The Friday Docback Basks In The Glow Of 'Dragonfire'!! DOCTOR WHO Story #147, A Report From Last Weekend's BBC Home Entertainment/Alamo Drafthouse, Aint It Cool News 'Daemons' Screening, A Preview Of Season/Series 7 Daleks, More!
Published at: May 4, 2012, 7:25 a.m. CST by merrick
With a look at “Dragonfire,” a three part McCoy-era DOCTOR WHO adventure initially transmitted November-December 1987 .
THE RECIPIENT OF LAST WEEK’S “CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS” / “THE DAEMONS” DVD GIVEAWAY
... is Roderick L, AL.
The name of game was to write me at, or closest to, a pre-selected time on a pre-selected date. My pre-selected time was Sunday, April 29 at 7:17 PM CST USA. Roderick’s e-mail arrived at 6:27:57 PM CST USA on Sunday, April 29.
Roderick, your contact info has been passed onto BBC Home Entertainment, who are kindly handling fulfillment in this contest. We truly, deeply , appreciate their support and efforts.
Everyone else? Stay tuned. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had other opportunities soonish...
AUSTIN WHOVIANS SEE "THE DAEMONS" (PERTWEE, Story #149) ON THE BIG SCREEN AT LAST WEEKEND'S BBC HOME ENTERTAINMENT, ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE, AINT IT COOL NEWS SCREENING!!
With boundless thanks to John Ary of AICN Toys from his patience and diligence while pulling this reel together...
“This is naff. This is mega-naff. And what’s more, I’m out of nitro.”
Ace, “Dragonfire” Part 3
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) arrive on Iceworld, a “space trading colony on the dark side of the planet Svartos,” to search for a “dragon” said to exist amidst the facility’s labyrinthine lower levels. Our heroes quickly learn that there’s far more to this metaphorical dragon than meets the eye. Their quest brings them into direct conflict with Iceworld’s overboss Kane (Edward Peel), his army of pseudo-zombified cryo-preserved mercenaries, and introduces them to “Ace” (Sophie Aldred) - who is destined to become the Doctor’s next companion.
“Dragonfire” never advances any particularly grand story notions or game-changing conceits (short of exiting companion Mel and introducing Ace, her replacement), but it does what it does rather well and cleanly. Breezily paced by director Chris Clough and tightly scripted by Ian Briggs, the story is well photographed and features a number of environments which feel immersive and striking...
...despite their sometimes obvious budgetary limitations. Propelled by a dark backstory which is sometimes more compelling than immediate matters at hand, “Dragonfire” gets down to work quickly, goes about it’s business briskly, and is smart enough to never dwell unduly on any one movement. Other than...
The cliffhanger bridging Parts One and Two, which represents what is easily one of the most awkwardly conceived, blocked, and executed moments in DOCTOR WHO history. It features the Doctor deliberately putting himself into an inescapable and literal ‘cliffhanger’ scenario, whose subsequent resolution is skirted, unclear, and awkward. This is absurdity and clunky execution of the highest order - a misstep boldly owned by director Clough.
'It's a complete cock-up' says“Dragonfire" director Chris Clough about the Doctor's ludicrous 'cliffhanger' moment. To be fair, from this angle, you can see what APPEARS to be a ledge below the Doctor...possibly his intended destination? Even if so, nothing about the stunt's execution even vaguley works.
“Ace,” the Doctor’s companion-to-be, is introduced here as a waitress from Earth who was whisked away in a “time storm” and brought to Svartos. This backstory, and why destiny ultimately collided her with the Doctor, is apparently revisited later in the McCoy era. Ace describes herself as something a lost soul, never truly feeling she belonged on Earth...but still finding her footing amongst the stars.
I worked as a waitress in a fast food cafe. Day in, day out, same boring routine. Same boring life. It was all wrong. It didn’t feel like me that was doing it at all. I felt like I’d fallen from another planet, and landed in this strange girl’s body. But it wasn’t me at all. I was meant to be somewhere else. Each night, I’d walk home and I’d look up at the stars through the gaps in the clouds - and I’d try to imagine where I really came from. I dreamed that, one day, everything would come right. I’d be carried off back home, back to my real mum and dad. Then it actually happened...I ended up here. Ended up working as a waitress again. Only this time, I couldn’t dream about going nowhere else. There wasn’t nowhere else to go.” - Ace, “Dragonfire” Part Two
That’s a great and poignant set-up for a companion, and Aldred (who had never performed on-camera before this story) wears it well...confidently holding her own against the larger-than-life likes of Peel’s Kane and Tony Selby’s reprisal of Sabalom Glitz (introduced in “The Mysterious Planet” - C. Baker, Story # 143). The performances of both characters are earnest, welcome, and sometimes luminous - but the nature of their roles themselves points to this story’s greatest shortcoming in the eyes of many fans: derivation.
