Saturday, 18 July 2015

Story 134 - Planet of Fire

In which both Turlough and Kamelion are skulking around the TARDIS. The ship materialises on the island of Lanzarote, which puzzles the Doctor as the co-ordinates have been changed. Turlough has detected a mysterious signal which he has tried to keep hidden from the Doctor, whilst it looks as if Kamelion made the course change. The Doctor traces the signal to the harbour where an archaeological expedition has just raised some artefacts from a wreck on the sea-bed. One of the items is a golden rod with a pattern of over-lapping triangles on it. This is alien in origin, and one source of the signal. In charge of the expedition is Prof Howard Foster. His step-daughter Perpugilliam - Peri - Brown is bored. She wants to join some friends on holiday but Foster refuses to let her go. He strands her on their boat so that she will miss her flight. She decides to swim to shore, taking the golden artefact with her as a bargaining tool against Foster. Peri gets into trouble and Turlough has to swim out and rescue her. He sees the golden artefact, and reveals that he has a mark on his arm identical to that on the object. He leaves her in one of the TARDIS bedrooms. The Doctor returns to the ship, which suddenly dematerialises. It is homing in on the source of the strange signal. It arrives on the volcanic planet of Sarn. The Doctor and Turlough go out to explore. Peri wakes up and meets Kamelion - now in the form of her step-father. She believes it is him, until his skin turns silver. He then transforms into the Master.

Sarn is home to a civilisation which worships the god Logar, who dwells in the mountain of fire. There is a small group who deny this, and are in conflict with the community's elders, who are led by High Priest Timanov. He has influence over the real leader - the Chosen One, Malkon. Malkon was given this position as he was found as a baby near the volcano, and has a mark on his arm of over-lapping triangles... When the Doctor arrives, he is at first taken to be a messenger from Logar, who is predicted to arrive. Peri steals a TARDIS component from the console to prevent Kamelion taking control of the ship and she runs off with it. Kamelion - still in the form of the Master - gives chase. The Master is nearby, but his mental control over the android occasionally slips and Kamelion's skin turns silver, or he turns into Prof Foster when close to Peri's influence. Timanov sees him in his silvery Master form and realises that this must be the true messenger they have been expecting, as the messenger is supposed to shine like silver. This allows the Master to gain some control over the community. Kamelion turns them against the Doctor and those who don't believe in Logar. This group, led by Amyand, are more interested in science and technology. Kamelion attempts to have them all burned in a cave, but Turlough has identified the technology of this planet and is able to stop the flames. There are ancient machines which can control the volcano that is supposed to be where Logar dwells. He has one of Amyand's supporters take him to a forbidden area close to the volcano, where they find the wreck of a spaceship. Turlough reveals that this came from his home planet of Trion, and once carried him, his father, and his younger brother.

Peri finds her way to the Master's TARDIS and finds the evil Time Lord in reduced circumstances. An experiment with his Tissue Compression Eliminator has left him shrunk to only an inch or two in height. He had made contact with Kamelion in order that it could come here to rescue him. The volcano is capable of producing a gas named numismaton, which burns with a cold blue flame. This has restorative properties. The volcano threatens to erupt, and so Turlough uses the distress signal in the crashed ship to alert his homeworld. He tells the Doctor that his father was a political prisoner on Trion. Sarn was used as a prison planet for those exiled. The Trions will evacuate the locals before the volcano destroys them. It was a Trion scientist in a heat-resistant suit who gave rise to the legends about Logar and its messenger. Malkon is shot and wounded when he rebels against Timanov. Turlough saves him by bathing him in the numismaton. He informs the recovered Malkon that he is his brother. As he has the same mark on his arm - a Trion criminal brand - and he is the elder sibling, he is able to take control over the community and has them prepare for evacuation. Timanov, his faith shattered, refuses to leave. In the control room of the volcano, Kamelion brings the Master's TARDIS to stand where the numismaton will burn. The Doctor manages to damage the android. It knows that it will always be open to malign influences and so asks the Doctor to destroy it. He uses the Master's weapon on it. The numismaton begins to flow and the Master returns to normal size. The Doctor turns off the gas flow - and the Master appears to be incinerated. The Trion ship has arrived, and Turlough learns that he is able to go home a free man. He decides to do so, now that he has been reunited with his younger brother. He says farewell to the Doctor, who is now joined by Peri.

