Doctor Who complete reviews: Planet Of Fire
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Goodbye, Turlough. Hello Lanzarote. And helloooo Peri...
Ah, Lanzarote. Beautiful scenery. Bright sunshine. Hot temperatures - something that's urgently needed in Britain at the moment, given the freezing temperatures. Oh, and of course, the age-old stereotype of one or two pasty-faced British tattooed blobbos or high-heeled bimbos waving beer bottles in the air and bellowing Oasis songs at top whack - although any package holiday deal in a hot, sunny country will inevitably attract these sorts.
One keen visitor is the good Doctor, who arrives in the scorching heat of Lanzarote, on the trail of a distress signal that's being beamed from a rather dodgy-looking artefact. And before you know it, he's off to the planet of Sarn (which uncannily looks like the beautiful vistas of Lanzarote), where he runs - yet again - into his arch-nemesis, The Master.
That may sound simple to you, but imagine the look on Peter Grimwade's face when the Who production team gave him the specifications for Planet Of Fire. Not only does the story have to incorporate the location of Lanzarote, it needs to bring back and apparently destroy The Master once and for all, as well as getting rid of two companions and introducing a brand new one at the same time. Oh, and it needs to include some sort of plot. Apparently, you could hear the sound of Grimwade sobbing into his computer keyboard from as far away as Lanzarote.
"Thanks to some excellent camera work from John Walker, Planet Of Fire is one of those stories that could have been shown in the cinema"
Intriguingly, Planet Of Fire holds up really well, considering the rather out-of-control shopping list. More to the point, thanks to Grimwade's well-structured script, the demands never feel too contrived. The location of Lanzarote, for example, fits in well with the story rather than being an obvious excuse to travel overseas and show off. Indeed, the lush location filming is one of the real selling points of the story. Thanks to some excellent camera work from John Walker, Planet Of Fire is one of those stories that could have been shown in the cinema. Lanzarote may be an obvious double for the planet Sarn, but who cares when the end results look so good? The long shot of The Doctor and Amyand making their way across the landscape is just one of the many superb images present in Planet Of Fire. A shrewd move on the part of the production team, and one that pays dividends in the final polished results.
The story of Planet Of Fire is quite a complex one, which isn't a surprise, given the sheer amount of plot strands present in the story. Given that Grimwade was responsible for the introduction of Turlough, he was an obvious choice of writer to send him packing his bags. And what do you know? His background actually makes a lot of sense. Vislor Turlough - to give him his full name - is a political refugee from the planet of Trion, exiled to the planet Earth as a public schoolboy. No wonder he's looking so shifty at the thought of going on the trail of the artefact - because guess what, it's got the same mark as on his arm. And when he gets to Sarn, he even gets his own Surprise Surprise moment when he meets his long-lost brother, the rather fey Malkon.
At least Cilla Black wasn't around to shatter his eardrums into piles of dust.
Anyway, Turlough's backstory is explained well, and by the end of the story he leaves for home with a David Sylvian wannabe, now that all political refugees have been pardoned. It's a fitting farewell, more restrained than Teabag's, and the line "I don't want to go, I've learned a lot from you, Doctor" is a rather sweet parting shot. Unlike Teabag, Turlough has gained more than he has lost during his time with The Doctor, and has even become a bit of a hero - a far cry from the cowardly turncoat of his first three stories. Mark Strickson gives his all as usual, and even if most of his last few stories had given him zilch to do, at least he gets a good portion of the action in his swansong.
The other companion to make his goodbye is poor old Kamelion, although his final few moments are rather sad. Given that Kamelion was mentally controlled by The Master, it was inevitable that his nemesis would be back for a fresh bout of mental domination. Kamelion is no more than a metal slave - he's referred to as a slave by The Master, and even The Doctor calls the Kamelion-Master a tin puppet. Ironically, this was all Kamelion was actually good for, given the way in which he was so underused - maybe not surprising given the limitations of the machine. And forced to take on the appearances of Peri's stepfather and The Master, in the end, he's thwarted by The Doctor, who gives him the equivalent of a heart attack. And sadder still, Kamelion pleads with The Doctor for a swift death - The Doctor duly obliges with a quick blast of the Master's tissue compression eliminator. More on The Doctor's surprisingly swift execution in a minute, but it's a rather harsh goodbye to the companion that time forgot.
"It's a great pity that when Colin Baker takes over the reins, the production team will change tack and make Peri into a stereotypical whiny kid - so savour this version of Peri while you can"
Awwwww. Still, never mind, since Peri's coming on board. Yes, way back when on a chilly Thursday February night, an army of blokes up and down the country dribble into their plates of beans on toast at the sight of Peri staring wistfully into the distance in a skimpy bikini. Mind you, this is well-deserved compensation for the horrible sights of Turlough's tight shorts and Foster's man-boobs.
