Lords of the Storm
The Ultimate Treasure
Planet of Fire
|Dates||Feb. 23, 1984 -
Mar. 2, 1984
With Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Peter Grimwade. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Fiona Cumming. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Turlough, and Peri encounter the Master and a strange prophecy on the planet Sarn which has a strange link with Turlough's past.|
A Review by Carl West 19/12/97
The Doctor (to Turlough): "If you're witholding anything that will help the Master then our friendship ends right here. Is that understood?"
The uneasy, mistrustful relationship between the Doctor and Turlough reaches its dramatic climax in Planet of Fire. Interestingly, their friendship seems stronger than ever by the end of the story when Turlough is making his final departure. I'll have to confess that the plot isn't terribly remarkable, except for Turlough's whole part in the story of course. It was also fun learning that the "very eccentric solicitor in London," previously mentioned in Mawdryn Undead, was in fact a Trion agent sent to keep watch over the exiled Turlough. Peter Davison is in top form as the Doctor-- particularly when we see his troubled reaction to his failure to save the Master in the last episode (he doesn't even try to save the Master, actually). The (near) humanity and accessibility of Davison's Doctor always lent itself well to the slightly more emotional moments in the show-- consider the Doctor's inner struggle in Ressurection of the Daleks when he is given the chance to kill Davros. It is very unfortunate that Peter Davison's portrayal of the Doctor has been so underrated. And doesn't he look so damned dashing in the first episode of Planet of Fire strolling around Lanzarote wearing that fancy vest?
A Review by Crispin Burnham 8/6/99
The story takes place soon after Resurrection of the Daleks (perhaps just after, as the Doctor is still brooding about them), he and Turlough land in on the island of Lanzoroti, where the robot Kamelion is being taken over by the Master. It is here that Peri, an American girl (Nicola Bryant) is saved from drowning by Turlough and she ends up traveling with the three of them to the planet Sarn. This world is on the verge of destruction and the Master is eager to use its demise to repair some major damage to himself.
The guest cast is superb, with such luminaries as Peter Wyndgard (memorable as a "Number 2" in a PRISONER episode) and Hammer veteran Barbara Shelly. And let us not forget, of course, Anthony Ainley as the Master. My only pet peeve is that we never DO know how he survived his apparent demise at the end of this story (the best idea put forth is that this story takes place BEFORE The Five Doctors [in the Master's timeline that is] and the Time Lords snatched him from the jaws of death to bring him to Gallifey for the latter adventure). Other than that, a superb adventure and one worth seeing over and over again.
The Master's finally dead... erm... sort of... by Mike Morris 20/6/99
It's an odd story, Planet of Fire. I've never met anyone who says it's a load of old tosh; in fact, most people think it's very good. And yet, when we discuss the Pantheon of great Who stories, or even chat about the Davison era's finest moments, it doesn't crop up.
Well, I'm afraid I can't change matters there, because it doesn't make my "Greatest Stories" list either. When I rented the thing out (rented! Two quid to watch a Doctor Who story when I've six zillion of the things on video anyway! I ask you...) to settle a nagging question in my mind as to whether Howard Foster died in it or not (he doesn't), I saw it for the first time in two years and found myself wondering why it's not a classic. There are some terrific performances, the location filming is great, and the script is nicely written with a good dollop of religious imagery, which always adds a bit of weight - just look at Kinda.
Maybe it's inconsequential. Nope, can't be. The Master dies, we get a new companion, and find out about Turlough's past, so there's some good stuff here. Is the direction flat, maybe? No, it isn't. Some of the shots are magnificent, and even the potentially comic scenes (the miniature Master wandering around his TARDIS, for example) are professionally done. Davison and Strickson are both superb, Peter Wyngarde is magnificent as Timanov, and there are some of the best scenes of the decade in here. Examples; Turlough's oddly fond leaving scene, the Doctor's indecision as the Master dies in flames, Kamelion's death (only where the hell was he for the past year anyway????), Timanov refusing to leave the planet... and more besides. And Peri wears a swimsuit!
Somehow, though, the whole thing fails to mesh as it should, and we're left with a story that is, as The Discontinuity Guide said, somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
There are obvious flaws. I'm still not sure why the Doctor had to go to Lanzarote, or why there was a Trion beacon there, or what all that stuff about "contact has been made" was about. It's almost as if JNT insisted that Lanzarote had to be in it at the last moment, which is something of a shame. Why didn't the production team have the courage to just use an exotic location as an alien world, without drawing attention to the fact that they'd been there? But these are minor quibbles that only last for the first episode or so, so what's the problem?
Two words. The Master.
The main flaw is plot motivation. This isn't really clear, and the scripting and motivation of the Master is almost entirely to blame for this. For me, the most memorable performance as the Master isn't by Delgado or Ainley, but Peter Pratt's decaying Master in The Deadly Assassin, both sustained and consumed by hatred. Given that the Master is in a similar position here, using the Doctor as a pawn to resurrect himself, we could expect something similar but we don't get it. Neither do we get the suave, rational figure of The Sea Devils, Survival or even Logopolis. Instead we get a mwa-ha-ha-ing comic book villain, like the Joker from the Adam West Batman series. The Master here isn't just silly, he's bloody embarrassing. This is partly due to some ludicrous scripting - the Master has no reason, none at all, to impersonate the Outsider, or indeed to reveal himself to the Doctor. And as for that "I'll hound you to the corners of the universe!" nonsense... oh, shut up and go away. But Anthony Ainley doesn't help by turning in a woefully hammy performance either, and there's moments when the Master is purely sadistic; twisting Peri's arm and burning the inhabitants of Sarn just don't ring true, and leave a sour taste in the mouth. The list goes on.
However, the positives do outweigh the negatives. Peri fans will like this for three reasons. One is that her character is nicely portrayed, likable and compassionate but with an obviously spoiled side, and some moments where she displays both guts and sarcastic wit (shame it couldn't last, eh?). The other two reasons... well, they're welcome additions to the story.
