Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Doctor Who: Dragonfire

Part One

“Nonsense, Glitz! A quick adventure and then back for tea!”

It’s an interesting setting for a story- Svartos, a planet with one pole, apparently the only habitable part, which is permanently cold, and another which is permanently cold. And on this world lurks the sinister Kane, who kills with the cold of his touch, and is named after a famous movie. We’ll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing.

On the cold part, Iceworld, is a shopping mall, where the Doctor and Mel sit down in a café. Amusingly, the Doctor starts to read a crumpled classic Penguin paperback of Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma. I think I’m going to enjoy this story.

Up pops our old mate Sabalom Glitz, and it appears he’s in a spot of bother. The authorities on this planet are going to seize his ship, the Nosferatu (oh look, another movie reference…) unless he coughs up a bit of cash. Fortunately there are rumours of a dragon, and treasure. This provides a chance of finding the money he needs for Glitz, and a bit of adventure for the Doctor and Mel. We also meet Ace for the first time, as the soon-to-be-sacked waitress, for the moment providing little but the exposition.

Incidentally, one refreshing thing about Glitz’s reappearance is that the Doctor’s regeneration is quickly glossed over. Unlike his predecessor, this Doctor isn’t going to be undermined by constant references to earlier incarnations while he’s trying to establish himself in the role.

Ace gets sacked, goes back to her room with Mel, and generally seems to be a fairly realistic and well-written teenager. Sophie Aldred is good too, although she sounds perhaps a bit too RP for dialogue like “I ain’t got no mum and dad” to come across right. I like the surreal simplicity of how she got here- a timestorm in her room in Perivale! It gradually becomes apparent that she kicks arse somewhat, what with her Nitro Nine and blowing up the art room at school. I like her. We even get our first “Gordon Bennett” very early on. Ace!

I was amazed to see the scene where Kane offers Ace the chance to become a mercenary- shades of the New Adventures there! Fortunately, though, she not only turns him down but kicks rather large expanses of arse while she’s doing it.

We get to glimpse the dragon. Now, I know I keep going on about influences from said film every so often in this Marathon, but do you reckon there might, conceivably, be perhaps the very tiniest amount of influence from Alien in the creature’s design? Never mind- I love the way Mel screams at this point and Ace pointedly doesn’t!

And then we get the literal cliffhanger. I tend to agree with a comment I remember from Gareth Roberts on one of the DVD extras on cliffhangers (I forget the story). Ian Briggs is clearly trying to make an oh-so-clever postmodern comment here on how inconvenient is to him as a writer to have to fit his script to a format which demands cliffhangers. How very self-indulgent. Still, other than this it’s been a good first episode.

Part Two

“Tell me, what do you think of the assertion that the semiotic thickness of a performed text varies according to the redundancy of auxiliary performance codes?”

The cliffhanger resolution is a total cheat, but I suppose that’s the point. And I’m not sure that assisting Glitz with the hijacking of his ship is quite the sort of thing the character should be doing. Still, good news elsewhere; we seem to be getting decent incidental music for the first time this season.

The Doctor’s distraction of the guard with intellectual conversation on such matters as theology and Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text is utter genius, and easily the best thing in this whole season. Also good, though, is Kane’s killing of the sculptor as soon as he’s finished his statue. And come to think of it, Kane sleeps in a coffin- er, refrigeration unit- to recuperate, he bites people in the neck- er, gets them to take his shilling- so that he can own them, and as for how he’s going to die next episode… he’s a vampire, isn’t he?

The dragon turns out to be friendly, and reveals that this was originally a prison planet where Kane, a notorious criminal, was banished 3,000 years earlier. Oh, and the treasure is in the dragon’s head. Crikey.

Elsewhere, Ace makes the makes the similarly Earth-shattering revelation that her name is actually Dorothy…

Part Three

“This is naff. This is mega-naff.”

That quote isn’t actually what I think of the story, by the way. I just picked it because it’s the most ‘80s sentence ever uttered by anyone ever.

Kane’s minions are on an “ANT hunt” in scenes which most definitely are influenced by Alien, while the poor lost little girl gets looked after by that nice dragon. Aaaah! It’s all good stuff, but the one moment where the tone jars a bit is where the Nosferatu blows up with loads of people on it, an echo of the bus from Delta and the Bannermen.

Ace gets to see the TARDIS, and then the story ends in true The Hand of Fear style, with Kane’s gruesome demise being most fitting, seeing as he’s a vampire and all.

As Iceworld is a spacecraft, Glitz has appointed himself captain, and for some reason Mel’s going with him. In the end she never really worked as a companion, really, being fairly one-dimensional. She was always likeable, and a breath of fresh air after Peri and the darkness of the Dark Ages of Saward. But she never acquired a personality or a hinterland- the lack of an origin story didn’t help- and her bubbly, kid-friendly personality has seemed out of step with the show since Paradise Towers. All the same, she deserved a better leaving scene than this; it’s not really about her at all, just a pointless re-use of McCoy’s original audition speech.

Ace, her replacement, on the other hand, feels a lot more in tune with the way the show’s going at the moment, and has loads of hinterland.

Good, enjoyable stuff. Not quite up there with the best, perhaps, but an impressive debut tale from Ian Briggs. 4/5.

As for Season Twenty-Four- well, it’s fifth from bottom at 3.25/5, but still ranks a lot better than I was expecting it too. And if you take Time and the Rani out of the equation it’s a fairly solid season with lots of promise for the future. At long last we’re out of the Saward doldrums of violence and cynicism, and the show has seemingly found a new style.

1 comment:

  1. As TV Tropes says, shame no one told the little girl what crawling under a table does to your dress vis a vis your knickers.