Dragonfire is the final story of season 24 of Doctor Who. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel, and Sophie Aldred as Ace. It is the second story of the season to be three parts long, but unlike Delta and the Bannermannys it cuts through the Gordian Knot of how to tell a four-part story in less than four parts by simply having less of a story to begin with.
It starts with a group of mannys who are going to be frozen by some other mannys, but one of them doesn't want to be so he runs away. There is some foreshadowing when Tony Osoba says:
"Leave him. He's in the restricted zone. He's a dead man."This is quickly proved to be correct when Kane, this story's obvious baddy, comes in and freezes the manny with his bare hands and the manny goes
The TARDIS arrives at Iceworld on the planet Svartos (so "Iceworld" isn't the name of the world then? I don't know what Terry Nation would have to say about that!) and the Doctor and Mel visit a supermarket.
Then they go to a café and meet Savlon Glitz (played by Tony Selby, not to be confused with Tony Osoba), returning from Trial of a Time Lord. He doesn't recognise the Doctor immediately because the Doctor was Colin Baker when he last saw him and is now Sylvester McCoy. There is a funny exchange between Glitz and Mel, which at first glance seems to be a clever way of delivering exposition, but it is even more clever than that because Glitz is being economical with the actualité in this bit so it is not exposition and just a joke after all:
"Fact is, I'm on a mission of highly philanthropic nature."
"It means it's beneficial to mankind."
"We know what philanthropic means. What's the mission?"
Magenta (Patricia Quinn), one of Kane's hanchmannys, comes to arrest Glitz. She gives him 72 hours to pay the money he owes Kane or else
Ace joins up with the Doctor, Mel and Glitz (and starts calling the Doctor "Professor" for no reason straight away) so we have our adventuring party assembled. Glitz even has a treasure map and makes another joke that, this time, also contains an element of truth in it:
"This is the real McCoy, this is. It comes from an unimpeachable source."
"What's that, then?"
"That means it is beyond reproach or question."
"I know what unimpeachable means, bird bath, but what makes you so certain this map's pedigree is twenty four carat?"
Ace called Glitz a "bird bath" lol. This is a deadly insult if you're a cat, though I'm not sure it has the same power if you're a manny. Ace also calls Glitz a "bilgebag" when he doesn't want Mel or Ace to come with them, and she storms off in a huff. Mel goes with her so only the Doctor and Glitz go to look for the Dragon.
There is a homing device in Glitz's map so that Kane and Magenta can monitor where Glitz is. Magenta wants to fly away in Glitz's spaceship but Kane doesn't want her to, so he orders it destroyed. Magenta has the mark of Kane on her, which aside from being an unsubtle reference to the Bible is just there to make Kane seem a bit more sinister than he otherwise would be. Magenta later reverses Kane's order without his knowledge, showing she is a bit of a Starscream.
Ace establishes her character by getting herself fired from her job by pouring a drink on a customer's head, demonstrating she has poor impulse control, and calls Glitz a "div" so she is really quite rude as well. Then Mel gets Ace's implausible backstory about how she is from Earth but
"I was doing this brill experiment to extract nitroglycerine from gelignite, but I think something must have gone wrong. This time storm blows up from nowhere and whisks me up here."Mew. I don't think that is a real thing, and neither does Professor Cat. He's a real Professor, you know, we don't just call him that for no reason.
Actually the real cause of Ace being teleported to Iceworld is explained in the story The Curse of Fenric, but as that was made two years later it leaves Dragonfire looking pretty silly when taken on its own merits. And then there's this exchange of dialogue between Mel and Ace:
"What about your mum and dad?"
"I haven't got no mum and dad. I've never had no mum and dad and I don't want no mum and dad. It's just me, all right?"
This is more interesting, as the double negatives reveal Ace's true feelings about her family - Ace is too well-educated for this not to be a deliberate mistaik. Ace is obviously a prodigy, capable of inventing a new kind of explosive, "nitro nine," while still young enough to be a school student (she later claims to be 18, but I think this is a lie and her first answer - six - is more likely the truth).
Ace uses "nitro nine" to blow some bloody doors off, then shouts her own name in triumph, indicating an almost cat-like level of egotism. Ace and Mel get arrested by Magenta and taken to Kane. Kane wants Ace to join him and become his new henchmanny (it is not clear if he doesn't want Mel to join or if he can only talk to them one at a time in order to seem more sinister), but Ace threatens to blow him up with "nitro nine" so they escape.
They take time off from their escaping for Ace to cast doubt on the existence of the dragon, which means it is time for an instant reversal as they promptly encounter an alien dragon. Mel screams (of course) and Ace makes a face.
This isn't the cliffhanger moment you might expect, but it is one of two cliffhanger situations in a similar line to how Delta and the Bannermannys part one ended. Meanwhile the Doctor has become separated from Glitz and lost in the caves. He decides, for no reason, to dangle himself from the edge of a precipice - a literal cliff hanger! He too makes a face, and that is the point at which we end the episode.
This is... er... how can I put this... not the most promising of starts to a story.
Indeed this is one of the most notoriously bad cliffhangers in all of Doctor Who. While I naturally approve of the self-aware nature of a cliffhanging cliffhanger, the sheer pointlessness of it completely spoils the effect. Sylvester McCoy does what he can to try and salvage the scene by making an "oh noes" face, but the misjudged directing and editing choices in this episode defy belief.