Who Review: Planet of Fire

On a boat off the shore of Lanzarote, American archaeologist Howard Foster has pulled a number of artifacts from the sea bed, among them a rod made from a strange metal, with a triangle shaped impression on one end. He tries to interest his step-daughter, Peri, in his work, but she wants to travel with some guys to Morocco. When he refuses her request, and tricks her into staying on the boat, Peri gathers her things, including the rod, and swims for shore. She gets into trouble along the way, but thankfully the TARDIS has landed nearby, homing in on a signal from the rod. Turlough saves Peri, but he is more interested in the rod and its strange symbol, which matches one that is branded on his arm. He recognizes it as from his home planet, Trion, a place he doesn’t want to visit. For some reason, the TARDIS takes the Doctor, Turlough, and Peri to the barren planet of Sarn, where volcanic activity threatens the people there. The leaders believe the rumblings to be the anger of their god Logar, who requires a sacrifice of unbelievers to be appeased. When the Doctor and Turlough come across equipment from a wrecked Trion ship, they suspect there’s more to the rumblings and strange fires on Sarn than supernatural activity. Meanwhile, Kamelion, the andriod companion the Doctor picked up a while ago is acting strangely. It was he who programmed the TARDIS to go to Sarn. Now his former owner, the Master, has taken control of him, and is involving himself in the affairs of Sarn in the hope of ridding himself of his arch nemesis once and for all. And when the Doctor and Turlough appear to side with the skeptics, the Master seizes a golden opportunity to make good on his plan…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The previous season, the Doctor Who production team filmed a story in Amsterdam (“Arc of Infinity”). For this season, they somehow found the money to outdo themselves by taking the cast and crew to Lanzarote! Naturally, to get the most bang for their buck, they used the location for the barren landscape of Sarn as well as the scene for the archaeological expedition. The diversity of terrain served them well, and it actually works.

In fact, I was rather surprised when I re-watched “Planet of Fire.” It’s actually not a bad story at all. I admit, my expectations weren’t high. Peri and her step-father don’t have very convincing accents, and the characters fall into American stereotypes way too easily. Also, the story was written by Peter Grimwade whose previous two outings (“Time-Flight” and “Mawdryn Undead”) were rather lacking in many ways (see my reviews). It seems, however, that script editor Eric Saward, had a hand in finishing the script, so that may account for the quality increase. But there had to be a good idea there to begin with, so I’m not discounting Grimwade’s contribution at all.

Aside from the “American” accents (and trust me, when you’ve lived in the States for more than 20 years, bad accents stand out like lime green carpets in a funeral home), there’s some dodgy acting, and a couple of questionable effects, but for the most part, there’s not a lot to complain about. It’s unfortunate that Peri starts out as the quintessential British idea of an spoiled American brat, because Nicola Bryant settles into the role later and does a good job. She’s no Elisabeth Sladen, Mary Tamm, or Sarah Sutton, but she holds her own pretty well. In fact, she gets what I consider to be the best line of the whole story. When the Master confronts her with his classic, “I am the Master and you will obey me!” Peri responds, “Well, I’m Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loudly as you!”

As we’re being introduced to Peri, we are also saying farewell to Turlough. And what a send-off he gets! At long last, we get some back story on him, where he’s from, and how he ended up on Earth. I must say, I’m still not sure how it is he can be a fugitive from his people and yet bargain with the Black Guardian to be sent home (see “Mawdryn Undead”). He didn’t seem very enthusiastic about going home in this story. Maybe I missed something.

Also making a departure in this story is Kamelion, the android companion picked up by the Doctor in “The King’s Demons” and then forgotten about until now. He gets a good send-off, too, being taken over by the Master, and used by him to stop the Doctor’s interference in his plans. In the end, the Doctor destroys Kamelion–perhaps the first time the Doctor has killed one of his own companions. What’s more, he uses the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator to do the job–the first time the Doctor has used the Master’s deadly weapon.

As you probably gathered, the Master returns, using Kamelion to do his dirty work while he is somewhat physically hampered. Exactly how the Master is incapacitated we only discover in the episode three cliffhanger–and it’s a good, surprising twist. Another story point I’m not sure I understand is exactly why the Doctor feels like he needs to stop the Master. Okay, so the Master wants to use the numismaton gas and its healing properties so he can be back to full strength. Does the Doctor know the gas could make the Master stronger? The Doctor has refrained from destroying the Master in the past, and has, in fact, spared his life on numerous occasions. Why would he begrudge him returning to full health? Wouldn’t the Doctor have been better off working to help the Master heal, if that was the sole purpose for the Master’s visit to Sarn? If the healed and restored Master didn’t leave, then maybe the Doctor would have cause to oppose him. But it seems as if the Doctor is trying to stop the Master on the principle that whatever the Master’s up to, it can’t be good for anyone, which is a bit lame. In the end, the Doctor watches as the Master burns, seemingly to his death. In the following TARDIS scene, the Doctor appears affected by his willingness to let his nemesis die, but gets over it quickly. This only furthers the idea that the Doctor just wanted rid of the Master, no matter what the reason.

At the end of the story, the Doctor offers to take Peri home, but she wants to use her remaining three months of vacation to travel with him. The Doctor is reluctant at first, but gives in to her. A decision Peri may live to regret… 🙂

“Planet of Fire” is a good story; worth watching, especially for the Turlough back story and a generally good plot. But not essential Who.

Share your thoughts... I usually reply!