Dragonfire (Doctor Who)
|147 – Dragonfire|
|Doctor Who serial|
The Doctor bids Mel good-bye before inviting Ace to join him.
|Script editor||Andrew Cartmel|
|Incidental music composer||Dominic Glynn|
|Length||3 episodes, 25 minutes each|
|Originally broadcast||23 November–7 December 1987|
Dragonfire is the fourth and final serial of the 24th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in three weekly parts from 23 November (the 24th anniversary) to 7 December 1987. This serial marked the departure of Bonnie Langford as Mel Bush and the introduction of Sophie Aldred as the Doctor's new companion, Ace.
Iceworld is a space-trading colony on the dark side of the planet Svartos. It is a mysterious place of terror and rumour ruled by the callous and vindictive Kane, who buys supporters and employees and makes them wear his mark iced in to their flesh. Kane’s body temperature is so cold that one touch from him can kill. In Kane’s lair is a vast cryogenic section where mercenaries and others are being frozen and stored, with their memories wiped for future unquestioning use as part of an army; including a freezer cabinet into which Kane deposits himself when he needs to cool down. There is also, most peculiarly, an aged sculptor who is carving a statue from the ice.
The TARDIS materialises in a refrigeration sales section on Iceworld and the Seventh Doctor and Mel Bush venture outside. They soon meet up with their roguish old acquaintance, Sabalom Glitz, who owes Kane a substantial amount of money. Glitz has come to Svartos to search for a supposed treasure guarded by a dragon. It is located in the icy caverns beyond Iceworld and by chance Glitz has a map, which he won from Kane in a gamble – in fact, Kane wanted him to have the map because he wishes to use Glitz as a pawn in his own search for the treasure. Thus the map contains a tracking device in its seal. Kane in return has Glitz’s ship, the Nosferatu, which he orders destroyed. Without realising he is being used, Glitz heads off on the search with the Doctor in tow – though women are not allowed on the expedition so Mel stays with a young, rebellious waitress they have met called Ace. It is only a matter of time before Ace behaves appallingly to customers and is fired. Mel is stunned to hear that Ace is a human from late twentieth century Earth who only arrived on Iceworld after a bizarre chemistry experiment caused a time-storm in her bedroom.
Kane’s staff are not happy. Once they have taken his coin they are his for life – as Ace wisely realises when she rejects such an offer. Officer Belazs was not so clever, and is keen to escape Kane’s service. She thus arranges for the Nosferatu not to be destroyed, hoping to use the craft to escape Iceworld. When this fails she tries to persuade Officer Kracauer to help her overthrow Kane, but he is one step ahead. Their attempt to alter the temperature in his chambers and kill him fails, so Kane exacts his revenge and kills them both. The same fate awaits the ice sculptor who has now finished his statue, which is of a woman called Xana.
In the ice caverns it has taken time but the Doctor and Glitz have encountered the dragon, which turns out to be a biped which did not so much breathe fire as fire lasers from its eyes, but not the treasure. Mel and Ace have now ventured into the caverns too and they meet their allies and are actually defended by the dragon, which guns down some of Kane’s cryogenically altered soldiers who have been sent into the ice caverns to kill them. The dragon takes them to a room in the ice, which is some sort of control area and contains a pre-recorded hologram message. The hologram explains that Kane is one half of the Kane-Xana criminal gang from the planet Proamnon. When the security forces caught up with them Xana killed herself to avoid arrest, but Kane was captured and exiled to the cold, dark side of Svartos. It turns out that Iceworld is a huge spacecraft and the treasure is a crystal inside the dragon’s head, which acts as the key that Kane needs in order to activate the ship and free himself from exile. The dragon is thus both Kane’s jailer and his chance of freedom.
Kane has overheard the location of the key through the bugging device on the map and now sends his security forces to the ice caverns to bring him the head of the dragon, offering vast rewards for such bravery. He also uses his cryogenic army to cause chaos in the Iceworld shops, driving the customers out and towards the docked Nosferatu. When the Nosferatu takes off Kane blows it up. Shortly afterward two of Kane’s troopers succeed in killing the dragon and removing its head, but are killed in the process.
The Doctor has meanwhile realised that Kane has been a prisoner on Svartos for millennia. He retrieves the head of the dragon and is then told by intercom that Kane has captured Ace but is willing to trade her for the "dragonfire". The Doctor, Glitz and Mel travel to Kane’s private chambers for the exchange. Kane rises to the Doctor’s taunts but still powers up Iceworld as a spacecraft, which now detaches itself from the surface of Svartos. However, when Kane tries to set course for Proamnon to exact his revenge he realises he has been a prisoner so long that the planet no longer exists, having been destroyed through late-stage stellar evolution of its sun. In desperation, he opens a screen in the surface of his ship and lets in hot light rays, which melts him.
The Doctor now loses a companion but also gains one. Glitz has claimed Iceworld as his own spacecraft, renamed Nosferatu II, and Mel decides to stay with him to keep him out of trouble. The Doctor acquires Ace instead, promising to take her home to Perivale via the "scenic route".
