Although the main plot of Planet of Fire is a little dull (as it’s very difficult to care about the inhabitants of Sarn) there’s still plenty of interest – location filming on Lanzarote, the return of the Master, the departure of Turlough & Kamelion and the introduction of Peri.
Doctor Who had gone abroad twice before (Paris in City of Death and Amsterdam in Arc of Infinity) but both of those were still fairly close to home. Lanzarote was a lot further away and this helps to give the planet of Sarn an epic look that the series had never had previously. Today, of course, it’s nothing special, as Doctor Who often ventures abroad – but thirty years ago it was fairly eye popping. The bulk of the location filming occurs in the first two episodes and it certainly helps to liven up what otherwise would be a fairly static story.
Peter Wyngarde is, of course, great value and very watchable as Timanov, chief elder of Sarn, but elsewhere the pickings are less fruitful. Worst of all is Edward Highmore as Malkon, with a performance so wooden it’s probably just as well he never went too close to the fire.
Things pick up when the Master (or rather Kamelion as the Master) appears at the end of the first episode. Anthony Ainley looks rather good in the black suit and he also gets to say Delgado’s classic line – “I am the Master and you will obey me”. Great stuff, and this must rank as some of Ainley’s best work on Doctor Who, possibly because for once he doesn’t have a convoluted plan to enslave the Universe and destroy the Doctor – instead he’s motivated purely by survival.
Nicola Bryant (Peri) debuts here. She wasn’t the first companion to have a fairly sketchy character which required some input from the actor in order to make it work, but she certainly does her best with what she’s been given. It’s interesting that Peri doesn’t spend a lot of time with the Doctor in this story – the majority of her scenes are with the Master. And it’s very clear that Peri doesn’t rate the Master at all, so there’s a certain amount of humour generated from their mismatched partnership.
MASTER: Give me that component immediately!
PERI: This thing belongs to the Doctor, so it’s the Doctor I give it to and no one else.
MASTER: You will obey me.
MASTER: I am the Master!
PERI: So what? I’m Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can!
We bid farewell to Mark Strickson and learn a little more about Turlough along the way. After the Black Guardian trilogy, Strickson has had few opportunities to shine, so his departure was always inevitable. And with the departure of Turlough we are left with just a single companion to accompany the Doctor. This was always Davison’s preference, so it’s somewhat ironic that it didn’t happen until his 20th, and final, story!
The reveal of the mini-Master at the end of episode three provides us with a wonderful cliff-hanger and the revived Master’s “death” in episode four was apparently – albeit briefly – to have been his final exit. It didn’t end up that way of course, which is a shame as it would have been a good story for the Master to bow out on.
So the Doctor and Peri leave Sarn, bound for new adventures. But their time together is strictly limited as a date with destiny awaits the Time Lord in the caves of Androzani.