This four part adventure was written by Peter Grimwade - his final work on the programme - and was broadcast between 23rd February and 2nd March, 1984.
It was intended to write out Kamelion, the Master - in this form at least - and Turlough, and to introduce new companion Peri. To take the last point first, it was felt by producer John Nathan-Turner that having an American companion would help sell the show in the USA where it had a reasonable following that could be built upon. Actress Nicola Bryant is, of course, English, but had shared digs with an American and could manage a passable accent. As it was, it was the Britishness of the series that the Americans loved.
In the same way that the Delgado Master had been exclusively Jon Pertwee's nemesis, so it was decided that the character as played by Anthony Ainley should now be rested for a while as Peter Davison was about to move on. There had been thoughts about revealing his true connection with the Doctor - in the same way that the proposed Third Doctor / Master finale would have done. Then, it would have been that the Master was really the dark side of the Doctor. Here, he was going to be his brother. In the end, it was decided not to have any such reveal.
As stated in my look at the previous story, Kamelion was supposed to have been written out in a Dalek story which would have followed The King's Demons, but he had been left wandering unseen through the TARDIS corridors since his introduction. Here was the opportunity to get rid of him.
The story is also significant for being filmed overseas, something which JNT hoped to attempt every season. The location for Planet of Fire is Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. It plays both itself in the opening episode, and the planet Sarn. In some ways this is a bad move, as it seems unlikely that the Trion artefact should turn up on Earth in a place that looks identical to Sarn. Some other type of locale might have made the shift to Sarn more notable.

One obvious inspiration for this story is H Rider Haggard's She - with its life-prolonging flames.
The principal guest artist is Peter Wyngarde, playing Timanov. best known from the ITC spy-fi series Department S and its spin-off Jason King. In a relatively minor role, as Sorasta, is Barbara Shelley - a regular from the Hammer films. Malkon is played by Edward Highmore, and Amyand is James Bate. Prof Foster is Dallas Adams, and Gerald Flood returns to voice Kamelion.
Episode endings are:
  1. Peri looks on in amazement as her step-father turns into the Master...
  2. Kamelion urges the Sarn elders to sacrifice the Doctor and the other unbelievers, and they are pushed towards the cave where they will be burned alive...
  3. In the Master's TARDIS, Peri finds a miniature control room in a box, and within is the tiny Master himself...
  4. Turlough has decided to return to his own planet. The Doctor invites Peri to join him in his travels...

Overall, not a bad story. It has a number of tasks to perform and carries them out well enough. Misguided religious zealots are a bit of a sci-fi cliche, however. For once, the Master has a plan that actually makes sense - he just wants to be returned to normal and hopefully exploit other properties of the numismaton gas. The location work certainly helps make it more watchable.
Things you might like to know:
  • Peter Wyngarde makes an appearance in JG Ballard's autobiography, as both were confined to a Japanese internment camp when Shanghai was taken over by the Japanese in 1941. This was when he was plain Cyril Goldbert. Wyngarde's career suffered in 1975 when he was arrested for "cottaging". This ruined his on screen reputation as the ultimate ladies man. Other genre roles of note include General Klytus in the Flash Gordon movie, where his face was concealed in a mask throughout; a couple of appearances in The Avengers (including the Hellfire Club inspired A Touch of Brimstone); and he was one of the numerous Number Two's in The Prisoner
  • Dallas Adams' career also fell victim to his sexuality, as he had been involved in a high profile gay palimony case. This led the tabloid press to criticise his casting in this story. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1991.
  • Edward Highmore is the father of Freddie, who starred in the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The two played father and son in a version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
  • JNT's petty feud with Peter Grimwade led to him not being invited to Lanzarote for the recce - despite flagging up the fact that he had difficulty writing for locations he did not know. The pair did have a reconciliation, and a further historical script by Grimwade was considered for Colin Baker's Doctor.
  • As mentioned, this was Peter Grimwade's final contribution to Doctor Who. He was first credited on the programme back in 1970 - when he was Production Assistant on Spearhead From Space. After leaving the show, he wrote an episode for ITV children's show Dramarama - "The Come-Uppance of Captain Katt" - which is about a TV sci-fi character. It was based on his experiences of working on Who. He also wrote a novel for WH Allen named "Robot", which has a number of Doctor Who references. He died of leukemia in 1990.
  • Director Fiona Cumming provided a special edition of this story for its DVD release. Running at 75 minutes, with new CGI effects, it also includes a new prequel - showing the crash of the spaceship carrying Turlough's family.
  • The trip to Lanzarote allows Peter Davison the opportunity to change his costume - with different trousers and a snazzy waistcoat. 
  • Junior Ensign Commander Vislor Turlough's service number is 9/12/44 - which just happens to be JNT's birthday.
  • When the series returned to Lanzarote for the Series 8 story Kill The Moon, the BBC were happy to let the rumour that it was a sequel to this story run.
  • This is the only Fifth Doctor story not to feature Janet Fielding. 
  • Mark Strickson has returned to the role of Turlough for the Big Finish audio range. He is best known these days for directing natural history films and his work with the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin.

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