Oddly, given that we get two companions leaving and this was Davison's penultimate story, this doesn't have the end-of-an-era feel of, say, Warriors' Gate. Instead, it's an above-average runaround that looks nice and has some good set-pieces. Good, but not great.
So, the big question; why didn't the Master die? Plausible theories win an animatronic robot that doesn't work properly. Answers on a postcard please.
Missing the point by Ken Wrable 16/5/00
Planet of Fire is in theory fairly promising. There's some nice ideas in it (the use of Kamelion as the Master's surrogate, the revelations about Turlough's past), some impressive location shooting and some fine performances, particularly from Peter Wyngarde and Mark Strickson. But it has to be said that as a whole this story is lumpen and involving. There are just too many little strands of story that never really add up to anything, which is a failing that can be seen in quite a few stories of this period, though in most cases it's papered over rather better than here. The problem is that there is no single strong concept driving the plot. The best Dr Who stories all have at their heart an imaginative and original "what if" scenario (what if plastic could be living/what if the Earth became uninhabitable/what if mankind's development had been shaped by an external force, etc etc) and the details of the plot and the characters all spin off from that central idea. Here we see Dr Who getting dangerously near to soap opera.
You can't ever really nail down what Planet of Fire's really about. The over-riding impression is that it may have been commissioned primarily to join the dots; that is, to provide some explanation for the changes in the TARDIS personnel between the end of Resurrection of the Daleks and the beginning of The Caves of Androzani. And it's a shame really. Having gone to all the trouble of getting a camera crew out to Lanzarote to get some convincing background scenery for once (none of your standard-issue BBC quarries here), you'd have thought that the least John Nathan-Turner and co could have done was to get a script together that really exploited the fire/volcano theme - just think, this could have been a worthy update of Inferno. But instead it all comes off half-assed. There's no real sense of any kind of threat or tension, and the revelation at the end of episode one that yet again it's the Master behind everything just provokes yawning (though at least he gets a slightly less ridiculous costume to wear this time).
Symptomatic of the script problems in this story is the way Peri is introduced, or rather shoe horned, into the programme. She seems fairly irrelevant to what passes as the main plot and spends most of the time looking helpless and screaming. This is not a criticism of Nicola Bryant's acting abilities (she does her best with some distinctly ropey material), but it's regrettable that the character comes off as such a one-dimensional throwback to the clueless Who girls of the Sixties.
So, I'd give this one a miss if I were you, unless you're a keen Peter Davison fan, who does at least turn in his usual reliable and dignified performance as the Doctor.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue... by Andrew Wixon 4/7/00
...and tackling those four somethings in reverse order, the 'something blue' is, obviously, the restorative blue flame of the planet Sarn about which the story (eventually) revolves. As alien worlds go Sarn isn't particularly innovative in Who terms - technology worshipping primitives on a rocky barren world is an idea going way back to Colony in Space, if not further. Sarn's main distinguishing feature is that the quarry it was realised in is on Lanzarote rather than in Gerrard's Cross. A few scenes excepted, there's not much that couldn't have been achieved much closer to TV Centre. The majority of the exceptions fall in Episode One and are actually set on Lanzarote. It's just a shame the first episode seems to be there mainly to contrive Peri's arrival in the TARDIS and to introduce the Howard Foster character, although it seems that Dallas Adams' main role in the production was to act as the Kamelion robot's stand-in and excuse the team from taking it abroad with them. The presence of the Trion beacon on Earth is entirely unexplained in narrative terms and it's a ridiculous coincidence that the Doctor should stumble across an artefact connected with the place he's taken to by force almost straight away.
Something borrowed? The blue flame itself is a steal from Haggard's 'She', both book and film. It's the sort of knowing literary steal that the show did as a matter of routine in the late 70s and the kind of thing the Davison era usually steered well clear of. (As it is the rest of the story doesn't appear influenced by either book or film, lacking Haggard's swashbuckling verve.) On this occasion the only sign of any attempt to make the story work on multiple levels is the vague use of religious imagery - the Trions are the 'Chosen Ones', heretics are burned, the Master hopes to be 'born again' - and as a result Planet of Fire lacks the sense of fun of Androids of Tara or The Horns of Nimon.
Something new? Nicola Bryant of course makes her debut here but apart from a couple of engaging scenes near the start doesn't make a particular impression. Acting opposite Anthony Ainley for most of the story may have something to do with this. Her appearance isn't the only thing looking ahead to Season 22 and the misjudged handling of Colin Baker's Doctor. Davison's taunting of Kamelion in part three ('Servile! Slave!') is startlingly callous but nothing compared to his seemingly-casual execution of the damaged Kamelion at the climax. Could you imagine Tom Baker destroying K9 in a similar situation? I can't.
And, finally, something old. The Master, by now firmly ensconced in his recurring role despite the fact that the team seem to be unable to think of plausible new storylines for the character. I can't think of any other explanation for the staggeringly silly Mini-Master idea. The best thing about the Master in PoF is the suit he wears as Kamelion (if you see what I mean). Well, his initial appearance inside the TARDIS is startling if you're not expecting it and I suppose the Kamelion-as-Master concept is diverting enough. What's a shame is that the Master's domination of the story overshadows a lot of interesting material elsewhere - not Turlough's past and convenient new family, but the Sarns. Peter Wyngarde gives a subtle and moving performance as Timanov, but his martyrdom to his God is barely seen and never commented upon, so keen is the story to get back to the Master. The great Barbara Shelley is almost utterly wasted as Sorasta (and, even more unfairly, seems to be the only speaking character who didn't get to go to the Canaries!). The Master dominates Planet of Fire when he really doesn't deserve to. I'm not criticising Anthony Ainley, the script and direction are equally to blame, but the Master has no credibility left by this point, being little more than a capering, chortling, camp, thinly-written, cartoon megalomaniac. The team should have retired him after this story: he's clearly vapourised in the climax. His reappearance is an insult to the viewer's intelligence, much like the assumption that he's the only element in what could have been a fascinating story that we could possibly be interested in.
