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04 February 2016 @ 08:05 pm
The Randomiser: Planet of Fire  
Planet of Fire is Peri's first story and also Turlough's last. As such, it struggles a bit at both introducing a new companion while, at the same time, dumping a whole load of backstory on the departing one. It's an odd story really, oscillating between being very good in places, and somewhat embarrassing in others.

One of the things that sprang out at me, perhaps because we watched Sarah Jane stories either side of this, is the extent to which Peri, as introduced here, seems to be modelled on Sarah Jane. She is resourceful, curious, compassionate, and difficult to bully while also whining a fair bit (a trait of Sarah Jane's that often gets overlooked). Sadly she is nowhere near as engaging as Sarah Jane though it is difficult to see why. Where Sarah Jane's combination of determination and complaint makes her seem brave, yet human, Peri comes across as something of a brat. Some of this may be presentation, Peri is introduced to us as, essentially, a bored poor little rich girl which means she immediately has an uphill struggle towards likeability, where Sarah Jane is introduced as a career woman. Peri's wavering American accent probably doesn't help much either, serving as an unnecessary distraction. Still, her introduction aside, I think this is one of Peri's better stories and I think she would be better liked as a companion if we had had more in this vein.

Turlough's backstory is a bit strange. In some ways it makes sense for him to be, as far as one can tell, an aristocrat who's family ended up on the wrong political side in a civil war. However, the whole thing feels suspiciously as if it is being made up as it goes along, particularly when one tries to make sense of Malcolm and Turlough's ages unless one assumes Turlough more or less grew up on Earth. It would have been nice to have seen more of this earlier (and I have a vague memory that was a plan at one point). I think it works well enough here, though the whole is rather marred, at least in my view, by the truly terrible novel, The Earthlink Dilemma, which follows Turlough back to his home planet, newly freed from the clutches of the evil dictator, Rehctaht. It speaks volumes that having a villain be a thinly veiled reference to Margaret Thatcher complete with anagrammatic name is probably one of the book's better idea.

The culture of Sarn is nicely portrayed and the location shooting on Lanzarote is well utilized. Timanov, the elderly cleric, is interesting in Doctor Who history for being, I would say, a largely sympathetic character, despite his clear willingness (if not eagerness) to burn heretics at pretty much any opportunity. It is rare that the show actually attempts to show the point of view of the religious, especially someone who's religion is not benign. Peter Wyngarde is excellent in the part, making Timanov both thoughtful and dignified.

On the downside we have Anthony Ainley's master running around. He is comparatively restrained here, but in this particular era of the show, I would say the character rarely improves a story.

Planet of Fire is a decent story. It falls in, arguably, Peter Davison's strongest season (albeit one in which Eric Saward's tendency towards the grim and the violent was becoming more prominent). It's a gentler story than those either side of it, but also more uneven, and I suspect it is often over-looked as a result.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/184289.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on February 4th, 2016 10:17 pm (UTC)
I've warmed to the Davison era in recent years, but I don't like Planet of Fire. It's trying to do to much, yet still seems under-written and cliched. And it speaks volumes that you didn't mention Kamelion at all! Still, it looks nice.

I agree that Timanov is somewhat sympathetic, but I think that's largely due to Peter Wyngarde's performance. I think the character as written is the standard violent bigot.

Re: Turlough's past, it would have been better if it was planned properly from the start. I think in some of his early stories he wants to go home, which doesn't fit what we learn here. Only Frontios really gives any hint at a backstory before Planet of Fire. I actually like Turlough, and Mark Strickson's performance, a lot, but the character was given little to do for most of his time other than be locked up or wander around saying he wants to get back to safety.

Edited at 2016-02-04 10:20 pm (UTC)
lsellersfic: Doctor Wholsellersfic on February 5th, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC)
It's difficult to mention Kamelion because... I don't know, he's central to the plot here but its mostly about the performances of Ainley and Dallas Adams (the latter being rather better as Kamelion than as a real person). But the bottom line the story is partly driven by getting rid of a piece of technology that didn't work out, overloading it even further, I suppose.

I think Timanov owes a lot to Peter Wyngarde, but he is allowed by the script to put his point of view. I think it is Wyngarde who manages to sell that as a considered viewpoint rather than knee-jerk reactionism, but the words are still there.

I think Turlough has a lot to recommend him and Mark Stickson is working hard with what he is given. That said, I think it is also a challenging role that is actually beyond Stickson's ability in a lot of instances. It's kind of strange, I think Strickson would have aced a more conventional companion, but Turlough is difficult. The fact that about half the writers had no idea what do to with him, doesn't help.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on February 5th, 2016 07:45 pm (UTC)
Oops! That was me! It's a while since I got accounts confused.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on February 6th, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC)
I guessed from the userpic!