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Doctor Who: Planet of Fire (parts three and four)

You may not believe this, but for me, the most memorable moments in “Planet of Fire” aren’t actually Nicola Bryant’s scenes in her bikini, delightful though those all-too-short scenes are. It’s not even the surprising – and surprisingly sad – farewell to Kamelion, as the robot begs for death and the Doctor obliges him. It’s not even anything to do with the terrific Peter Wyngarde, because he is so amazingly wasted in a role that just about anybody his age could have played.

No, the best part of “Planet of Fire” is the cliffhanger to part three and the great little bitchfest between the Master and Peri. After a third episode that’s even more boring than I remembered, it ends with the terrific surprise that the Master has accidentally shrunk himself and has been controlling Kamelion from a little control room about the size of a shoeshine boy’s box. This shocked our son so much that he fumbled his exclamation, shouting “What the world – wide – world?!” as the credits rolled. In part four, Peri gets a great moment when the Master, having scurried to his ship’s console and hidden inside, continues threatening her and she’s not having it. “You come out here and say that,” she shouts, and we all laughed. The scene honestly isn’t very well staged, but Anthony Ainley and Nicola Bryant sure did play it well.

But there’s another interesting thing about “Planet of Fire,” and that’s the departure of Turlough. All along, he’s felt like the producer and writers had no idea what they wanted to do with this character, and some of what’s revealed here seems very, very contradictory to what they were saying about him just months previously. Turlough was apparently a junior military officer on the losing side of a civil war on the planet Trion. So he’s presumably older than I thought, which makes his apparent “incarceration” in a boarding school even more ridiculous.

This is what they do with military prisoners on Trion: sentence them to go to school on less developed planets, where they will steal cars and pester the unpopular kids, under the watchful eye of a “strange solicitor” in London? Honestly, even knowing already about Turlough’s nonsensical past, it makes even less sense watched cohesively. It’s an early example of what would later exasperate me about The X Files or Lost. If you come up with the story in the first place, instead of inventing something later on to link all the jigsaw pieces together, it stands a much better chance of making sense!

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Doctor Who: Planet of Fire (parts one and two)

Peter Grimwade’s “Planet of Fire” is the third Doctor Who story in a row to elicit just a shrug, but man alive, this one should have been better. There’s location filming in Lanzarote helmed by Fiona Cumming, a great guest star, errrm, the Master and Kamelion but never mind, and the debut of a new companion. It’s Peri, who becomes the first American to travel in the TARDIS.

I won’t hear a bad word about the actress who plays Peri. Her name is Nicola Bryant, and not only is she a perfectly good actress – and Peri gets a few really great scenes in later stories – she’s a fabulous ambassador for Doctor Who. Nobody’s paying her to be a positive force in fandom. This is a show she left thirty-plus years ago, and she’s still singing its praises and welcoming new actors to the family. (Plus, if you like dogs, she’s a great advocate for animal welfare and is always sharing pictures of her family pets on Twitter!)

But because I contradict myself and contain multitudes, I can call myself a fan of Nicola Bryant and also think that casting a British actress while claiming the new character was meant to appeal to the show’s new American audience was an unusual decision. (See the comments for more on that topic.) Peri’s always divided opinions. I bet that for every person I’ve ever met who liked Peri, I’ve met five who just spit nails at the mention of her name. That said, I have always wondered how the character would have gone over had the BBC found a way to get a known American actress, such as, say, Lisa Whelchel, who was Blair on The Facts of Life, to play Peri?

I was keen to get more input from my son into this critical situation, but he had a very long day, was very over-tired, and his initially pleasant surprise that Kamelion was actually present in this story eventually turned sour when the Master turned up as well. He didn’t have an opinion about Peri and I don’t think he paid very much attention to part two of this story at all.

Joining the regular cast in Lanzarote, there are a few fellows in old-fashioned robes, chief among them the great Peter Wyngarde. Unfortunately, Wyngarde is playing another dreary religious lunatic. You don’t suppose all these prophecies about a strange being called Logar are going to have a scientific explanation in the final episode, do you? Stopping Nicola Bryant from being the only woman with a speaking part, Barbara Shelley is here as well, but she doesn’t have very much to do. She’s so irrelevant to the plot that she just gets to appear in the studio material back in London, having missed out on the trip to Lanzarote.

Well, hopefully our son will wake up for part three, and it won’t be as much of a snooze fest as I remember. Fingers crossed!

Photo credit (Lisa Whelchel): https://www.pinterest.com/mercyjacobs/

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The Avengers 5.1 – From Venus With Love

To recap: there are two ABCs at play in the story of The Avengers: the Associated British Corporation, which made the program, and the American Broadcasting Company, the US television network which had purchased the fourth season of the series. They did this as an inexpensive way to get some new midseason programming, and found themselves with an unexpected success. It wasn’t that The Avengers had turned into some Nielsen-topping juggernaut, but it more than met the network’s modest expectations and there was a definite buzz about the program.

So before The Avengers finished its 21 episode run, ABC had asked for another batch of episodes to stand as a midseason replacement in the 1966-67 calendar. The network asked for 16 episodes; the production company intended to make a further ten beyond those. Just in case 16 turned out to be all that America wanted, they still needed a package of 26 to sell to other countries. This sounds like a curious and nitpicky point, but readers who don’t know the show and who stick around will see that it will become important later on.

Even though the color Avengers was made for the American market – this season of episodes aired Friday nights at 10, coming to bat for the cancelled Quinn Martin war drama Twelve O’Clock High – we’re going to watch them in the transmission order from the UK. I’ve been so used to that sequence that I remain petulant about the StudioCanal DVDs using the much more sensible production order. So, while the DVDs lead with episode two, which was made in September 1966, we’re starting with the traditional first color episode of the show, “From Venus With Love,” written by Philip Levene and first shown in the US and the UK in January 1967.

A common complaint about this batch of episodes is that they have a certain sameness to them. There’s a bit of formula, in part because they didn’t have very much time to actually make them, and in part because ABC’s Batman had been that Nielsen-topping juggernaut mentioned above, and it immediately spread its influence all over television, including television made in other countries. So the eccentricities of the diabolical masterminds are ramped up to the point that they’re almost all comic book villains, there are celebrity cameos in most of the stories, and they’ve even added a cute “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed” bit at the beginning of each story so that each one starts with the same oddball beat. They’re stylish, witty, and wonderful, but the production break after 16 episodes was perfectly timed. Any more than this would have started to get dull.

“From Venus With Love” teases the possibility of a space invasion. It’s certainly funny – hysterically so, when Mrs. Peel meets an outrageously posh chimney sweep – and I like how there are two solid suspects to the strange deaths. It could be Barbara Shelley and Derek Newark, who run the British Venusian Society, or it could be Philip Locke, who thinks they’re dabbling with forces beyond their control. Along the way, the casualties mount, with Jeremy Lloyd and Jon Pertwee – the only Doctor Who lead to ever appear in The Avengers, unless you count Joanna Lumley and Peter Cushing, I guess – blasted by a heat ray from space. Or from the front of a sports car, anyway.

And no, our son didn’t recognize Pertwee. Darn kid. He’s had a wild day with lots of walking and two sodas and didn’t really want to pay attention to tonight’s episode. Plus we’re watching another Star Wars movie in the morning, and knowing that just killed his ability to concentrate completely. It’s almost a shame that the Star Wars movie in question will not be worth it…

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