This story sees the Doctor Who production team travelling to the Canary Islands, and specifically to Lanzarote. "Planet of Fire" though is mainly remembered for introducing new companion Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown, the departure of Vislor Turlough, the end of Kamelion and for containing The Master.
This story was written by Peter Grimwade who had originally been the director assigned to "The Return", the intended final story of Season Twenty which had to be postponed, due to a strike by electricians at the BBC, to Season Twenty One where it was eventually made as "Resurrection of the Daleks".
Because all three Doctor Who stars, Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson, would be leaving Doctor Who over the course of this season, as well as a need to write Kamelion out of the show and to introduce a new companion, Peter Grimwade had to include all these elements.
With the departure of Turlough at the end of this story and with the demise of Kamelion and the introduction of Peri, The Doctor would once again (since the 1977 Fourth Doctor story "Horror of Fang Rock") be travelling with only one companion.
Turlough was the last male companion seen on screen - barring the return of The Brigadier in the 1989 Seventh Doctor story "Battlefield" - until Adam Mitchell joined the TARDIS crew briefly at the end of the 2005 Ninth Doctor story "Dalek" for his one and only voyage in rhe following story "The Long Game". However, there have been several non-televised male companions to have travelled with The Doctor in other media.
Even though Mark Strickson left Doctor Who, at the end of the recording of this story, he made a brief return to record the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration sequence in "The Caves of Androzani". In 1988, Mark Strickson moved with his wife to Australia, where he put his acting career on hold in order to complete a zoology degree. Since returning to the UK in 1995, Mark Strickson has concentrated on making wildlife documentaries. He has though reprised his role as Turlough for a number of the Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who audio stories including being reunited once again with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. Mark Strickson also wrote the introduction to the spin-off novel "Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma" that was published in 1986.
Mark Strickson has since revealed that had he realised that the next season would involve stories consisting of two 50-minute episodes, he would not have departed from the show as the new format would have meant less cliffhangers and so would have allowed more character development.
The introduction of the character of Peri (which is a fallen angel from Persian mythology and also means ‘fairy’ in Turkish) came about when it was decided to replace both Tegan Jovanka and Turlough with just one companion and so revert back to the less-crowded one-companion arrangement which had prevailed through much of the Seventies. Inspired in part by the successful US soap operas Dynasty and Dallas, their new creation was a young woman from a wealthy American family who meets The Doctor while studying botany. Peri became the first American character to travel with The Doctor.
John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward had not planned on introducing Peri in the same story in which one of the other characters exited the programme, but it soon became clear that they would have no choice. As a result this story would mark both Peri’s debut and Turlough’s departure. Ironically Peter Grimwade had also written Turlough’s first adventure, "Mawdryn Undead").
Auditions for the role of Peri were held during May and June 1983, using the character’s first scene from Peter Grimwade’s script as a test piece. Nicola Bryant, a novice actress and talented musician, who had just finished drama school, was finally selected to play the part. Although British by birth, Nicola Bryant was married at the time to Broadway singer Scott Kennedy, and so held dual citizenship. She therefore had some exposure to American accents as a result and so had a passable American accent at the time. Many fans however, have since derided her accent as it is heard to slip a bit on occasion and also ‘wanders’ from one side of the US to the other in various stories She is also heard to uses word of British usage rather than American, such as ‘lift’ instead of ‘elevator’. She however, discusses this in the commentary for the DVD release of the 1985 Sixth Doctor story "Attack of the Cybermen", stating that she was told using American words would confuse the audience.
Rejoining the show was Gerald Flood as the voice of Kamelion. Despite the fact that Kamelion was exiting the show, Gerald Flood would return to record a single line for the subsequent story, "The Caves of Androzani", to accompany Kamelion’s hallucinatory appearance during The Doctor's regeneration. Flood continued to work on stage and on television until his death from a heart attack in 1989.
The reason for writing the unsuccessful robot companion Kamelion out of the show was due to huge problems encountered with its operation. John Nathan-Turner also wanted this character to depart before the end of the Fifth Doctor’s era. This is the first time, since he had joined the TARDIS crew in last season’s "The King's Demons", that he had been seen. Since then he had gone essentially unused. This was due to not only because Kamelion suffered from frequent mechanical difficulties, but his programmer had died in a boating accident. This therefore prevented him from appearing in other stories, although a scene was filmed for "The Awakening" but was cut before transmission. Kamelion’s ‘death’ makes him the fourth companion to die while travelling with The Doctor, following Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric. However, although Kamelion dies in this story, he makes a posthumous reappearance in the 2007 Big Finish Productions audio story "Circular Time".
