Sunday, 27 August 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Dragonfire Part Three

"After all these million of years... Vector Sigma awakes!"

Wait, that's not quite right. It's just that Kane's cliffhanger speech reminded me of that bit from Transformers.

Part three of Dragonfire carries on with Kane remembering that he shouldn't talk to the audience and he goes to give orders to his new henchmannys - not Tony Osoba or Magenta, who he killed off in part two, but some new ones. I'm beginning to think that somebody involved in the production of this story did not think this bit through. Kane orders them to find and kill the dragon and then bring its head to him.

Ace calls Glitz a "bilgebag" again and says "this is meganaff." I think she may be making a meta-commentary upon the quality of her own dialogue, or maybe even the script as a whole.

Some more of Kane's mannys go into the cafĂ© from part one and shoot a manny for no reason. This causes all the other mannys to run away except for one little manny, Stella, and her Teddy, who proceed to go around exploring and appearing in random scenes for the remainder of this episode.

Meanwhile the mannys who ran away all escape from Iceworld by taking Glitz's spaceship, and then Kane blows it up to show how much of an obvious baddy he is, which he hasn't properly demonstrated since he froze that manny for no reason back in part two.

Kane's henchmannys shoot the dragon but then its head opens up and they get electriced by the power source inside. The Doctor and Mel then find the dragon's head and take the power source.

Ace has split up from them to go and get more "nitro nine" and she meets Kane who, now that he has blown up Glitz's spaceship and killed almost all the mannys in Iceworld, has to resort to turning up in her bedroom looking sinister to fulfill his quota of obvious baddying. Now that he has her captured, Kane wants to swap Ace for the Dragonfire. (And he's welcome to it as far as I'm concerned, lol.)

Stella puts Teddy to sleep in Kane's bed. This is a sweet little scene, but completely pointless.

The Doctor (accompanied by Mel and Glitz) confronts Kane. This is the scene that the story has been building towards, with it being the first and only time that they meet each other in person, face to face.

Although the Doctor has already worked it out for himself, Kane gives the exposition about how he needs the Dragonfire power source to return to his home planet of Proamon so he can have his revenge for his being put in prison here 3,000 years ago with everything he might need to return home available to him except for the power source. Why he couldn't escape using any of the spaceships at the nearby spaceport, which he seemed to be in charge of, is not explained. This plot development seems needlessly confusing and not very well thought out... no wonder Teddy needed a lie down!

The Doctor hands over the Dragonfire to Kane, and this allows Kane's spaceship to take off. This is quite a good model shot. The Doctor says Kane can't have revenge on Proamon because Proamon has already been destroyed during the time Kane was in prison.

Kane reacts to this news by opening a window, which causes him to get melted like an evil Nazi who has just opened the Ark of the Covenant.

This is the best bit of SFX in the whole season, for all that it is only about a second long.

So the Doctor defeats Kane by... well, he doesn't really. He just points out something that Kane could have easily found out for himself in about five minutes.

The main plot is over and it just remains for Mel to leave and for Ace to become the new Companion. I think Mel has decided to leave because she is aware of the Sunk Cost Fallacy and so has decided to get out before there can be any more scripts as bad as Dragonfire's. And if you think I'm being unfair, take the next bit as a prime example. Mel wants to say something to the Doctor before she goes but he won't let her, so she says
"Oh alright, you win."
"I do? I usually do."
"I'm going now."
"That's right, yes, you're going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven't even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time."

Here we see one of the first examples of the Doctor trying to look more mysterious - moments that will be seen much more frequently in the following two seasons. But placed here it seems to come out of nowhere and just makes it look like the Doctor is being unpleasant to Mel for no reason.

Mel leaves with Glitz, while Ace stays in the TARDIS. For some reason the final scene is of Stella finding her mummy before seeing the TARDIS dematerialise. Aside from having a curious parallel with Goronwy seeing the TARDIS depart at the end of Delta and the Bannermannys, it is probably meant to be symbolic of something.

Dragonfire is a mess, and easily the weakest of the four stories in Season 24. This is a shame, since of the four it had the most far-reaching importance on the overall direction of the series, with its impact felt even in the Doctor Who still being made today.

Partly this is because it introduced Ace, who would go on to be the Doctor's Companion in TV stories right up until Survival, and then in many of the subsequent books and comic stories that were made in the 1990s during the absence of the TV series.

But also this is the first story where we really see the new direction for the character of the Doctor, as he begins to become a "darker," more manipulative character, one who is not as straightforwardly a goody as previous incarnations. Here we see flashes of it in scenes such as where he refuses to help Magenta in part two, or where he is inexplicably mean to Mel at the end, but this would go on to be a more significant part of the character in seasons 25 and 26, and beyond.

And this is where the Doctor begins to make speeches written to establish his own mythology within the show, something the modern TV series seems to love doing as often as possible ("madman with a box" etc.) to the enormous detriment of the drama and the Doctor's character.

The way in which Mel is written out and replaced by Ace is another failing of the story. As I have pointed out, Ace is not a good character (though she does become more sympathetic in subsequent seasons) but she does appear more interesting when compared with Mel - in a few lines of dialogue Ace is given far more depth and background than Mel ever got. Mel is one of the blandest, most underdeveloped Companions evar, and it seems to me that Ace, for all her flaws, was at least created as a reaction against that. With that in mind, I suppose Mel's underwhelming leaving scene is just about typical for her.

Dragonfire is not all bad though. It has several inventive sci-fi ideas in it, and the special effects, while obviously not up to the standards of Hollywood movies of the time, and unable to compete with the likes of Raiders of the Lost ArkAliens, or Krull, do the job they were designed for quite satisfactorily.

However I do think that, because it is not as good as Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers or Delta and the Bannermannys, it does make fans of Doctor Who think less of the season as a whole because not only is it the last one they would have seen (if watching them in proper order) but also it is the one that the production team chose to use as a template for the later seasons.

Because that is the thing that the four very different stories of Season 24 have in common - they were all experiments in different ways of making Doctor Who; four different ways of being different from how it was before. And so that is what the character of Stella symbolises... the TV series itself, having lost its way, exploring different directions for a while, and then finally finding its proper place.

"Goodbye, Doctor."
"I'm sorry, Mel. Think about me when you're living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving."

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