Monday, October 24, 2011

 

DVD Detail: Doctor Who – Kamelion Tales

Peter Davison’s Doctor battles Anthony Ainley’s Master in this DVD box set of the Doctor Who stories The King’s Demons and Planet of Fire. The Time Lords clash across the gorgeous locations of a medieval castle and the island of Lanzarote; each time, the Master takes advantage of the local religion (who is the true demon? A tricky one, with him on the cover) and a shape-shifting robot, Kamelion. Which of the Doctor’s companions will remove the most clothes? Which of them will announce that he’s not a naughty boy, but the messiah? And will Magna Carta die in vain?

Despite their very different settings, these stories from 1983 and 1984 have much in common, even on top of cementing the arch-enemy relationship between ’80s Master Anthony Ainley and, particularly, Peter Davison’s Doctor. Each of them is the final story written by a Doctor Who director-turned-author, respectively Terence Dudley and Peter Grimwade; each has stories from both the ’60s and the ’70s it might take as models; in both, religion takes a key role in how characters are treated, though ironically it’s the more anti-religious script that treats believers with more sympathy; and The King’s Demons and Planet of Fire turned out to be the only two stories featuring that most ill-fated and Tony Blair-related of the Doctor’s companions, Kamelion. Who, you might ask? Particularly as these stories give much more identifiable roles to fellow companions Turlough and Peri? Well, if you can’t remember the robot that inexplicably gives the title to this set, you’re not alone – the production team forgot about him for months on end, too… Back in September 2009, Doctor Who Magazine Issue 413 published “The Mighty 200” – 6,700 fans’ votes on all 200ish TV Doctor Who stories to that point – voting The King’s Demons down into 181st place, which unfortunately is about right, and Planet of Fire a just-about-middling 134; I’d pretty much agree again, or perhaps slightly lower. And yet that in itself shows me just how brilliant Doctor Who is, because when I come to award scores for stories, Planet of Fire is what I think of as the epitome of an ‘average’ mark – perfectly decent if, ironically, lacking a spark – and yet I’d put nearly three-quarters of Doctor Who stories above that ‘average’.

While this ‘taster’ may not be short, incidentally, my policy in these is not to be too spoilery, in order than you can read on without fear of finding out too many key twists from the end. This poses particular problems for The King’s Demons: the key twists are given away by the nature of this DVD box set itself; the DVD menu gives away the only cliffhanger; and it’s arguably difficult to give away the ending of a story when it doesn’t really have one… While if you’ve not seen Planet of Fire, stop reading before the final heading below.

Doctor Who – The King’s Demons

With arguably the silliest plan the Master ever comes up with – despite a lot of competition – The King’s Demons has one of the weakest scripts of the period, with plot, characters and dialogue at best iffy and often unintentionally hilarious, and after fifty minutes less an ending than the impression that someone’s looked at their watch and called, ‘Time! Everyone back to your TARDISes!’ as if in expectation of another round, only for the protagonists to shrug and go home. So you might expect me to lay into it mercilessly. And I will lay into it… But not without mercy. While plot, characters and dialogue are usually what matter to me, and while most TV stories since 2005 have shown how to do Doctor Who far more effectively over a similar time, it’s possible to watch and enjoy it without any sense of the plot, characters and dialogue at all (much like the writer). Thanks to the magic of DVD, you can watch the beautifully cleaned-up picture and let the setting lend it weight: instead of ‘another cheap spaceship, and the story’s even flimsier,’ you think, ‘Ooh, lush filming,’ ‘jousting’ and ‘that’s a real castle’. And it’s not just the filming that’s appealing, but Jonathan Gibbs’ incidental music, too. So for The King’s Demons’ critical stock to soar, just follow my advice and select the “Audio Option: Isolated Score” from the Special Features menu so that you can watch the pretty medieval pictures and just listen to the pretty medieval synthesizer.

Or, if you must listen to the whole thing, try to ignore the plot and focus on the sexual tension…

That Golden Moment
“Come, you cringing caitiffs, we tell you there’s naught to fear! Do our demons come to visit us?”
It’s the chilly morning of March the Fourth, 1215 – pay attention, there’ll be a test later – and spectators are massing in the lists for the tournament between local heir Hugh Fitzwilliam, with his sparkling blue eyes, and Champion of Bad King John Sir Gilles, with his shaggy red wig (just to confuse the viewer, Blue Eyes is the Red Knight, and Red Wig in Blue). It all looks terrific: the horses gallop; the knights tilt; a broken lance – and then, suddenly, the horses rear and shy as, with a wheezing, groaning sound, the TARDIS appears between them. Doctor Who’d not done anything like that since 1965 (46 years ago last week), and this time has the double bonus of the interrupted combatants being thrilling on horseback and of the BBC not having thrown the tapes in a skip.

