In the midst of a cold, dark British winter there is nothing better than to curl up on the settee and watch an adventure set in a hot, sunny location. Aside from the arid landscape of Lanzarote matched to the initial and most appropriate haunting, slightly spiritual incidental music Planet of Fire has much more to offer the causal armchair tourist.
Since joining the TARDIS crew in the previous season, the character of Turlough has managed to retain a sense of mystery about his past thus making him one of the more interesting male companions that the series has featured. Although long since freed from his contract with the Black Guardian there remains that element of doubt regarding his trustworthiness and his tendency to invariably put his own interests before others. With this story slated as being Turloughs last it was clear that the characters background had to be clarified prior to his departure. It is therefore more about his voyage of discovery and resolution to his situation that is the main factor of the story. All other plot developments whilst being enjoyable and offering a valued contribution to the overall appeal of the story are, I feel, rather secondary to that objective.
Whilst attempting to program an alpha rhythm on the TARDIS console to calm the other companion, the android Kamelion, it is the receipt of a distress call from Trion that clearly distresses the young man. This first link to his past results in violent action and his destruction of the communication equipment reawakens an element of distrust between Turlough and the Doctor. We then later in the episode have the discovery of a metal cylinder which bears a mysterious double triangle emblem on the screw top. This design (a smaller solid triangle set across the base line of a larger hollow triangle) which matches the one to be found on Turloughs upper left arm, we are later informed is the Misos triangle, apparently a mark of a very special Trion prison planet prisoner. Now, at this point I do find it a little hard to believe that this metal cylinder from the alien planet of Trion found its way, of all places, into an archaeological site submerged in the sea off the island of Lanzarote. In the context of the story, I suppose, its just another unexplained puzzle of history but at least its another good excuse to use this exotic location.
Again from Turloughs perspective the discovery, during the second episode, of equipment from his fathers ship strewn around the primitive Sarn residents great hall adds a further piece of family history as does the subsequent visit to the wreckage of a crashed Trion ship. It is in the fourth episode that we eventually learn of the Civil War that raged on his home planet of Trion, a war that led to the death of his mother, of his father and brother to leave, eventually landing, it now appears, on Sarn and for Turlough himself to begin a term of exile on Earth. Unlike the third Doctor he did not have the diversion of working for UNIT and this might have, in part, contributed to his sense of desperation at his fate and eventual capitulation to the Black Guardians proposal of conditional escape. As the story progresses the clarification of Turloughs background becomes even more linked with the people of Sarn.
Right from the opening scenes of the story it becomes clear to the viewer that they are a divided people. The more rational unbeliever pairing of Roskal and Amand are seen walking purposely across a high ridge surrounded by a desolate mountainous landscape. While Roskal starts to weaken as they begin their final ascent it is Amand, displaying leadership qualities, who persuades him on in their quest to disprove the existence of their god Logar who is believed to exist at the heart of the mountain they are currently climbing. Whilst they toil we then switch to the other faction. Two other Sarn residents, again dressed in simple desert clothing, rough cloth capes and head scarfs, are talking in simple palatial surroundings (possibly in the story context, a holy temple?) which hints at the Moroccan architectural style which I suspect is common to the island of Lanzarote judging by its proximity to the African continent. The elder man, Timanov, is clearly steeped in religious beliefs concerning Logar (The Lord of Fire) and sees himself as a spiritual leader who is guided by those select individuals whom he sees as Chosen Ones who have come amongst them to do the will of Logar. One such individual, Malkon, clearly indicates his uncertainty in leading and uniting his people. He seeks reassurance during their conversation which later sees them move outside of the impressive looking Mirador del Rio (a high observation point) to survey the panoramic scenery laid out before them. It is here during their conversation, that we first observe the as yet undefined twin triangle symbol on Malkons arm. It is because of this, coupled with his appearance on the side of the mountain that Roskal and Amand were currently climbing that identifies in Timanovs eyes (and those of his followers) the young man as their leader who will act with the power of Logar. I find this scene coupled with that moving piece of incidental music to be a memorable moment, a tranquil calm before the plot develops further.
