Birdbaths and Bilgebags

This week Whovian Leap rewatches “Dragonfire”

Just as one the later Pertwee stories is known as “the one with the dodgy dinosaurs”, a certain Season 24 three parter has always been associated with an equally dodgy umbrella cliffhanger. Cleverly scripted and action-packed, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is overshadowed by embarrassingly poor SFX even for the 1970’s. The episode is wrongly remembered for its unconvincing dinosaurs and not as a gripping and imaginative UNIT adventure. Likewise “Dragonfire”, a tale revolving around a quest for a dragon’s treasure, has much to love but is remembered for the wrong reason.

Let’s join the Doctor and Mel as they enter a brightly lit cafe, brimming with a host of colourful monsters and aliens. Waitress and future companion Ace is arguing with loveable rogue Sabalom Glitz, one of Robert Holmes’ last great characters and charismatically played by Tony Selby. 

Newcomer Ace’s enthusiasm, wacky exclamations and general desire to blow things up make for a highly watchable performance. Instantly likeable, she is just what the Doctor ordered. After years of Tegan and Peri’s incessant whinging and then Mel’s painfully high-pitched screaming, at last we have a likeable companion and someone who is fun to be with. Despite the unlikely circumstances which lead to an ordinary Perivale teenager working as a waitress on a space trading colony in the depths of space, Ace is a carefully crafted character, with depth and motivation like many of the other characters we meet on Iceworld. 

Kane, the villain of the piece, is a calm and calculating smooth operator, freezing his foes with his bare hands. Edward Peel noticeably underplays the character and gives a “chilling” performance. Patricia Quinn’s Belazs is eager to leave Kane’s service and we empathise and identity with the character. 

Ian Brigg’s first script for the show is bursting with the enthusiasm and imagination typical of a young writer fresh to Doctor Who and provides the show with new blood and new ideas. Dominic Glynn’s haunting and melancholic musical score gives the episode a spine-tingling and creepy edge. Although the episode is quite clearly studio-bound, the tinselly and glistening white sets almost succeed in convincing us that we are on Iceworld. The dragon itself comes across as a bit odd and clunky with its oversized head, but in compensation – spoiler alert(!) – Kane’s questionably gruesome demise makes use of impressive SFX to create the effect of his face melting away. 

Season 24 closes with a smile. After a recent hiatus, shortening of the season-length and sacking of a Doctor, that omnipresent little girl in a blue dress giggles at the dematerialising Tardis and almost symbolises that – at least for the time being – all is again well in the world of Who. 


3 thoughts on “Birdbaths and Bilgebags

  1. I really like this story. It’s not perfect but it’s got great ideas and a fun plot. The cliffhanger’s dumb but that’s really the only terrible thing about it. That and Mel, but that’s a given. Ace makes a great first impression.


      1. The New Series has done a great job with celebrity companions. Both Matt Lucas and Catherine Tate proved themselves to be fantastic companions. I think the writing was the issue with Mel, as she’s pretty good in Big Finish.

        Liked by 1 person

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