The Serial (3.5/5)
Doctor Who and the Planet of Fire feels like a serial built around the needs of the series, rather they around an actual story. Planet of Fire was to be the last serial for companions Turlough (Mark Strickson), and the android Kamelion. It also introduces a new companion for the Doctor, an American, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown. A lot of serials during the Peter Davision era appear to be written in such a way, sometimes to great success as in the Cybermen vehicle Earthshock, sometimes you will get a story like this. That is not to say this is a bad episode, it is quite good, it just does not feel as complete of a story as it could have been had the story been developed first.
The serial begins on an Island off the Coast of Greece. An archaeological expedition led by Professor Howard Foster, the stepfather of Peri Brown uncovers a mysterious artifact with a triangular symbol on it. This artifact turns out to be a distress signal, and the signal it emits causes the TARDIS to land in it's vicinity. Upon arrival the Doctor begins searching for the signal, while Turlough begins exploring on his own. While out he discovers Peri, nearly drowning in the water by the beach. He rescues her, and discovers the artifact in her possession. He recognizes the symbol on it, as a symbol that represents his home planet Trion. He takes Peri into the TARDIS and helps to revive her. Soon after the Doctor returns still attempting to track the signal, which now appears to be coming from inside the TARDIS. The TARDIS ends up dematerializing, and appears moments later on the planet Sarn.
Sarn is a planet whose population is structured around a fire based religion, and sacrifice nonbelievers to the flames that exist within their chambers. It turns out that these people live inside chambers built into an active volcano, and the anger their God has been showing toward their people recently, are actually signs of an impending volcanic eruption, that threatens to destroy their society. While this is going on, the Master takes mental control of Kamelion to enact his own evil scheme. The Master, as it turns out has been shrunken due to a previous experiment, and has to use Kamelion to access the restorative powers that the gases of Sarn hold. It is up the the Doctor to convince the people of Sarn the danger, they are in, while attempting to stop the Master from taking control of the colony, and it's people.
The synopsis may not make it clear, but there is a lot of stuff going on in these 4 episodes. As mentioned earlier, the whole thing feels more like a series of plot points than a cohesive story, and on top of those you have the return of the master, and the issues with the people on Sarn. It still is an entertaining experience, but it feels bogged down by having all of this in one serial. I will say that while you are not really given the opportunity to connect with Kamelion, as he was only featured in one prior serial (The King's Demons). I did not feel any bad at all about Turlough leaving, I felt his character was more of an irratation since he was introduced in Mawdryn Undead. The thing with his character is that it is a character, that you could see going places in the context of the show, but the whole team he just appears to be whining conniving excuse of a character. The introduction of Peri is a welcome change, as she turns out to be an excellent companion to both the Fifth and Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker). I will say that the location shooting brought quite an interesting flavor to the whole proceedings, and it definitely feels like a departure from the usual rock quarries doubling as other planets. Planet of Fire, overall, is a fun interesting addition to the Doctor Who canon.
Doctor Who and the Planet of Fire is presented in the 1:33:1 full frame ratio of it's original broadcast. As usual The Doctor Who Restoration Team do a commendable job with their work on Planet of Fire. The image is good, colors and flesh tones are largely accurate. There are quite a bit of softness, this probably has more to do with the location shooting. Overall, a quite solid image, and a definite upgrade from the VHS. The audio is presented in the original English mono track of it's original presentation, similar to the video work the audio is remastered quite well. The dialogue is audible throughout, and effects and music are mixed nicely. Optional English subtitles are included, as is a subtitle trivia track located on the second subtitle track.
As usual with these classic Doctor Who releases, the DVD of Planet of Fire has a nice slate of extras for the rabid Doctor Who fanboys out there (re: myself). In fact this release of Planet of Fire is a 2 Disc Special Edition, that includes as the primary extra a re-edit of Planet of Fire into a whole 66 minute film. This was also done recently with the Black Guardian Trilogy story Enlightenment, and while I found it largely useless in that story, I found it used to fine effect here. On the first disc we have a very lively and informative commentary with Peter Davision, Mark Strickson, Nicola Bryant, and Fiona Cumming. The have a lot stories in regards to the filming of Planet of Fire, and also aren't beyond riffing on the episode itself.
The release also has a number of featurettes, including Return to the Planet of Fire which shows the island where the episodes were filmed as it is today. This is followed up by Designs on Sarn, a discussion with the set designer on how he achieved the look of Sarn for Planet of Fire. There is a tribute to Anthony Ainley, which is essentially a video from a Q and A he did at a fan convention. Finally, there it a series of deleted and extended scenes, a photo gallery, the original bumpers, an isolated music track, and the Radio Times listing in .pdf form.
Not the best serial from the Peter Davison era, but far from the worst. Planet of Fire is a fun, but highly disjointed episode. The transfer is very well done for the most part, and their are a good deal of extras on this set. Doctor Who and the Planet of Fire is recommended for hardcore classic Doctor Who fans, but is probably not of interest to anyone else.