Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Day of the Dragon

I think this first picture must have been commissioned before Colin Baker had been cast as the sixth Doctor, back when Derren Nesbitt was still lined up to play the part.

Day of the Dragon begins by using the standard (for these Doctor Who stories) technique of having had some events already happen and we join them at a suitably dramatic point. Also standard s for the story to then quickly backtrack and fill us in on how the Doctor and Companion (in this case Peri) got into the situation.

"Colonel Latham's been burnt to a cinder, but nothing else around him has been touched! What on earth could have caused this?"

An intriguing 'locked room' mystery is thus quickly established. Colonel Latham is some manny who the Doctor and Peri had been visiting (for reasons that are never made clear so must not be important) and were only away from for a moment when he went on fire. The Doctor comes up with a theory:
"What?" asked Peri, puzzled.
"Spontaneous Human Combustion," replied the Doctor flatly. "It's all to do with magnetic forces and chemicals in the human body."

S.H.C. (also known as SMC to cats) is not to be confused with SPC.

Pictured: SPC.

However, the arrival of two more mannys on the scene provides a different explanation:
"Dragons in . . . in the cellar!"

Harper the butler and Sarah the maid give the Doctor some exposition about Sarah having seen scary dragons in the cellar, and there is another door in Colonel Latham's room that leads down to the cellar.

Or so the butler thinks.

They go to the cellar to look for clues.

The Doctor finds "something resembling part of a scale" and from this he knows what is really going on, filling Peri and us in with the silliest exposition since the last time one of these stories had exceptionally silly exposition:
"Three centuries ago, I had the great displeasure to tangle with one of the most dangerous adversaries I have ever encountered. Qualar, the Grand Master of Fire. He was able to destroy anyone or anything with fire, with-out harming the surrounding area."
"How?" asked Peri, as the Doctor gazed into space.
"He was fire incarnate. He could take the form of a dragon . . . even of fire itself. He is truly a power to be reckoned with. We couldn't destroy him, but we did make a bargain with him. In return for peace, we gave him the planet Zaron to create havoc in. Clearly, it wasn't enough."

They go into some woods to look for Qualar and Peri is scared when a tree goes on fire.

"I know it's you, Qualar, there's no need for silly games!" shouted the Doctor.

I have to admit that, as silly as this story is, Qualar is very scary - he roars in both capital letters and in italics! They see Qualar in the form of "an enormous dragon".

"WOW!" shrieked Peri. "It must be fifty feet tall! If it doesn't burn us, it'll crush us to death!"

It seems Peri can shriek in capitals and italics - that is also impressive. Another "ROAR!" is enough to scare even the Doctor.

Qualar is not alone, he has four other dragons with him. Qualar turns into his true form, described as
a seven-foot-high mass of pulsating grey matter, with a kind of black aura around him.
Qualar remembers the Doctor.

"You tricked me, Doctor! You gave me a dead world! Nothing lives - nothing can be controlled on Zaron! You tricked me!"
"If nothing lives on Zaron, it's because of your destructive ways, Qualar!" cried the Doctor impatiently. "Now you're searching for more victims . . . am I right?"

Qualar's dragons burn a bush, but then Qualar decides to vanish with his dragons instead of killing the Doctor and Peri. They try to go back to the Tardis but it is "surrounded by flames." Qualar taunts them, indicating that he wants to play with them, cat-and-mouse-like, before killing them, but Qualar is not a cat, he's a baddy, and so he can't help but give away that he killed Colonel Latham because the Colonel was "a danger" to him.

The Doctor and Peri go back to the Colonel's house and the Doctor gives some more exposition about Qualar:
"Back on planet Zaron, he was indestructible because it was his territory, and he was in complete control," said the Doctor.

So... the Doctor tricked Qualar by giving him the dead world Zaron, which was Qualar's territory anyway. That's quite a trick! Harper the butler meets them in the house.

"Doctor!" he cried. "There's a fire-breathing monster coming this way. He's burning everything in his path!"
"Oh, tut, tut," said the Doctor casually, shaking his head. "That won't do the garden much good!"
Peri and Harper stared at him in disbelief. Had he gone mad?

I can understand why Harper wouldn't understand the Doctor if he had only just recently met him, but you would think Peri would consider this a very mild display of madness compared to what she experienced in The Twin Dilemma. It is a remark that seems to me to be perfectly in keeping with his sixth persona. Much less in-character is the next exchange:
"Well, we can't leave until we've carried out our plan," replied the Doctor.
"What plan?" asked Harper.
"To exterminate Qualar," said the Doctor simply. "What else?"

They go to Colonel Latham's chemistry laboratory - there's no foreshadowing of this, a major failing of the story - to turn "all the gas taps on" and then run away to "the safety of the Tardis." Because this is the last page of the story there clearly isn't time to explain why the fires around it aren't there any more.

"Let's see what's happened to Qualar," said the Doctor, switching on the screen monitor.
The chaos shown there told them everything. The second Qualar's flames had made contact with the gas and chemicals, an almighty explosion had ripped the house apart, taking most of the surrounding areas with it. Qualar and his companions were no more.

That rather abrupt ending leaves only one paragraph for the Doctor to make a final quip in.

"Well, that seems to be the end of that," said the Doctor, dusting himself down. "I feel rather hungry all of a sudden. Anyone fancy a nice, juicy steak . . . well done, of course!"

Mew, this is a pretty poor story on the whole. Structurally it is all over the place, going from a locked room mystery setup to being hunted in the woods by monsters to wrapping it all up on the last page. Qualar is not a convincing baddy and his backstory is muddled if not outright contradictory. The Doctor is characterised quite well for the most part, but this is spoiled at the end with his extermination-happy solution, and Peri is not given dialogue consistent with her character at all.

This would have fitted in well with the TV stories of season 22 although, unless they got Stephen Grief to be Qualar or Gareth Thomas to play Harper, it wouldn't have held a candle to Timelash.

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