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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Doctor Who: Planet of Fire
Doctor Who: Planet of Fire
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // September 7, 2010
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 31, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:
The BBC recently released the Doctor Who adventure The King's Demon, which introduced a Kamelion, a real-life robot that joined The Doctor for a short while.  At the same time they put out Planet of Fire, Kamelion's second and final appearance, and it happened none too soon.  While the character might have been less than desirable his last story isn't bad and features the introduction of a new companion along with the final appearance of another one (aside from Kamelion).  This is wrapped up in a nice, if fairly typical, story that has some nice aspects if you can overlook the plot holes.

An archeological expedition discovers an odd artifact that starts to emit, unbeknownst to the scientists who recovered it, a distress signal.  The Tardis picks up the intermittent transmission and lands near the object, in 20th Century Earth on the island of Lanzarote (one of the Canary Islands).  Turlough quickly realizes that the signal is coming from a device is sending a signal to Trion, his home planet and somewhere he does NOT want to go.  While he's trying to work out just how he'll get The Doctor to ignore the signal Turlough spots Peri, an American student vacationing on the island with her archeologist step-father, drowning in the sea.  She's not able to swim 100 yards in shallow water apparently.  The young man rescues the damsel in distress and brings her on the TARDIS.  By an amazing coincidence, Peri just happens to be carrying the Trion signal device, which is discovered by The Doctor when he returns.
All of this is pretty irrelevant really, because the robot Kamelion has been contacted mentally by The Master.  The Master takes control over his old servant and has him program the TARDIS to materialize on Sarn, a volcanic world that has a small population of natives.  They worship the fire god of the volcano, Logar, and sacrifice unbelievers anytime the volcano starts to erupt.  Their religion has been created around the machinery that was left on the planet by Trion engineers and the wreck of a spaceship nearby. 

Once on the planet, Kamelion mimics The Master's appearance and sets out to manipulate the alien equipment in order to bring The Master's plan to fruition.  In doing so, he also appears to be fulfilling some ancient Sarn prophecy and uses the gullible religious leader to make things difficult for The Doctor and his companions.
This was only Kamelion's second appearance, though he was introduced at the end of the previous season.  He's spent the intervening five episodes out to sight and out of mind, without even being referenced according to a couple of sources.  Basically this robot-actor was a failed experiment.  Prone to glitches and mechanical failures, the actors hated working with Kamelion, but what's worse is that his very limited movements and obvious 1980's technology only served to remind viewers that they were watching a TV show.  It's hard to get lost in the plot and characters when one of them looks like it a mannequin that's fallen onto the floor.  At least K-9 looked the part.
The show suffers from the same problem a lot of Doctor Who stories from this era faced:  they created it backwards.  Instead of starting with a good story and going from there, they started with the plot elements they wanted to use and tried to cobble a story together from that.  They needed to have Turlough leave, get rid of Kamelion, introduce Peri, and they were going to film it on an island in the Atlantic.  What story could they come up with those pieces?  It makes for some awkward situations and a lot of plot holes:  Just how did the Trion artifact end up on Earth in the sea?  Why did The Master take over Kamelion when he knew that bringing him to Sarn would also bring the only person in the Universe who could stop him, namely The Doctor?  How did a generations-old religion with all of the trappings evolve around machines that aren't very old (as was repeatedly stated) and a boy who was about 20 years old?  The whole pit-stop on Earth had nothing to do with the rest of the plot and only served to 1) get an American girl on board and 2) show off the scenic island beaches.  Other than that, why waste all of that time?  And did they really have to go with the 'religion based on misunderstood technology with The Doctor fulfilling a prophecy' story again??

If you can look past those rather obvious flaws, it's actually a pretty good story though.  There's a nice surprise when Peri discovers what's in the mysterious box inside The Master's TARDIS, and the scenery is very nicely used. They even discovered a fantastic room to use as a set for the Sarn leader's rooms.  It looked very alien and quite impressive.  (The only problem was that none of the other sets matched.)   Running at four episodes the story doesn't drag too long like some of the six parters tend to but was still long enough to flesh out the story, a problem that the two-part King's Demon had.
Overall it was an enjoyable outing that fans of the show will enjoy.  It's not the episode that I'd use to introduce someone to the world of Doctor Who, but it's not the lowest point either.
The DVD:

The mono soundtrack is very good.  It's clean and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story.  The dialog is easy to discern and the background music and effects are never overpowering.  Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and looks fine though not stunning.  There's only so much you can do with 27 year old video tape.  Some scenes are a bit soft, but generally the image is clean and the colors are fine.  There is a section where guards with red capes enter a room, and the bright red blooms pretty noticeably.  That was the biggest defect however.  If you've seen the other restored Davison era stories, then you'll know what to expect.
This adventure gets the two-disc treatment, though I'm not really sure it rates that much space.  On the first DVD, in addition to the entire story itself, are the best bonus items.  There's a nice commentary track with Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicola Bryant and Fiona Cumming where the group remembers the island and has a few things to say about working with the Kamelion robot.  It's a lively discussion that's fun to listen to.  There are a number of video featurettes too, including Return To The Planet Of Fire, a look at the island where the show was filmed today, Designs on Sarn, a talk with designer Malcolm Thornton on how he created to look of Sarn, and a series of Edits, Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes.  This last one had the completist in my overjoyed but the pragmatic part thought it was a waste of time.  It's mainly reaction shots that were held for a second of two longer or an alternate angle on a scene.  In the final scene with The Master, viewers will be treated to Anthony Ainley looking to the side for about a second and a half that doesn't appear in the final version.  While I am glad they included this stuff, it's not very earthshaking.  Finally, A Tribute To Anthony Ainley is mainly a home recording of an appearance the late actor made at a convention where he talks about his time on the show.
The story also comes with an optional pop up trivia tracks that's filled with information.  Some of it is minutia, the date the episodes were filmed and ever the time that the shoots wrapped, but also background info on the supporting and incidental characters and it points out on screen gaffs.  These are wonderful.  There's also a photo gallery, the Radio Times listings (in .pdf format), the original bumpers that led into and out of the show, and an isolated music track. 
On disc two there's a re-edit of the story.  They did that with Enlightenment, a story the really cried out to be edited down.  That's not the case with Planet of Fire, so the first question that pops up is: why do this?  I guess because they can.  They recut this story into a 66 minute film and updated the special effects, which were very minimal to begin with.  I thought it was okay, but on the whole it's superfluous and I'd rather they excluded it and lowered the price on the release.
The biggest problem is that they left off the 25-minute making of featurette, The Flames of Sarn!  It was available on the R2 release and I've been told that a rights issue to some of the music kept it off the R1 disc. That's really too bad.  They should port over all of the extras from the R2 releases.  It's bad enough that we have to wait longer and don't get some of the cool packaging, but leaving off extras is just silly, even if they have to replace some music.  
Final Thoughts:
While there are a few plot holes (read:  a lot), this is still a good story.  Die-hard fans will be happy with the release (even though it's missing an extra) and to them it's recommended while more fair weather fans can just rent it.   
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