The Observer's Guide to Lanzarote by Thomas Jefferson 29/7/00
Two blokes in head scarves are climbing the Lanzarote equivalent of a gravel pit. We can tell they're supposed to be on a different planet because they call each other weird names like Amyand and Roskar (all aliens only have one name), although one of them is the hippy knight from the Young Ones. Groovy.
Meanwhile Jason King is off muttering about how Logar is testing them. He is talking to that drip from Howard's Way whose name here is Malkon, pronounced Malcolm. "Accept what you see and hear and feel all around you. Then your faith will come," advises Jason. Malcolm looks worried. Jason assures him that he is the chosen one. He goes on to shout "Tradition!" so loud it obviously means a lot to him.
"Daleks," says the Doctor, not as loudly but with enough emphasis to suggest he may be swearing. He is bemoaning the fact that he somehow keeps bumping into them. A cry calls him and Turlough away to a robot in another room, which for once actually looks like a robot and not a guy in a metal suit. "Spain!" our metal friend cries, unable to get up. "Point of contact!" It continues to rave, unable to get up. Turlough, looking shifty, rips out a part of the TARDIS before the robot can go on to say "Cucumber buffalo!" or anything else incriminating. It's all to no avail. The robot is taking them somewhere. I reckon it's probably going to be Lanzarote.
On another part of Lanzarote, which in this case is actually playing the part of Lanzarote (or Lanzarotte, according to the sleeve), two foreign types (not from Lanzarote) have worked out that a metal dildo isn't Roman. "Hi," says Peri and her norgs. To her, Eros looks like Elton John and she doesn't like being lectured, that's all. Being experienced in these things, she knows straight away that the dildo isn't Roman.
The TARDIS lands in Lanzarote. Meanwhile, Private Pike, I mean Malcolm, is assuring everybody. "You may have all felt the quaking in the ground," he assures them. "Logar doesn't exist," says some argumentative types. Jason King says he does, and, not having the same argumentative abilities, offers to throw everyone in the fire who doesn't agree with him.
The Doctor and Turlough have found Howard and his haul (though not his Way). Howard gets to say more bad dialogue. "Just like your English Mary Rose", he says proudly, mistaking a Time Lord inquiring about his next emission for a native of the British Isles. The question mark braces should have given him some clue. Turlough, looking shifty, goes back to the TARDIS and does something horrible to the robot. "Aaaarrggghh!" screams the robot horribly, whilst its head drops a few millimetres.
Meanwhile, Peri and her norgs are getting wet so Turlough decides to get wet with her. The exotic bacchianality of Lanzarote is getting to everyone. "Where did you find this?" asks Turlough shiftily, brandishing the dildo at Peri and her norgs. Peri coughs wetly. The Doctor traces the emission back to the dildo, which makes it very advanced. The robot turns into Howard, the TARDIS dematerializes ("Did you do that?" "No," says Turlough shiftily) and they are suddenly "no longer on Lanzarote". Howard says this, after the Doctor and Turlough have wandered off. Peri is, not surprisingly, suspicious of him. Her fears are grounded when Howard, unable to turn up the corners of his mouth when he is laughing, adopts the Beard of Evil to hide it. "I am the Master and you will obey me," he says, confounding expectations. End of Part One.
Jason King and his army of moustachioed Elders are interrupted in the burning of non-believers. A blue box doesn't fit in with his prophesies, but he seems happy nevertheless. "Aaaarrrgggghhh!" screams the robot, its fingers twitching slightly, momentarily turning into a silver-covered Howard, who can project pain more convincingly. The Master returns ("immutably"). "You will come with me or remain in the TARDIS - dead," says the Master unconvincingly, his mind on the heavy polystyrene block which is about to fall on him. Peri runs away, norgs-a-jiggle. Not only is her will strong, but she also knows which part of the TARDIS to steal to immoblise it. In a fit of pique, the Master steals a bit as well. Peter Grimwade likes swapping bits of TARDISes.
The Doctor has never seen Turlough so nervous before, which is really saying something. They meet some arguers and the Doctor wants to know more about Logar, obviously recognising a deux et machina when he hears one. "Have I travelled a billion light years through time and space to be thwarted by this brat?" The Master says things like that when he's getting annoyed. Howard the Robot reverts to the silver paint, which certainly impresses Jason King.
Turlough and Malcolm compare tattoos, The Doctor and the Master compare hatred and someone gets shot with a Quantel Paintbox. "Sacrifice the enemy?" asks Jason hopefully. He orders everyone to be burnt, and seems fit to throw himself in as well. The Doctor isn't impressed by Jason King, not surprising since he's a less convincing version of Chief Orderly Brazen from two stories earlier. People are herded into the flames very slowly. "Continue the burnings!" cries Jason hopelessly. End of Part Two.
"There's been too much killing", screams Jason King in a curious volte face. One guy's been shot and no-one's been burnt. Oh, and Malcom's been shot as well, but that's a good thing, surely. He has to be disappointed with his performance there, Des. The Master and Peri go to his TARDIS. "You do realise this creature is about to do a bunk?" says Peri to a lot of aliens. Jason and the Elders look at her open-mouthed. Inside, the Master introduces Peri to another dildo, but there's no time for that now as Turlough is convincing everybody that he either is or isn't what he seems and the Doctor, for once, is asking his companion what is going on. This entire episode is entirely made up of plot expositions.
The volcano also isn't what it seems. It actually makes the Vitamin C of gases. "Perhaps the Master plans to bottle and sell it?" suggests Turlough, shiftily. The Doctor isn't happy, although he might cheer up when he discovers the Master has been shrunk to the size of an action figure. Peri stares into his box in revulsion. "You will obey me - or die," says the Master. End of Part Three.
Peri and her norgs, who all seem to be coping with things splendidly, isn't intimidated by the tiny Master. "Help me and I'll spare your life," he says desperately. "Come out here and say that?" answers Peri childishly. She needs to grow up as well. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Amyand try to avoid the horrors of stock footage as they look for the Master. Turlough, looking only slightly less shifty, get in touch with both his home planet and his feelings, as he realises that Malcolm is his brother. Ahh.