Inside and outside the TARDIS, there’s consternation. The Doctor gives us notes on the period, Tegan asks awkward questions and takes satisfaction in his not taking everything in your stride – that’ll earn her some put-downs for not knowing who the King is, in a minute – and they emerge to find everyone running about in horror… All save the King. Blasé, he welcomes the TARDIS crew over as his demons, almost carelessly confirming that the Angevins are the Devil’s Brood. Even with the Doctor used to turning up at the wrong point in history, this is a bizarre reaction. Has the King been watching Doctor Who?

The knights take up the joust again, and this time young Hugh comes crashing to earth, lying prettily in full close-up, moaning, and crying “Come, sir!” – of which more later. Of course, the Doctor intercedes for his life… And, of course, in one of the script’s few neat bits of writing, this comes back to bite him from all sides. Meanwhile, Tegan is freezing in her new multi-coloured frock; David Brunt’s rather good text notes (with a surfeit of peaches) tell us that this was chosen by Janet Fielding in order to spare herself participation in bluescreen / greenscreen shots, actors always hating special effects taking up more time than the acting does. And that notion, too, will come back to bite everyone this story…

Something Else To Look Out For

Part One makes the best of its castle location and vaulted sets, streaming pennants and knights on horseback; Part Two falls to bits rather stunningly, but it does have one thing of note. And that’s Kamelion. Here we get our first sight of the android in his natural form, quite a nice piece of design and clearly without a man inside it, with a voice so arch and oily that he seems for all the world like C3PO’s untrustworthy and even gayer brother. Unfortunately, by his very nature he gets few lines of his own, swaying between the Master and the Doctor, and that’s the central problem with his character: if you’re a shape-changer whose mind is always in thrall to the strongest will in the area, how do you develop a life of your own? So, in so many ways, the problem with Kamelion is ‘What’s the point?’ How, exactly, will a shapeshifter be the key to the Master conquering the Universe? Autons and Axos didn’t do him much good, while he’s already had a walking TARDIS, and he can hypnotise most people he might want to duplicate – as well as himself being, and titter ye not for this story, a Master of disguise. Does he think Kamelion will conquer the pop charts with his ‘Tony Blair Song’? Or could it be that this is the point where he’s finally gone completely fruit loop? Doctor Who novels later came up with a similar idea of a walking, talking, shape-changing machine super-companion and relaunching the series with “After all, that’s how it all started.” They didn’t know what to do with her, either, though at least she couldn’t just be left in the TARDIS…

And it’s not just by singing in praise of total war that Kamelion resembles the last Labour Government. Behind the scenes, he was just like one of their IT contracts. As the DVD documentary Kamelion – Metal Man makes clear across its quarter-hour bitch-fest, the robot looked great when it was demonstrated to sell the producer on the idea, but that was just about the only time it worked (in part because of a tragedy, though it clearly could never do much of what was promised). Actors (Peter Davison’s snigger particularly memorably) and writers all talk about the endless problems: how you had to synch your performance to its pre-recorded speech, which either came too soon or after a long wait; how it could barely move its head, let alone walk, and what happened when it was programmed to malfunction; how he ends up the only companion who just lurks in the back of the TARDIS without ever being mentioned until it’s time to go. Well, that’s not completely true – there was a scene recorded for The Awakening of him creeping out Tegan in the TARDIS, ironically perhaps the one where he displays the most character of his own (just not a very nice one). This was cut for time, showing how vital he wasn’t, but the scene still exists. Frustratingly, there’s only a bit of it on here, with people talking over it. For the full scene, we had to wait a year later than the “Kamelion Tales” that were supposed to be the last word on him – a joke about the robot taking so long to respond after it was cued, perhaps? – and look in the Special Features for The Awakening, which like all the Davison stories released on DVD this year is rather better than The King’s Demons, as well as being paired with a story that has a much better song. All in all, you may join the Doctor Who team from the time in jeering when Kamelion oversells himself on screen:
“And very co-operative. I would make an excellent colleague.”
Turlough / Hugh

