Doctor Who #626: Planet of Fire Part 1

"The girl." "What girl?" "I was going to explain."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.23 1984.

IN THIS ONE... First appearance of Peri, and in a bikini too. Turlough tries to hide a signal from his homeworld, but Kamelion doesn't make it easy.

REVIEW: With Peter Grimwade writing Planet of Fire, we should expect some absolute nonsense, but with Fionna Cumming  directing, it should look absolutely splendid. In fact, this is the first (and for Classic Who, only) time a "vacation location" has been used properly. Not even Paris in City of Death can make that claim, not once it just became a place for the characters to run around in. Lanzarote plays itself and is a good location for finding Mediterranean treasure and some bikini action, but where it shines is as the volcanic planet Sarn. I'm sure the characters could have scrambled through an English quarry posing as a volcano, but the real thing can be shot from farther away, and that strange, open concept house with a balcony overlooking the beach is just spectacular. There's a great North African feel to Sarn as a result (if North Africans actually did things like sacrifice people to their volcano gods).

And if you want your new companion in a skimpy bathing suit, Lanzarote really is a good place to introduce her (though frankly, the so-called "money shot" is ruined because her face is obscured by wind-swept hair, at least for me). Peri I think suffers, and has always suffered, from being a fake American. This is another JNT imposition, trying to pander to the U.S. market, as if people on this side of the Pond couldn't tell Nicola Bryant was putting on an accent. As Brits are wont to do, the accent is nasal, whiny and stumbles badly on certain words, not to mention the gratuitous and convoluted American references her speech is laced with. Which is too bad because Bryant has a great natural voice and accent, and every time I hear her speak as herself, I'm sad she couldn't have used it on the show. It seems daft to me to strap a relatively inexperienced actress with an extra complication like that. But Peri doesn't come off too badly in her first outing, partly because her stepfather Howard has a worse accent, but Peri's English works as the posh sort of affect one might hear in a soap opera. She sounds like a 1920s debutante is what she sounds like. And it makes sense from her apparent background. She hands around with her mother's boy-toy, gets bored during a Mediterranean vacation and on a whim, trades in her ticket home to go off to Morocco with some British blokes (as it turns out, she'll be going even farther with two different "British" blokes), and when Howard doesn't let her go, she acts the spoiled brat and throws a tantrum. A listless, rich little girl. But that listlessness is what makes her a good potential companion. She's impulsive, to the point of trying to swim to shore so as not to miss her flight, and almost drowning. Cue Turlough's amusing impatience at having to go out and save her - the hero despite himself - and the exciting camera-in-the-water action that follows.

Though Turlough takes the time to save a girl and all that, he's also acting very strangely, ripping out wires from the TARDIS console and generally jeering at Kamelion (well, that isn't so strange; if I hear that stupid robot scream with that silly grin on his face again...). You have to understand - Turlough's background was barely sketched in and in his last serial is seeing his whole back story suddenly uploaded into his life. Suddenly he's got a strange marking on his arm, never alluded to before, the same found on Peri's undersea treasure and, on Sarn, on a foundling considered to be "the Chosen One". Destiny has come calling with no warning. Turlough's home world, Trion apparently, might be recalling him and he doesn't want to go. Again, this is all new information, not properly laid into the character when we first met him. But is Kamelion rerouting messages from Trion, or is it all a coincidence caused by Peri's artifact? Because as it turns out, the "contact" Kamelion is trying to make is with his old, uhm, master, the Master! Good thing Tegan isn't here to say "I told you so"! Is this the first time Anthony Ainley has gotten to say "I am the Master and you will obey me"? I think so. Mark your calendars.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes a feature length, tighter re-edit with new CGI. I'll discuss it in Part 4's review.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Beautiful location work, a couple of fit companions in bathing suits, one getting some background at last, the other newly introduced... Quite watchable despite Kamelion's presence.


CiB said...

In Time Flight part 3 (I think, might be 4), when giving orders to one of the hypnotised minions we hear the Master say "I am the master. You will obey me.", then indicate with the TCE and the minion goes into his Tardis.

Ainley doesn't get to say it nearly as often as Delgado, and he never says it as well as Beevers did in audio.

Anonymous said...

"as if people on this side of the Pond couldn't tell Nicola Bryant was putting on an accent."

Hugh Laurie would have rocked a pink bikini.

Anonymous said...

There are so many British actors doing convincing accents in American films and TV that I'm always shocked by the horrible attempts in British shows.

Thank God the new series managed to get someone who actually spent his childhood here.

jdh417 said...

If the character of Peri did one thing, it likely ensured that whatever future casting there will be of the character of the Doctor, he will never be an American.

Peri (and the Colin Baker Doctor) just about completely drove me away from watching the show. Nicola Bryant, on the other hand, I couldn't get enough of.


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