In a later scene we move to verbal conflict between Amand and Timanov in the communities main hall when the former returns from the mountain having been unable to locate Logar thus supporting his claim that it is merely a superstitious myth. This thus emphasizes that there is already internal conflicts even before the arrival of outsiders. Of those outsiders Turloughs interaction with the Sarn residents is the most interesting and revealing. This is especially true when he reveals the twin triangle symbol to Timanov. Mark (Strickson) responds well to the challenge of his characters new found leadership and at this point credit is also due the storys leading guest star. More famous as flamboyant detective Jason King (from the self titled short-lived series and its Department S predecessor) respected actor Peter Wyngarde gives a believable and resolute performance as Timanov and is a welcome bonus to this story.
Although Turlough, in the first TARDIS scene, was successful in halting the distress call from Trion, the Doctors curiosity was raised enough for their exploration of Lanzarote. Whilst the arid conditions of this tropical island (and the volcanic planet of Sarn) leads the Doctor to remove his long cricketers coat and briefly adopt a rather restrained floral cardigan with pockets for the coins (later to be used in a seaside bar) and the small handheld tracking device Turlough has a more welcome costume change. Finally he has the chance to ditch the Brendon Public School uniform that he seems to have been wearing almost continuously since Mawdryn Undead and instead wears a more appropriate pair of shorts and a thin striped short sleeved shirt. Had their search of the island not have occurred the introduction of Peri would undoubtedly not have taken place. It is indeed a promising beginning for the character whom we first meet in a seemingly bored state at the prospect of having to vacation on the island with her mother for much longer when she clearly is looking for more excitement than what appears to be on offer. This is probably, in part, stimulated by observing her interest in her stepfather Howards involvement in an underwater archaeological survey. Beginning with Professor Howard Foster and assistant Curts conveying their latest haul to the shore, we learn a lot about the young American girls personal history and plans for the future. The vacation is merely a brief break prior to returning to New York to continue her studies and eventual college exams. Clearly unhappy at the prospect her hope is obviously to live a little before knuckling down to this seemingly arduous endeavour. There is talk of recklessly considering a trip to nearby Morocco, cashing in her return ticket to pay for this trip in the vain hope that she would be able to find work there for the return flight to America. Howard tricks her into believing that he would finance this seemingly spur of the moment trip and strands her on their boat. At this point the real Howard leaves the story. Whilst there Peri discovers the strange metallic cylinder, and, with placing it into a sealed plastic bag containing most of her clothes, dives off the boat, in a vain attempt to swim to the shore. Having grossly miscalculated the distance to be traversed she is observed to be in trouble by Turlough on the TARDIS scanner screen. Clearly irritated by the distraction he glances up thumping the console in frustration before rushing out, down the beach, stripping off, diving in and gallantly swims to save her. Having brought her back to the TARDIS and deposited her on a bed located away from the console room it is then that he discovers the cylinder amongst her possessions.
Now I know that Kamelion was an extremely problematic concept for a companion and that regular cast members were very disparaging towards the use of it but I did find that it made an enjoyable contribution to its first appearance in The Kings Demons story. As a chameleonic entity its true appearance in that story was only seen towards the end as a surprise development and then only in a seated position. Of course with no free will of its own and an extreme susceptibility to external influences its presence on the TARDIS was a bit like a time bomb waiting to go off. It was a beautiful creation, however, when standing infront of the console it was hard to believe that this entity had the ability to move of its own will, it just seemed too thin for that, but maybe thats just my opinion. Anyway it seemed only a matter of time before the mechanical puppets strings would be pulled once more, and, influenced by Peris restless dreaming, it assumed the identity of Professor Howard Foster. Kamelion held this form just long enough to persuade the Doctor and Turlough to vacate the TARDIS once landed on Sarn and then, at the climax of episode one, it reverted to the striking features of the Master, albeit minus the Traken robes of Tremas. With a temporary loss of control achieved Peri is given a component from the TARDIS and flees in search of the Doctor and Turlough. The Master/Kamelion entity gives chase with some initial heavy-shouldered running by the suited figure before a memorable spirited confrontation ensues when Peri is eventually cornered by her pursuer.