Just three stories earlier, the series had introduced another new companion, Turlough. You have to wonder how hard lead writer Eric Saward was working when you consider that both of these started off a bit dubious, working for an old enemy of the Doctor’s before coming out from under his wing, and both were aliens masquerading as humans on Earth – so it’s no wonder that Turlough finds himself forced to the sidelines in this story. It’s a great shame, as Mark Strickson is very good in the role, but while it’s only in his first three stories out of ten that the script has to separate him from the Doctor – charged with killing the Time Lord, Turlough can’t be alone with him too often for fear of short-circuiting his story arc either by doing so or finally deciding not to and confessing – with Mr Saward clearly having a short attention span, he carries on having him locked up with nothing to do in almost all of his other stories because that’s just the way he started, despite his then being on the Doctor’s side. The King’s Demons is one of the worst offenders: with Turlough now a goodie, suddenly they have no idea what to do with him and he’s thrown in clink. The Doctor only vaguely notices, while Tegan doesn’t give a stuff. And yet Mark Strickson works his school socks off to perfect a weapon more to his taste once he’s stopped trying to kill the Doctor. Turlough was rubbish with rocks, disengaging spaceships, pirate gang-ups and Brigadiers, but here we see him deploying sarcasm to deadly effect. Well, mildly hurtful effect, anyway.
“Can you not call on Hell?”
“I could. But then so could you – with a better chance of success, I fancy.”
Ignored by his new friends and the writers, Turlough is pulled off to the dungeons by young Hugh, who feels his manhood’s been threatened by being spared on the battlefield and compensates by waving his big sword at Turlough with every other line. Mark Strickson and Christopher Villiers strike such sparks off each other that if this was shown today, the Internet would be buzzing with Turlough / Hugh slash. No on-screen couple usually hurl so many arch remarks without ending up in bed together, so it’s a terrible shame Hugh’s mum is literally put between them to defuse the sexual tension. Worse, the Lady Isabella is played by Isla Blair, a fine actress given absolutely nothing to do but say “My Lord” in an increasingly concerned tone. Wearing an enormous cylindrical wimple over a chequerboard dress, too, she looks like she’s come dressed as the Castle and turned up a story early for the life-sized chess.

By contrast, Anthony Ainley has plenty to do, but this does him even fewer favours. Both as the Master and in his hilariously penetrable disguise – it’s blown in the DVD menu, and by, well, just looking at Anthony Ainley looking exactly like Anthony Ainley (with a slightly worse wig) – as Sir Gilles, the King’s Champion and a French knight, as you can tell from that outrrrrrageous accent. With the Doctor failing to be a Pythonian French Taunter in The Time Warrior, a story set in a similar period and with many similarities to this one save for being pretty good, here the Master instead seizes the opportunity to tell the Doctor that his mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries. And this performance is justly famed. Still, he and the Doctor have rather an exciting sword fight, slugging it out with heavy broadswords rather than rapiers, and if it’s not quite as strikingly choreographed as in The Christmas Invasion or as entertaining as in The Androids of Tara, it’s a huge improvement on when the Doctor and the Master last locked swords in The Sea Devils (a swordfight that was both less ambitious and ludicrously out of place).

But once you’re past his flashing sword, fromagey accent and ‘So you did escape from [insert planet name here]’, you’re left with the Master’s plan. This one is so ludicrous that it makes all his others look like models of strategy. The line about the Master’s “small-time villainy” here belongs in a much wittier script; mid-Tom Baker, yes, this might have been an entertaining caper with the audience in on the joke of how absurd the villain is. But when the rest of this is all so painfully earnest, it’s less ‘amusingly silly’ than just ‘stupid’. The real problem with the Master’s plot is not that it’s “inconsequential” – the same author’s Black Orchid was exactly that, but succeeded beautifully on its own terms – but that it thinks it’s really, really important, when it’s just daft. That strips the Master of any role but to snigger, leer and do ‘evil things’ just for the sake of it, which is an even greater drawback when Gerald Flood’s ‘Bad King John’ is rather better at each of those jobs here. I’d been hugely excited at the Master’s return in the early ’80s, and remember thinking at the time that, after three really good new Master stories, ‘maybe Time-Flight was just an off-day’. But following that with this lost Ainley’s Master the benefit of the doubt for me, and from then on more often than not his Master’s a joke.
“Twice in one day – it is most – embarrassing.”
For me, messing about in history is Doctor Who’s iconic story form, but this one is less messing and more mess. As well as The Time Warrior, this has more than a touch of the earlier The Time Meddler, though stupider, and also The Crusade with the King’s brother (if stripped to just the Doctor’s storyline and not Ian and Barbara’s). I quite like a bit of revisionist history, but somehow I feel that the argument’s lacking something when all it consists of is the Doctor saying ‘Oh no it isn’t’ about what everyone thinks of Magna Carta (though the Charter gets an entertaining and informative little documentary on the disc). With only two episodes in the story, none of the Norman lords get much character; praise must go to Frank Windsor of Z Cars for giving some bottom to a medieval Mitt Romney who spins his views round so often it’s a wonder they don’t stick him on his own castle roof to measure the wind.

