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Case Number 23870

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Doctor Who: Dragonfire

BBC Video // 1987 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 25th, 2012

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All Rise...

Sadly, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's local mall won't let him hunt for treasure.

The Charge

"I was so looking forward to meeting a dragon."—The Doctor

Opening Statement

The BBC's story arc releases of the original Doctor Who on DVD are well-produced and loaded with extras. With a classic Tom Baker serial, fans get a sense of where the story fits into the long-running show's history. With Doctor Who: Dragonfire, that's not necessarily true. Nearing the end of the franchise's longest run, the original series' final Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is introduced to his last companion (Sophie Aldred, Dennis & Gnasher). Though this three-part story is not entirely dreadful, it's not all that memorable either.

Facts of the Case

"I think there's something interesting going on there, Mel," The Doctor tells his companion (Bonnie Langford, Bugsy Malone) right before landing the TARDIS on Iceworld for a supply stop. Soon, the Doctor will be looking for treasure with a seedy acquaintance (Tony Selby, Witchfinder General), dodging thawed zombie mercenaries with little or no memory, encountering the planet's mysterious dragon, and confronting Iceworld's criminal leader. He'll also be making a new friend, Ace (Sophie Aldred), who will stick with The Doctor until end of the world…or at least the end of the series.

The Evidence

This three-part story was well-timed for British viewers, sending The Doctor to a very hectic shopping area at the start of 1987's holiday rush. It offers some comic lines and pratfalls from Sylvester McCoy, a menacing villain whose icy touch can and does kill, and an appearance from Patricia Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Doctor Who: Dragonfire may not be one of the series' best, but fans of Sophie Aldred will likely want to see (and hear) about her first appearance.

Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, the image quality is good enough to show that the special effects aren't. The Dolby 2.0 Mono track is serviceable but offers nothing compelling. Then again, we know exactly what we're getting from vintage Doctor Who, so BBC's product is (as always) admirable.

One of the set's many bonus features seems to sum up the mixed bag that is Doctor Who: Dragonfire. Shot on the new TARDIS set, "The Doctor's Strange Love: Dragonfire" features two fans being questioned about the episode. Despite a few weak questions ("Is it willfully trying to be a clever script?"), they get to the heart of the matter: This is a so-so episode with a lot of flaws. Josie Long and Joseph Lidster make fun of the "flying supermarket" that is Iceworld, mock a cliffhanger that involves an actual fake ice wall, and point out the flaws in the villain's logic. Lidster, who's written for Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, even points out (and I concur) that Mel's departure is "awful—on so many levels." At the same time, they clearly enjoy the serial and the series. Long, now a writer on Skins, particularly praises Sophie Aldred's supporting performance as Ace, which she describes as "the beautiful fusion of dork and rebellion." I believe I spotted a pop culture reference they missed—a clash with zombies in the corridors beneath the "flying supermarket" reminds me of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead—but it's an entertaining take on one of the less-celebrated Doctor Who stories.

The audio commentary—which has quite a few participants, including Sophie Aldred—mocks of some weaker effects, makes reference to the script's sexual subtexts, and recalls that Sylvester McCoy wasn't entirely satisfied with his own first season as The Doctor. Other extras include the usual text features of script changes and fun facts, including Radio Times episode descriptions and audience figures (dipping below 5 million). "Fire & Ice: The Making of Dragonfire" features Sylvester McCoy's screen test with Janet Fielding, which includes dialogue that ends up in the episode. "The Big Bang Theory" is an entertaining look at the series' explosions going back to "The Daleks" with William Hartnell. There's also a photo gallery set to music, as well as deleted and extended scenes which includes an escape from spears of ice.

Closing Statement

Amid a brace of other recent releases that includes Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters and Doctor Who: The Face of Evil, Doctor Who: Dragonfire is likely to get lost. However, even with its flaws, it's still very watchable.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 70
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Adventure
• Cult
• Drama
• Family
• Foreign
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Extended/Deleted Scenes
• Text Features


• IMDb
• Official Site

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