Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Dragonfire

The Doctor and friends.
Doctor Who - Season 24, Story Four - Dragonfire
Written 9/6/12

It makes me sad, really. I expected not to like this series, but it's been a total and utter riot. Dragonfire takes the program into its final stages, as we wave goodbye to dear old Mel (whom I've actually come to really like) and say hello to Sophie Aldred's Ace, a character whose eight serials allow her some of the best character development the Classic Series had to offer. Dragonfire confuses me as to whether it needed one episode more or one less, but I can say that it finishes the season on another standard Doctor Who adventure with the appropriate amount of random craziness.
     Following a distress signal, the Doctor and Mel arrive on Ice-World - an intergalactic shopping mall run by the tyrannical regime of Kane, who buys people as slaves and freezes them in his cryogenic palace. There they run into Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby), the space conman from the The Doctor's Trial. At the same time, they meet Ace - a 1980s teenager who was whisked away to Ice-World by unknown forces and who has a thirst for adventure. Together they venture into the depths of Iceworld, and find that the legends of the Dragon and its fire are truer than they first believed. At the end of the story, Mel decides to leave and travel the Galaxy with Glitz, while The Doctor takes Ace under his wing as the next companion.
     Ace's introduction isn't the best, but it is remarkably better than Mel's was. The character's early attempts to appeal to the youth of the time consists of use of slang that was outdated even at the time - "ace", "wicked," "naff." At the time the audience consisted mostly of people who'd stuck it through and were watching Doctor Who because they were fans. The attempt to garner a younger audience didn't work, and it doesn't make sense when you compare it to the darker direction that the show was heading into. Luckily, she does get a few intimate moments that fully explain her backstory and characterisation, and her character is promising if nothing else.
     The other secondary characters are fun enough too. It's nice to see Sabalom again, and Tony Selby imbues the character with a great charm, despite the fact that he's not being written for by his creator Robert Holmes in account of his death the year before. The villain, Kane, is certainly the best villain since the Valeyard, but the character lacks the humanity that he could have exploited; instead we have a sad sob story about being expelled for his crimes and desperately trying to revive his mobster wife. It's vaguely reminiscent of Batman's Mr. Freeze - not a comparison I should really be making.
The famous "cliffhanger".
     The story's main claim to fame, of course, is the cliffhanger to the first episode, which takes the phrase to a stupidly literal conclusion. Traversing the ice caves, the Doctor finds a steep ledge with a convenient railing. For reasons that will never be explained, he decides that it would be a good idea to climb over and hang off the ledge, before soon realising that he's going to fall to his death. It screams more of the writer not knowing how to work with the 25 minute format than anything else, and it's downright embarrassing regardless.
     Dragonfire finishes the season off in the right direction. While some of its pacing issues may leave the viewer with a sour taste in the mouth, the characterisations and the story's great atmosphere make this final serial of the season one to watch. Despite how much I came to love Mel over the course of the series, I'm not as sad as the surprisingly touching departure wants me to be, for the sole reason that I know that the TARDIS is still in good hands for two seasons to come.


P.S. Writers, please take a course in astronomical science. Then you might realise that stars don't unexpectedly go 'nova without people realising what's going to happen beforehand.
NEXT WEEK: I revisit Remembrance of the Daleks!

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