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Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Nick Mellish

As Sylvester McCoy’s first season closes, we are presented with ‘Dragonfire’; this is the story which uses clichés quite freely, which gives stereotypical characters stereotypical lines and which has a serious lack of budget, which is a pity.

Ah yes, if there was ever a story that was crying out for more money, ‘Dragonfire’ is it: imagine if Iceworld really did look icy, or if the sets looked less studio bound and more realistic. Whilst ‘Doctor Who’ was never the most aesthetically pleasing show, at times its visual flair was imaginative and memorable, but here the studios look like studios, and no amount of comedy slipping from Sylvester McCoy can disguise the fact that the snow is polystyrene.

That’s not to say that all the designs look terrible, far from it. The dragon costume, whilst still obviously a costume, looks fairly impressive, as does the interior of the Nosferatu, though both these examples are in relation to the story they are within.

Thus far, this review has been rather negative, but that is simply because I wanted to get the bad things out of the way first: now, onto the plus points….

The dialogue here sparkles. “Ah, an existentialist!” responds the Doctor after learning that Belazs wants to shoot Glitz. In three short episodes, we are given more quotable dialogue than the rest of Season Twenty-Four put together; from the Doctor’s philosophical ramblings to a guard, to the vast majority of what Glitz says, this is a story unafraid of using dialogue for decoration, though never gratuitously. The final scene between Mel and the Doctor is, in particular, a great example of how the dialogue throughout ‘Dragonfire’ shines.

A clever little trick Ian Briggs has used, as mentioned above briefly, is to not be ashamed of using staple clichés of different genres associated with ‘Doctor Who’. For the fantasy element, we have an ancient map and a Dragon; for the Sci-fi element, we’ve got a baddie who freezes people by touch; for the horror element, we have hoards of human zombies; Mel fulfils the role of stereotypical ‘Who’ companion, screaming her way through the cliffhanger to part one and then tripping over and knocking herself out for no real reason later on; and then, of course, we have the famous dangling-off-a-cliff cliffhanger, just to do the ultimate cliché.

The characters are also well aware of their grounding in stereotypes- witness how Glitz, when dead set on revenge, stares into the camera, gnashes his teeth and simply says: “Kane”- we’re given more characterisation in that one moment alone, however cheesy, than many stories give throughout their running time. Also, Ace- the immature teenager with an attitude problem- is given dialogue that makes her look like an immature teenager with an attitude problem. She irritates the viewer, just as she irritates the supporting characters. She’s given clichéd lines to say, which work well in their context and are delivered perfectly by Sophie Aldred.

Speaking of Sophie Aldred, she instantly makes an impression as good companion material; the contrasts between her and Mel are striking, and so she arouses the interest of the viewer, and you are genuinely left wondering how the relationship between the doctor and Ace is going to develop- and, of course, develop it did. From the very next story, ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’, you are aware that something very different is going on, and thankfully so as it would have otherwise been a waste of such a very different character.

Not everything in ‘Dragonfire’ works: Ace’s repeated cries of her name are irritating as best, down right annoying at worst. As mentioned before, ‘Dragonfire’ could really have done with some extra money, as bits of it look very cheap indeed.

However, there is much to recommend in ‘Dragonfire’; the cast all appear to be having fun, and Edward Peel turns in a terrific performance as Kane. Once more, Tony Selby as Glitz is great and highly watchable, and his interaction with all the various characters works well. Added to all this, Dominic Glynn’s incidental music is quite nice, and it compliments the look of the story very well. One particularly nice moment is when the synthesised thuds of the keyboard match the footsteps of one of Glitz’s ex-crewmembers as he stumbles down the metal stairs whilst searching for Ace and Mel.

‘Dragonfire’ is not the perfect story, but then again most ‘Doctor Who’ stories are not. It stands hand and tails above the other stories in Season Twenty-Four in my opinion, and boasts some terrific dialogue and set pieces to boot. It’s not the best of the best, but it rather proudly stands above average.