5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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PLANET OF FIRE
"So relentlessly predictable."
At the end of Resurrection Of The Daleks, the Doctor, shaken by Tegan's bitter tirade about the violence she's seen, vows to mend his ways. Now here we are at Planet Of Fire: the events of Resurrection obviously aren't that far in the past, because the Doctor's still muttering darkly about Daleks. So is he a changed Time Lord? Skipping through fields, playing with bunnies, handing out lollipops to small children?
Is he heck.
Oh, he's changed, all right. No doubt about that. But it's definitely not in a way Tegan would have approved of.
Not that everything's changed, of course. He's been wimpy, ineffectual and redundant practically from his regeneration: nobody takes him seriously, not even his companions. And in Planet Of Fire that's still pretty much business as usual. But this time, the Doctor's not going to be nice about it. Not even a little bit. And if you get in his way, God help you, because he's in a lethal mood.
That's right, lethal. Not just towards comfortably non-humanoid entities like Daleks either (despite his peacenik image he's never had any problem killing them). This time he stands implacably by while the Master toasts lightly over an open flame. And in case that's not shocking enough, he blows away his own companion.
Not that we can blame him about the Master. This isn't the sword-fighting, repartee-exchanging Master of the Third Doctor's acquaintance. Instead, he's a thoroughly evil bastard who slaughters for the fun of it, giggling maniacally (unfortunately) all the while. We'd have offed him in a heartbeart - but then, we're not the Doctor.
As for Kamelion, it's clear that he's a liability, and a dangerous one at that. However, call us squeamish, but we have to ask if there wasn't a more humane way of dealing with him than first giving him a heart attack then putting him down like a mangy old spaniel. He's a sentient life form, isn't he? And isn't it the Doctor who should be asking those kinds of questions?
Then there's Turlough. No, he doesn't end up in the morgue too, richly though it may be deserved, but the Doctor's not about to smile weakly this time if Turlough turns out to be in the pay of yet another evil dude. This time, if Turlough dares to be sneaky he's going to have to find a new best friend. Oh, yes.
So the Fifth Doctor finally gets in touch with his ruthless side. Does it work? Er.... Despite the death-dealing and all, the Doctor still doesn't seem all that strong to us. Maybe it's the way he stares blankly at the roasting Master as if he's trying to remember where he left his keys. Or maybe it's the way he yet again makes not all that much difference for most of the story. Whatever, for an implacable killer he's still pretty bland. As for the about-face, call us picky, but this isn't character development: this is so inconsistent with the Doctor's previous character that it's utterly unbelievable.
And it's not just the Doctor who's bland: the story's way yawnsome too. Although the Lanzarote location's not all that striking-looking to us New Zealanders, since we can view that kind of volcanic landscape by sticking our heads out the office window, it's nevertheless used to very good effect here. Unfortunately, there's no story to match it. What we have instead is a tale about people worshipping the artifacts of alien technology - again! How many times have we seen this plot in Doctor Who? Certainly enough to make us drift off and lose track of the endless and pointless toings and froings, that's for sure. Actual Conversations from the Androzani office:
"Where's Peri going?"
Peri: "It's in there."
Turlough: "There it is."
Sigh. Maybe we just have exceptionally short attention spans, but really. Did there have to be so much tromping around and TARDIS part-swapping? We only woke up during the Peri sections, and even then we had trouble following all the details because we were too busy laughing at the Master.
And what about Peri, anyway? Well, it was clear from the amount of Companion Cleavage that we weren't her target audience, but apart from her slightly dodgy accent we liked her anyway. She's a bit feeble with all the floundering and drowning, and there's rather too much screaming, but she's impressively resourceful in luring Kamelion back from the Dark Side, and we love the way she stands up to the Master.
And Turlough? It was interesting to find out his backstory, but only in an intellectual kinda way, since despite the well-handled mysterious hints all the way through the truth when it comes out is pretty pedestrian. Despite its initial promise, his character's been so inconsistently handled that he never seemed real to us, and we're hardly going to notice he's gone.
As for the guests, despite the handicap of battling against the most tediously overused plot ever Peter Wyngarde (of Jason King and Prisoner fame) does an awesome job as the priest. Anthony Ainley's Master, on the other hand, is a ghastly ranting, smirking, evilly laughing horror. And everybody else is utterly forgettable.
Planet Of Fire's definitely worth seeing. Peri's debut is fun, the location shots are fantastic, and in the first episode or so the setup's nicely intriguing. Overall, though, it's sunk by inconsistent characterisation, a worn-out plot, a lack of narrative drive and a Master you can only bring yourself to peek at through your fingers. He's dead, Jim? If only.
MORAL: Don't get mad, get even.
If we thought Peri's accent was dodgy, she had nothing on Howard, who despite being called Dallas sure ain't no American. And isn't he awfully young to be her stepfather? Who's her mother, Demi Moore? There's something very off-colour about that setup, if you ask us. If only we'd seen a bit more of that side of things: it would have lifted the interest value immensely.
It's shorts-a-go-go here, and definitely not in a good way. Turlough, put those legs away! Now! As for Turlough in his pants...the horror, the horror...
Peri's very calm about the whole space travel thing, isn't she? "Do you really think we've left Earth?" she remarks in a sunny, mildly curious sort of way. Nothing like taking things in your stride.
NO, I JUST LIKE DRESSING UP IN BACOFOIL
"You really are some kind of robot?" Duh, Peri!
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
And yet again, we say: Oi! What about the state of grace?
When's the Master going to figure out that this "You will obey me" schtick just isn't working? If he wants people to take him seriously, he needs to break his eyeliner habit.
MI CASA ES SU CASA
Why do the Doctor and Turlough piss off out of the TARDIS leaving a couple of complete strangers in there? Isn't it a little careless?
I MIGHT ALSO REVERSE THE POLARITY OF THE NEUTRON FLOW
"I can stop the Master by materialising around his TARDIS!" What, again? How imaginative!
GADGETS. IT'S A GUY THING
Why's the Master poncing around waving that dodgily-shaped tissue compression thing at Peri anyway? He's a big strapping guy and she's a mere slip of a girl - some low-tech throttling or such would be equally as effective and would save the senseless waste of suits.
There's some terrific dialogue in here. How about: '"I felt intoxicated, invigorated. I felt reborn." "You were drunk."' Or our favourite Master line, in reply to Peri's "How much more is there?": "Stop mewling!" And the Doctor's oh-so-sarcastic "Shall we gaze upon it too?" Of course, none of it can top the Master scuttling around like an escaped hamster.