As presented, Kane is more or less a DOCTOR WHO’s equivalent of BATMAN’s Mister Freeze - albeit without a suit or technological trappings. He requires (and seems to thrive on) the super-coolants which are the heart of his operation. His allergies to heat are disabling and even fatal, he’s able to freeze objects with merely a touch, and he worships the the visage of long lost woman he once admired. That’s Mister Freeze, more or less.
Similarly, it’s hard not to compare Selby’s Glitz - a reckless, card-playing, constantly-in-trouble, anti-authoritarian pirate/smuggler/entrepreneur - to both STAR WARS’ Han Solo and (more appropriately) STAR TREK’s Harry Mudd. Selby brings admirable humor, charm, and timing to his part...but it’s a role we’ve seen before, several times over. Not unlike the “dragon,” which here looks like a low-rent Queen from the ALIEN films. A good thing in this case, as the creature is ultimately hunted by soldiers with big guns and trackers...ALIEN-style. In for a penny, in for a pound I suppose. Less room for confusion that way.
So, in “Dragonfire,” we have an unlikely collision of conceits from three or four mainstream franchises...which admittedly sounds like a very bad thing at face value If this is the case, why does this story remain worthwhile on the whole?
As we’ve discussed a number of times here on the Docbacks, the presence of derivation / “conceits” are not necessarily negative. The original STAR WARS found inspiration in a number of prior sources, including DUNE and early Kurosawa films like THE HIDDEN FORTRESS. The original STAR TREK was, at the very last, influenced by a few Westerns, ‘50s genre fare like FORBIDDEN PLANET, and perhaps even (and this is my musing...I have no evidence to support this...and the timing may not align correctly) a German space exploration series called RAUMPATROUILLE. There’s some BEOWULF in ALIENS, as another example. And the list goes on. Science Fiction, perhaps more than any other genre, is easily influenced and shaped by what has come before. Thus, bashing together conceits often doesn’t, by definition, feel like too significant a travesty. But how such conceits are merged and used...i.e. how organic they become within the new “whole” being created...becomes the critical factor in the effort’s success. The immediate “universe” of “Dragonfire” makes sense, and feels rational enough, despite its sometimes familiar trappings. Thus, derivation ultimately serves the story at hand quite nicely, and scripter Briggs wisely throws enough curve-balls to effectively counterbalance the potentially bad aftertastes of such aping. A dodgy and dangerous game to be sure, but a challenge which is nicely met here.
McCoy’s Doctor attempting to distract and confound an apparently thuggish guard, only to find himself reversely distracted and confounded by the man’s unexpectedly existential, philosophical nature, proves one of the more humorous McCoy era sequences I’ve experienced thus far - for my money, nothing’s funnier than flummoxing one’s hero. Lovely effects work in Part Two features a pan downward from the frozen spires of Iceworld...across Svartos’ desolate and darkened surface...to the opposite crescent of the planet, which is radiating luminous heat. A nicely conceived and strongly executed moment. Briggs’ audacious inclusion of a brief side adventure, featuring outgoing companion Mel and new companion Ace in protracted sequences together before Mel’s exit from the show, is to be commended for both it cleverness and audacity. A fascinating means by which we say goodbye to one friend, and greet another.
On Iceworld, not even rampaging cryo-mercs and mysterious laser-pulsing 'dragon' monsters can keep sweet Stellar (Miranda Borman) from her milkshake.
Zippy, visually distinctive, and interesting (in a comic book sort of way) throughout, “Dragonfire” never achieves any meaningful level of gravity, and often feels like it’s merely skirting compelling notions rather than investing in them fully. But to clumsily paraphrase BABYLON 5’s J. Michael Straczynski, part of telling one's story well involves knowing how to go in with guns blazing and get the hell out of there. This approach is exactly what “Dragonfire” banks on, and, all things being equal, the gamble pretty much pays off.
The newly restored “Dragonfire” is available on DVD HERE in the U.S. and HERE in the U.K.
Special Features include...
Fire and Ice (35:07)
A look at the making of this episodes, featuring insight from...
-- Andrew Cartmel (Script Editor)
-- Ian Briggs (“Dragonfire” writer)
-- Chris Clough (“Dragonfire” director)
-- Edward Peel (Kane)
-- Sophie Aldred (companion “Ace,” introduced in this story)
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)...
2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity. Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example. "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well. " **SPOILER** Why did everyone die?" Is NOT good.
And, above all...
3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way. Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning. Lack of courtesy may receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated. Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning. One word posts intended to bump-up any Docback's figures on AICN's "Top Talkbacks" sidebar will be considered actionable Spam - they not only complicate efforts to access Docback from mobile devices, but impede readers' abilities to follow or engage in flowing conversation.
In short, it's easy. Be excellent to each other. Now party on...