The Doctor and Mel pay a visit to Svartos, an ice planet with an enormous habitation complex which extends far above the surface. Though it seems innocuous enough on the surface – the TARDIS materializes in a frozen goods store – a chance encounter with Sabalon Glitz, bumbling intergalactic treasure-seeker not-so-extraordinaire quickly leads the Doctor into trouble, and introduces him to Ace, a sarcastic teenager from Earth who inexplicably found herself on Svartos and now works as a waitress. Glitz has obtained a map of the caverns beneath the planet’s surface, where a dragon is rumored to lurk, guarding a priceless treasure. The Doctor agrees to accompany Glitz on his search, more curious about the dragon itself than what it may be guarding. Mel, left behind with Ace, finds herself in very deep trouble when the younger girl runs afoul of the authorities and brings herself to the attention of Kane, an alien who cannot leave the sub-freezing portions of the complex. Little do the Doctor and Glitz realize that the dragon is all that stands between the people of Svartos and Kane’s plans for a bloody reign of terror.
written by Ian Briggs
directed by Chris Clough
music by Dominic Glynn
Guest Cast: Sophie Aldred (Ace), Tony Selby (Glitz), Edward Peel (Kane), Patricia Quinn (Belazs), Tony Osoba (Kracauer), Stephanie Fayerman (McLuhan), Sean Blowers (Zed), Stuart Organ (Bazin), Nigel Miles-Thomas (Pudovkin), Shirin Taylor (Customer), Miranda Borman (Stellar), Ian Mackenzie (Anderson), Chris MacDonnell (Arnheim), Leslie Meadows (Creature), Daphne Oxenford (Archivist), Lynn Gardner (Announcer)
Broadcast from November 23 through December 7, 1987
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Many regard this as the best story of the 24th season, And it’s also historically important for Doctor Who fans because it introduces Ace, the companion who truly sharpened and defined Sylvester McCoy’s tenure as the Doctor. Bonnie Langford leaves the show in episode three, having really accomplished all that she could with a character that was created with a kinder, gentler stint with Colin Baker’s Doctor in mind. Mel would have been astoundingly out of place in McCoy’s later, darker seasons, and Ace opened the door to for the writers to do some intense character development. Still, despite my feeling that Mel exited at the right time, the character never seemed to get on my nerves as badly as she did other fans’ – well, except for that line about the megabyte modem in Trial Of A Time Lord, but Bonnie Langford didn’t write the line, she just said it!
Tony Selby returns as Glitz, who also originated in Trial Of A Time Lord, though the character is softened considerably. Where Glitz’s first appearance took great pains to note for the audience’s benefit that this was a character who could and had committed murder if it helped him achieve his goals, here Glitz was a bumbling idiot. There was almost a hint of the old Glitz when, after his ship is destroyed, he looks up and growls Kane’s name. It at least demonstrated that Tony Selby had the skills needed to play the character as originally intended. Incidentally, Glitz’s ship is simply the model – painted over – of the prison ship from the first season of Blake’s 7.
Dominic Glynn‘s atmospheric music sets a new standard after the season’s three previous stories of Keff McCulloch‘s almost-dance-music club beats, paving the way for further excellent orchestral-style scores (Glynn’s own later Happiness Patrol and Survival, and Mark Ayres’ three stories. It’s a crime that Glynn hasn’t released his Doctor Who music through either his own label or through Silva Screen.
And I’m not even going to try to explain the idiotic literal cliffhanger where Sylvester McCoy climbs over a railing and dangles over a precipitous drop, hanging from the railing via his umbrella. Somebody must have thought it was a good sight gag…