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Kamelion Tales: Part 2: Planet of Fire



Feature


Peter Davison's era was coming to an end. The Wet Vet had managed the seemingly impossible by stepping into the shoes left by the most popular Doctor in the show's history and had put his own distinctive stamp on the character.

Peter Davison beats his successor to the title of "most ridiculous waistcoat worn by the lead actor on a foreign location"
One of his predecessors, Patrick Troughton, had advised Davison to only stay in the role for three years and move on to avoid typecasting. Davison ended up taking this advice and season twenty-one ended up being the final one for the Fifth Doctor. However, before almost succumbing to spectrox toxeamia poisoning, the Doctor had to stop off at Lanazaroti to dump two companions and pick up a new one...

Planet of Fire sees Kamelion return to being under the control of the Master, who uses the shape-changing android as part of a somewhat convoluted plan to get the TARDIS to the planet Sarn and utilise the unique properties of that planet to his advantage. Before this happens, the TARDIS lands on Earth, where a young botanist, Peri, finds herself not only in possession of an alien artefact that has ties to Turlough, but she also becomes entangled with the Master, who after a nasty mishap with his tissue compression eliminator, has found himself in diminished circumstances.

Planet of Fire saw the departure of three people from Doctor Who—the most obvious being actor Mark Strickson, who wanted to leave as he felt that there was little more that could be done with his character. He was given a pretty good send-off, as Turlough's origins are revealed, and he also discovers that a close relative of his might be alive on Sarn.

Writer Peter Grimwade also decided to call it a day after this story, as he was unhappy at over the casting decision on Peri's stepfather. Planet of Fire also marked the exit of director Fiona Cumming, although she would be loosely attached to directing a story that was proposed for the Colin Baker era.

Also included in the list of departures was the Master; Ainley's contract was about to expire and writer Grimwade was told that the character had to be killed off once and for all—but as Doctor Who fans know, vanquishing the Doctor's mortal enemy is not all that easy.

It's Moffett of Arabia!
The least-mourned departure from Doctor Who was that of Kamelion, who was considered a pain in the arse by all and sundry, as it could barely open its mouth properly, let alone walk or interact with any degree of competence—less even than Matthew Waterhouse. Kamelion had pretty much been shoved in the back of a cupboard in the TARDIS for a few stories and was wheeled out to be written out of the show. Because Kamelion was able to change his form at will, the robot form of Kamelion was only seen in this story a couple of times and the transmogrification from the stiff, near-immobile robot to other forms that comparatively break-danced is quite hard to swallow.

The decision to use Lanzarote as a location was an inspired one—director Cumming had holidayed there and immediately thought that it would be wonderful for Doctor Who, but only after needling producer John Nathan-Turner extensively did he give and allow a story to be filmed there. Cumming's persistence was commendable, as the location gives an epic quality to the story that could not have been replicated if they had used a quarry in Surrey.

Davison is his usual self, although this must be one of the rare stories during his era that the Fifth Doctor doesn't get sick or be incapacitated in some way. Davison shows no signs of role fatigue, even though this was his penultimate story and knew damn-well that he'd be hanging up his cricket whites within a few weeks.

Mark Strickson clearly gives his all in his final performance as Vislor Turlough; it was always going to be difficult for Strickson, as his character was introduced to be manipulated by the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor, and when Turlough made the decision to choose the path of righteousness, there was little for the character to do. The fleshing-out of his back-story (which was apparently envisaged from the beginning), gives Turlough a depth that had previously been absent and it's a great pity that he couldn't have done a few more with this extra character dimension.

We're not fans of Anthony Ainley's Master; to us, he always seemed like a pantomime version of the character, complete with ‘he's behind you’ laugh. The poncey black velvet outfit didn't do him any favours, either. Maybe it's just that Roger Delgado was so unforgettable and so multi-faceted in his portrayal that was followed was always going to pale in comparison. At least in this one, Ainley gets to say Delgado's classic line ‘I am The Master—you will obey me!’

"I say, old chap - do you know of any discrete toilets on Sarn?"
Veteran actor Peter Wyngarde adds a touch of class to the proceedings, making it seem more like a feature film, as there is a leading man look to him that gives a bit more gravitas to the story. Clad in robes that make him look like T E Lawrence, Wyngarde is on fine form as Timanov; his silky and seductive voice is perfectly commanding as the Chief Elder, who has a blinkered view of the concepts of authority and religious tolerance on the planet Sarn.

