death proved to be as much of a “final end” for the character
as the Daleks’ “final end” in The Evil of the Daleks did - the Master would return in the very next season, disguised as a Scarecrow and apparently none the worse for wear!
Nevertheless, Planet of Fire is such a significant story for the Master that the DVD devotes
a thirteen-minute featurette to the life of the actor who brought his 1980s incarnation to life. Remembering Anthony Ainley is essentially a ten-minute interview with Ainley filmed at what looks like a convention, bookended with a brief bit of biog. Ainley is riveting to listen
to, really making me laugh with his speech about taking the cheque after each Who shoot, going home and getting in the bath, “cleansing” himself, and then praying for forgiveness! Still, the lack of non-Who clips is lamentable, as I was keen to see Ainley playing someone other than the Master, but there is at least a still or two to give us the flavour of his non-Who work.
Above: Remembering Anthony Ainley
Overall, the lavish two-disc release boasts a magnificent array of bonus material, including
a sixty-six minute movie edition of the serial overseen by original director Fiona Cumming. Much like last year’s Enlightenment special edition, this director’s cut sees the story cut down dramatically, re-framed in 16:9, and then built up again with new CG effects. It’s not
as impressive an offering as Enlightenment was though, sadly. Whilst it is certainly much faster, with almost forty minutes excised (almost ten minutes more than Enlightenment), some of the cuts feel far too tight; even clumsy. Just look at the TARDIS materialisation in Lanzarote, for instance. Similarly, the 16:9 framing is inevitably a little close; as Cumming couldn’t add to the existing 4:3 frame in the way that she did with Enlightement’s new CG space race shots, she’s had to zoom in on what she already had all the way through, which
is hardly panoramic and no better than a modern television’s zoom feature. Worse still, the tacked-on pre-title sequence is, to use my wife’s words, “horribly contemporary”. I love the
idea of it, but the execution is poor. Most damningly of all though, the whole movie seems
to be devoid of incidental music, giving it the feel a rough cut. Indeed, at times it’s only the ubiquitous CG flames that set the special edition apart from daily rushes.
Above: Planet of Fire: The Movie
The Flames of Sarn is much more successful, albeit far less extraordinary. It’s a particularly interesting feature, crammed with amusing Lanzarote anecdotes (Edward Highmore driving Peter Wyngarde’s jeep over the edge of a cliff, Mark Strickson almost missing the flight and forgetting all his clothes), the customary John Nathan Turner / Eric Saward backbiting (this time courtesy of a selection of Nathan Turner’s audio-memoir clips) and, of course, lots of talk about bikinis. And as ever, for those who’d rather hear about such things as they go, the DVD commentary features most of the documentary’s contributors, and covers much of the same ground - a little bit more candidly too.
The rest of the material is aimed at the completists, really. We’ve got Return to the Planet
of Fire, which sees the director and a couple of crewmembers wander around contemporary Lanzarote for fifteen minutes (what an excuse for a free holiday!); an eight-minute look at the production from the director’s point of view, which boasts a soundtrack that encompasses Take That, Razorlight and – obviously - Culture Club; more deleted and extended scenes than you can shake a stick at; and a five-minute featurette looking at the serial’s unique look with its original designer Malcolm Thornton. There’s even a surprisingly colourful trailer for The Dominators, for those who like to see what’s in the pipeline.
“Doctor, I’ll plague you to The End of Time for this...” (and he will!)
On the whole, both Planet of Fire and its lavish DVD release come highly recommended. Whilst both have their flaws, these are easily outweighed by the glut of positives – after all, who can resist the allure of a scantily-clad Peri, a miniature Master, and a Doctor in braces sauntering down the beach?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
A number of an audio dramas and novels take place between Tegan’s departure at the end of Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire. However, the Doctor’s very first line in Planet of Fire is “Daleks! I sometimes think those mutated misfits will terrorise the universe for the rest of time”, perhaps suggesting that this story follows Resurrection directly. However, Turlough’s follow up line “Doctor, you’re becoming obsessed” seems
to be a clear indication that this isn’t the first time that they’ve had this conversation since Resurrection.
We therefore posit that the Doctor and Turlough were, as people do, talking about what had been happening to them recently, when the Doctor went off on one (again) about his best enemies.
Another explanation would be that immediately prior to Planet of Fire, the Doctor and Turlough encountered the Daleks again in some unseen adventure, causing memories of Resurrection to come flooding back, Tegan and all.
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