Doctor Who #676: Dragonfire Part 1

"What's the matter, getting cold feet?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.23 1987.

IN THIS ONE...
First appearance of Ace, on Iceworld, where a vampsicle rules and has it in for Glitz.

REVIEW: Let's talk Ace, shall we? I'm not gonna lie, she's one of my favorite companions , and she's really the Anti-Mel, isn't she? She's a street as Mel is posh, and as we'll come to discover, has a lot of depth to her background whereas Mel was never really given one. A key moment is the monster showing up and Mel immediately screaming her head off, while Ace remains silent. Mel describes herself as boring, Ace is anything but. She's messy, unreliable, anti-authoritarian, and a bit of a pyro. She's not just self-destructive, she's destructive, period. An unusual kind of companion. Of course, we don't know she's to become a companion yet. She's just this odd waitress who's basically an extra in her first scene, a borderline criminal not really any different from Glitz, someone for Mel to pal around with while the Doctor is off with the rogue, and quite far down in the credits. And yet, even when filtering out hindsight, she's a companion from the moment she meets the Doctor. She's giving the Doctor advice and ready to sabotage her job, calling him "Professor" and establishing a quirky chemistry with him, and taking the lead in action scenes. Even the Mel-Ace cliffhanger bits are about her. Mel is already just a tag-along.

For the third story in a row, we're treated to marching band uniforms (these white with a Prussian helmet), so there must have been a sale or something. I will forever remember Season 24 as the Marching Band Season now. Otherwise, Iceworld is a pretty cool (no pun intended) studio-bound location. The 80s pastels are dated, sure, but the crystal structures look interesting (at least when a breeze doesn't make the Saran Wrap move) and the villain's lair has the feel of a deep-freeze Gothic cathedral. Ace works in a colorful version of the Mos Eisley Cantina, complete with throwaway aliens in the background. One of my favorite bits, in fact, is the Doctor's exit, played in the background, where he coo-chi-coos a furry baby and it snaps angrily. Startling and funny. The Star Wars reference is important because this definitely moves us into science fantasy. A planet with fantastic locations underground, a treasure map, a dragon's hoard... Even the planet itself has a fantastic, spiky look. And has there ever been such a D&D start to a Doctor Who adventure before?

The villain, Kane, is in the business of buying, branding and freezing people to build a mercenary army, but he's really played as a frozen vampire. Kane (a homophone of Cain, in the myth the father of monsters like vampires) sleeps in a coffin that lowers his body temperature, has a cold touch that kills, and seems able to mesmerize his victims with a soothing tone of voice. Ace almost falls prey to it, and it makes her slip up on her age, revealing she's 16 but tells people she's 18 (see? already more interesting than Mel). Ace's life could go either way at this point. Rebel or criminal? Go with Kane or with the Doctor? These are polar (again, no pun intended) opposites. Kane's plans are pretty simple - universal domination and all that - but the Doctor's are at once more benign and more complex. He says he's been "tracking" something on Iceworld for a while and now wants to visit, and while he doesn't disabuse Mel of the notion that it's the legend of the dragon that interests him, Season 26 will reveal he was after Ace, the time storm that brought her there, and her connection to Fenric all along. Whether it was the plan all along or just turned out that way, this is the start of the dark, manipulative Doctor, and I'm stoked!

REWATCHABILITY: High - New Who fans who don't know if they'd like Classic Who because it's not arc or companion-based could start here and, I think, would be surprised.

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