Hammer fans will spot veteran sex-bomb Barbera Shelley in the role of Sorasta, one of the women on the planet Sarn.

There are some who would regard the introduction of Nicola Bryant as Perpegillium ‘Peri’ Brown as most important aspect of Planet of Fire. It’s hard for us to disagree with this opinion, because though we regard Patrick Troughton as our favourite actor to play the Doctor, Colin Baker comes a damn close second and the pairing of Baker and Bryant was as perfect a match as Troughton and Hines. Watching Bryant interact with Davison is certainly interesting, as they were only really together for about one and a half stories, but the chemistry is there, but it wasn’t allowed to develop because Davison was about to go out as Bryant was brought in.

There are those who would be expecting us to say something sexist about the fact that the very comely Nicola Bryant appears in a bikini during one sequence in Planet of Fire—all we will say is that she looks spectacular in that skimpy outfit, and that it wasn't shoehorned in gratuitously because it was within the context of the story and finally that Ms Bryant is hands-down more attractive than any other companion to grace the inside of the TARDIS—Adric included...

Video


Much of Planet of Fire was shot on film and luckily, the original elements still existed and were available when it came for that wonderful bunch of guys at the Doctor Who Restoration Team to work their magic on this story. The results are wonderful; the film sequences can look almost breathtakingly beautiful at times, with a sort of sheen that is unique in classic Doctor Who. Sadly, the interiors shot on tape (this was just after Doctor Who switched from one-inch videotape to the vastly inferior half-inch tape) can't compete with the pristine location footage, but it has been made to look as good as it can, so you can't ask for any better than that. This is truly wonderful work, possibly the best-looking Who DVD to date.

Audio


Planet of Fire is presented in its original mono audio and sounds as good as it can, with the dialogue perfectly audible and any nasties, such as pops or crackles have been nixed by the lovely Mark Ayres.

How could we NOT include a screen-cap of Nicola Byrant in her bikini?  Or - come to that - a screen-cap of Mark Strickson's bulging trunks?

Extras


2entertain has lavished Doctor Who fans with two discs for Planet of Fire. The second disc has a substantial supplementary feature, which we will get to later, but firstly...

Disc 1


Audio Commentary: Director Fiona Cumming is joined by actors Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Nicola Bryant to muse upon Planet of Fire. Davison is always a hoot, but tends to be a little too irreverent at times, opening with ’you are in for a treat’, chuckling as he says it. The others are all on great form, with little stories from all of them that keep things flying along—Davison is always good value and having him paired up with anyone other than Janet Fielding allows the other participants to get a word in.

The Flames of Sarn: This is a twenty-five minute featurette that takes a fairly detailed look at the making of Planet of Fire. This features interviews with actors Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Nicola Bryant, along with director Fiona Cumming, designer Malcolm Thornton and cameraman John Walker. It's pretty brisk, packed with numerous anecdotes about the problems with shooting in a hot foreign environment and what is nice is that extracts from John Nathan Turner's memoirs are used, with what appears to be JNT himself reading them—it's always nice to hear things from JNT, as the much-maligned producer is always interesting to listen to. If we have one complaint, it's that this documentary resembles an edition of Doctor Who Confidential, complete with irritating snatches of new-fangled music used to underscore a brief point made on-screen; when dealing with the introduction of Peri into Doctor Who, the song America by Razorlight is used—there are some fans out there who would have suggested that I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts would have been more apt...

Return to the Planet of Fire: Running for about twelve minutes, director Fiona Cumming, along with designer Malcolm Thornton and take a sentimental journey back to Lanzarote, where they revisit some of the locations used in this story. There is a great chemistry between them and their memories are pretty damn sharp, providing numerous anecdotes as they make their way around the locations used on the island. This is great fun, and be sure to keep watching until after the end credits...

The Master's TARDIS always was cooler than The Doctor's - a bit like the Devil having all the best tunes
Designs on Sarn: Designer Malcolm Thornton is your genial host for a five minute piece on the inspiration he drew from Lanzarote's rich landscape and how he incorporated aspects of it into the studio sets for the story. It's a nice little piece.