For myself, I am a great fan of Anthony Ainleys portrayal of the Master, an impressive new aspect of the Doctors nemesis, superbly introduced by Roger Delgado back in 1971s Terror of the Autons. Over the eight years that he occasionally returned to play the character I enjoyed the contrasting aspect that Anthony brought to the role. In this incarnation the Master clearly relishes each dastardly act he perpetrates and the verbal sparing he has with each incarnation of the Doctor that he encounters is, for me, a joy to watch. For this story however, things are a little different as we are aware that, for the most part he acts through Kamelion. Despite this the confrontational sparing match occurring at the crossover between the second and third episodes is worthy of the true Master. This Master also gains the same perverted pleasure in stirring up descent amongst the locals against the Doctor leading to the accidental injury of Malkon by a trigger hungry citizen. The true Traken robed Master is, for most of the story, to be seen standing in a small square room, a darkly green lit environment in which the bearded figure stares through Kamelion via a circular screen slightly above him. Attached by a curved metal stem, a shallow glass dish is positioned over his head, with four metal prongs protruding inwards towards the skull of the Master thus further emphasizing his mental control over Kamelion.
Again we had a repetition of the mental battle of wills in episode three between the Doctor and the Master as previously witnessed in The Kings Demons when it is revealed that this is infact Kamelion who stands before him in the communities main hall. This time there is a psychomorphic fringing effect (a stage between anthropoid and robotic) however in this instance, with Timanov in attendance, the spiritual leader clearly sees the silver skinned figure as another manifestation of Logar which works against the Doctor in this instance and the combat is concluded in the Masters favour.
There is, this time, clearly a purpose behind the Masters appearance in this story which may possibly be linked to the Doctors tampering with the Tissue Compression Eliminator in conjunction with his TARDIS at the conclusion of The Kings Demons. It is possible that this might in part have resulted in his reduction in size as discovered by Peri when she opens the Masters control box at the episode three/four crossover point. Whatever the reason it was an effective cliffhanger. By using the seismic control centre deep in the mountain it appears to be possible to alter the gas flow of the main volcano so that a blue numisation gas can be produced. Clearly this has a restorative capability as the seriously injured Malkon is cured during the fourth episode. For this reason the Kamelion/Master and Peri materialised the Masters TARDIS in the control room deep in the heart of the Sarn volcano where Peri gains a demonstration of the destructive capabilities of the Tissue Compression Eliminator device on two of the three protective suits hanging up on a nearby rack. Now the understanding is that this device only works on human tissue and it does indeed seem puzzling that the suits are affected by its use. My opinion is that whilst wearing these suits the occupants might have lost some skin, rough material in the lining perhaps, due to the heat of wearing something so restricting and warm. Its only a theory but this might be what the TCE locks onto. Whatever the reason it was an effective means of gaining Peris compliance to the Kamelion/Masters wishes. Having positioned the TARDIS and Masters control box in the middle of an adjacent grid the brief blue flame that was created seemed to be working for the Master though once again we are left wondering his ultimate fate at the conclusion of the story.
As with the second Doctor in the epic, enjoyable War Games story Turlough does find it unsettling to contact his own people for assistance, anxious regarding further punishment. However when the rescue ship does arrive towards the end of the story he learns from the Trion ships Captain that not only has the war ended but also that there is no longer persecution of political prisoners and he is now free to return. Naturally his departure is much less emotional than that of Tegans in the previous story but at least it seems like some of the emotional burden that Turlough had been carrying since his exile to Earth may be beginning to lift as he embarks on his new life. With Turloughs departure the pairing of the Doctor and Peri, the outgoing botany student, gives the show a new dynamic going into the final Davison story and beyond.
Planet of Fire may have faults and cannot really be termed a classic, but I feel it is certainly successful in blending effective use of a pleasing exotic location with an entertaining cast. It conveys an enjoyable story featuring various plot developments and makes it worthy of repeat viewings, especially on those days when our British weather just makes you want to escape to better climates. It is certainly one of my favourite stories from the Peter Davison era of the program which I can certainly recommend to any reader of this review.
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'Planet of Fire' is decidedly odd. Writer Peter Grimwade is given numerous ingredients to incorporate into his scripts, and as in 'Mawdryn Undead' he does this rather well; whereas in that story he had to cope with the Brigadier, the Black Guardian and a new companion, here he has to write out Turlough, tie up the dangling plot thread that it Kamelion, introduce new companion Peri, and include the Master. Given these criteria, it is impressive that he manages to create a coherent plot at all; that he manages to give Turlough a decent back story and provide the Master with his best story in some time is a minor miracle.
