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Planet of Fire

Reviewed by Nigel Flockhart

Location stories in Doctor Who are always preferable to the cardboard feel of the studio, so Planet of Fire would have to rate as being the most ambitious and effective in the series so far. Finally we get a believable alien world that is seen as barren and on the verge of destruction.

As for the plot, well I have to admit that it was sometimes confusing and raised some awkward questions such as exactly what a piece of Trion equipment was doing on a sunken Greek wreck in the Canary Islands.

Turlough's story is fully explained at last, from where it started in Mawdryn Undead. The slight initial problem with his comment that he wants to 'go home' can be explained as a convenient excuse that he gives the Doctor. By Warriors of the Deep he has changed his mind, probably due to the erratic TARDIS guidance system and the fact that he is at last away from both Earth and Trion.

The arrival of Nicola Bryant's Peri introduces a very interesting character, attractive, loud-mouthed and convincing especially when acting scared, but not actually reverting to the traditional screamer. The biggest flaw is making her American. The accent tends to get on the nerves a bit and grates in later stories.

The acting honours however should go to Anthony Ainley for his dual portrayal as the miniature Master and as the lookalike Kamelion. This would really have to be the last good performance we see of the Master as the chief villain. After this story he is reduced to a convenient second-rate villain, overshadowed by the Rani and the Valeyard. His death scene is superb - "I'll hound you to the four corners of the universe for this." Perhaps this is where this version should die in a blaze of fire and return once again as the walking corpse, clinging to life. One can only hope that Season 26's Survival returns the Master to his rightful position.

As for the Doctor, here we get into the debate over his supposed coldness and the fact that each incarnation is different. When Kamelion asks to be destroyed, the Doctor knows this is the only way he can free the machine who will always be susceptible. It is a mercy killing, as is the death of the Master. The Doctor simply stands and watches as the Master fries, but this is only rough justice being given out. The Doctor finally realises that his old friend must die for the good of the universe. He is however still visibly affected as he struggles with his decision.

All in all, a good story, with a good story, the cinematography, the individual performances and the long-awaited subplot helping to lift an otherwise routine story.

This item appeared in TSV 15 (September 1989).

Index nodes: Planet of Fire