Wednesday, May 21, 2008

view from the panopticon- planet of fire

5-17-06 “Planet of Fire”

“Journey’s end, Doctor.” --The Master

Even some great location work couldn’t save this rather silly and tedious story that could have been benefited from shortening by half. Still, I watched it to get a sense of Peri’s character since I’ll be writing a novel with her in it, and for that purpose it was, er, eye-opening.

The star of this really was the filming location, that served both as Lanzarote where Peri and her step-father were staying, and Sarn, the volcanic planet of the title. The cast and crew no doubt got their exercise scrambling up and down the rocky crater-like area (I keep telling the BBC to come film in New Mexico) and those lucky enough to spend time at the beach must have enjoyed that, too. There was also one particularly good interior in the first few minutes—though the caves in later episodes looked a little pre-fab. I go back and forth on the costumes of the Sarn people—1985 evidently was the year of shorts, for males and females—they’re kind of like Lawrence of Arabia meets the Pacific Islands. Like I said, I could have done without the gratuitous shorts, but other than that, I liked the costumes. The ‘80s hair, on the other hand . . . Peter Howell, responsible for the most familiar version of the Who theme song, supplies the interesting and understated music here.

So, Peri’s step-father Howard is not only “a dirty rotten cheat,” he’s also disturbingly fit. I don’t know exactly why Kamelion appeared in Howard’s body, other than so the BBC wouldn’t have to pay another actor to play the part. Kamelion . . . oy. This is the only story I’ve seen him in, and I’m not sure I care to see any of the others. The poor thing just did not work. He’s just a bit pathetic in this serial. He does, however, anticipate the Dalek in 2005’s “Dalek” with his “Destroy me, please.”

It must be casual Friday in the TARDIS. It’s one of the few times we see the Doctor dressed down—at least he’ll be comfortable wandering on Sarn in his funny striped suspendered trousers, with his hat, and the spectacles that make a reappearance—yay! I know everyone said Davison was “the handsome one,” and he doesn’t look half bad in this story. Turlough, too, is dressed down—much more disturbingly, in my opinion. It’s the revenge of the small white shorts, and he even gets to take these off to reveal a Speedo (!) when he saves Peri from drowning. Did he put this outfit on himself or did the Doctor choose it for him?—Don’t answer that. What did Mark Strickson weigh, anyhow? Ninety pounds?

A nice bit of connection-work when Turlough notes that the Doctor’s “obsessed” with the Daleks. “Obsessed and depressed,” he replies. Is he missing Tegan? Turlough asks, without a hint of sarcasm. I never used to even think about 5 Doctor/Tegan shipping, but this makes me wonder. Now, I have no problem with Davison in this story—it’s not one of his more stellar, but he works fine. I like when Turlough says, “Doctor, you’re showing off.” I’m not a big fan of Turlough, and I have a rather large problem with him here—though I can’t decide if it’s the acting or the writing. Both, probably. He’s such a spazz, and such is the case when he’s tearing out parts of the TARDIS randomly, or shouting at people, or saving Peri—somehow I don’t think he would go out of his way to save anyone! Though I suppose if he’d been doing something important like mixing a drink or painting his toenails, Peri would have been sunk. He does have a really funny line when speculating on the Master’s plans for the gas, “Perhaps he plans on bottling it and selling it.”

Peri. Perpugilliam Brown. Janet Fielding’s the one who has since crusaded against sexism on Doctor Who, but I think it’s Nicola Bryant who really should have been worried. Especially in this episode, though she does have her reprieves and I like to think she’s better in the untelevised adventures, she’s incredibly whiny, childish, and ineffectual. She gets a few good lines (calling the TARDIS a “intergalactic payphone”), but mostly it’s stuff like, “Howard, do you have to talk to me like I’m the Albuquerque Women’s League (wtf?) or something?”, “I’m bored out of my mind,” that she’s “not a child,” etc. Why the need for an American? Is it because Americans are supposed to be childish and whiny? Or because she’s supposed to be a free spirit? And while we’re on that subject, why not hire an American actress? Is there some kind of Equity thing? Not that I have anything in particular against Nicola Bryant; I think her accent is good, most of the time. She does get to anticipate Rose with her, “Now that’s a real spaceship,” when the Trion ship arrives. I thought: well, at least she can swim. And what does she do? She ends up drowning for no apparent reason. When confronted with the Master/Kamelion, she kicks, but in a place that isn’t really going to do damage (ignore, for a moment, that he’s metal anyway). Gratuitous shots of her cleavage make me wonder if she really is just there for the eye candy. And yet, she’s somehow able to control Kamelion better than the Doctor is, and the Master says “her mind is strong.” Definitely some things that don’t add up.

Speaking of things that don’t add up, there is the matter of the Master. I have a soft spot for the Ainley Master, but critics are right when they say he gets overused toward the end. They’re also right in saying that he looks much cooler in the suit here than his normal . . . puffed-sleeve thing. Also, this is more a reflection on “The Mark of the Rani” than this serial, but the Master pops up again like a dandelion though he’s apparently killed here. The Master needs to get a life—I understand that he needs the gasses to de-tissue-compress himself, but now he’s got this vendetta against the Doctor that seems too petty for a mastermind like he’s supposed to be. It’s kind of the same thing in the telemovie, though at least there the Master wants to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS (or something; after seeing that thing a half dozen times, I still don’t know what’s going on). Anyway, it gives Davison a chance to look rueful that he’s destroyed his nemesis.

So, the serial gets rid of Kamelion, explains Turlough in about five minutes, and introduces Peri, who basically butts her way into the TARDIS. Surely Lanzarote can’t be THAT boring? And she doesn’t seem to have a crush on the Doctor, as Rose does. Turlough leaves with a quick, “Look after him—he gets into the most terrible trouble,” with a brother that looks ABSOLUTELY nothing like him. In the meantime, it’s been rather “Power of Kroll”-like with Timorov and the rest spouting quasi-religious rhetoric with exposition, exposition, stock footage of volcanoes and lots of padding. I won’t say the story had a lot of potential because most of the potential was the location, but if it had been somewhat shorter, I think we all would have been a little happier. Mind you, I didn’t think it was terrible . . . it’s just not one I’d want to watch every six months.

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