Turlough's final story sees his past revealed, as we discover that he is a political prisoner from Trion, exiled to Earth following a civil war. The story serves him well, and Mark Strickson puts in a fine last performance as Turlough comes to terms with his past. Initially, he's shifty and deceitful, as the TARDIS intercepts a signal from a Trion beacon; he sabotages the TARDIS, misleads the Doctor, and is more than willing to "finish" Kamelion to prevent his people from finding him. As the story progresses though, his more heroic side emerges, as he realises that Malkon is his brother and places the safety of the people of Sarn above his own continued freedom. Strickson conveys throughout the fact that Turlough is wrestling with his conscience, and it works very well; his eventually discovery that his exile has been rescinded nicely finishes off his story, as he returns home whilst, as the Doctor puts it, he's a "bit of a hero". And he is indeed, a bit of hero; after the TARDIS arrives on Sarn, he gradually accepts responsibility for the safety of its people, whose fiery planet was tamed by the Trions so that they could use it as a prison colony, and it is Turlough's understanding of the remaining Trion technology that allows him to save Malkon's life, and save the people of the settlement. His final scene, as he parts company with the Doctor, is a great moment; the quiet friendship and mutual respect between them is perfectly summed up by Turlough's reluctance to leave the Doctor, and the Doctor's quiet declaration that he'll miss him. And given that he describes Brendan School as "the worst place in the universe" it's nice to see him finally change out of that bloody uniform!
The other departing TARDIS crewmember is of course Kamelion. Having been introduced as plot contrivance in 'The King's Demons', behind the scenes difficulties with the prop meant that Kamelion did nothing except lurk unseen in the TARDIS until 'Planet of Fire'. Craig Hinton and Christopher Bulis may have made use of him since (in 'The Crystal Bucephalus' and 'Imperial Moon' respectively), but he did nothing whatsoever on screen during that time. Following on from his introduction, Kamelion is once more used as a tool of the Master, who reestablishes contact with his puppet and uses him to lure the TARDIS to Sarn. As such, Kamelion is once more used as little more than an instrument by the Doctor's old enemy, and spends most of the time played by Anthony Ainley or Dallas Adams. Kamelion gets a rough time throughout the story; it was established in 'The King's Demons' that he can't resist the Master, but circumstances on Sarn mean that he doesn't even get sympathy from the Doctor, who refers to him as a puppet and generally belittles him in an attempt to overthrow the Master's control. Eventually, the Doctor is forced to induce the equivalent of a heart attack in Kamelion in order to stop his old enemy. But to his credit, Grimwade does at least give Kamelion some characterisation of his own; the scene in Episode Two in which he desperately shakes off the Master's influence just long enough to allow Peri to escape and try to reach the Doctor shows that he is not a willing servant of the Master. His final scene is also rather tragic, as he pitifully apologizes to the Doctor and begs to be destroyed.
With Turlough departing and Kamelion destroyed, the Doctor is provided with a new companion in the form of Peri. The lingering shot of Nicola Bryant in a bikini in Episode One leaves little doubt as to what John Nathan-Turner was looking for in the role, obviously hoping to appeal to the heterosexual male audience, but fortunately the character comes across as more than just a pair of assets. Her decision to swim ashore when her stepfather Howard leaves her trapped on the boat in Episode One is foolhardy but brave, but where she really shines is in her scenes with the Master (or rather, Kamelion as the Master), to whom she causes considerable inconvenience. Her response to the Master's "I am the Master!" is, rather amusingly, "So what? I'm Perpugilliam Brown and I can shot just as loud as you can!" and later on she interferes with his attempts to harness the numismaton gas of Sarn both by interfering with his control of Kamelion and by attempting to swat him with her shoe. The character also works well with Peter Davison's Doctor, and her decision to travel voluntarily with him at the end promises a keen and enthusiastic traveler on board the TARDIS. Which doesn't last of course, but that's another story And Bryant's accent, famously convincing enough to fool John Nathan-Turner, is pretty good.
