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Dragonfire was the fourth and final serial of season 24 of Doctor Who.

It marked the departure of companion Melanie Bush, the return and final appearance of Sabalom Glitz, and featured the debut of Sophie Aldred as Ace.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

As trouble brews on the space trading colony of Iceworld, the Doctor and Mel encounter their sometimes-ally Sabalom Glitz - and a new friend who goes by "Ace".

Plot[edit | edit source]

Part One[edit | edit source]

Iceworld is a space-trading colony on the dark side of the planet Svartos, controlled by the callous and vindictive Kane. He buys supporters and employees and makes them wear his mark iced into their flesh. Kane's body is so cold that one touch from him can kill. In his lair is a vast cryogenic section. Mercenaries and others are frozen and stored, losing their memories to become an unquestioning army. Kane stays there when he needs to cool down. There is also an aged sculptor carving a statue from the ice.

The TARDIS arrives in a refrigeration sales section. The Seventh Doctor and Melanie Bush meet their roguish acquaintance, Sabalom Glitz. He owes Kane a serious amount of money, and if he doesn't return his debt soon he'll lose his ship. Glitz has come to look for a treasure guarded by a dragon in the icy caverns beyond Iceworld. Glitz has a map he won in a game of cards. Kane wanted him to have the map because he wishes to use Glitz in his own search for the treasure. The map has a tracking device in its seal. Kane has Glitz's ship, the Nosferatu, which he orders destroyed. Not knowing he is being used, Glitz goes off with the Doctor in tow. Glitz won't allow women on the expedition, so Mel stays with a waitress they have met, called Ace. Ace becomes irritated at a customer's complaints and pours a milkshake on her head, prompting her to be fired. Mel and Ace return to Ace's lodgings. Mel is stunned to hear Ace is a human from late twentieth century Earth who only arrived on Iceworld when a chemistry experiment caused a time-storm in her bedroom.

Ace takes security matters into her own hands and blows up an ice block previously causing an ice jam. Officer Belazs promptly arrives to deal with the matter and finding Ace and Mel present, arrests them. They are interrogated by Kane, and Ace is offered a place at Kane's side. Ace seems to consider the offer, before using nitro-9 to create an explosion as a distraction, allowing the pair to escape. As they run down the corridors, they encounter a frightening creature -the dragon.

The Doctor, separated from Glitz, climbs over a parapet. He loses his grip, and hangs from the railing, holding onto his umbrella as he slowly slips down its length.

Part Two[edit | edit source]

The dragon shoots laser beams at Mel and Ace. Realising that the "dragon" is nothing of the sort, they flee.

Glitz arrives and helps the Doctor to the bottom of the chasm. Glitz wants to head for his ship and gives the map to the Doctor. Kane overhears them.

Some of Kane's staff are not happy. Once they have taken his coin they are his for life; Officer Belazs was naïve in her belief that Kane would not use her. She is keen to escape, and arranges for the Nosferatu not to be destroyed, hoping to use the craft to escape. When this fails, she tries to persuade Officer Kracauer to help her overthrow Kane. Their attempt to raise the temperature in his chambers and kill him fails. Kane kills them both, before killing the ice sculptor who has finished his statue of a woman called Xana, declaring that only he is to be allowed to be at witness to her magnificence.

In the ice caverns, the Doctor and Glitz find the treasureless dragon. It is a biped that fires lasers from its eyes. Mel and Ace have ventured into the caverns too. They meet their allies and are defended by the dragon, which guns down Kane's cryogenically altered soldiers sent to kill them. The dragon takes them to a room in the ice. It is some sort of control area. There is a pre-recorded hologram message. It explains Kane is half of the Kane-Xana criminal gang from the planet Proamon. When the security forces caught up with them, Xana killed herself to avoid arrest. Kane was captured and exiled to the cold, dark side of Svartos. It seems Iceworld is a huge spacecraft and the treasure is a crystal inside the head of the "dragon". It is the key Kane needs to activate the ship and end his exile. The dragon is both Kane's jailer and his chance of freedom. Kane hears all through the device on the map and declares his victory to be imminent.

Part Three[edit | edit source]

Kane sends his security forces to the ice caverns to bring him the dragon's head, offering vast rewards for bravery. He orders his army to cause chaos in the Iceworld shops, driving the customers towards the docked Nosferatu. When the Nosferatu takes off, Kane blows it up. The only survivors are a young girl, Stellar, and her mother, who have become separated. Shortly afterwards, two of Kane's troopers manage to kill the "dragon" and remove its head, but are killed themselves by an energy discharge from the crystal.

Old friends leave and a new one joins.