There's little time left by now. All these plot continuities and companion shiftings have to be completed quickly. The Master needs the gas to return to normal size. Turlough needs to save everybody from the rapidly disintegrating Lanzarote. Jason King needs the error of his ways pointing out - a good scene actually, as he laughs mirthlessly "Another deception, and from a heretic." The Doctor needlessly kills the robot, then needlessly kills the Master, in an all-too-convincing death scene later to be blithely ignored by that sensational duo Pip and Jane Baker, for whom death was no barrier. Bang goes the control panel, signifying the explosion of a planet. Turlough leaves with his bro, Peri leaves with the Doctor. Whoops! That's the TARDIS for you. End of Part Four.
A great story, really well directed, let down by some excruciating dialogue and a bit too much in the plot department (you need to have seen at least two previous stories and glanced at another five more). Acted competently, it passes the hours in a pleasing rush of speedy contrivances and arguments. It's kind of like taking a huge whiff of aerosol deodorant and coming round two hours later wanting more.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 8/12/02
This is a story about transition on multiple levels, about change and the resistance to it.
The argument of superstition versus enlightenment has been a recurring theme in DW. In Planet of Fire, we have Timanov representing Logar the God and the old ways, Amyand on the side of logic and reason. In a nod to The Face of Evil, we see a "primitive" society based on the wreckage of an advanced society.
There is also a transition in TARDIS crews. Tegan has already left, Turlough will leave by the end of PoF and in their place will be on Perpugilliam Brown. The Doctor himself is undergoing a change in his own ideas. He will still get involved, but only on his own terms. By the end of PoF, the Doctor will be involved in two deaths, both by his own hand. He kills Kamelion in the name of mercy, but shows none to the Master as his enemy is destroyed by the flames. The Doctor decides to also take a stand with his companions, warning Turlough that their friendship will be at end at any sign of treachery. It's as if the Doctor is preparing himself for his upcoming regeneration, showing signs of the Doctor he will be. His innate gentleness is slipping away, and he no longer has the compassion to try and make all things right for everyone.
The story in itself is a bit of a throwback to older DW stories. There are nods to The Face of Evil (as mentioned previously), The Ribos Operation, The Masque of Mandragora and Kinda. The battle between enlightenment and darkness is echoed by the champions each side chooses, The Doctor and the Master, and how they each view the universe. The Master is an oppressor of ideas and free thought, as long as there is free thought, he will never be able to rule the universe with an iron hand of fear. The Doctor is his opposite, the liberator of ideas and champion of freedom. It makes sense that this was supposed to be the final battle between these foes. In the end, suppression and superstition are destroyed metaphorically by the death of the Master and within the plot as the Trion arrive to rescue the colonists on Sarn.
Acting all around is solid. Anthony Ainley manages to play it straight for the most part. Peter Davison is, as usual, brilliant. Mark Strickson is wonderful in his final serial. Nicola Bryant is okay (despite the iffy accent in some scenes) in her debut. The guest cast all handle themselves well, with Peter Wyndgarde the best as Timanov.
Planet of Fire is one of Peter Davison's better outings, and a strong set up for his finale in The Caves of Androzani.
A sign of the changing times by Tim Roll-Pickering 17/5/03
Of all the Doctor's companions few have had as mysterious a background as Turlough. Like the Doctor in the 1960s Turlough first appeared in a story involving a school, his origins were barely mentioned but there were several references in subsequent stories to his home planet. Now we discover the truth about him and find out just what drives him in some of the strongest scenes between the Doctor and a companion in the entire series, such as the scene where the Doctor unsuccessfully quizzes Turlough about Trion and then threatens to end their friendship if Turlough is holding back anything that might aid the Master. Due mainly to strong performances from both Mark Strickson and Peter Davison there is a real sense in these scenes that the Doctor feels potentially betrayed and that Turlough is caught in the ultimate dilemma between loyalty to the Doctor and keeping his silence about his true origins.
This story is notable for writing out Turlough, Kamelion and (seemingly) the Master as well as introducing Peri and it has been seen by some as a sign of the approaching end of the Davison years by removing some of its key elements. Turlough's background is sketched out and it is easy to understand him at last and see why he now leaves. Far less effective is the departure of Kamelion. The android has not been seen at all since The King's Demons and could so easily have been forgotten altogether but it is good to see that an attempt is made to use and finish off the character altogether. Peter Grimwade wisely confines the use of the Kamelion prop to some scenes aboard the TARDIS and everywhere else uses the character's shape-shifting abilities to form a half-humanoid form that is far more mobile and functional. But this doesn't really develop the character at all and so he will not be missed at all. But the scene where he asks the Doctor to destroy him and the latter quickly responds by using the Tissue Compression Eliminator is all too rushed. The Master's death is easier to accept, since the Doctor does not directly cause it but instead refuses to try and save his arch foe. This sign of a harsher Doctor is a wider sign of how the 'innocence' of Davison's character has been corrupted by events.
The story also contains a strong sign of hope for the future with the introduction of Peri. Nicola Bryant gives a strong debut performance, showing the character as scared by events but still able to stand up for herself, especially when confronted by the Kamelion-Master. She is shown as strong minded and independent and for the first time in years a companion joins the Doctor to experience the fun of the universe, rather than to escape the destruction of their home or get trapped aboard the TARDIS by accident. It is a sign of the impending change for the program but it is a welcome one.
The plot for Planet of Fire may have a number of elements to include but Peter Grimwade produces a strong and highly workable tale. that has strong elements, especially Timanov's strong faith in Logar. The story handles the religious theme well without in any way demeaning Timanov for his belief even when the truth is exposed, whilst the culture of Sarn is developed natural out of the conditions surrounding it. What especially helps is the way that the location filming benefits the story but does not force a location into it and so the locations are strong and effective.