The other recurring character who plays a role in 'Planet of Fire' is of course the Master. His reduced circumstances mean that here is motivation is once more survival rather than a sudden desire to tinker with the boring bits of Earth history, and it is very welcome. Without the need for ludicrous survival, his appearance (via Kamelion) at the end of Episode One, is for once very effective, since he isn't revealed to have been posing as somebody else for no apparent reason. I addition, Anthony Ainley reigns in his performance to considerable effect; bereft of constant gloating and chuckling, he's far more sinister and intimidating than he is in his usual pantomime mode. He looks utterly mad when he says to Peri "allow me to introduce the tissue compression eliminator", for once seeming like a real lunatic rather than some moustache twirling stereotype. Best of all, the relationship between the Doctor and the Master here is handled far better than usual; the Doctor's tolerance for the Master is at an all time low, as demonstrated when he tells Turlough that if he is withholding anything that will aid the Master then their friendship is at an end. Davison's performance reflects this, as he puts in a far more testy performance than usual once he discovers the Master's involvement, and as noted he takes out his dislike for the Master on poor old Kamelion. Grimwade deserves a medal for the final confrontation between the two Time Lords, as the Doctor stands and watches his old enemy seemingly burnt to a crisp without lifting a finger to help him even when he starts begging. It is exactly how the Doctor should react after the carnage unleashed during 'Logopolis' and works far better than his concern for his enemy in 'The King's Demons'.
As for the rest of the story and characters, they are all window dressing. The background to the settlement on Sarn is adequate, if vaguely reminiscent of 'The Face of Evil', but the actual characters are largely forgettable. Malkon is only worthy of note because he's Turlough's brother. Timanov is an utter cliché, a stock religious fundamentalist who is more than happy to burn heretics; however, near-legendary Peter Wyngarde brings a certain dignity to the role, and Timanov's decision to die with his settlement seems strangely noble rather than futile. Dallas Adams switches from jovial but parental America scientist Professor Howard Foster to slightly creepy silver skinned android quite well and it's so unusually to see an actual American inDoctor Who that it deserves mentioning.
The production is competent, if unmemorable. The Lanzarote location work looks nice, although it only really benefits episode one; Sarn quite frankly could have been filmed in a gravel pit in Surrey. There are some good sets, especially the control room in the volcano, although the Great Hall of Fire and secondary control centre for the cave look very artificial. Mind you, director Fiona Cumming performs minor wonders; a miniature Master is a potential recipe for CSO flavoured disaster, but she makes it work very well in Episode Four. And as usual, Peter Howell provides a very good incidental score. Overall, the unusual nature of 'Planet of Fire' means that it could never be a classic, but is a reasonably successful story, albeit one that feels more like an attempt by the production team to tidy up the series before Peter Davison's impending departure than a story in its own right.
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The penultimate story of the Davison era, Planet of Fire is an fairly entertaining four part romp which wasnt as good as it could have been. However it does execute its main agendas competently (the reappearance of the Master, the exits of Turlough and Kamelion, and the introduction of an new companion Peri), but it cannot be regarded as one of the highlights of the Davison era.
The location overseas filming on Lanzarote is nice if slightly bland, although it is clearly obvious that the locations on Sarn quite clearly appear to be the same as those of Earth.
The adventure starts off in the vein of most mid 80s serials, with lengthy scenes inside the TARDIS, with the Doctor still distressed about the events of Resurrection of the Daleks, and Turlough being disturbed by an distress signal of Trion origin, an recurring theme throughout this story, with Turlough being forced at the near end to finally stop running from his people.
Another recurring theme is Kamelion and the Masters usage of the robot throughout the story as an slave.
You dont know why the Master is forced to use Kamelion until later on at the cliff hangar to episode three, with the big payoff as the rogue Time Lord is seen miniaturized inside an control box of his TARDIS. The interior of the Masters TARDIS is disappointing, clearly being the same version of the Doctors but painted black instead of white.
I also found the plot fairly tiring and confusing at times, the natives of Sarn appear to be shallow and rather dull people, being led by Timanov, an pompous and fanatical religious leader.
It is also unclear whether newcomer Peri is actually in fear of her step father Howard, whom appears as one of Kamelions guises throughout the story.
Nicola Bryant does make an very good debut as Peri, and her infamous Bikini scene in Part One is in context, and adds much needed drama and increases the tempo of an slow episode when she is seen to be drowning, and Turlough has to go out and rescue her, one of the first times on the series where we get to see this normally cowardly and selfish character risk his life to save another.
