Doctor Who episode 671: Dragonfire – Part One (23/11/1987)
‘This is the real McCoy, this is.’ The idea of an evil supermarket manager plotting the conquest of the 12 galaxies from his freezer department in between arranging for the sliding doors to be fixed is exactly the kind of premise that would have been at home in a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. That sensibility inhabits the story, which is full of ideas that could have come straight from the strip: the mark of Kane, the singing crystals, the space cantina, even the planet Svartos itself. Kane is a comic strip villain, imagined as Ice Dracula (he sleeps in a coffin, has a widow’s peak and captures a spaceship called Nosferatu). This shouldn’t be a surprise given Cartmel’s interest in 1980s comics, but this, even more than Paradise Towers, nails the style.
In that respect, Ace makes sense: emphatically shouting out pithy exclamations like she’s in a panel (‘Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?’). It would be weird to expect her to be a “realistic” troubled teen, although this pushes harder in that direction than the show ever has done. Pairing her up with Mel is huge fun, as Mel looks terrified – she’s probably never been thrown out of a café for being a bad girl before. They’re so obviously mismatched that they work as an odd couple – I could easily have enjoyed another couple of stories with them doing their version of the Nyssa and Tegan double act (come on RTD, where were they at Sarah Jane’s funeral?) had Langford consented to stay for half of Season 25.
Glitz also makes sense as a comic strip character: obviously there’s a nod back to The Trial of a Time Lord, but he’s essentially just here to be a comedy “dodgy” sidekick for the Doctor. Speaking of whom, is written quite generically compared to Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen. McCoy has fun doing “slippy slidey” acting in the ice caves and inexplicably imitating Harold Lloyd to dangle from an umbrella over a cliff edge, but there’s no material in this episode that seems pitched to his performance. Maybe it’s because Glitz is in it, but this is the first script since Time and the Rani that I can easily imagine Colin Baker performing.
Next episode: Dragonfire – Part Two