This story became a ‘Master story’ because Anthony Ainley was under contract to appear as The Master in at least one story for Season Twenty One. However, because The Master had already been involved in the regeneration from the Fourth Doctor to the Fifth, John Nathan-Turner did not want to repeat the same trick again, and so the schedule dictated that The Master would have to appear in this the penultimate story for the Fifth Doctor. As Anthony Ainley's contract was due to expire, Peter Grimwade was also requested to write out The Master in a manner which could at least seem permanent - so leaving the option open for this character’s return at a later date, or not.
Peter Wyngarde (who played the part of the Sarn elder, Timanov) is better known as cult icon Jason King in the eponymous ITC series and its Department S forebear.
It has been revealed that Eleanor Bron was originally considered for the role of Sorasta.
This is the only story in the Fifth Doctor’s era in which Janet Fielding made no appearance as Tegan - though she is briefly mentioned in the first episode. She left the TARDIS crew in the previous story "Resurrection of the Daleks".
This story was filmed almost entirely on location and was the first Doctor Who story to include filming away from the European continent. Having had success in Amsterdam the previous year for "Arc of Infinity", John Nathan-Turner decided to use another international location. It has been revealed that John Nathan-Turner got the idea of using Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, when he received a postcard from director Fiona Cumming who had gone on holiday there during the strike that delayed the studio recording of last season’s "Enlightenment". The cast and crew therefore flew to Lanzarote in October 1983, marking Doctor Who’s third trip abroad. Filming took place over 6 days before the production then moved back to London for the studio work.
Aware that the robotic Kamelion prop would be a disaster on the rocky landscape, the scripts were written in such a way that Kamelion would always be in a human (or, at least, half-human) form for the location footage. In the scripts these he denoted ‘K-Howard’ and ‘K-Master’ (for when Kamelion was masquerading as either Howard Foster or The Master) and ‘M-Kamelion-H’ (for when he appeared as a silver, robotic version of Howard Foster).
Because she had inadvertently triggered the idea of having a story set in the Canary Islands the obvious choice to direct "Planet of Fire" was Fiona Cumming. This though would be her last directorial assignment on Doctor Who, although she was scheduled to helm "The Ultimate Evil" for the original version of Season Twenty Three.
This story also marked Peter Grimwade’s last contribution to the show. Although he did submit another script idea, titled "League of the Tancreds", to the production office in August 1984. This however, was rejected because it was felt the storyline would prove too costly. In the late Eighties, Peter Grimwade focussed on making industrial videos, although he also wrote a 1986 episode of the children’s show Dramarama entitled "The Comeuppance of Captain Katt", which served as a thinly-veiled allusion to the internal politics of The Doctor Who production office. Peter Grimwade unfortunately passed away in May 1990.
Being tasked with writing Turlough out of the show Peter Grimwade drew on some of the ideas he had formulated for Turlough’s background when writing the 1983 story "Mawdryn Undead". "Planet of Fire" offered him a chance to finally give the character a first name, specifically ‘Vislor’.
Turlough’s history is therefore finally revealed in this his last story. He is Visor Turlough; Junior Ensign Commander; VTEC9/12/44, a political exile from the planet who was sent to public school on Earth, where a Trion agent ‘an eccentric solicitor in Chancery Lane’ took care of arrangements. Turlough is heard to state that the Trions have agents on every civilised planet, including an agrarian commissioner on the planet Vardon and a tax inspector on Darvey. When Turlough makes contact with Trion to enable the people of Sarn to be evacuated he is relieved to find that political prisoners are no longer persecuted - thus enabling him to return home.
It is revealed that Peri, and her father Howard, are from Pasadena, California, and according to her passport, and her date of birth is the 15th November 1940. Which would make her 44 years old! This anomaly is explained by Director Fiona Cumming in the DVD commentary where she reveals that the passport seen was not specifically made for this production, but was, rather, the reuse of a passport that actor Dallas Adams had used in another production. Therefore, any details gleaned from freeze-framing the close-ups of this prop - such as her birth date and location - were not specific to Peri, but to a character, named Sydney who was born in New York, that Dallas Adams had played in another production. Thus, one could claim that the use of this prop is technically a production error. Oddly, the production subtitles on the DVD champion the information contained within the passport, despite Fiona Cumming’s revelations, in the same DVD, about the true origin of the prop.
Peri’s mother and her friend Mrs Van Gysegham, both mentioned in this story, appear in the 2006 Big Finish Productions audio story "The Reaping".
It was decided that because of the climate of Lanzarote the cast would have to alter their usual costumes. Although Peter Davison started the story wearing his cricketer outfit, for the rest of the story, he wore a different pair of trousers with question mark braces and a beige floral waistcoat. Mark Strickson shed his usual school uniform in favour of a blue pin-stripe shirt and tan shorts with a pair of swiming briefs underneath. Nicola Bryant wore a pink bikini beneath her clothes to which she stripped down for a couple of scenes - the first time a companion had been seen to wear a two-piece swimsuit since Sarah Jane Smith in the 1974 Third Doctor story "Death to the Daleks".
