Monday, March 8, 2010
After four episodes, I think I may have pegged why Planet of Fire might take the title of Most Overlooked Story for the Peter Davison era. It all comes down to The Master and his goals and ambitions.
The Master's previous outing in The King's Demons was odd in that, especially given the short two-episode length, it allowed so little time for a full blown Master scheme to take place, and so The Master's plan was suitably small scale. In Planet of Fire, The Master's solitary mission is to restore himself to full size and full health. This storyline has really only ever happened once before in The Deadly Assassin, but even then, he was content on destroying Gallifrey and gaining ultimate power via the Eye of Harmony to do it. In Planet of Fire, The Master is keen only on survival - not bettering himself, just restoring himself to his previous standing.
This motivation makes Planet of Fire possibly my favourite Master story. The Master is at one of his lowest ebbs in this story, almost enough to make him pitiable. When The Doctor allows him to (apparently) burn to a crisp at the end of Episode Four, it almost seems callous. Of all the times in the past that The Doctor has spared The Master after barely thwarting his plans for world and/or universal domination, he still lets him off the hook at the end.
The Master's quest for personal salvation isn't the only thing that is at play in Planet of Fire, though, especially in a story which must have been nigh on impossible for Peter Grimwade to write, given his obligations for elements to include. Imagine this shopping list before even putting pen to paper: write Turlough, Kamelion, and The Master out, introduce Peri, and have it all (at least partially) set in present day Lanzarote. That Planet of Fire is in any way watchable is remarkable given this; that it is actually thoroughly entertaining automatically nominates Peter Grimwade for knighthood.
Peri makes a strong debut, and not just because of those (in)famous shots for which this story is most widely know. Peri is strong willed, independent, and plucky, yet without the brashness and cynicism that Tegan brought to the table. Kamelion is actually worked in the story quite well, and by the end of all the multiple body swaps, I'm not surprised that he asks The Doctor to kill him. But Turlough is most missed of all. His central role in this story offers just a hint of what the character could have been had he been properly paid attention to. Turlough is a leader here, and while it is a sudden change in character development (as his fear of returning home despite his repeated requests to do the very same earlier in the season), it follows on from Nyssa's leaving scene in that The Doctor has succeeded in making his friends better people. Turlough was a mischievous brat when we first met him. A little over a year later, he's a fully formed young man who saves an entire planet at the possible cost of his own freedom. Given that, Turlough is perhaps The Fifth Doctor's greatest, and last, success story.
The optimistic ending of Turlough's heroic return to his homeland and Peri's boundless enthusiasm to travel with The Doctor is such a red herring, though. No Doctor's incarnation ever ends happily, and The Fifth Doctor, who is perhaps the most pleasant and easy going Doctor of them all, is about to face his greatest test...
Posted by Steven at 2:21 PM