Deleted and Extended Scenes: Seeing as the original film elements and some studio recording footage were available, the Restoration Team had access to bits and pieces that weren't included in the final transmitted version. This material runs for around eighteen minutes and features some interesting stuff, with all of the location footage looking wonderfully pristine.

Trails and Continuity: What is featured here is relatively straight-forward, presenting the continuity announcements over the closing credits of Doctor Who, and the BBC globe beforehand. It's still fun, though.

Photo Gallery: As always, there is a comprehensive set of stills taken during the filming of this story. Running for eight minutes and set to incidental music and sound effects—sorry, special sound—from the show, this is a nice little peek under the production skirt.

Isolated Score: This option allows you to listen to Peter Howell's score for Planet of Fire unmolested by dialogue or sound effects.

Information Subtitles: What is there to say that we haven't said numerous times already? The guys come up trumps yet again by digging up all manner of facts, figures, statistics and trivia about the making of Planet of Fire. Good stuff!

Coming Soon: Oh my word—it's The Dominators! Run, Jamie! Oh well, even releasing a bad Pat Troughton story's better than none at all.

PDF Materials: Slip this disc into your PC and you can access copies of the original Radio Times listings.

Disc 2


Flushed with the success of the re-editing of Enlightenment, director Fiona Cumming turned her hand again to preparing a special edition of Planet of Fire. Whereas Enlightenment was trimmed down to a lean seventy-odd minutes and many argued that the reduced running time helped the pacing, Planet of Fire has been pruned back even further to a mere sixty-five minutes. We’re sorry to say that the reduced running time does not work in the story’s favour—even though it moves along at a breakneck pace, it does so at the expense of coherency and character development; it’s pretty choppy in places, particularly during the first twenty minutes or so, as people seemingly teleport here, there and everywhere and there is little room for the story to breathe.

The planet Sarn - now more firey than ever!
Where the special edition of Planet of Fire does get things right is in the new CGI effects, which sell the titular concept of a volcanic planet, rather than just one that looks merely hot and dusty; large amounts of CGI fire are employed, along with various other computer-generated tweaks here and there—even though the level of the new effects can’t complete with the vast resources available to New-Who, they are still nice to see and add an extra dimension to the story. A new pre-credit sequence has also been filmed, showing the Trion ship crashing on to the surface of Sarn and it fits quite nicely with the rest of the story.

Image


This special edition of Planet of Fire has been cropped from its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 to that of 1.78:1. The cropping was carefully done, with each shot being examined and cropped accordingly. The resulting image looks fine on the location film footage, at times giving the thing a wonderfully cinematic and epic feel, but it suffers on the videotape footage shot in the studio, making an already grainy image even grainier. This is by no means the definitive version of Planet of Fire, but should just be looked upon as a fun alternative.

Audio


As with Enlightenment, this special edition has been given an all-new 5.1 sound mix and the results are most impressive. The new pre-credit sequence showing the Trion spacecraft crash-landing on the planet Sarn has all manner of sound-effects coming at you from every speaker. It's great stuff and provides an appropriately cinematic sound field to this version of Planet of Fire.

Extras


Calling The Shots: This consists mainly of behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of Planet of Fire, with some remarkable footage that provide a fascinating insight into the methods and the restrictions that the production team had whilst making this story.

Remembering Anthony Ainley: This is a disappointingly short look at the life and career of the second recurring actor the play the Doctor's nemesis, the Master. It starts out promisingly enough, with contributions from fellow cast members, but it sadly just becomes a frenetic journey through his career, interspersed with convention footage of Ainley exercising his wonderfully dry wit. It’s quite likely that Mr Ainley was such an intensely private person that not too much information was available and is reflected in the somewhat superficial nature of this featurette.

The Master gets a break from wearing black velvet.

Overall


Planet of Fire is a pretty good story in the Peter Davison era of the show; his penultimate story is epic on a scale never seen before and it also has the fan-pleasing element of disposing of the useless Kamelion. The Special Edition will not please the more hardcore Doctor Who purists, but it makes for a fun, fast-paced alternative to the version fans are used to.


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