Doctor Who #678: Dragonfire Part 3

"That's right, yes, you're going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven't even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.7 1987.

IN THIS ONE... Kane commits suicide when he learns his home planet is gone. Glitz adopts Iceworld as his new ship and Mel joins him, while Ace goes with the Doctor.

REVIEW: While I'm definitely still enjoying Ace's debut in Dragonfire, it does bug me that so many moments in it are unearned. The whole business with the little girl, Stellar, for example. It's a cute piece of whimsy, but giving her so much screen time - avoiding the evacuation by hiding under a table, finding her way to the restricted zone and putting her teddy bear in Kane's cryo-unit, interacting with the dragon, and getting the episode's last smile (as the beekeeper did in the previous story) would seem to require a point. Is there one? Only if I force it. My English Lit major brain makes me link her to the companions, and thus the "friendly monster" (the dragon) with both the Doctor and Glitz, who will each wind up with one of the girls. But I'm giving it too much credit. More annoying is Kane's underplayed reaction to learning his world is long gone. It looks like he commits suicide without provocation (like a vampire, exposing himself to sunlight), which makes the Raiders of the Lost Ark face-melting all the more shocking (and not in a good way).

Of course, the most unearned element of all is the companion swap. Why does Mel leave the TARDIS exactly? She suffered no trauma to justify her departure, no falling out with the Doctor, and in fact, plans to keep travelling, this time with the untrustworthy Glitz! If you still want to go on adventures, why not stick with the Doctor? She came into this world without reason, as a contrivance, and that's exactly how she leaves. Fitting, but hardly satisfying. In a world not motivated by production concerns, the Doctor would have had two companions for a while. Ace, at least, has reason to go with the Doctor, and as we've seen, was already being treated as the official companion. There's even a moment where the Doctor tells HER to stay there, even though he means Mel and Glitz should too. If only that moment had been used to somehow give Mel a reason to want to go with Glitz...

The moments that ARE earned are still numerous. Kane making people on Iceworld panic and leave on the Nosferatu and destroying the ship in cold blood (well, that's all he has, really). The moral inversion of the mercenaries tracking the "Alien" goodie with giant guns à la Aliens. The plot taking a page from The Hand of Fear, but not sticking too close to it. Glitz more outraged about the loss of his ship than the people who died aboard. Iceworld lifting off from the planet. And the Doctor refusing to say goodbye to Mel, with a mix of sadness and bitterness, and giving that wondrous speech about time. Oh yes, that.

VERSIONS: The biggest deleted scene on the DVD is a whole sequence where giant icicles fall on Glitz and the Doctor must sculpt him out of there. Also of note, Glitz flaunts the merits of his lifestyle in front of Mel, and Kane sees the little girl and leaves her be. The Target novelization has all these sequences, plus more. There's a better explanation of why the Doctor goes over the cliff, and that the people on Iceworld are getting food supplies on their way somewhere else. Ace resists Kane's temptation because he's yet another adult telling her what to do. The sequence where the girls go down the ladder includes a bit with a leaking Nitro-9 can that forces Mel to save Ace's life. Kane destroys every ship that leaves Iceworld, not just the Nosferatu, implying more than one ship leaves. The girl's teddy is rescued from the cryo-unit, but shatters when dropped on the floor, just as Stellar's tears do when she starts crying. Glitz throws an explosive stuffed dog from Ace's bag at the mercenaries. Ultimately, this is a much clearer interpretation of the story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The changing of the guard is rather messy, but Dragonfire has plenty of neat ideas anyway.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Ace is a huge improvement on Mel and her debut features good production values and a fairly good villain. As with Delta and the Bannermen, this is a quirky three-parter with just too much going on to really pay everything off satisfactorily.


Jeff R. said...

I'm going to go with "Mel's timeline is even more convoluted than previously thought; she has a third batch of adventures with Six, after Dragonfire on her own timeline and Seven is sufficiently aware of this to expedite it happening."

Siskoid said...

I love it. Sounds like a job for Big Finish.

Paul C said...

At a Q and A at Sheffield Comic Con I asked Paul McGann and Bonnie Langford why Big Finish had never done a story where 8 goes back to check on Mel and they seemed quite keen on the idea of working together and said they'd suggest it, so maybe one day we'll get a series of 8th Doctor and Mel adventures from Big Finish. (Well, I can dream.)

Siskoid said...

Mel could have traveled with every Doctor ever, somehow.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Apparently, the abruptness of the departure scene itself comes from the fact that it was one of McCoy's audition scenes, a made-up companion departure acted with Janet Fielding, and so he requested it be used for Mel's departure scene, even though none of the dialogue or motivations in it have anything to do with the story they're connected to.

So, the Aliens ripoffs are noticeable and plentiful... but is it just me, or did Stargate: Atlantis borrow just as liberally from this? Take a look at the design of the flying city, and the power module that is required to do so, and tell me key production personnel from Stargate weren't... 'inspired' by this little serial... ;-)


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