Another observation for me is that in this story the 5th Doctor really lacked the strength and presence of the 3rd and 4th Doctors, and a lot of the time it is Turlough who is the commanding authoritative figure. Mark Strickson for mine puts in one of his best performances as Turlough whom finally faces up to his destiny and becomes an real leader for the first time, helping the survivors and his brother Malkolm return to Trion.
Another performer who excelled in this story was the late Anthony Ainley, easily giving his best performance as the Master since Logopolis with an classy and menacing performance as the Kamelion-Master for most of the story, and I do agree with the sentiments that the 80s Master looked far better in a business suit than that silly penguin outfit he was forced to wear so often.
With all those elements taken into account, this story should have come across as exciting and fast paced, but sadly due to an number of factors, the thinness of Peter Grimwades script (I think it lacked enough substance to sustain it for the four episodes) and the rather drab and uninspiring direction by Peter Moffat (just compare the direction of Planet of Fire to the following story The Caves of Androzani and see what I mean !!!) and some bland acting from some of the extras (although Peter Wyngarde is superb as the fanatical Sarn elder Timanov) and the general impression I get is one of disappointment. This story had the potential to be so much better, I think too much was made of the natives of Sarn worshipping Logar and the concept of the natives worshipping technology was covered far better in Face of Evil.
Its saving grace however is the nice and fitting departure of Turlough, and contains one of the best performances of the series of the late, great Anthony Ainley, and is an great tribute to his considerable acting talents.
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I've had Planet Of Fire on video now for about five years but this is only the third time I've ever watched it. While it's by no means below average, I've always found it quite hard to work up much enthusiasm for it and I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe it's the slightly shaky way that Peter Grimwade imposes his usual complexities on what is really a very straight story: he is restricted from stretching out too far, like he did with Mawdryn Undead, by the need for his story to do certain things like write out Turlough and Kamelion and write in Peri. Having said that, his first script Time-Flight shows that there is such a thing as overstretching. Anyway, the story itself...
One of the most common criticisms of this story is that the planet Sarn looks suspiciously like Lanzarote. I don't have that much of a problem with this specifically; my problem is that both Sarn and Lanzarote look like quarries. Expensive quarries, I grant you, and exotic, but still quarries. Then again, I suppose if they'd stuck to Dorset they'd never have had the scope to show off their new Bond-girl companion's assets. Fair's fair though, I have to say that Nicola Bryant makes a promising debut here (although her accent veers about uncontrollably) as she's written to be a much more proactive character; the following season it would just be two whingers whinging*.
The first episode begins with yet another backwards-religion-with-token-anarchist-who'll-side-with-the-Doctor-and-eventually-end-up-in-charge set up, but in fairness the dissenters are a well-written attempt at showing how the religion has developed over time as opposed to coming from the stockpile of rationalists like all the others. Also, the character of Timanov is supremely well acted by Peter Wyngarde.
Typically Grimwade-esque touches appear, such as mysterious alien touches blended into a normal Earth setting, and having apparently disparate elements that won't come together until later. In the case of Planet Of Fire it is the Trion artefact that has managed to find itself in a shipwreck, which is never properly explained. The fact that it has no bearing on the plot except to get Peri into the TARDIS does make it appear a rather cheap and lazy tool to introduce the new companion, but it's better than the usual method of "wow, a police box, I think I'll go inside" and it does help to generate the effective sense of mystery that sustains the first episode as it's linked with Turlough's hitherto unseen marking (a slight writer's liberty I feel) that actually looks quite painful. I should just mention at this point that the scene where Turlough rescues Peri form drowning is very well directed, with lots of quick cuts making it seem genuinely action packed. Then again, although it's not my field, for the female / gay audience out there I'm not sure how the sight of Mark Strickson in his Y-fronts compares with Captain Jack getting defabricated in Bad Wolf.
