Target novelisation
Doctor Who - Dragonfire

Author Ian Briggs Cover image
Published 1989
ISBN 0 426 20322 4
First Edition Cover Alistair Pearson

Back cover blurb: When the Doctor and Mel arrive in the Space Trading Colony, Iceworld, the Doctor can feel that there is mischief afoot. And he and Mel don't have to wait long before they discover the culprit, for there in the Refreshment Bar they meet up with that old intergalactic rogue, Sabalom Glitz. Glitz is hot on the trail of hidden treasure and the Doctor, keen to do some scientific research, decides to join him. Down into the Ice Passages they go - through the Ice Garden, past the Singing Trees, beyond the Lake of Oblivion - in search of the Dragon's Treasure. But the Doctor and his companions don't know the true worth of this mythical hoard. Only Kane, the most feared man in Iceworld, knows the secret of the Dragonfire...


Chilling! by Andrew Feryok 27/3/09

"We've just time for a quick adventure, and then back in time for tea."
- The Doctor setting off for adventure, Dragonfire, page 24, Chapter 3
I have to admit that this book turned out a lot better than I thought it would, and it had an extreme uphill battle with my personal tastes. There was a long period when I hated Dragonfire so much that I considered it the absolute worst episode of the entire series (this has since been replaced by Delta and the Bannermen). I re-watched the episode prior to reading the book and I still thought it was poorly acted and a complete waste of a good idea. I mean, the Doctor hunting for a lost treasure guarded by an alien dragon on an ice planet. How could you possibly get such an idea wrong! Well, there are problems, and I'll explain them later, but on the whole Ian Briggs does an admirable job trying to salvage this story into a readable and exciting adventure.

Briggs' writing style flows very nicely. There are times when it almost feels like Terrance Dicks when he's simply presenting the episode's script verbatim, but Briggs manages to expand the story enough that those familiar with the story will find new things to enjoy. And those who found the story frustrating may get some of their questions answered.

I was very disappointed that Ian Briggs still did not satisfactorily explain why the Doctor dangles himself from a cliff in the episode one cliffhanger. He tactfully does not make it a chapter cliffhanger, but instead presents it in the normal flow of a chapter, but it still makes the Doctor look incredibly stupid. This is confounded even more when the Doctor and friends hardly scale the cliff at all in order to get around Ice World! On the television screen, they at least use the explanation that Ace has a rope ladder that they use, but Ian Briggs actually removes this device from Ace in the book. The Doctor and Glitz climb down the cliff and then there is a new sequence where Ace and Mel climb down the cliff and nearly knock themselves out with gas when one of Ace's nitro canisters springs a leak. But other than these two sequences, they never use the cliff again. In fact, when the Doctor and Glitz reach the bottom of the cliff, Glitz immediately wants to go back and check on his spaceship! Why didn't he think of that before they went down? And how are they able to get back to the docking bay without using the cliff? It's sort of hinted at that there may be an alternate route somewhere, but why do they bother with the cliff then?

Some of the better aspects of the book are Kane and Ace. Kane is a very chilling villain (no pun intended). He's a rather over-the-top megalomaniac for the story, but his unique ability to freeze people to death with his touch and the way in which he sadistically manipulates people such as Belazs makes him a bit of a different opponent from those seen in this era and especially in this season.

Ace is very well done in the book. She annoyed me on screen with her irritating slang lingo and rebellious nature. But Ian Briggs manages to turn her into a sympathetic character in the book as we are allowed inside Ace's head a lot more. There are also new parts to the story, such as the sequence on the ice cliff with Mel that I mentioned previously, that help to flesh Ace's character out. There is a totally new sequence in which Ace rescues an unconscious Mel from the army of Kane's zombies in the ice cave, or the sequence where Kane offers her a place in his service and it's his message of "do as you're told" which awakens memories that snaps her out of her near decision to join him. Mel by comparison is an extremely bland character whom Briggs barely lavishes any attention on. By the end of the story, you care far more about Ace joining than Mel leaving.

Speaking of Kane's zombies, how does cryogenically freezing someone turn you into a zombie? The idea is incredibly daft. Briggs tries to add an explanation in the novel that the brain synapses are frozen, cutting off conscious thought and making them the tools of Kane. But this makes no scientific sense. If the brain synapses were frozen, their bodies would not function! It would make more sense if Kane had a machine that would control the now-frozen synapses, but we see no such machine. Instead, he merely wakes them up and sets them loose.

I also noticed another plot hole: how is it that Kane was never able to escape Ice World in 3,000 years? I mean, the guy is a prisoner on a spaceport. Let me repeat that. A sadistic criminal genius has been imprisoned on a SPACE PORT! Meaning a place where numerous spaceships travel to enjoy recreation and make way stops. Are you telling me that in 3,000 years Kane was unable to steal a ship and escape? Okay, he can't survive in warm temperatures, but there is plenty of time to convert a ship to his needs especially since he seems to control the port and its security. Okay, then there is the argument about the dragon being his jailor. Huh? This creature stays in the bottommost area of Ice World and is trying to stay away from Kane because he has the key to his spaceship locked in his head. I mean, the dragon isn't exactly hard to kill as his troops demonstrate in the final episode. One laser blast and he's dead. In 3,000 years he wasn't able to kill the dragon? And it seems rather dumb to imprison a dangerous criminal in a spaceport to begin with. That would be like exiling the US's most dangerous criminal to Newark Airport and then leaving him in charge.

Okay ranting over. The little girl is still a complete mystery in this story. Why was she included in the story? Padding? The last part of the book seems to focus on her solely as she becomes lost during the zombie attack on the spaceport. There is a cool new sequence where the little girl stumbles upon Kane's inner chamber and meets him. Kane just dismisses her and goes about his merry way. The girl has no real impact on the story other than showing that the dragon is really a nice guy. But other than that she's just an unnecessarily surreal aspect of a story that's padding out the action.

On the whole, Dragonfire has its problems and I don't think it will ever be my favorite story. Certainly as far as the low standards of Season 24 are concerned, its one of the more watchable stories. I certainly found it more entertaining than Stephen Wyatt's adaptation of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but it is nowhere near in the same league as Remembrance of the Daleks. I have to give it definite points for making me interested in a story that I used to believe was one of the worst Doctor Who stories around. 6/10