Does Terence Put the Dud Into Dudley or Peter the Grim Into Grimwade?

The King’s Demons and Planet of Fire invite comparison between their writers, Terence Dudley and Peter Grimwade. Each was a BBC director with past work on Doctor Who who then turned to writing – each wrote just three Doctor Who stories, all for Peter Davison’s Doctor though neither is able to give him much fire, and these are the final stories for each of them. Unusually for Doctor Who scriptwriters, they tended to novelise their own work, too. And neither, for me, are top-notch writers, though Peter Grimwade was an outstanding director (while Terence Dudley very much wasn’t). Peter Grimwade’s scripts were often rather tangled, but at least had some interesting ideas in them and gave the impression that he cared; Terence Dudley’s had more of a ‘that’ll do’ attitude to them. For Mr Grimwade, I’d recommend Mawdryn Undead and suggest you leave Time-Flight until last; with Mr Dudley, Black Orchid is rather good, and neither of his other Doctor Who stories are much cop. Much worse, however, was his spin-off script for K9 and Company. The Sarah Jane Adventures have been a triumph; the first go at such a spin-off wasn’t. And with Terence Dudley the producer who forced the strong female lead off Survivors (replacing her with the bloke who’d guested as ‘man with stud farm of obliging women’), making Terry Nation look like a radical feminist, he was surely the worst possible person to write for Sarah Jane Smith.

So it pains me to admit that Terence Dudley was a far better novelist – two times out of three, anyway. Even he couldn’t be bothered novelising his own Four To Doomsday (which Terrance Dicks turns into a functional book peppered with contemptuous asides for the script), and his K9 and Company novel is atrociously written sexist bilge. Fortunately, both his Black Orchid and his The King’s Demons novels are rather good, and remarkably flesh out fifty-minute stories into some of the longer books in the Target range – of the Kamelion Tales, for example, his adaptation of the half-length story is significantly longer than Peter Grimwade’s Planet of Fire. Terence Dudley’s favourite word, incidentally, is “contumely”, which turns up in each of his books as if for a bet, and his novelising the two stories in the reverse order to their transmission shows in glaring mix-ups on the page. Despite that, they’re among the most enjoyable of the Peter Davison novelisations, expanding greatly on the scripts and sorting out some of their problems.

The better of the two and the only one that’s currently available – as an audiobook, impressively read by Michael Cochrane, accompanied by so-so music – is Black Orchid. It’s also the more flawed. On the entertaining side, the first part (and first disc) is rather lovely, making gorgeous use of cricket, and particularly of Nyssa, Adric and Tegan’s competing levels of social embarrassment, particularly the “duck farm” and “That Bisto”, and though he overdoes Tegan’s being Australian, he captures her determination to be detained in sympathy with the Doctor as a rare moment of strength for one of his female characters. Tony Masero’s cover painting is bright, sharp and physics-defying, too. Michael Cochrane is very suited to Mr Dudley’s narration – the slightly pompously overextended vocabulary to up the page count – and most of the voices, notably his very good Lord Cranleigh and an arrestingly crusty and old Doctor. He even makes me feel for Lady Bloody Cranleigh at the end, which is something of an achievement, and manages the innuendoes with admirable deadpan:
“All at once a wave of happiness overcame Adric. He was doing it. Yes, he was doing it and felt wonderful!”
Then, mere moments after “‘Ah!’ ejaculated the Doctor,” Nyssa hears from a young man “about how he stroked, as she understood it, eight men in a boat on a river called the Thames.” At least he’s spared saying “cox”. I mention all this, though, to put off the bad side of the book; Terence Dudley is perhaps the most socially conservative of all Doctor Who novelists, which shows in many ways. He’s such a blatant snob even when mildly critical of the Beauchamp family that I can’t help noticing what utter shits they and their set are, while the servants are only there to serve and be murdered. The extra detail and relentless sucking-up doesn’t hurt the scheming dowager Marchioness of Cranleigh (though there’s no reason beyond snobbery for the Doctor’s conviction she’ll do the right thing in the end), but several other characters come over much worse in the book: her younger son, “Lord Cranleigh,” exposed as a wickedly complicit fake for his own gain; his fiancée both heartless and shockingly thick (crawler Dudley puts down a working class policeman as an idiot but respectfully leaves the family alone, even when Ann here is given absolute proof that the Doctor can’t be guilty); and Sir Robert the Chief Constable a bias and incompetence well outside the course of duty, despite an amusing moment when he wonders if Nyssa is “some diabolical foreign plot… some anarchist plot to substitute a double for Ann and infiltrate the House of Lords?” in which both character and author utterly fail to notice that there is a dastardly plan to substitute a Lord here, and it’s worked for two years. Try to ignore, too, the entirely out of character God-fearing Doctor in a book dripping with C of E sentiment (despite a dash of Catholic history) but disapproving of Johnny Foreigner’s rites, and seeing no contradiction in that.