Of the cast it is the regulars who dominate things, especially since several are giving either debut or finale performances, but the guest cast is still strong with Peter Wyngarde giving a very dignified performance as Timanov. Aided by some strong sets and direction the result is a story that holds its own quite well even though it is heralding the changes to come in the next story and gives all the characters a fine departure/arrival. 8/10
Holiday time! by Joe Ford 15/8/03
It's holiday time... yep the summer has just arrived and it's time for a week off! So what better way to celebrate this freedom than to stick in my favourite exotic location story to get me in the mood. Well I can't because that's The Two Doctors and my tape has pretty much worn down with constant re-watching! So my second choice would have to be that complicated four parter that introduced Peri, wrote out Turlough, killed off the Master and DIDN'T CONTAIN TEGAN!!!! Yippee!
There is a lot to recommend about this story, too. The location work is stunning, not just your usual leafy woodland or desolate quarry but awe inspiring vistas of molten land captured with a sense of scale and beauty. The planet Sarn is portrayed with Fiona Cumming's trademark style, she has the ability to give a planet a real personality and the volcanic wastes on display here are no exception. It's hot, it's gorgeous and it's great to look at. People whinge on that the scenes shot in episode one look too similar to the ones apparently shot on Sarn. Erm, no. Episode one is all focussed around a gorgeous looking beach and later episodes concentrate on the harsher areas of Lanzarote. The story has an airy, breezy feel which after the claustrophobic Frontios and the drizzly atmosphere of Resurrection of the Daleks is a blessed relief.
Plus did I mention Tegan isn't in it?
Nicola Bryant wastes no time throwing her personality about and her debut as Peri is extremely memorable. She imbues the character with the right degree of sexiness and sassiness but also with a good deal of patheticness necessary to make a good companion. I just love her scene on the boat as she throws a tantrum after Howard traps her on board. It was at that point that I thought "this is going to be a fun character to watch". She also, astonishingly, has good chemistry with Peter Davison in the last episode and that on screen buzz is transferred most effectively onto Caves of Androzani. Aside from a few gratuitous shots of her boobs and bum there is nothing offensive at all here (and hey I'll cut you guys some slack... after all, to everyone's horror, even Turlough gets his kit off!!!), an instant improvement on the Australian wench.
Looking back from this story I still feel Turlough was the most underdeveloped character of the lot. I mean he had the potential to be a rogue on board the TARDIS, they could have done some REALLY dangerous things with his character. But after Enlightenment he's suddenly a good guy if a bit of a coward. They took the easy way out and it was unforgivable. But he did have some background filled in which is more than some companions did, Frontios did a good job of dealing with his nightmarish past and the answers as to why an alien was hanging out in a public school is finally answered here. To Peter Grimwade's credit, the answers do not disappoint but since his character was practically ignored to this point throwing Turlough in the spotlight is a bit jarring. He has to be leaving, methinks and I was not wrong.
It's just a shame then that the story feels so... awkward when you're watching. My good friend Matt has a system wherein he watches one episode a night and works his way through an entire era that way. He says it is better to watch the episodes as they were transmitted and in Planet of Fire's case he's absolutely right. Watching the whole four episodes together is hard work, come episode four I was almost... bored. It's not a boring story, lots is going on but the pace, style and content do not hold up in movie length context.
Fiona Cumming has said that this was her least favourite story because it seemed more 'normal' than than the others. Well that doesn't affect her visual flair one bit and she still manages to tell the story effectively with some extremely vivid images. Compared to Castrovalva, Snakedance and Enlightenment (well maybe not Enlightenment) the performances are weak and the script sags under too much pressure from conflicting plotlines.
The story of the Sarns and their religous beliefs is actually quite interesting but Grimwade barely scratches the potential of such a story because he has so much more to achieve with this story. There are a couple of standout scenes, Timinov recounting his meeting with Logar and his stubborn sacrifice at the end but on the whole this plotline is nothing but faceless colonists trapped on a dangerous planet. The constant threats of burnings just bores after a while.
Grimwade is more concerned with the Master/Kamelion plot which, frankly, sucks. It's not just Ainley's fault although there isn't one second that you believe in either Kamelion or the Master but the script lumbers him with lines like "You will be cremated... alive!" and "Your destruction will deny me our periodic encounters!" that would be hard work for an actor to make sound convincing. Ainley is playing up the pantomime Master for all it's worth and moves from barely watchable to cringe-worthy to slit your wrists embarrassment. The Kamelion robot looks static and unconvincing and the mobile scrap heap should have just been forgotten about.
And yet Cumming refuses to let the story descend into a farce and keeps everything afloat with her stylish direction. Certain moments, the end of episode two as the unbelivers are about to be thrown into the flames, the Master burning to death (and the Doctor's reaction), Peri's encounter with the Master on the clifftop are excellent. So concerned is she with making sure the things looks good her actors slip through the net...
Aside from the distinguishing Peter Wyngarde none of the Sarns make any impression at all. I can barely remember their names and I only watched it half an hour ago. Mark Strickston is okay but still manages to creep OTT in places. His leaving scene is quite sweet though. Davison is harmless, not making any impression at all for good or ill until those last scenes where he reveals how horrified he is at what he has done to his foe. He seems quite happy to bide his time until the last story waiting in the background.
I have probably slated this far more than I intended, I do quite enjoy this story but its typical of this point in the shows history. A packed script leaving most characters underdeveloped. Gorgeous looking but bland storytelling. Decidedly average with sporadic moments of brilliance. Sums up the Davison era pretty perfectly in my book.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 23/5/04
Planet Of Fire sets out to do a lot and it is remarkable that it succeeds so admirably. For starters we have Lanzarote doubling as the planet Sarn; although this is only really noticeable in the opening episode. Next up Turlough`s origins are finally revealed; his backstory is very welcome and is a good payoff; as he gets to be heroic saving Malkon`s life and his people`s settlement. The final scene between the Doctor and Turlough is nicely underplayed and works all the better for it. Kamelion is also written out, and he is put to good use throughout the story; whether it is trying to free himself from the Master`s control or just simply asking for his suffering to end (ultimately the best ending for the character.)