This story marks the final appearance of Bonnie Langford as a regular cast member. Langford would only reprise her role as Mel once on television, in Dimensions in Time (1993). Langford departed the series of her own volition after being dissatisfied in the role. In recent years, she has reprised the character in several audio plays by Big Finish Productions, including playing an alternate universe version of Mel in the Doctor Who Unbound audio He Jests at Scars.... This story also marks the first appearance of Sophie Aldred as Ace. Aldred actually auditioned for the part of the tomboy Ray from Delta and the Bannermen (1987), but lost the part to Sara Griffiths. Ace's first appearance begins her habit of calling the Doctor "Professor". The Doctor corrects her here, but rarely objects to her continuous use of the name over the next two seasons.
The character of Sabalom Glitz, with whom Mel departs to explore the galaxy, first appeared in The Mysterious Planet alongside the Sixth Doctor. Briggs, who had created the character of Ace, had stated in Ace's character outline for Dragonfire that she had slept with Glitz on Iceworld. The Paul Cornell-written New Adventures novel Love and War implies (and his later novel Happy Endings confirms) that Ace lost her virginity to Glitz.
The Doctor's acceptance of Ace as a companion is part of a larger game that would see its culmination in The Curse of Fenric. In the Virgin New Adventures novel Head Games by Steve Lyons it is revealed that the Seventh Doctor mentally influenced the brighter and more idealistic Mel to leave so that he could become the darker and more manipulative Time's Champion.
This story marks the only farewell scene between the Seventh Doctor and one of his companions. Mel's departure scene was adapted from Sylvester McCoy's screen test, where Janet Fielding was hired to act as a departing companion and a villain. McCoy stated that he always liked that particular screen test script and he lobbied for its inclusion in Dragonfire.
One of the alien customers in the cafe is an Argolin from The Leisure Hive.
Working titles for this story included Absolute Zero, The Pyramid's Treasure and Pyramid in Space. In one scene, the Doctor distracts a guard by engaging him in a philosophical conversation. One of the guard's lines, about the "semiotic thickness of a performed text", is a quotation from Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, a 1983 media studies volume by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado. Story editor Andrew Cartmel had suggested that writers read The Unfolding Text to familiarise themselves with Doctor Who and its history, which inspired Ian Briggs to quote the academic text in his script, in a playful self-reference.
The literal cliffhanger at the end of episode 1 in which the Doctor lowers himself over a guard rail to dangle over an abyss from his umbrella for no apparent reason comes under frequent criticism for its seeming absurdity. As scripted, the Doctor did have a logical motivation for his actions. According to Cartmel in a later interview, the passage leading to the cliff was meant to be a dead end, leaving the Doctor no option but to scale the cliff face. As shot, however, this reasoning became unclear.
For the effects shot of the death of Kane, a wax bust of the actor's screaming face was made and filmed being melted down to a skull within, this footage being sped up to achieve the effect. Though this is very similar to the death of Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the family audience of Doctor Who the colour red was carefully avoided in the bust. Ronald Lacey, who had portrayed Toht in the film, was director Chris Clough's first choice to play Kane, but was unavailable  John Alderton and David Jason were also considered for the part of Kane, but neither were available for the role.
Broadcast and reception
|Episode||Broadcast date||Run time||Viewers
|"Part One"||23 November 1987||24:01||5.5|
|"Part Two"||30 November 1987||24:40||5.0|
|"Part Three"||7 December 1987||24:26||4.7|
On UK Gold (now known as Gold) in 2003 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who, over a weekend DrWho@40weekend was shown which consisted of the best serials of each Doctor voted by the viewing public. Dragonfire was the serial chosen as the best Seventh Doctor serial. DrWho@40weekend also included interviews with the cast and crew of the series overall. The Doctor Who Appreciation Society voted the serial to be the best one of its season.
|Cover artist||Alister Pearson|
|Series||Doctor Who book:
|16 March 1989|
Dragonfire was released on VHS in late December 1993. It was released on DVD on 7 May 2012, coupled with The Happiness Patrol as part of the "Ace Adventures" box set. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in Issue 123 on 18 September 2013.
- From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the four segments of The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories and also counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this story as number 151. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
- ""A Brief History of Time (Travel)" - The Curse of Fenric".
- "The Name of the Doctor Past References – The Doctor Who Site News". News.thedoctorwhosite.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
- Cartmel, Andrew (2005). Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-89. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-89-7.
- Dragonfire at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
- Fact of Fiction, Doctor Who Magazine Issue 444
- Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "Dragonfire". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "Dragonfire". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Dragonfire". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "Doctor Who @ 40 (UKGold) - The Sylvester McCoy Years". YouTube. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
- DWM 433
- "DVD Schedule Update". Doctor Who News. 2011-03-05. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Seventh Doctor|
- Dragonfire at BBC Online
- Dragonfire at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- Dragonfire reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- Dragonfire reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- On Target — Dragonfire