Ironically, the medieval one with a king and barons is Terence Dudley’s least snobbish book, with The King’s Demons lacking the comic flair of Black Orchid but also without kindling any desire for violent revolution. The first chapter, in particular, is gripping, dwelling on Sir Ranulf’s misery and how the King seems changed, then the aside in the following chapter’s joust about an answer to Sir Ranulf’s prayer is far more deftly done than Lady Cranleigh’s dubious pieties. Another change is an improvement, too – the Master’s ‘unmasking’ is seen only through the Doctor’s eyes. It’s just a shame that the novels of both The King’s Demons and Planet of Fire avert a death from their TV script’s end; this one comes off worst, as a downbeat moment that leaves everyone in the lurch is bathetically healed by the Doctor popping back with a bit of Savlon. You have to laugh, as indeed Isla Blair did on screen, as she admits in the commentary.

Peter Grimwade’s novels, by contrast, lack both the highs and lows of Terence Dudley’s; competent, readable, but rarely inspired. His opening to the book is quite exciting, juxtaposing two very different crashing ships in a way that almost carries off one as a prefiguring of the other rather than the on-screen aftermaths simply forgetting what planets they’re on when a modern-day beacon from a spacefaring civilisation inexplicably turns up on a long-sunken wreck. At one point, the Doctor rather felicitously quotes Paradise Lost; it had featured in the novel of Logopolis as a metaphor for Anthony Ainley’s Master and so gives a pleasing sense of bookending Davison’s Doctor, even if here it’s merely when the Doctor’s being rude about Birmingham. There’s a neat little aside to The Brain of Morbius, too. Mr Grimwade clearly didn’t think much of having to write for Kamelion, though; he has the Doctor sneer at him as a thing, rather uncomfortably (even if he’s nowhere near as interesting as Drathro), and reflects that the Doctor “had quite forgotten about the robot from Xeriphas”:
“It was some time now since Kamelion had declared himself the Doctor’s obedient servant and taken up residence in the TARDIS. But the obsequious automaton had none of the cheerful loyalty of K9 and the Doctor always felt uncomfortable in the presence of this tin-pot Jeeves.”
Doctor Who – Planet of Fire

Peter Davison’s penultimate story, Planet of Fire is saddled with some clearing of the decks, writing several characters in and out while at the same time given a glamorous location which had to stand in for two separate planets. No wonder writer Peter Grimwade is said to have got fed up with it after several drafts and left script editor Eric Saward to paper over the rest. A lot of it looks good, and there are excellent performances – including, surprisingly, perhaps Anthony Ainley’s best – but the script is distinctly uneven and lacking in edge, sandwiched between a would-be Dalek epic and the fifth Doctor’s glorious finale and with too much to do to keep up the accelerating pace towards the Peter’s climax. This is also the last Davison story without monsters, and the only one in 1984; his era is the only one after the ’60s to feature multiple monsterless adventures, which may be one reason that people often think of his time as bland. It’s the last of that peculiarly Davison sub-genre of the arthouse, meandering, meaningful, slightly cerebral sci-fi, though in this case neither weird nor deep enough to match the best of them (like the more inspired Castrovalva, for example, this features the Master, a skip between locations and a bulky silver suit that cuts it even less as an ‘are they aliens?’ stand-in than the Castrovalvan tribal costumes). And among all this, new companion Peri makes a thankfully wrong impression; Turlough finally gets something to do; and Kamelion really doesn’t…

That Golden Moment
“Wretched citizens of Sarn! You’ve turned your backs on the Lord of the Fire Mountain – and listened to his enemy!”
From the day this was first transmitted, one scene has stood out for me. While the script and actors pull many of their punches in the attack on religion you can see in the bones of the story, the climax to Part Two suddenly grabs the theme and glories in it. So often lumbered with absurd scheming and cackling “Heh-heh-heh” in the background, Anthony Ainley suddenly shows what he can do with the direct approach.

