Planet of Fire
By Peter Grimwade
Reviewed By Paul Bowler
"I shall come from this fire a thousand times stronger, to hound you to the borders of the universe. Bwahahahahaha! Oh! Cancel the ray injection immediately. Doctor! I'll plague you to the end of time for this. Help me! I'll give you anything in creation. Please! Won't you show mercy to your own Argh!!!"
While taking a holiday in Lanzarote with her stepfather, Howard Foster (Dallas Adams), a young American teenager called Peri (Nicola Bryant) decides to go travelling. She visits Howard on his boat, where has just discovered a strange alien artefact on a shipwreck he has been investigating. Worried that her travel plans will affect her studies, Howard tricks Peri into staying on the boat, but when Peri decides to swim to shore she gets into difficulty.
The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) are also on the island, having detected the signal emanating from the artefact. Trulough swims out and saves Peri from drowning, taking her back to the TARDIS, where he realises that the alien artefact is from his home planet of Trion. When the Doctor returns they all travel by TARDIS to the planet Sarn, a barren volcanic world, where the population worship a fire deity called Logar. They are actually political prisoners from Turlough’s home planet - Trion - and when Turlough finds his brother, Malkon (Edward Highmore); he is forced to reveal to the Doctor that he is actually a refugee from his own people. The Sarn elder Timanov (Peter Wyngarde) is dismissive of the Doctor and Turlough, even though Turlough has the mark of Misos triangle on his arm.
Unbeknown to the Doctor the Master (Anthony Ainley) has reasserted his control over the shape-shifting robot called Chameleon (voiced by Gerald Flood), who joined the TARDIS crew in The Kings Demons (1983), and has used the helpless robot to instigate his plan. Having been miniaturised after his experiments with the tissue compression eliminator went wrong; the Master needs the revitalising properties of the planets Numismaton gas in order to restore his body to its original size.
After the Master is discovered in his TARDIS by Peri, the Doctor manages to trick Chameleon and disables him. The robot begs the Doctor to destroy him so he cannot be used for evil again. The Doctor complies and uses the tissue compression eliminator on the robot, crushing his metal body until only a tiny husk remains. The Master rise in the blue flames of the Numismaton gas, restored and reinvigorated by the fire, but the controls are locked and the Master is trapped. He begs the Doctor for help, but the Doctor stands by and watches as the flames consume his old enemy.
When Turlough’s people arrive to rescue the survivors on Sarn, he learns that political prisoners are no longer persecuted, so he decides to return to his home world. Turlough thanks the Doctor before he leaves, telling Peri to keep an eye on the Time Lord as he has a habit of getting into trouble. Once inside the TARDSI the Doctor intends to take Peri home, but she asks to join him on his travels. The TARDIS lurches violently as Doctor agrees, welcoming her aboard, as the TARDIS whisks them away to their next adventure.
Planet of Fire (1984) is an excellent story from Peter Davison’s last season. The twenty first season featured some of the best stories from the 5th Doctor’s era, and Planet of Fire features some significant landmarks in the shows history. It introduces Nicola Bryant as new companion Peri, while allowing writer Peter Grimwade to script an excellent departure for Turlough. Peter Grimwade also wrote Turlough’s debut story, Mawdryn Undead (1983), and he really gives Mark Strikson’s character some great scenes for his final adventure. It was also nice to learn more about Turlough’s background, as well has his home planet and its customs.
Nicola Bryant makes and impressive debut in this story, her character is given plenty to do, and she proves how resourceful she can be when she is trapped in the TARDIS with Chameleon. She adapts quickly to what is happening, managing to escape across the rocky surface of Sarn, and even has the will power to disrupt the Master’s control over Chameleon.
The guest cast for this story are all very good as well. Peter Wyngarde is superb as the Timanov, whose devotion to Logar blinds him to the Master’s deception. Dallas Adams plays a dual role in this story, first as Peri’s stepfather Howard, and then later when Chameleon assumes Howard’s form. There are some very creepy scenes where Dallas Adams plays the robotic shape-shifter; his face painted silver, as Peri’s appeals to Chameleon momentarily breaks the Masters control.
Planet of Fire was also filmed in Lanzarote and this leads to some stunning location filming. This is one of the few Doctor Who episodes where it really looks like the Doctor is on an alien planet, the scenery is magnificent, and really helps make this story something really special.
Anthony Ainley is outstanding as the Master in Planet of Fire. The cliff-hanger for episode three, where Peri uncovers the miniaturised Master in his TARDIS is a brilliant scene. Similarly, when Ainley is playing Chameleon, he looks incredibly evil, and director Fiona Cumming sets the stage for an epic showdown between the renegade Time Lords. When the Master is trapped in the flames he begs the Doctor to help him escape, but the Doctor just watches silently as the Master burns up, apparently vaporised by the raging fires. This momentous final scene is quite disturbing, it offers a chilling insight into the Doctor’s relationship with the Master, and blurs the line between good and evil in a way that few stories have ever managed before.
The robot Chameleon also returns in Planet of Fire. After joining the TARDIS crew at the end of The Kings Demons, the ungainly robot was never seen again until Planet of Fire. Quite why the production team wanted to introduce such a robot is beyond me, as they got rid of K9 because he became more a hindrance than a help story wise. Still, at least Chameleon is well served in this story, and his eventual demise is actually quite sad.
Peter Davison is on fine form as the Doctor in Planet of Fire. He seems really settled in the role and I think it’s a shame that he decided to leave during this season. I would have enjoyed seeing some more adventures with the 5th Doctor and Peri, they made a great team, but alas it was not to be. In a story that is all about beginnings and endings, it’s perhaps ironic that Planet of Fire would end up being the 5th Doctor’s penultimate story. Planet of Fire is tantalizing glimpse of what might have been. It’s a great story, full of memorable moments and high production values.
However, big changes were on the way. The next adventure would see the 5th Doctor fighting against impossible odds, locked in a deadly race against time to save Peri from Sharaz Jek, before making the ultimate sacrifice in what is arguably one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made… The Caves of Androzani.