Dragonfire

Dragonfire

Dragonfire is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in three weekly parts from November 23 to December 7 1987. This serial marked the introduction of Sophie Aldred as the Doctor's new companion, Ace and the departure of Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush.

Plot

Synopsis

Iceworld is a space trading colony on the dark side of the planet Svartos. It is a mysterious place of terror and rumour ruled by the callous and vindictive Kane, who buys supporters and employees and makes them wear his mark iced in to their flesh. Kane’s body temperature is so cold that one touch from him can kill. In Kane’s lair is a vast cryogenic section where mercenaries and others are being frozen and stored, with their memories wiped for future unquestioning use as part of an army; including a freezer cabinet into which Kane deposits himself when he needs to cool down. There is also, most peculiarly, an aged sculptor who is carving a statue from the ice.

The TARDIS materialises in a refrigeration sales section on Iceworld and the Seventh Doctor and Melanie Bush venture outside. They soon meet up with their roguish old acquaintance, Sabalom Glitz, who owes Kane a substantial amount of money. Glitz has come to Svartos to search for a supposed treasure guarded by a dragon. It is located in the icy caverns beyond Iceworld and by chance Glitz has a map which he won from Kane in a gamble – indeed, Kane wanted him to have the map because he wishes to use Glitz as a pawn in his own search for the treasure. Thus the map contains a tracking device in its seal. Kane in return has Glitz’s ship, the Nosferatu, which he orders destroyed. Without realising he is being used, Glitz heads off on the search with the Doctor in tow – though women are not allowed on the expedition so Mel stays with a young, rebellious waitress they have met called Ace. It is only a matter of time before Ace behaves appallingly to customers and is fired. Mel is stunned to hear that Ace is a human from late twentieth century Earth who only arrived on Iceworld after a bizarre chemistry experiment caused a time-storm in her bedroom.

Kane’s staff are not happy. Once they have taken his coin they are his for life – as Ace wisely realises when she rejects such an offer. Officer Belazs was not so clever, and is keen to escape Kane’s service. She thus arranges for the Nosferatu not to be destroyed, hoping to use the craft to escape Iceworld. When this fails she tries to persuade Officer Kracauer to help her overthrow Kane, but he is one step ahead. Their attempt to alter the temperature in his chambers and kill him fails, so Kane exacts his revenge and kills them both. The same fate awaits the ice sculptor who has now finished his statue, which is of a woman called Xana.

In the ice caverns it has taken time but the Doctor and Glitz have encountered the dragon, which turns out to be a biped which did not so much breathe fire as fire lasers from its eyes, but not the treasure. Mel and Ace have now ventured into the caverns too and they meet their allies and are actually defended by the dragon, which guns down some of Kane’s cryogenically altered soldiers who have been sent into the ice caverns to kill them. The dragon takes them to a room in the ice which is some sort of control area and contains a pre-recorded hologram message. The hologram explains that Kane is one half of the Kane-Xana criminal gang from the planet Proamnon. When the security forces caught up with them Xana killed herself to avoid arrest, but Kane was captured and exiled to the cold, dark side of Svartos. It turns out that Iceworld is a huge spacecraft and the treasure is a crystal inside the dragon’s head which acts as the key that Kane needs in order to activate the ship and free himself from exile. The dragon is thus both Kane’s jailer and his chance of freedom.

Kane has overheard the location of the key through the bugging device on the map and now sends his security forces to the ice caverns to bring him the head of the dragon, offering vast rewards for such bravery. He also uses his cryogenic army to cause chaos in the Iceworld shops, driving the customers out and towards the docked Nosferatu. This is brutally accomplished. When the Nosferatu takes off Kane blows it up. The only survivors are a young girl called Stella and her mother, who have become separated but both survive the massacre. Shortly afterward two of Kane’s troopers succeed in killing the dragon and removing its head, but are killed in the process.