The Doctor has realised that Kane has been a prisoner on Svartos for millennia. He retrieves the crystal from the "dragon". Kane uses a comms system to make a deal with Doctor: he has captured Ace but is willing to trade her for the “Dragonfire.” The Doctor, Glitz and Mel go to Kane's private chambers for the exchange. Kane rises to the Doctor's taunts but still powers up Iceworld as a spacecraft. It rises from the surface of Svartos. However, when Kane tries to set course for Proamon to exact his revenge, he realises he has been a prisoner so long the planet no longer exists. In despair, he opens a screen in his ship and lets in light rays, which melt him.

Glitz claims Iceworld as his own spacecraft, the Nosferatu II. Mel decides to stay with him to keep him out of trouble and tells the Doctor that Ace doesn't wish to return home. He promises to take her home to Perivale: via the “scenic route”.

Stellar comes across the TARDIS and approaches it, just before her mother finds her and gives her a telling-off for wandering away, telling Stellar to follow her. Stellar pauses for a moment and watches as the TARDIS dematerialises, the sight of which makes her giggle.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Uncredited cast[edit | edit source]

Crew[edit | edit source]

  1. Assistant Floor Manager - Christopher Sandeman
  2. Camera Supervisor - Alec Wheal
  3. Costumes - Richard Croft
  4. Designer - John Asbridge
  5. Graphic Designer - Oliver Elmes
  6. Incidental Music - Dominic Glynn
  7. Make-Up - Gillian Thomas
  8. Producer - John Nathan-Turner
  9. Production Assistant - Rosemary Parsons, Karen King
  10. Production Associate - Anne Faggetter
  11. Production Manager - Gary Downie
  12. Script Editor - Andrew Cartmel
  13. Special Sounds - Dick Mills
  14. Studio Lighting - Don Babbage
  15. Studio Sound - Brian Clark
  16. Technical Co-Ordinator - Richard Wilson
  17. Theme Arrangement - Keff McCulloch
  18. Title Music - Ron Grainer
  19. Video Effects - Dave Chapman
  20. Videotape Editor - Hugh Parson
  1. Vision Mixer - Shirley Coward
  1. Visual Effects Designer - Andy McVean

References[edit | edit source]

Astronomical objects[edit | edit source]

Locations[edit | edit source]

Species[edit | edit source]

  • An individual resembling an Argolin can be seen on Iceworld.

Influence[edit | edit source]

  • Kane was named after Citizen Kane, with Xana named after his estate, Xanadu.
  • Bazin was named after French critic André Bazin.
  • McLuhan was named after Canadian mass media theorist Herbert Marshall McLuhan.
  • The Iceworld Cafe was inspired by the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars.
  • The idea of holographic messages from the dead was inspired by Jor-El's hologram in Superman: The Movie.
  • Kane's ship is named after Nosferatu.
  • There are several references to the Alien franchise, the second instalment of which had been released a year before this episode was first shown; for example, the Xenomorph like appearance of the Dragon, and the Dragon being hunted through corridors by soldiers with large guns and motion detectors before it ambushes them.
  • Kane's death was inspired by the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Andrew Cartmel said that Mel's departure was inspired by Watchmen.

Story notes[edit | edit source]