The volcanic planet Sarn has been stealthily settled and exploited for its resources by a more advanced alien culture, and the bewildered, endangered natives have made a religion out of the scattering of technology, constant threat of fire, and occasional crashed survivors. As things go increasingly pear-shaped for them, some of the community have become more fiercely and murderously theocratic; others, free-thinkers trying to make more reasoned sense of it all. When the Doctor and the Master arrive on the planet, guess which side each of them takes? The Doctor, helpful as ever, is just on the verge of getting things working and making people reasonable when a figure in a dapper black suit appears at the door…

Anthony Ainley is simply outstanding as a fire and brimstone preacher, charismatic, Satanic, effortlessly taking control and enjoying every moment as he fulfils the deepest desire of every hellfire preacher and consigns his opponents to the flames.

Something Else To Look Out For

Like The King’s Demons, this looks very pretty. But unlike The King’s Demons’ stately heritage, Planet of Fire looks hot. Mostly filmed on Lanzarote, it’s one of Doctor Who’s few trips abroad and has clearly had money spent on it: never has there been so much sun in the series; never have the actors worn fewer clothes; and so never has any story brought out the sexism in fandom as much as Nicola Bryant’s first appearance as Peri (though naturally I prefer the actor playing Roskal, at least if he had a head transplant – sorry, it’s the ’80s). It’s also one of Peter Howell’s most evocative soundtracks, with soaring awe for the landscape, haunting tones to match Peter Wyngarde’s surprisingly underplayed epiphany, and strangely twisted electronic notes in the heart of the volcano (all, thankfully, available as an isolated score).

Peter Davison’s rather good here, with occasional tart moments (“Shall we gaze upon it, too?”), showing off (“I’d hazard a guess by a pupil of Praxiteles”, appropriately a sculptor famous for the nude female form), or figuring things out in his brainy specs. He even manages to maintain his Doctor through suddenly out-of-character moments like taunting Kamelion (and worse), suddenly offering lifts in the TARDIS, or being crabby with Turlough (‘If you’re holding back about my ex, you’re dumped, girlfriend!’). But it’s Mark Strickson who gets the best of the story for the TARDIS crew, with Turlough at last given the chance to grow up, to get out of his uniform (and trousers), and to get a suddenly jarring sci-fi name. Turlough seems to lurch through several years of character development at once: near-psychotic when he thinks Kamelion’s in touch with his captors; reunited with the brother he never knew he had; and offering heroic self-sacrifice by calling on his scary Planet of My Dad to help (much as the Doctor did in The War Games). And, yes, as he bears the sign of the Chosen One, he’s impassioned and commanding when declaring that he’s not a naughty boy, but the messiah.

The Doctor’s other two companions are marked contrasts. Kamelion doesn’t so much struggle to grow into his own identity as to give up, and he’s given almost nothing of his own personality (or Gerald Flood’s fabulously fruity voice) here. He’s also let down by the evident inability of the blasted robot to work, with an actor visibly having to drop his arms into position to ‘transform’ and Kamelion being ‘himself’ largely shown not by his android form, but by Dallas Adams staggering about in silver body paint (he looks rather better as the buff stepfather). The Doctor comes out of this pretty badly, too, struggling with the Master to dominate rather than liberate Kamelion and being absurdly slow to work out what might be up with him in the first place (hmm, could it be the Master again? Better go on holiday instead of worrying).