Amusingly in one scene Peri is seen comparing the statue of Eros to Elton John.
The Master removes the temporal stabiliser from The Doctor's TARDIS, rendering it inoperable. This is ‘Another old trick of The Master's’ (see "Time Flight"). Kamelion also removes another vital circuit - the comparator which is full of silicon chips and resistors!
The presence of the artefact containing the Trion distress signal in a sunken wreck off the coast of Lanzarote is never explained, and neither is the reason for The Master’s familiarity with it. Under his instructions, Kamelion lands the TARDIS at Lanzarote, where the device is being brought up to the surface, and The Master then follows The Doctor to Sarn.
Despite his ‘reduced circumstances’, The Master is able to regain partial control of Kamelion. The Doctor is heard to state that he thinks that The Master’s body will be good for a few years yet, but near the end of this story The Master appears to die in flames. The Master’s final line before apparently being killed is directed squarely at The Doctor: ‘Won’t you show mercy to your own ...’ - referring to their shared biology as Gallifreyans or status as Time Lords. However, according to the DVD commentary, Fiona Cumming asked John Nathan-Turner how the line was to end, to which he replied, ‘brother. However, Anthony Ainley never said the word in any take captured on video. In the 2007 Tenth Doctor story "The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords", The Doctor strongly implies that The Master was not his brother.
Despite the apparent death of The Master he did reappear in the 1985 Sixth Doctor story "The Mark of The Rani" but without explanation as to how he survived the flames. Script Editor Eric Saward cut from "The Mark of The Rani" the explanation for The Master’s survival provided by writers Pip and Jane Baker but the explanation remains in their novelisation of the story. The Doctor and Peri also meet The Master following his burning in the Short Trips story "A Town Called Eternity" (in the collection Short Trips and Side Steps).
The first episode features some stock music composed by J. Leach and produced by Alan Howe. This is from an LP called "From Other Lands No. 12v published by Music de Wolfe Ltd, and the track used is band seven, "Zapateado", from side one, "Spain".
The third episode features a transparency of the Kouros Acropolis from the Sheridan Photo Library, while the fourth episode features stock footage of erupting volcanoes and lava flows.
As well as being filmed as Lanzarote the island’s volcanic landscape also doubled for the planet Sarn.
It is revealed that the volcanic forces of Sarn, which were for a while kept in check by Trion scientists, will soon destroy the planet and that they also produce the numismaton gas, ‘an immensely rare catalytic reagent’ with great healing properties (see "The Brain of Morbius"). It seems possible that the Trions were aware of the properties of numismaton gas and laid a complex 'trail' for it: The Master is heard to say that he had travelled billions of light years through time and space to arrive at Sarn.
This story contains a number of parallels with the H. Rider Haggard novel, "She", whose title character renews herself periodically by bathing in a magic flame.
This story contains a number of errors. Namely: The Doctor is heard to ask Amyand and Sorasta about Logar, despite having never heard the name before; Strangely Peri can override The Master’s control of Kamelion, but The Doctor can’t; If The Master's gun is a ‘Tissue Compression Eliminator’, why does it compress Kamelion and the radiation suits? (Also Peri seems to be able to out-run its blast in episode three); The studio and location shots of Turlough rescuing Peri don’t quite match up as she is still wet from her near-drowning when Turlough gets her to the exterior of the TARDIS doors, but is then dry when they cut to the interior, studio shot.
This story is renowned for the fact that promotional photographs taken during its production include a shot of Peter Davison wearing a tuxedo and holding a gun, with Nicola Bryant standing next to him in a bikini, in a parody of James Bond.
A novelisation of this story, written by Peter Grimwade, was published by Target Books in February 1985. A prologue juxtaposing the crash of the vessel Professor Foster is salvaging with the crash of the Trion ship carrying Turlough’s family to Sarn opens the novelisation. The Master’s teasing last line ‘Won't you save your own...’ is also removed.
This story was released on DVD, in June 2010 as part of the "Kamelion Tales" box set, along with "The King's Demons". This release of "Planet of Fire" also contained a Special Edition edit of the story in 16:9 widescreen format, with 5.1 surround sound, CGI effects and extra footage, overseen by director Fiona Cumming.
The introduction of companion Peri played by Nicola Bryant.
The first Doctor Who story where a citizen from American travelled with The Doctor.
The first, and only story, in the Fifth Doctor’s era in which Janet Fielding made no appearance as Tegan.
The first Doctor Who to include filming away from the European continent.