Review [DW]: “Planet of Fire”

21×5. Planet of Fire
Writer: Peter Grimwade
Director: Fiona Cumming
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: In pursuing a strange signal and dealing with an erratically functioning Kamelion, the Doctor and Turlough are drawn first to Earth and then to the planet Sarn, where the Master – who has accidentally shrunken himself – is exploiting the local religion in order to gain access to the volcanic gases that he believes can heal his condition.

Review: In (mini-)reviewing “Planet of Fire,” I am reminded of just how strange a show Doctor Who is compared to most other television sci-fi dramas. After the violent outcomes of “Warriors of the Deep” and “Resurrection of the Daleks,” the latter of which concluded with the Doctor pledging to “mend his ways,” what are we to make of the fact that he still destroys Kamelion (at the android’s request) and declines to save the Master’s life in this serial when his enemy (and perhaps something else?) is trapped in a beam of fire? Well…I’m not sure. If this were almost any other show, I’d probably interpret it as the story of a man trying to avoid the use of violence but finding himself once again unable to resolve a crisis without participating in destruction and death, then go on to comment about the overproliferation of anti-heroes in modern culture. But this is Doctor Who, and the protagonist is a hyperintelligent centuries-old alien whose portrayal hasn’t always followed the traditional rules of character development and who isn’t given to voicing his inner thoughts very often. As a result, just what is going on inside the mind of this generally idealistic but fallible Fifth Doctor is left somewhat unclear, and the hint that the Doctor and the Master share something more than just shared enmity doesn’t do much for me given that I know that the original series, at least, never folllowed up on it. Fortunately, there’s enough other material to chew on to make this a worthwhile serial: Turlough, arguably the most amoral and deceptive of companions, redeems his past behavior (including his callousness towards Kamelion earlier) by contacting the Trionians who had once banished him, Peri makes for a promising addition to the TARDIS crew, and the background of a religion arising from the Sarn natives’ observation of the Trionian science experiments is strong sci-fi worldbuilding.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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