Doctor Who #629: Planet of Fire Part 4

"I live, Doctor." "Albeit in somewhat reduced circumstances."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.2 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The tiny Master grows and burns up. Turlough leaves and Peri officially joins the TARDIS crew.

Part 4 tries to do too many thing, so it does most of them badly. The A-plot obviously centers on the Master and it's where writer Peter Grimwade's tenuous understanding of science and common sense finally hits a wall. The Master has been shrunk down to size by an accident involving his Tissue Compression Eliminator, which he was trying to make deadlier. The thing already kills anyone it shrinks, so the fact that he's alive shows just how badly he screwed up. Cue lots of tiny Master action, and all we're missing is a cat loose in his TARDIS to bring the scene to ridiculous fruition. I mean, the sequence has him escape a stomping because Peri sneezes at the worst possible time. And while I was okay with the healing blue flame of Sarn, numismaton gas becomes truly magical when it appears it can regrow the Master. It all leads to a finale in which the Master, standing in a box, starts screaming when the flames turn orange and the Doctor just stands there, frozen, unwilling to help. Well, can't the Master just walk out of the box? Why is the Doctor now so willing to let his nemesis die (seems Davros would have had reason to fear)? And it's all moot anyway, because the Master WILL return, so it just makes the Doctor seem callous (something his facial expression is at odds with). Even the dialog hints at it, with the Master saying he'll get revenge even though he's apparently being consumed. I suppose the key is his TARDIS, forgotten there behind him. The Doctor also puts Kamelion out of his misery, turning him into a pathetic little doll, smoking away, which again, seems pretty unDoctorly. But good riddance to them both.

Turlough's story works much better, to the point where I would have liked to see more of it. I find the Doctor's goodbye, which infers Turlough should leave on a high while he's "a bit of a hero" rather cynical, if not cynically played, because he HAS become a hero, and finally deserves the Doctor's friendship. Planet of Fire sees Turlough at his most active, running around the planet, potentially sacrificing his freedom to save his brother and the natives of Sarn (except Timanov who refuses the open hand of the Unbelievers, closed-minded to the last). I understand why they didn't want to end it on too much of a downer, but it makes the arrival of the Trions a bit cheap. Things have changed on Trion and the exiles are welcome to return? Just how long was Turlough stuck in a public school on Earth? If I were him, I'd still be running, if only to get away from those awful beige and pink uniforms. Not only does the companion finally grow a spine, he also gets a full back story, which all seems a bit late because there's no way for the show to exploit it. He was an junior ensign commander? He and his father were on the losing side of a civil war? He was punished differently from the rest of the family "for his sins"? His first name is Vislor? Just as he becomes a full character, it's off with him.

Which brings us to Peri joining the Doctor aboard the TARDIS. While Peri did pretty well assisting the Doctor and facing off against the Master, this really couldn't be her story. A lot of running around on a volcanic planet, but little else. And the way she plays her request to come along, with the same underlying sense of fear (the hesitating, whining Peri that just makes me want to run to the Big Finish audios where Nicola Bryant actually brings the character to life), makes me ask WHY she would want to. A companion's first story should either create a necessity to travel with the Doctor or if it's to be voluntary, that the character be able to feel wonder at the universe of possibilities the story opened up. Peri was miserable the whole time and didn't really get to bond with the Doctor. But with a return to the single companion format, we might at least hope for Peri to actually develop.

THEORIES: The Master's final words "Won't you show mercy to your own..." cuts off before he was to say "brother" (according to JNT), so it isn't canon. Fans have still tried to theorize such a family connection between the two Time Lord renegades, but appearances since, especially The Sound of Drums, have gone against this possibility.

VERSIONS: After the success of the Enlightenment Director's Cut, Fiona Cumming was asked to do the same for Planet of Fire. The DVD thus includes a tight 66-minute edit (though credits and reprises are part of the normal length, the original Planet of Fire clocks in at 100 minutes), with new effects. The widescreen tele-film starts with an entirely new, effects-laden teaser showing the Trion ship crashing on Sarn with Turlough's father aboard, before cutting to the opening credits sequence and a "10 years later" card. Though it does some disservice to the wonderful Lanzaroti location, the effects added onto it really do make Sarn more of a "planet of fire", with lots of heat distortion, flaming vents, active volcanos and orange light. CG fire is the weakest thing in 2|entertain's toolbox, but it still works. The pacing is almost too quick at times, but we're certainly shown how much padding some episodes of Doctor Who had, with what used to be Part 2 taking the biggest cuts, only about 12 minutes surviving. The Target novelization opens with the destruction of two ships - the Greek that sinks off the coast of Lanzarote (though the location is never actually mentioned), and the Trion on Sarn. The book also doesn't introduce the Sarn characters until the TARDIS goes there.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Still watchable for the changing of the companions, the plot turns to nonsense and the Doctor is atypically murderous.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Planet of Fire is a fair introduction to Peri, and shows Turlough at his strongest. The locations are beautiful and exotic and the story well-structured. The ending is a bit of a let-down, sure, and it's easy to be derisive about Kamelion and the tiny Master, but overall, quite watchable.


Anonymous said...

"Won't you show mercy to your own..." recurring villain?

...anistic fantasy of choice?


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