Planet of Fire

Ah, this is one of those periods where absolutely everything is changing, bit by bit. This story is little more than a backdrop for a succession of significant events, but it’s at least a very pretty backdrop. The location filming in Lanzarote doubles up to portray both itself and an extremely dramatic volcanic surface, which makes the visuals very impressive throughout.

The main plot – a bunch of confused survivors accidentally worship technology,  thinking it’s the work of a god – has most certainly been done, but it’s not important because that’s not the crux of the story. It’s really all an elaborate origin and departure story for Turlough, as the gaps in his backstory are slowly filled in, ready for him to finally say goodbye and head home.

It all unfolds very entertainingly, even though I did predict “he’s an escaped prisoner” very early on. He was especially shifty throughout the story, even by his standards, and it was interesting to see just how strained his relationship with The Doctor became as a result. Between Turlough acting up and Kamelion being taken over (more on that later), The Doctor seems completely isolated at times, which is especially unusual for this Doctor. His mood has definitely been altered by recent events, which is a very New Who thing. There are consequences to his actions.

I will miss Turlough. A lot of the time he was fairly generic, but every now and then he was so alien that he was unlike any companion before or since, and that takes some doing. His departure marks the end of an unusual period in Who history – of having multiple companions and not all of them human – so I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt to going back to basics.

First impression of Peri? “Christ, that American accent is bad”. To be fair, Howard’s was by far the worse, and I think his was highlighting her imperfections in those early scenes, as it started to sound more natural later on. She seems a little bit over-screamy for my liking, but she did at least display some strength in resisting mind control, and she seems more than willing to roll her sleeves up and get stuck in.

Plus, her scream is nowhere near as horrifying as Kamelion’s. Christ almighty, that will haunt my dreams. It was totally incongruous to have him suddenly reappear as if he’s never been away. The Doctor treats him like he’s part of the furniture, but for the audience, we haven’t even heard him mentioned since the end of the previous season, and even after this serial, he spent far longer on-screen as a baddy than a goodie.

See that thing where they had him morph into the guise of random guest actors in order to avoid using the dodgy prop too much? They did realise that they could have done that all the time, right? Because if we’d have seen more of him, maybe I’d care a lot more about his departure, and also his death. It was clearly supposed to be a touching moment, but I was mostly concerned about how nonchalant The Doctor was about ending a sentient life, no matter what the circumstances. I’d have preferred Kamelion to have turned on The Master and sacrificed himself in some way, leaving The Doctor out of the equation.

Speaking of whom, there was a decent Master story bubbling under the surface. He’s often at his best when he’s motivated by self-preservation rather than just domination; the desperation heightening his powers. My impression was helped by that rarest of occurrences – a decent cliffhanger that I didn’t already know was coming. The reveal of the tiny Master, in a box, is brilliant!

But then, there was another weird bit. I had to check afterwards if I interpreted his last scene correctly, but yep – he’s fucking burnt to death. It’s pretty grim, and The Doctor just lets it happen. Sure, he’s really cut up about it, but because it happens so soon after he’s mercy-killed Kamelion, I’m not sure how I feel about him having quite so much blood on his hands.

If this was most other periods of the show’s history, I’d assume all this dark subject matter was part of a wider plan, but given what I know about the next couple of seasons, I’m not confident that’s the case here. But regardless, I know that the next serial is going to be bitter-sweet, but that I’m in for a treat…

RATING: 8

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The King’s Demons

I was fully expecting this to be utter dogshit, due to its low placing in the last massive DWM poll, and the fact that this season routinely oscillates between brilliance and garbage. So, as I’ve said countless times before, I’m not sure whether my response is a reaction to that, but I found it to be perfectly fine, even teetering towards being actively good.

I also knew that this was a Master story, but even without that knowledge, you know it’s him right from the start. Just from the tiny glimpse from behind before he puts his mask on at the joust, I wrote in my notes: “is that Anthony Ainley in a ginger wig?”. Despite the accompanying Radio Times trickery, it’s got to be intentionally obvious, hasn’t it? The big sword fight is positively improved with the realisation that it’s The Doctor vs The Master; it’s Pertwee vs Delgado all over again.

The criticism that his scheme is both daft and too piffling for The Master is probably fair enough, although it didn’t really bother me. Well, that is until afterwards, when I read someone point out that it fits much more closely with the modus operandi of a different renegade Time Lord. If you’re going to bring back old villains every week, then man, this should totally have been The Monk.

But still, Davison and Ainley have developed into a great adversarial double act. The Master is always a reflection of the particular Doctor he’s up against; not only does Ainley match Davison’s recent penchant for more minimalist nonchalance here, but the pair seem to have gained confidence in their roles at the same rate.

Gerald Flood’s depiction of King John is arguably the highlight though, even with his silly lute playing. This brings me on to the thorny subject of Kamelion, who I know is already doomed to failure, and as such I won’t bother putting him in the header. It’s a shame it didn’t come off, because this serial – which would surely rank as the all-time weirdest way to introduce a companion, were it for the preceding trilogy – did enough to make me intrigued.

The possibilities are quite obviously endless, and there’s an interesting thread to be followed in the dichotomy of a sentient being voluntarily succumbing to the will of another, regardless of their intention. Couldn’t they just have shot the prop from a distance at the start of each serial, and have him instantly morph into some plot-relevant guest character?

But like I say, this one’s perfectly fine, and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s not a season finale by any means, but perhaps that’s appropriate considering how weirdly inconsistent this season has been. They needed to end with the Daleks or something, so it wasn’t a surprise to read that this was the original intention; I’d always assumed that this season was a few episodes short due to them being allocated to The Five Doctors. But anyway…

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 20 of 35
  • Stories watched: 128 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 601 of 826

Wow, over 600 episodes done! Things are definitely winding down; the spectacularly bumpy ride has resulted in the lowest average rating of the colour era so far, despite containing two serials that are now among my all time faves.

And now it’s over, I’ve concluded that the recurring-villains-every-serial thing didn’t really come off. I’m not sure if I’d have even clocked if it wasn’t so well documented. Three of the six serials are taken up by just the one baddy, and of the three remaining villains, one is only from the last season, and another shows up all the time anyway.

Oh well, the proper anniversary celebration is still to come. See you tomorrow.