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Six episodes doesn't make for much of a boxed set...
on 22 September 2010
...even if the BBC have padded their Kamelion Tales set out with another ill-advised abbreviated 'special edition' - in this case of Planet of Fire - that repeats all the mistakes they made with the special edition of Enlightenment: cutting far too much from the story, adding some not that good CGI effects and letterboxing the fullframe image to no good result. Still, at least the original cut is included, but it's hard not to feel that the two stories could have easily been included without the special edition at a much more reasonable price.
The stories themselves aren't that bad, however. The King's Demons, a rare two-parter, may be only have been intended to introduce proposed new companion Kamelion, a shape-shifting robot that was intended to be the new K-9, but it's a not bad little number that doesn't outstay its welcome. Following on directly from The Black Guardian trilogy, it sees the Doctor, Turlough and Tegan arriving on Earth in 1215 and interrupting a trial by combat watched by a gloating King John, who doesn't seem at all surprised to see his `Demons.' Naturally all is not what it seems and one of the Doctor's old enemies is lurking in disguise (not too difficult to penetrate despite the actor and make-up department's best efforts) to prevent the Magna Carta being signed and stop democracy in its tracks. It doesn't amount to much, but it's nice to see the Doctor back in an increasingly historical setting.
As for Kamelion... Well, things didn't work out too well for him at all thanks to the limited special effects technology of the day. Even today a shape-shifting convincingly humanoid robot would be a tall order, but in 1984 on a BBC budget it simply wasn't to be and, after lurking broken in the corner in the odd episode, it wouldn't be until a full season later that he would reappear properly in a story, and even in Planet of Fire his exit was overshadowed by the resolution of Turlough's journey from weak-willed selfish villain to one of the more substantial companions of the John Nathan-Turner era of the series - and, of course, the introduction of new companion Peri in that bikini. Tegan had already left for good in the previous story to be broadcast, Resurrection of the Daleks, and there is a bit of a feeling of the series clearing the decks for Colin Baker's new Doctor's arrival in the final story of that season, The Twin Dilemma.
It's quite a lavish production, filmed on location in Lanzarote and giving a thankless supporting role to Hammer veteran Barbara Shelley and, in an all-too-rare post-Jason King appearance, a much better one to Peter Wyngarde, whose floridly flamboyant gravitas is pitch perfect for a show like Doctor Who (sadly neither feature in the DVD extras). It's also a little bit on the slow side at first, with The Master taking control of Kamelion to send the TARDIS to an unstable planet where a colony of fire god worshippers are threatened with destruction by one of those volcanoes that won't be quietened by sacrificing the odd unbeliever from time to time. A decent, solid story rather than an inspired one, it does have its share of effective moments, especially in the last episode as two characters take their leave, but the weak direction often plays more to the script's formulaic weaknesses than its strengths.
As usual there's a good extras package. The King's Demons makes do with audio commentaries by Peter Davison, Isla Blair and Eric Saward and Tony Virgo, a short featurette on Kamelion where cast and crew made no bones about the technical disasters and another on the Magna Carta, while Planet of Fire gets a more substantial treatment with a commentary by Davison, Nicola Bryant, Mark Strickson and Fiona Cumming on the original version, some remarkably pointless `deleted and extended scenes' that turn out to be nothing more than 15 minutes of trims, a trio of featurettes shot on Lanzarote and continuity announcements, with the customary stills gallery and onscreen production notes on both titles. The special edition cut of Planet of Fire includes featurettes on 'Master' actor Anthony Ainley and director Fiona Cumming.