Okay, there’s an elephant in the room. Let’s talk about that cliffhanger. Barely a mention of this story goes by without some discussion of it so let’s deal with it now. Brace yourselves; it’s edge of your seat stuff! You thought The Pandorica Opens or The Caves of Androzani had good cliffhangers? Wait until you see this!
The Doctor sees a wall and hangs off of it from his trademark umbrella for some obscure reason.
Told you it was a good one!
And how is it resolved? By Glitz simply walking to the lower level and helping him down MEANING THERE WAS AN EASY FOOTPATH OPTION ALL ALONG!!!
Let’s see what the people responsible for this tremendous cock-up have got to say for themselves:
So apparently that wasn’t even meant to be the cliffhanger! While Mel and Ace being threatened by the titular Dragon is standard ClassicWho fare for cliffhangers, the Doctor being an idiot is not. But if we accept what those responsible say, that this was a case of direction not doing justice of the writing, then we need not dwell on it any longer. It’s certainly something we can look back on and laugh at now and it’s even iconic enough that the footage was reused for 2013’s The Name Of The Doctor, so credit where it’s due there.
Speaking of annoying things let’s talk about incumbent companion Melanie Bush.
She’s the extremely positive cheery type, that girl at school you remember wishing would forget to come in so you wouldn’t have to put up with her. She’s also got one hell of a loud scream, which doesn’t help matters, not to mention the blatant stunt casting of Bonnie Langford (who I have a suspicion is the inspiration for the name of Clara’s Zygon likeness from last year's The Zygon Invasion/Inversion) in a transparent attempt to boost ratings. A lot of the time she feels like baggage left over from the 6th Doctor’s era that Doc 7 has been left with, almost by default. On the plus side this is her last story so she’s about to leave, better yet here’s Ace! [Opens champagne bottle.]
As companion exit scenes go, Mel gets a very good one and it’s possibly, sadly even, her best scene outside of Big Finish. Sylvester McCoy shows us a new side to his 7th Doctor when Mel tells him she’s leaving and he suddenly stops showing any interest and becomes deeply involved in the TARDIS console instead. You can tell he’s genuinely upset by this news, but it’s not done with tears and loud music. The work is all done by the actors’ understated performances in a surprisingly moving scene. But what she’s doing travelling in a flying supermarket with Glitz I’ll never understand. There’s a spin-off I don’t want to see! (Hands up who wanted Glitz to return. Nobody? I thought not.)
And enter Ace. But don’t be fooled, the deep and layered character we know and love is not yet fully formed, and Sophie Aldred gives probably her weakest performance here relying on her ability to scream (which seems out of character watching it with knowledge of Ace’s future appearances) and shout the word “ACE!” for no reason. Still, everything we all love about the character is here – the tom-boyishness, the Nitro-9, the coat and calling the Doctor “Professor” – It just needs some time to develop itself and let Sophie get to grips with the character. Give her a baseball bat and a Dalek, problem solved!
I’ve spoken a lot about the transition of the two companions and not a lot about the story. That’s because, sadly, it’s bit rubbish! There’s a man named Kane who’s a prisoner guarded by a mechanical dragon that contains the fuel needed for Kane to escape and some stuff happens and then more stuff...
Then it… it just sort of ends.
I wish I could go into more details but it’s really that forgettable. There’s a treasure hunt and a lot of corridors, some running around and an explosion. On paper it’s a great experience but in practice, like most of season 24, it doesn’t seem to gel.
If you want a classic piece of Doctor Who that will satisfy you and leave you wanting more then Dragonfire is not it. What you will find here is a memorable introduction for Ace and an equally memorable exit for Mel. That’s all this story sets out to do, so in that respect it’s certainly a success. By its end we have freed the Doctor of Mel and now the 7th is teamed up with Ace instead – Would anyone have him any other way? – and the only way left to go now is up.
The definitive TARDIS team of its decade has been set-up and for the first time since, arguably, Lalla Ward’s Romana II we have a wholly likable companion on board. Time to let Sylvester loose and see what he can do. Bring on the Daleks!
Well? Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.