“Dragonfire” is cheap and nasty. It’s even worse than “Delta and the Bannermen”. It looks low budget, and is filled with amateur actors and actresses. And in what is perhaps the worst sin it commits as a story, it introduces Ace to the series. The story is not entirely without merit, but it has enough problems that I have to judge it as well below average in quality, and one of the poorest stories in Doctor Who’s original run.
First, let’s examine the plot. Iceworld is a prison for Kane, an incredibly long-lived criminal from the planet Proanon. He was exiled there 3000 years ago, while his partner in crime was killed before his arrest and exile, a fact he remains very angry about, even after all this time. Kane is also dependent on extreme cold to survive, and on a daily basis must spend time in a cabinet that reduces his body temperature. All well and good, but Iceworld is also a tourist attraction run by Kane. Kane has amassed a private army of mercenaries. The power source needed to reactivate Iceworld, which is a prison, a tourist trap AND a spacecraft, is kept within Kane’s reach. True, it’s guarded by a bio-mechanoid, who has it hidden within itself, and the bio-mechanoid is itself hidden in the depths of Iceworld. But the fact remains, the key to Kane’s freedom is well within his reach.
This raises a question: why has Kane not been able to locate and kill the creature within the 3000 years he’s been exiled? It staggers belief that he’s not been able to do that, given how easily his two mercenaries find and kill it in episode three. The timeframe is just impossible to accept. I could spend all day long trying to come up with reasons why Kane couldn’t find the dragonfire for 3000 years while the Doctor and Glitz could find it in less than a day, but it’s still just stupid. It’s the type of plot hole that ruins the story for me, because it just isn’t believable.
Moving on, how does the rest of the plot fare? If Kane had been imprisoned for just a few years, would it work? Imprisoning him in a working spacecraft that is close to the power source that would allow it to work and him to escape is still stupid, whatever the length of time. I suppose it’s reasonable that he could amass a power base and turn Iceworld into a tourist attraction, which provides him with money to operate and plan his revenge. Given that his homeworld was destroyed 1000 years after he was exiled, it makes sense that no one’s come to check up on him and prevent him from getting up to mischief. But given the silliness of so much of the plot, it’s small comfort that the tourist trap aspect of it is actually somewhat plausible, if still really absurd.
The Doctor and Mel arrive to have a look around. The Doctor is intrigued by the story of the Dragon and the treasure, and wonders if the Dragon might be an all-new alien species. This is one of the last times we see the seventh Doctor just arrive in a situation out of curiousity and go wherever that curiousity takes him. Soon enough he’ll become the manipulator who traps and destroys Daleks and Cybermen and battles Fenric, but here he’s still just exploring the universe. Mel has been a pleasant surprise to me over the past few stories, since apart from her screaming she’s a very enjoyable character who actually seems to have fun traveling in the TARDIS, unlike some of the previous occupants like Peri or Tegan. And it’s interesting to watch her paired up with Ace and attempting to look after the younger girl. Her departure at the end of “Dragonfire” is baffling, to say the least. Since we never saw her origin story, we don’t know why she wanted to travel with the Doctor in the first place, and we don’t really learn why she wants to leave. Having her stay on Iceworld with Glitz is just a bizarre place to leave the character. In many ways, Mel remains a character with very little depth, since next to nothing of her past or beliefs are ever explored. It’s a pity, and despite the fact that I’ll miss her warm personality on the show, her departure otherwise makes very little impact.
Time to address Ace. At the time I first saw this story, I remember the sense of dread when I realized that Ace was coming on board as the new companion. Her dialogue and attitude are poorly written, and when she jumps up and down shouting “Ace” it’s just embarrassing. Ace is a teenager from Perivale who ended up on Iceworld after a time storm picked her up and dumped her there. That part of her background is interesting, but when she starts telling Mel about blowing up classrooms at school with real explosives, or that her parents can’t be her real parents because they gave her an embarrassing name, it’s impossible to take the character seriously. I could never picture a real person saying the things she says or believing the things she apparently believes. Sophie Aldred is also not a very strong actress, at least not at this point, which means we’re left with two weak leads in the form of her and Sylvester McCoy. However it is rather amusing to see her growing influence on sweet, inoffensive Mel, who is positively enthusiastic about Ace’s explosives by the end of the story.
In the end Kane commits suicide since his reason for living, to exact revenge on his race, is no longer possible. The Doctor leaves Iceworld with Ace on board the TARDIS, while Mel remains behind with Glitz. It’s an awkward ending to an awkward story. “Dragonfire” has some promising aspects with a well-acted and well-motivated villain in the form of Kane, and the return of Sabalom Glitz to add some entertainment to the story, but the absurd time factor present in the plot, and the fact that Kane is imprisoned in a spacecraft that only requires power to be functional again just makes all the running around unbelievable. To sum it up, the plot has a ton of holes in it, and the sets and the majority of the acting are poor. Just an awful, awful story, and Colin Baker ought to be glad that he was fired the year before so he didn’t have to be associated with a story like this one.