Peri, on the other hand, has probably the most unflattering opening a companion ever has – even Turlough got to be interesting and was at least fighting his bad side. By contrast, Peri throws a tantrum because she wants to head off for an indeterminate period of months in a different country that minute, without even saying goodbye to her Mom, and is portrayed as nothing but greedy, snide and thoughtless. She’s clearly meant to suggest ‘hey, I’m open to adventure,’ but the writing makes her a spoilt could-be-platinum-digging brat with a strange fixation on an alien dildo (an innuendo even more blatant in Grimwade’s novelisation, especially when a wet Turlough grips its bulbous head). She instantly strips to her bikini (happily encouraging Mark Strickson into his trunks; though Nicola Bryant was the only one who wasn’t skinny-dipping in the hotel, she was famously ‘rescued’ from her drowning scene by a nudist from the next beach), apparently establishing her as a shallow exploitation stereotype. Nicola even mentions “slash” on the commentary, but it’s not what you think. But I’m telling you the plot. Ironically, she’s paired best here with the Master, who gives her something to be stroppy about (my favourite moment’s her shooting “You do realise this creature is about to do a bunk?” at the local religious leader just before the incarnation of evil does indeed run out on that gullible idiot), and luckily for Nicola Bryant, she gets a better part (and more clothes) in almost all of her later stories. So if you ever meet her, when I’ve queued for autographs I’ve heard her express considerable weariness at still being presented with bikini shots; I once cheered her with a picture of her in a very different look which she’d not previously been asked to sign, from a terrific scene first broadcast twenty-five years ago tomorrow. And yet Peri’s debut still inspires some Twenty-First Century companions, with her “Now that’s what I call a real spaceship” mirrored in “At last, some Spock” and the closing lurch shamelessly nicked for Smith and Jones.

Quite Masterly

Anthony Ainley remakes himself here as a much more physically involved Master and is clearly having a whale of a time, eyes sparkling, as he gets to do something different. And not just in the Part Two cliffhanger – he’s the focus of all three of them, magnetic in his different ways in each (the first is the most predictable and great fun, even if his sticky-on beard has never looked more sticky-coming-off). It’s a fitting send-off to the great pairing between him and Davison (famously pictured back-to-back, cream versus black; in the Kamelion Tales, they’re framed face-to-face) – his Master starts impressively in Logopolis, finishes well in Survival, but often loses it in between. He’s got more stylish props, too: we see his gun open up and fire; his sinister black TARDIS control room, unsubtle but striking; and he never looks better than in a smart black suit. It’s all enough to put up with his Master yet again having landed in a hole and looking a bit dumb – where Roger Delgado’s original version improbably emerged from every defeat without a scratch, Anthony Ainley’s Master is Wile E. Coyote, forever dropping off a cliff or being squashed by his own ten-ton weight, yet even more improbably always surviving without apparent consequences.

The key to the Master’s renewal is, of course, religion. Taken for an angel and doing his best to capitalise on it, despite his desire to be born again he’s at his happiest playing in a very Old Testament set-up. It’s hugely to Mr Ainley’s advantage that his scenes are right on the main seam of the story, as it’s the critique of religion that’s the script’s most effective and, unexpectedly, subtle writing. Though you can tell it’s been toned down from the author’s intent, less ‘angry’ than ‘slightly miffed’, much of this is powerful and still relevant, from the freethinkers’ fear as they make the difficult journey to disprove their god to proto-pope Timanov having a scary but credible point of view rather than being an eye-rolling loon. And in him we have another stand-out performance, as guest star Peter Wyngarde astounds everyone by being grave and subtle, played and written with a frighteningly plausible conviction when he explains the need to burn heretics. It’s refreshing when a script so firmly for free will and against religion has the wit to realise believers can be more dangerous precisely when they aren’t mere crazies, and to show shades of faith from his quietly moving epiphany through his fiery zealotry to his Vicar of Bray-like accommodation with the new messiah when his own position is threatened.

The story has problems when it wanders off that through-line, though, and with so much wilderness on screen there’s room for a lot of wandering. The need to add Peri to the line-up literally drags the story off-course; it makes the first episode almost a prologue, as the Doctor takes a completely unrelated side-step to find a new companion, er, sit in a café for a bit. And unfortunately they couldn’t go for additional location filming of Peri on holiday in, say, London, where the Doctor might have run into her – to pick up a new companion from Earth, the Doctor has to be on Earth, so they all happen to be visiting Lanzarote (played by your actual Lanzarote). This wouldn’t present a problem were it not for the fact that they then all move on to the suspiciously familiar alien planet Sarn (played by, er, Lanzarote). It’s as if they’d started the story by accidentally broadcasting an episode of Doctor Who Confidential. Couldn’t the Doctor just have placed a contact ad? And even once they get to Sarn, the plot lacks drive – there’s a setting, and people with motivations, but they just amble about, leaving a location, going back there, occasionally clashing, until it’s time to stop. It doesn’t help that when Peter Grimwade runs out of ideas, he substitutes the Master trying to trade bits of the TARDIS no-one’ll ever mention again like a demented Swap Shop for drama (it worked so well in Time-Flight).