Nicola Bryant`s debut is largely successful; Peri shows a spirited independance and works well with Peter Davison`s Doctor; largely because of her enthusiasm to travel with him. The Master also gets his best story for some time; this being a tale about him trying to survive; and as such Anthony Ainley reigns in his performance, creating a more sinister Master than we`ve previously witnessed. The result of this is similairly echoed in Peter Davison`s performance, who seems more tetchy and equally quick to blame Kamelion because of the Master`s involvement. The supporting cast are largely forgettable however, Peter Wyngarde brings dignity to his part and Dallas Adams brings both parental joviality and sinisterness in equal measures, as Professor Howard Foster.
Despite all this Planet Of Fire does feel crammed with too much information, as if all the loose ends of the Davison era are being tied up prior to his departure. However the story still works and remains highly enjoyable.
"Won't you show mercy on your own?" "Get real." by Ewen Campion-Clarke 7/8/04
No sooner does the TARDIS crew (most of them, anyway) escape the death and destruction of the Daleks, then they fall under the influence of the Master, who draws towards the dying planet Sarn. But just where is the evil Time Lord? What has happened to Kameleon? Who is the mysterious Outsider - and how can Turlough impersonate him with such ease? How has a 19-year-old botany student called Perpeguillium Brown (call her Peri) ended up in the middle of all this?
For good or for ill, Resurrection of the Daleks changed the course of Doctor Who. In terms of characterization, format and overall tone, that deranged runaround in a warehouse and space station has left a lasting impression. The Doctor has become "obsessed with Daleks" according to Turlough, and its quite true that he's changed between the last episode of the previous story and the first episode of this one. Last week, the broken Doctor reentered the TARDIS vowing to mend his ways. And he has.
In short, the Doctor is no longer prepared to take crap from anyone. At all.
The Fifth Doctor was regularly bullied - by adversaries, companions, even himself. Whether this was down to his new, youthful appearance or some insidious change in his character is another debate altogether, but while the Fourth Doctor effortlessly conquered every situation he was in, the Fifth struggles to be taken seriously by everyone. No one believes his stories of bombs and androids until the Cybermen have all but conquered the freighter and its too late to stop it. Only one person believes him when he says the Mara will return, but isn't prepared to help him. Last week, he listened to a Brigadier substitute and stayed where he was - and the death toll simply mounted. From now on, while he may be ignored, he won't simply stand by.
Witness his attitude to Turlough and Kamelion in this story. The Fifth Doctor was burdened by companions who, even at their best, could be a liability. Adric goes along with the badguys in his own hopeless quest to sort things out; Tegan freaks out and does her own thing; Nyssa, his most trustworthy of aides, will, if not passing out instantly, insist the Doctor's going about it the wrong way; Turlough is prepared to do anything as long as he gets out alive; and Kamelion won't even stay loyal to himself. The Doctor knows that he needs a companion, a friend he can rely on - and he's stuck with the two most untrustworthy ones he'll ever have: an agent of the Black Guardian and a familiar of the Master.
Where once he would have tolerated this and tried to be optomistic, not now. When the Fourth Doctor twigged his time was up (around State of Decay) he became brooding, sad, grim. The Fifth Doctor goes the other way: he may have days or only hours left, and he's not going to waste them pussy-footing around redhead and silver-features while innocents are in danger.
From the outset of the story, any reliability the Doctor's companions had vanishes. Kamelion is possessed by the Master. Turlough senses a threat and begins ripping up the console - a bad habit he's supposed to have kicked. Turlough has no interest in Sarn beyond the fate of his family, and Kamelion starts stirring them up into a jihad. The Doctor's former respect for Turlough's self-imposed mysterious origin and good humor with Kamelion goes out the window. It's a well-used quote but, "If you're withholding ANYTHING that will aide the Master, our friendship is OVER!" he snarls when his ginger companion tries to keep schtum yet again. "Silver puppet on a string," he sneers at Kamelion, deliberately torturing the poor machine. "String CUT!" indeed.
His attitude also extends to the outside world as well. While he enjoys himself and does his usual tourist act on Earth, when there's a situation to resolve, he's loathe to waste time: he spares no useless pleasantries with the Unbelievers or the Believers and instead decides to get the Trions to sort out the mess. The scene at the end of the story sums up his new attitude - he cuts through Peri's awkward segues in conversation and cuts to the heart of the real matter: "And you want to travel with me?" he sighs. "Is that an invitation?" she asks hopefully. "Actually, it was a question," he grunts, moving around the console. He's not suddenly stopped being nice or friendly, but, like Peter Davison, he only has another for episodes to go. He doesn't have TIME for these distractions.
Turlough is given a story to shine in, and his fate mirrors the Doctor's at the end of The War Games. He finds himself meeting another of his race, and encounters a whole planet of innocents who need to be rescued - something that can only be done by calling in his own people, despite the risk. His vivid reluctance to dial the number on an amusingly phone-shaped intergallactic communicator resonates with the grim-faced Second Doctor making a "box of thoughts" and sending it to the Time Lords. The Trion Officer waiting in the TARDIS mirrors the Time Lords waiting for the Doctor as he tries to escape; like the War Chief, he mocks Turlough's fugitive status and high ideals. Both awkwardly explain their origin in an off-hand manner and it ends up uninspiring: the Doctor's just a bored schoolkid joyriding in a time machine, and Turlough's a war criminal and exile. In retrospect, they weren't that shocking as revelations go. Like the Doctor, Turlough's wandering through the fourth dimension ends as he returns home. Unlike the Doctor, there's the probability of a happy ending attached.