  • Sara Griffiths' character, Ray, from the previous serial, Delta and the Bannermen, was initially predicted to have replaced Bonnie Langford as a regular companion. However, the role went to Sophie Aldred's character Ace in this serial instead. Lynn Gardner, who was originally cast as Ray, was injured in a motor scooter accident so was replaced by Griffiths. Gardner was still paid and, because she was still under contract, was cast as the Announcer on this story by way of compensation.
  • The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by a black and white head-and-shoulders publicity shot of the Doctor and Melanie, with the new computer-generated Doctor Who logo superimposed in the bottom left-hand corner, bearing the accompanying caption "After 24 years, the TARDIS clocks its 150th adventure and 670th episode — with Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford / BBC1, 7.35 p.m. Doctor Who".
  • Script editor Andrew Cartmel encouraged his writers to read the academic media studies textbook Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado to acquaint themselves with the series. Ian Briggs used some short passages from Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text in the dialogue of Dragonfire.
  • Ian Briggs had included in the backstory for Dragonfire that Ace had recently lost her virginity to Glitz. The plot point was, unsurprisingly, not included in the episode as shot. Paul Cornell later referred to the event in his New Adventures novel Happy Endings.
  • The original script featured a different, but similar character called Razorback in the role that would later be occupied by Glitz. After recognising the similarities between the two characters, John Nathan-Turner encouraged Ian Briggs to bring Glitz back in place of his original character.
  • The literal cliffhanger at the end of part one in which the Doctor lowers himself over a guardrail to dangle over an abyss from his umbrella for no apparent reason comes under frequent criticism for its seeming absurdity. As scripted, the Doctor did have a logical motivation for his actions. According to Cartmel in a later interview, the passage leading to the cliff was meant to be a dead-end, leaving the Doctor no option but to scale the cliff face. As shot, however, this reasoning became unclear.[1]
  • At one point, the character Kane would have been called Hess. That was changed due to the announcement that the Soviet government under Gorbachev was no longer opposed to the release of Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess on humanitarian grounds, and due to Hess's death by suicide in Spandau Prison, Berlin on 17 August 1987.
  • Although Ace is sixteen, the actress Sophie Aldred, who played her, was nearly ten years older at the time.
  • In Asian mythology, dragons' heads are said to contain a jewel which is commonly connected to their ability to fly: This is similar to this story's "dragon" having a valuable gem in its head that can grant Kane the power of "flight" (escape).
  • This is the second story in a row to feature a full vehicle exploding, killing everyone on it. In Delta and the Bannermen it was a bus; in this, it is Glitz's ship.
  • Ace wears various Space Shuttle mission patches on her black bomber jacket.
  • There are several references to the Alien franchise, the second instalment of which had been released a year before this episode was first shown; for example, the Xenomorph-like appearance of the Dragon, and the Dragon being hunted through corridors by soldiers with large guns and motion detectors before it ambushes them.
  • The melting of Kane is reminiscent of the melting of the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kane's death scene was filmed using a wax bust of the actor's face, which was melted down in front of a recording camera, with the footage later sped up for incorporation in the episode. In the scene where Kane's bust melts, there is a notable absence of red wax to tone his demise down for a family audience. The colour red has been used to mimic blood when this technique is applied to show a character melting in filmed productions, such as the death of Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • This was the first televised story since The Invasion of Time where a companion left the Doctor at the end of a season, and the first story since Logopolis where one joined the Doctor in a season finale.
  • This story was chosen by fans to represent the Sylvester McCoy era and to be rebroadcast for Doctor Who @40.
  • This serial is the last appearance of the TARDIS interior until TV: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • The Doctor going to pet an alien that bites at him was ad-libbed by Sylvester McCoy.
  • The wistful speech the Doctor delivers when Mel announces that she's leaving to travel the universe with Glitz was the audition speech that Sylvester McCoy was given when trying out for the role, and when it became clear that this was going to be Mel's last episode he insisted that they use that. It was written by Andrew Cartmel.
  • John Alderton, Nicholas Ball, Tom Chadbon, Michael Gothard, Ian Holm, David Jason, Ronald Lacey, T. P. McKenna, Clifford Rose, Simon Ward and David Warner were considered for Kane.
  • Originally, Ace chose to join Kane as a mercenary, with his sovereign becoming permanently imprinted on her palm. Ace then rebelled only when ordered to kill Mel. However, these developments were felt to be too similar to Belazs' arc. She also had a stuffed dog named Wayne.
  • A pair of scenes in which Glitz accidentally triggers a trap in the corridors beneath Iceworld and must be rescued by the Doctor were removed from the script for time.
  • The script originally featured the Seventh Doctor's trait of mixing up proverbs. John Nathan Turner and Andrew Cartmel had decided to tone down some of the more overtly comical aspects of the new Doctor's personality, and so these were removed.
  • In the alternative versions where she wasn't the new companion, Ace went off with Glitz, while the Doctor and Mel went off together as normal.
  • The plot bears resemblance to The Hobbit, with stealing treasure from a dragon on a mountain. Sylvester McCoy would later play Radagast the Brown in the film adaptation.
  • Several film references were ultimately eliminated or went unacknowledged on-screen: another mercenary was named after American critic Andrew Sarris, Ace's boss was called Anderson for British director Lindsay Anderson, and a tannoy announcement referenced American critic Pauline Kael.
  • McLuhan was originally called Eisenstein (after Russian director Sergei Eisenstein), but this was changed when it was feared that the surfeit of foreign names might be construed as racism.
  • A cut from part three resulted in the loss of a reference to Iceworld customer Joanne Foxley, alluding to one of the girls who had helped inspire Ace. This would have come over the public address system.
  • Andrew Cartmel thought this was the best story of the season.
  • Iceworld was based on the Bejam frozen food stores, which had been renamed Iceland.
  • Tony Selby caused numerous delays by having his sideburns checked to see that they were the same as they were in the previous season.

Ratings[edit | edit source]

  • Part one - 5.5 million viewers
  • Part two - 5.0 million viewers
  • Part three - 4.7 million viewers

Myths[edit | edit source]

  • This is the 150th Doctor Who story. (It is the 147th broadcast, although the BBC promoted it as the 150th in Radio Times. The production team apparently arrived at the total by counting the four segments of season twenty-three's The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories. Additionally, this is listed as the 148th if Shada is counted as a story, making this the 148th produced and the 147th broadcast. The 2009 Region 1 DVD release of Delta and the Bannermen indicates it as the 150th story.

Filming locations[edit | edit source]

Production errors[edit | edit source]

  • It is very obvious that the ice is just sheets of plastic, as the Doctor and Sabalom Glitz often brush again it.
    If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

Continuity[edit | edit source]

Home video and audio releases[edit | edit source]

DVD Contents

External links[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

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