Doctor Who: Planet of Fire


Rating 2½

Written by Peter Grimwade

Directed by Fiona Cumming

Starring Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Peter Wyngarde (Timanov), Barbara Shelley (Sorasta), James Bate (Amyand), Michael Bangerter (Curt), John Alkin (Lomand), Edward Highmore (Malkon), Jonathan Caplan (Roskal), Dallas Adams (Professor Howard Foster) and Gerald Flood (Voice of Kamelion)

The Doctor and Turlough are drawn to the planet Sarn, which holds secrets about Turlough’s identity and past that he is reluctant to share. Once on Sarn they encounter the Doctor’s old adversary the Master. They also pick-up an accidental hitch-hiker along the way, American botany student Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown.


Peter Davison had the unenviable task of taking over from Tom Baker, who had played the Doctor for seven seasons between December 1974 and March 1981, by far the longest tenure of any of the actors who have played the role to date. More so than that, Doctor Who was enormously popular during Baker’s tenure, averaging eight or nine million viewers an episode. The final episode of the story ‘The City of Death’, co-written by Douglas Adams and broadcast on 20 October 1979, was watched by over 16 million viewers. It remains a record for the show, one that is extremely unlikely to be broken.

Davison proved to be a clever choice because not only was he quite different to Tom Baker, his Doctor was quite different to any of his predecessors. This Doctor was less arrogant than had been seen in the past, a much more reserved and diffident character. Rather than wanting to always be at the very centre of the action, he was frequently content to remain on the sidelines, observing events as they unfolded from a distance. His relationship with his companions was also quite different in many ways and much more collaborative.

‘Planet of Fire’, the penultimate story to feature Peter Davison, is not the best of his time in the role. In many respects it is hampered by the fact that it needs to help to bring one era to an end and set the scene for the new era that was soon to come, preparing the way for the change from the fifth to the sixth Doctor. Turlough leaves the story here and Peri is introduced, complete with numerous gratuitous bikini scenes. There was also what appeared at the time to be a somewhat unsatisfactory final appearance of the Master, at least as played by Anthony Ainley, although in fact it would not be long before his return.

The story is not an altogether uninteresting one, with its themes of religious belief and intolerance, even if perhaps it is a little flat. There is even some genuine location filming in Lanzarote. It is enlivened by the presence of Peter Wyngarde, who is great value. Wyngarde had been a big star on British television and a larger-than-life one in the late 1960s and early 1970s in ‘Department S’ and its spin-off ‘Jason King’. Barbara Shelley, a familiar face from many British horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, is also featured, although she is underused in a rather inconsequential role.

At the time of Nicola Bryant’s arrival as Peri the producers of the show played down the fact that she is actually British, although she was playing an American character. They were also reluctant to make it known that she was married – oddly enough, to an American, which gave her dual British-American citizenship.

Review posted 8 May 2010


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