Given that similarity, could this be the reason the Doctor has given Turlough such a wide space? Suspecting they have more in common than they admit? Ironically, as soon as this is confirmed, they are forced to part company. For the rest of the story they are awkward and uncomfortable. For all her complaints and whining, Tegan was a center for both their lives, a center which is now gone. Any faith Turlough had in the Doctor falls through pretty quickly - he trusts the Time Lord to sort out the situation on Sarn, but doubts the Doctor can save him from his fellow Trions. It's notable that the moment the Doctor gives voice to their friendship, Turlough begins to back out of it. He follows instructions given, but has no interest in their resolution - Turlough is discharging his responsibilities. He seems prepared to leave with the Trions even before he realizes he has been forgiven by them. His farewell with the Doctor is understated, seemingly a formality. His last act in Doctor Who is tell Peri to become the new companion and look after the Doctor, warning her of the troubles they'll face. Is he being insightful, or just disconnecting himself from the only obligation he had to stay - after all, just how long will the Doctor last without Tegan to keep him safe? Answer: eight episodes and counting...
Kamelion is given a raw deal in this story, which is only his second, after all. It takes conscious effort to remind one's self that the beard giggling maniac throughout the story is NOT the Master, but an ally of the Doctor's turned evil. The robot's personality (an amused, smug arrogance) is abandoned, only getting one look in when the "true" Kamelion resurfaces and helps Peri. There is a truly wonderful scene, sadly not in the teleplay but in the novelization, where Turlough and Kamelion talk after their arrival in Lanzarote. As Turlough goes to change, Kamelion's mocking voice rings out from the robot's room: "Be careful, Turlough. It is very hot. With your fair skin you will easily burn." Turlough correctly identifies the vieled threat - they are coming in contact with Trions and Turlough's silence is only doing him damage. And Kamelion KNOWS the truth. A few moments like this scattered through the season would have given the neglected character a descent exit. Despite being a bland robotic servant with a gift for disguise, Kamelion knows things no one else does. Or even wants to.
The mention of the bit in the novelization leads into a bewildering scene on TV. Turlough enters the TARDIS to find Kamelion standing by the console, raving about "making contact" like he's a closet fan of The Invisible Enemy. Turlough shouts at him and presses a button on the console and Kamelion screams. What?? The novelization shows that Kamelion has plugged himself into the console and resorts to violence when Turlough tries to interfere - not doubt impossible to create on screen - and so Turlough sends a computer virus through the console to kill Kamelion. Makes a lot more sense and shows that both companions have their own agenda and are willing to kill in order to pursue it.
Kamelion isn't really treated with respect that other companions get - he spends more time with the Doctor than Katarina or Sara, and even appears in the Doctor's deathbed flashback, but he doesn't appear in the comic strip Planet of the Dead when Adric, Sara, Katarina and Jamie do. And the Doctor after all KILLED Kamelion. A lot of people think this is all right: the bloody robot WANTED to die and said as much. The Doctor was just putting him out of his misery. Putting down a wounded animal. Sure. Who wounded said animal? The Doctor deliberately set up the booby trap to give Kamelion "the electronic equivalent of a heart attack". A mortal one at that, it seems. The Doctor does not rush back to the TARDIS in order to save the robot. He doesn't even object to the thought of TCE-assisted suicide. Compare this to the blind panic and rage of Earthshock, where he ignored everyone and everything screaming "I must save Adric!"
That was then, though. This is now.
Then, the Doctor begged Kronos to spare the Master's life - or, to be completely accurate, not deal him a Karmic serve of justice. Here, the Doctor watches in silence as his enemy burns to death. And why not?! The Master, remember, ISN'T a nice bloke. Especially this one. He murders for fun where the Delgado only did it out of "neccessity". When he uses his old catchphrase, "I am the Master and you will obey me" he adds a growl of "Or DIE!" giving the impression he'd rather prefer the latter. While the old Master hypnotized people, this one has no willing accomplices. Kamelion wants nothing to do with him, but has no choice. Indeed, he has to become the Master completely before he will obey.
This Master murdered Tegan's aunt, wiped out everything Nyssa knew and cared about, slaughtered half a race of telepaths in order to get the equivalent of a new car battery after sadistically creating an idyll civilization so he could destroy it at whim. This man who has just threatened the Doctor with a fate worse than any death suddenly begs him for help. Is it hypocracy? The Master does anything to survive and he's working on the reasonable assumtion the Doctor will help him even now.
But the Doctor's changed.
And the Master dies screaming. Sure, he may turn up again, but this sequence seems forgotten until Survival - there, the Master is only with the Doctor out of desperation and wants to kill him ASAP. The Master of The Mark of the Rani and The Trial of a Time Lord seems to have forgotten this situation entirely, prompting some to imagine the Master is saved in this story by the Time Lords so he can experience The Five Doctors, and is then cast by Rassilon to the Cheetah planet. The Master we see between then is a "past" Master. Well, it gets a bit confusing after a while. Letting the Master survive this I could forgive - letting him forget his arch enemy has become more like him I cannot. Their relationship should have changed forever after this. It didn't.
If the Doctor's actions are shocking, I doubt anyone actually cared that the Master was being killed per se. Although he is shrunken to the size of an action man (and, oddly enough, so has a large chunk of his TARDIS) it hasn't done anything for his ego. He's quite happy to threaten foul and bloody vengence via Kamelion or even when he's totally imobile. When he considers the inevitable destruction and the death of its people, he laughs his head off, relishing the thought of adding the Doctor to the doomed panorama. He calls Timanov a gullible idiot, a comment directed both at his niavete in believing Kamelion and also his religion in general. Although Kamelion does the dirty work, its the Master doing the talking. He deserves to die - and that's something the Doctor has finally decided too.
The last regular in this story is Peri. At first, there's nothing to separate her from say Duggan from City of Death in plot terms. She's an incredulous human being brought into this madhouse because all the main cast are aliens. The TARDIS works fine and there is no reason to assume that Planet of Fire couldn't have ended up with her back in Lanzarote. Her decision to join the Doctor marks her out as the first companion of the Fifth Doctor who WANTS to travel with him. The rest either teamed up with the Fourth Doctor or literally had nowhere else to go. She's not British, easily scared but not a coward, capable of screaming very loudly at the slightest provocation, and wants to see the sights - a kind of mish-mash between Polly and Tegan, a compromise companion. But, like other companions, she is an "orphan" - she has only the vaguest of ties to her home time and place, and easily forgotten. Also, notice her stutter she gets when nervous but, oddly enough, only around the Doctor, who is the only person she treats with respect in the whole story. The Master, Kamelion, Howard, even Turlough get short rift from her. Is it because she fancies the young blonde in the cricketing gear? Her stutter vanishes once the Doctor regenerates, so clearly whatever issue she has with the Fifth Doctor doesn't carry over to the Sixth Doctor.