A middling story of the Master – surprise! – posing as an authority figure on a colony world to seek power deep inside the mountains, this has always rather reminded me of Colony In Space, albeit targeting religion rather than big business and with a less interesting alien culture but far more effective design. With its themes of the mind as battlefield – albeit, in Kamelion’s case, a battlefield no-one seems to much care about – growing up and religion, it’s also an echo of Doctor Who’s fourteenth season, though it doesn’t do well by the comparison (by comparison, short on horror, witty dialogue or inspiration). As with many Doctor Who stories, it owes something to The Deadly Assassin, in which an exile returns home, the Doctor is unusually violent, and the Master in particular has a similar role: grievously injured, he’s come to a planet whose technological past has become mythologised to heal himself with its unique resource, even if the resulting earthquakes destroy it – and he’s apparently killed at what should be the scene of his recovery. You might look out for his later fiery blue Hammer Rebirth of Voldemort in The End of Time, too…

The third disc in the Kamelion Tales box set offers Planet of Fire – ‘The Movie’ Special Edition, in which original director Fiona Cumming returns to the story with a pair of scissors and a CGI toybox. Cutting out a third of it to make it pacier and more like the modern series works rather less well than her slightly disappointing re-edit of Enlightenment, while at 66 minutes it’s less ‘The Movie’ than ‘The Episode’. The new pre-credits sequence is a brave but very cheap-looking try, and it’s distracting to keep joining in with lines that suddenly aren’t there (my first: “That girl, Doctor”). The omissions that most harm it, though, are giving Kamelion an even smaller part, removing the lines where the Doctor threatens Turlough (explaining why he might have to go) and where he lets people think the Chosen One is dead (explaining why everyone suddenly obeys Turlough as the new messiah), and most of all taking out most of the incidental music score, which even with masses of flaming CGI added leaves the story lacking atmosphere. To be fair, some of the CGI is effective, and it certainly makes Sarn look hotter and more alien – but someone should have told them where to stop with all the flames, as it’s impossible not to snigger at scenes like the high priest and the Chosen One standing, entirely comfortably and unconcerned in their flapping frocks, right next to a flaming great rock and not catching fire. For once, though, the menus are quite stylishly done, with the same scenes on both Planet of Fire discs but using the SE version on the second (a trick they missed on the recent ‘new’ version of Day of the Daleks). The rest of the extras are quite impressive and, for me, rather more watchable – particularly the ‘Making of’ leading the several documentaries, which is chatty and informative, even a return to Sarn / Lanzarote, and a quarter of an hour of deleted and extended scenes. There are some enjoyable anecdotes across the documentaries and commentary, though I’ve heard one of the best told in person with a fabulous punchline (and written about it here, if you scroll down to the cheery bit at the end). The most exciting extra, though, is the “Coming Soon” trailer for The Dominators. I’ve written that Doctor Who – The Dominators is not a great story, but it is one of their best trailers, with great use of tints, circling graphics and an unsettlingly grating mix of the Theme and TARDIS sounds. And, if you’re desperate to buy more from this story, there’s even a “Doctor and Master” toy set (actual size!).

Lassie Go Home – Or, the Death of (Spoiler)…

Poor old Kamelion. Hardly in any stories at all, and then – look away now, I’ve warned you – they kill him off. And when I say ‘they’, I mean not just the production team but the Doctor. Can you imagine the Doctor plotting to give a “heart attack” to any of his other companions, let alone shooting them? Kamelion’s last lines are much dumber and more mechanical than his rather fey Gerald Flood incarnation (does Gerald get any lines at all in the second half of the story? How positively Dodo); Dallas Adams’ “Kamelion – no good. Destroy me – please” sounds much more like an Ogron or a dim computer, dehumanised so the Doctor doesn’t look so much of a git. The tiny, twisted, sparking body is rather affecting, but not to the Doctor. The more I think about it, the more it seems a calculated decision. “I am Kamelion… Was Kamelion” is sadly evocative, but pronounced several episodes before his ‘death’. We carefully hear the last of Gerald Flood’s performance even before the Doctor’s anti-robot taunting, or it’d leave a still nastier taste in our mouths. Not giving voice in his final hour to Kamelion’s original oily but highly intelligent persona silences someone who may never sound trustworthy but who definitely sounds like a thinking individual. The ungrammatical, almost monosyllabic, dumb plea for death at the end is delivered by Dallas Adams in a much more warm, loyal – but very dim – voice, so you trust that the poor thing wants to be put out of its misery. The characterisation, in short, abruptly goes from ‘evil C3PO’ to ‘Lassie’, at which point it’s OK to have him put down.

And there really is no coming back from that as a Thundercat.

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