Peri herself though is a welcome breath of fresh air - for two stories anyway. She makes for a feisty but fun substitute for the moaning Teabag, and Nicola Bryant's performance is generally very good. Peri's a rather spoilt, immature brat - she could easily have fitted into one of those old Disney movies like Herbie Rides Yet Again. Just look at the way she squeals "You come out here and say that!" when hunting for the Mini Master with her shoe. But at least she gives as good as she gets, and she gels very well with Davison's Doctor. So it's a great pity that when Colin Baker takes over the reins, the production team will change tack and make her into a stereotypical whiny kid - so savour this version of Peri while you can.
On the other side of the tracks, The Master is back on form. The problem with his last few stories is that there hasn't really been a realistic motivation behind his plans. Yes, killing The Doctor is all well and good, but after a while it starts to get old hat. And as for the Magna Carta scandal, well, the name of The Master is something of a misnomer when you take that into account. But in Planet Of Fire, The Master is simply on a quest for survival. He's after the healing powers of the Numismaton Gas on Sarn after accidentally cutting himself down to size. Because of this desperation, this is a more powerful and dangerous Master than before. Anthony Ainley is excellent in this story - he adds a lot of convincing authority in the scenes where he's passing himself off as a suited Logar. There's less of the "Heh-heh-heh"-ing and more of a fanatical desire to restore himself to his former glory.
"Planet Of Fire is full of subtle little touches, both in the acting and in the dialogue"
The reveal of the small Master is just one of the many effective plot twists present in the story. Throughout the story we've had close-ups of The Master urging his slave to carry out his orders, but there's no indication that he's actually the size of a thimble. It's a real left-field conclusion to the end of part three, and for once, it makes a lot of sense in the context of the story.
So if only the production team had stuck to their guns and actually killed The Master off in this story. The scene in which he finds himself trapped in the flames and pleads with The Doctor to set him free is one that's both fascinating and rather disturbing. The Doctor literally does nothing - he stands back and allows The Master to perish. So what's going on in The Doctor's mind? Has he finally run out of patience with his nemesis? It's the blackest of ironies, since The Master showed no mercy to his previous incarnation when causing him to fall off a radio telescope. You could argue that after the events of Resurrection Of The Daleks that the 5th Doctor has decided to become a badass, no-second-chances maverick. All throughout the story, he's displayed a surprisingly ruthless streak, from the moment hat he's been lamenting Teabag's departure ("We were together a long time"). He's quick to threaten Turlough with the break-up of their friendship. He shoots Kamelion without so much as a second thought. And worst of all, he doesn't pay for his drink in Lanzarote! The rebel.
Incidentally, give that a go next time you want a crafty drink in Lanzarote - simply take a pocketful of Connect 4 counters along and leave them as payment, and if the worst comes to the worst, feign insanity.
But The Doctor's clearly feeling no such qualms, although you could also argue that he is simply powerless to help his old foe. He's clearly shellshocked at what has just happened - look at his reaction when Peri asks if he is OK in the TARDIS - fantastic acting from Davison, and also Ainley as the terrified Master. Although I don't quite know why he starts impersonating Krusty The Clown when he starts screaming as he's fried to a crisp.
A great scene, and one that gives the story the conclusion that it needed. Planet Of Fire is full of subtle little touches, both in the acting and in the dialogue. Timanov is a good example of this, a man so dedicated to his faith that he thinks nothing of accepting the false god at face value. And his understated death scene is another brilliant little twist. Instead of responding to Amyand's offer of rescue, he simply walks quietly into the flames. It's all kept off camera, and there's no hint of a scream, but in this instance it's the right thing to do, since it's in keeping with the character's unbending faith. And Peter Wyngarde is superb as Timanov, delivering a performance that's both subtle and powerful - usually at the same time. In fact, all of the cast are good, including Edward Highmore as Malkon and the rather underused Barbara Shelley as Sorasta.
It may not have the fairytale hallmarks of her previous assignments, but Fiona Cumming turns in another fine production. She gets the absolute best from the Lanzarote shoots, and adds a quietly dramatic aura to the story. The production values are high throughout, with some excellent sets from Malcolm Thornton and another evocative score from Peter Howell, who's fast becoming the Dudley Simpson of the Radiophonic Workshop stable.
Planet Of Fire could have failed. Could have done, but in the end, it's one of the unsung successes of a generally strong season. Peter Grimwade's skilled script ties all the loose ends up while telling a gripping tale of a society thrown into disarray by the schism in religious beliefs, not to mention steering the arc of the normally gentle 5th Doctor into more dangerous territory. It looks good, it sounds good - as the drunken British tourists would screech at the tops of their voices, it's large.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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