‘Quickly, to the ruin!’ Like Resurrection of the Daleks, this has two plots that have no thematic or character link between them: the Master finding a way to restore himself; Turlough forced to blow his cover, turn to his own people and return home to face the music. Of the two, the latter should be the most interesting: finally understanding who Turlough is and why he’s constantly nervous (if the Trion network of agents track him down, he’s for the high jump): it could have been one of the best companion send-offs because it actually pays off the mystery of the character.
But there’s something very lifeless about this storyline. Strickson is great, but even when his character is central, the material is thin: the whole Trion situation is wrapped up in a few lines of dialogue, and he heads home as a hero. It’s a nice exit, and I’m not suggesting he should have been dragged back for a trial just to labour the parallels with The War Games, but it might have been interesting if the situation on Sarn was in some way connected to the changing of the guard on Trion instead of it all being dealt with as noises off.
It also means all the Timanov and Logar stuff is just a bit of 1970s-style ancient astronaut fluff to give some flavour to the Sarn scenes. It’s inoffensive without in any way being relevant to Turlough or the Master’s predicaments. Timanov is just another common-or-garden religious zealot, his whole character is that he’s played by Peter Wyngarde. There’s no attempt made to draw a parallel between the civil discord on Sarn and events on Trion.
Which leaves the Master plot, which is also incredibly thin but at least benefits from a great Ainley performance and a sense of humour as Peri pursues the miniaturised Master around the control room ready to squish him with a shoe. It also leads to a climax where, in succession, the Doctor kills Kamelion and allows the Master to die. Is this his idea of mending his ways, as promised at the end of the previous story? To become the man who would pull the trigger and end a life, having failed to shoot Davros through the face? Interesting.
So that’s Planet of Fire. The usual summary is that Grimwade was given a JNT shopping list (bring back the Master, introduce Peri, write out Kamelion and Turlough, in Lanzarote) and made the best of a bad job. I think that’s nonsense: there was a coherent story to be made out of that list, instead of a pretty looking but half-bothered script that treats almost all of the requirements separately. This isn’t awful but given the variety of ingredients Grimwade was given he’s made the blandest dish possible.
Next episode: The Caves of Androzani