The TARDIS scenes are better than average in this story as the departure of Janet Fielding has greatly relieved the overcrowding problem (two's company, she's a crowd) that the TARDIS suffered from during Peter Davison's tenure. Also, it's interesting to note that the Doctor has changed his clothes for the first time in three years ("no time to wash, I've got a universe to save"). It's not significant, and frankly I'd take his usual costume over that waistcoat that seems to have been made out of a lampshade, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. There are a few points of genuine interest, such as the fact that Turlough's suddenly come over all shifty again like he did in the Guardian trilogy, and also that Kamelion is treated as if he's been in every episode so far. A season on and he's still as crude as ever; at least with K9 they managed to update him a bit between seasons 15 and 16. He really is inept here, far too crude to function as a character as the prop has no means of expression other than a few basic movements. In order for it to have been a success they should have stuck to just using the voice (like with K9) instead of attempting genuine animatronics. The production team only had him in this story because they didn't get away with him just disappearing after The King's Demons and as a character he's a lot to impose on any writer; Grimwade does well in the circumstances by having him spend much of his time as the hybrid shape shifter struggling to maintain the shape of Peri's stepfather Howard. By the way, how rubbish is it giving a stepfather a name like Foster?
Anyway, with all the Earth-elements together Dr. Hero, Mr. Shifty and Miss American-Eye-Candy set off for Sarn (notice how Peri's hair is immaculate when she wakes up from unconsciousness) and it is only now that a few plot points come together, although a lot is still left unexplained across the episodes. They all arrive on Sarn - and how thick is the makeup on the location scenes? Blimey, there's controversy on the new series about all the innuendo with Captain Jack, but it's 1984 and the Doctor's a transvestite! The twist introduction of the Master is a genuine surprise (unless you happen to have the video with a big picture of Anthony Ainley on it), but then again it's always disappointing to see the Master mugging like a loon as it's clear from episodes like Survival that Ainley is not a bad actor. Further Master scenes in part two actually show the Master being quite intense. Reports say that this is how he wanted it to be, but John Nathan-Turner, with his infallible eye for taste and style, ordered him to camp it up. This conflict of interests plays out on screen, but in the circumstances I can put it down to Kamelion's instability.
The second episode is really a big runaround between Kamelion and Peri, with Turlough's edginess the only thing that maintains the tension in an episode where nothing much happens: it's episode three come twenty-five minutes early. Ainley is given very moody dialogue by a sympathetic writer and the episode in general is very well acted, but on the whole it feels padded out (notice the one paragraph it gets here as opposed to the six the first episode gets). I do like the scene where Timanov finds Kamelion wandering in a daze and believes him to be the Outsider: all together now, he's a Star--maaaaaaan...
Episode three continues the formulaic feel with yet another doom laden exchange between the Doctor and the Master. Turlough is given above average characterisation - even in their last stories it was rare for companions to be so motivated - but with each revelation about his past the episode gets a bit more contrived, although it's minute compared to that artefact taken by Peri in part one. Also, I should say that Edward Highmore looks nothing like Mark Strickson, even though they are supposed to be brothers.
The volcano begins to erupt and we see the TARDIS is again used indiscriminately, a problem the plagued the Davison era, with the Sarn natives being let in to see the sights and just because a polystyrene pillar came down. That, it has to be said, is the kind of effect that hasn't improved since Ixta struggled with a weightless slab in season 1's The Aztecs.
This episode is more interesting though as it presents the first new ideas since the first part, like the god Logar really being a space suited man and the idea of numismaton gas. It strikes me as odd that this gas, which is the whole point of the plot, is only mentioned now. The Doctor only takes note when it comes pouring out the top of a mountain (a nice effect), which I would imagine would be hard to ignore. The cliffhanger is a good twist and shows some quality CSO, bit is let down by some unusually naff dialogue (for this episode, anyway) given to the Master. These paragraphs are getting thinner and thinner aren't they? It just goes to show how little of substance actually happens in these middle episodes.
Episode four sees the typical Grimwade complications coming thick and fast, but they just about come together. There are still big plot holes though, like how the numismaton gas changes back to normal fire. I'm usually generous towards Doctor Who, so I'll say it just about hangs together even though it is hard to take the Master seriously in his Lilliput form. The scene where three people look down on him is well matted, but the combination of film and video always looks a bit dodgy. The use of stock footage of a volcano is generally good but no effort is made to tally it with the location shooting, so rivers of lava appear and disappear. Also, in another Grimwade trademark, Kamelion is defeated by pretentious technobabble. The Master is destroyed utterly, but neither for the first or last time...
After the introductions in part one it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything to say about Planet Of Fire. By no means a bad story - it could have been terrible given the massive requirements imposed on the writer - it serves simply to write out an old companion and introduce a new. It does that well enough, but it can itself only be called average.
*And a partridge in a pear tree.
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