Peri is defined as a person long before she bumps into the Doctor. She's quick-witted (her retorts), intelligent (she knows more about archaeology and mythology than Howard realizes) and rebelious, but also fickle (she loves her step-dad when he does what she wants, and detests him when he doesn't), rash (her abortive escape attempt) and prone to complain. Nevertheless, she has a reassuring humanity as she tries to beat up Kamelion, reveal the truth to Timanov, and breaks down in tears when she gets lost and alone on an alien planet. The first episode shows a good deal of her body fat as she spends most of it in a bikini - is this exploitation? She puts her clothes on real quick after she nearly drowns, and she's borderline prudish considering it was a nudist beach. It wouldn't have been unrealistic if she'd decided to keep the bikini dry and swim au naturelle. Her stepfather shows just as much bare flesh, Turlough wears shorts and the Doctor rolls up his sleeves, add this to the brevity of the Sarn people and you can't say this wasn't equality. It's not like some Carry On film where every time Kamelion grabs her he rips off items of clothing, is it?
All in all, Peri walks the precipice in this story - the fine line between endearing and annoying. Her annoyed roll of the eyes as she enters the TARDIS in part four is only JUST balanced by her nightmare in part one, where we learn she was abused (in one way or another) by her stepfather as a child. Against the Fifth Doctor, her better qualities flourished, but against the Sixth, things could only go downhill.
Given the veritable shopping list of instructions, it's amazing that Planet Of Fire's plot works at all - though, to be honest, I do find it eerily similar to that of The Brain of Morbius (as does the novelization). We have a diminished Time Lord criminal and a sacred flame that can lead to immortality and power, tended by zealots who like the odd sacrifice now and again. Sarn? Karn, more like. The thorny issue of religion is picked up in this story and dealt with maturely. It's real Chariots of the Gods stuff, with Timanov believing he was saved by god when really he had a close encounter of the third kind with a benevolent Trion. A spacecraft crash-landing becomes an integral part of the cult of Logar. Unlike today's more-or-less religious tolerance, on Sarn the atheists have no choice: they are trying to find the real reason behind the myth of Logar because its the only way to stop the destruction of Sarn. Timanov's belief in Logar is all very well, but it ultimately won't save anyone. Amyand ultimately is the one who tries to see it both ways, suggesting that Logar IS saving them via the Trions - a very mature action for a man who, only an episode ago claimed Timanov's encounter with the Gods was the result of too much altar wine. But Timanov sacrifices himself anyway, refusing to compromise his faith in any way. Although we don't see him die, Maren-style, in the fire, we know that anyone who didn't leave by Trion ship or TARDIS would die when the planet exploded.
The plot only has two problems with it. The first is the totally baffling presence of a Trion distress signal on Earth, 1984, and why Kamelion needed it when he could simply have looked up The Hitchhiker Guide To Galactic Prison Settlements on the TARDIS computer. The other is a confusing loop of TARDIS parts: Kamelion steals a vital bit of the Doctor's TARDIS and gives it to Peri. Peri manages to give it to Turlough. However, when the Doctor's TARDIS is revealed to be sabotaged, Turlough does not admit he has the part or replace it. Does he have a reason to keep the TARDIS damaged? Either way, the Doctor steals an indetical part from the Master's TARDIS, saying he can replace his own missing component. But the Master's TARDIS works perfectly afterwards - how? Kamelion couldn't have simply put the Doctor's component in the console because he doesn't have it, and it seems unlikely that the Master's craft could survive without it. Does the Master's better-stocked TARDIS have a replacement? Or did Kamelion simply snatch the part off the Doctor in between scenes? No idea.
Another thing is the TCE - the Master has developed a "new and more deadly version" (which we see in Mark of the Rani simply eliminates rather than compressing) but still uses the old one. The definition of "tissue" becomes amazingly broad in this story, as it covers Kamelion and some survival suits. The latter is quite woeful: Kamelion uses it to shrink one suit in order to intimidate Peri. Then he does it to another one. He leaves the final one alone for some inexplicable reason - actually, it IS explicable: otherwise our heroes would be supremely stuffed otherwise. A weapon of mass reduction, indeed.
Planet of Fire manages to compress the point of the E-Space trilogy into four episodes and does a surprisingly good job. By the end of this story, the Fifth Doctor's only hangup to Seasons 19 and 20 is himself. By the end of the next story, even that will be gone. He's a self-imposed exile from Gallifrey, accompanied by a young girl in a whole new universe. Cybermen, Daleks, the Master have all met their grisly ends. It's time for new things to happen.
Typically, it didn't QUITE end out like that.
A Review by Karl Roemer 4/2/05
The penultimate story of the Davison era, Planet of Fire is an fairly entertaining four part romp which wasn't 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 80's 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 a distress signal of Trion origin, a recurring theme throughout this story, with Turlough being forced at the end to finally stop running from his people.
Another recurring theme is Kamelion and the Master's usage of the robot throughout the story as an slave. You don't know why the Master is forced to use Kamelion until later on at the cliffhangar 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 Master's TARDIS is disappointing, clearly being the same version of the Doctor's 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, a pompous and fanatical religious leader.
It is also unclear whether newcomer Peri is actually in fear of her stepfather Howard, whom appears as one of Kamelion's 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 a 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 my money puts in one of his best performances as Turlough who finally faces up to his destiny and becomes a 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 a classy and menacing performance as the Kamelion-Master for most of the story, and I do agree with the sentiments that the 80's 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 Grimwade's 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.