The Doctor has meanwhile realised that Kane has been a prisoner on Svartos for millennia. He retrieves the head of the dragon and is then told by intercom that Kane has captured Ace but is willing to trade her for the “dragonfire”. The Doctor, Glitz and Mel travel to Kane’s private chambers for the exchange. Kane rises to the Doctor’s taunts but still powers up Iceworld as a spacecraft which now detaches itself from the surface of Svartos. However, when Kane tries to set course for Proamnon to exact his revenge he realises he has been a prisoner so long that the planet no longer exists. In desperation, he opens a screen in the surface of his ship and lets in hot light rays which kill him.

The Doctor now loses a companion but also gains one. Glitz has claimed Iceworld as his own spacecraft (renamed Nosferatu II) and Mel decides to stay with him to keep him out of trouble. The Doctor acquires Ace instead, promising to take her home to Perivale via the “scenic route”.

Continuity

  • This story marks the final appearance of Bonnie Langford as a regular cast member. Langford would only reprise her role as Melanie Bush once on television, in Dimensions in Time (1993). The character of Melanie Bush has been considered by many fans to be one of the most unpopular companions to be featured in the programme. Contrary to popular belief, Langford departed the series of her own volition after being dissatisfied in the role. In recent years, she has reprised the character in several audio plays by Big Finish Productions, including playing an alternate universe version of Mel in the Doctor Who Unbound audio He Jests at Scars....
  • The character of Sabalom Glitz, with whom Mel departs to explore the galaxy, first appeared in The Trial of a Time Lord.
  • This story also marks the first appearance of Sophie Aldred as Ace. Aldred actually auditioned for the part of the tomboy Ray from Delta and the Bannermen (1987), but lost the part to Sara Griffiths.
  • Briggs, who had created the character of Ace, had stated in Ace's character outline for Dragonfire that she had slept with Glitz on Iceworld. The Paul Cornell-written New Adventures novel Love and War implies (and his later novel Happy Endings confirms) that Ace lost her virginity to Glitz.
  • The Doctor's acceptance of Ace as a companion is part of a larger game that would see its culmination in The Curse of Fenric. In the Virgin New Adventures novel Head Games by Steve Lyons it is revealed that the Seventh Doctor mentally influenced the brighter and more idealistic Mel to leave so that he could become the darker and more manipulative Time's Champion.
  • This story marks the only farewell scene between the Seventh Doctor and one of his companions. Mel's departure scene was adapted from Sylvester McCoy's screen test, where Janet Fielding was hired to act as a departing companion and a villain. McCoy stated that he always liked that particular screen test script and he lobbied for its inclusion in Dragonfire. Ace's departure from the Seventh Doctor was never seen on screen due to the fact that Ace was still a member of the TARDIS crew when the series concluded at the end of Season 26.
  • One of the aliens seen in the ice cream shop where Ace worked is an Argolin from the Fourth Doctor serial The Leisure Hive

Production

  • Working titles for this story included Absolute Zero, The Pyramid's Treasure and Pyramid in Space.
  • In one scene, the Doctor distracts a guard by engaging him in a philosophical conversation. One of the guard's lines, about the "semiotic thickness of a performed text", is a quotation from Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, a 1983 media studies volume by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado. Story editor Andrew Cartmel had suggested that writers read The Unfolding Text to familiarise themselves with Doctor Who and its history, which inspired Ian Briggs to quote the academic text in his script, in a playful self-reference.
  • Features a guest appearance by Patricia Quinn. See also Celebrity appearances in Doctor Who.
  • The (literal) cliffhanger at the end of episode 1 — where for no apparent reason the Doctor lowers himself over a guard rail to dangle over an abyss from his umbrella — comes under frequent criticism for its seeming absurdity. As scripted, the Doctor did have a logical motivation for his actions. According to Cartmel in a later interview, the passage leading to the cliff was meant to be a dead end, leaving the Doctor no option but to scale the cliff face. As shot, however, this reasoning became unclear..
  • For the impressive effects shot of the death of Kane, a wax bust of the actor's screaming face was made and filmed being melted down to a skull within, this footage being sped up to achieve the effect. Though this is very similar to the melting death of the Nazi Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the family audience of Doctor Who the colour red was carefully avoided in the bust.

Commercial releases

The story was released on VHS in January 1994.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Briggs, was published by Target Books in March 1989.

References

External links

Reviews

Target novelisation

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