Doctor Who: Ace Adventures (DVD boxset review).

April 27, 2021 | By | Reply More

Doctor Who: Dragonfire by Ian Briggs

(pub: BBC, 2012. 1 DVD 3 * 25 minute episodes and extras)

cast: Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, Sophie Aldred, Tony Selby, Edward Peel, Patricia Quinn and Tony Osoba

The Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy) has been getting an odd weak signal from IceWorld for some time and finally takes Mel (actress Bonnie Langford) there to investigate. They don’t realise that its ruler, Kane (actor Edward Peel), is totally ruthless and needs to recharge his energies at very low temperatures. The planet itself is already around -10C. However, his forces wouldn’t tolerate his -193C temperature.

At a fast food café, Doctor and Mel get reacquainted with conman Glitz (actor Tony Selby) and a rather feisty fed-up waitress called Ace (actress Sophie Aldred). They also discover from Belaze (actress Patricia Quinn) and her police force that Glitz owes money from gambling and his spaceship will be destroyed unless he clears his debt. This is all an elaborate plan to get Glitz down to the lower levels with a map he won in the gambling to find the treasure and avoid being killed by the dragon. The Doctor is more interested in examining the dragon.

The possible danger and the Doctor reluctantly agrees to leave Mel behind, who develops a slight friendship with Ace who is fired from her job and they plan to follow together. We also get a potted history of Ace from her own lips. Born in Perivale, Earth, also known as Dorothy, she’s a bit of a delinquent 16 year-old but expert in making nitro-9, an explosive with a bit more zing, before a timestorm left her on IceWorld. As they follow what they think is the Doctor’s trail, they encounter the dragon which emits laser blasts from its eyes.

Elsewhere, the Doctor and Glitz finally get to a lower level and some negotiation is done for the Doctor to have the map if he can get Glitz back his spaceship. That nearly succeeds except Belaze is waiting for them and sends them packing. She secretly wants the spaceship for herself although Kane puts her in her place about that. While the four of them meet up and finally encounter the dragon, Belaze about is instigating a rebellion which drastically fails.

Having heard through the bugged map that the Doctor and company have found the dragon, Kane orders two of his troops to kill, behead and bring the head to him. What they don’t know is the dragon is actually a robot and the Doctor goes with it alone to study the star charts, realising that they are out of alignment. Rather than Ace going to get her nitro-9, Glitz offers to get some standard nitro from his own spaceship. There, he fails to get on-board as Kane has used it to evacuate IceWorld and promptly destroys it. Although the two military finally shoot the robot down, the crystal inside its head kills them. For the rest, you can watch for yourself.

I haven’t seen this story in quite a while. Filmed in bright studio lights, there is a certain lack of scariness in the scenes. Watching a second time in audio commentary, there are some darker lit scenes but they don’t sink in nearly as much as the lit ones. If actress Patricia Quinn looks familiar, check your copy of the film ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ and her part as Magenta.

It is with the third episode here that Sylvester McCoy finally shows some irascibility and the Doctor has arrived. Rather oddly here, Ace is a bit of a wimp, far removed from how she acts in the next story, ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’. The latter Ace would never be scared of Kane. The end of Kane seems a bit out of the blue when you consider how deadly and ruthless he has been up to the end. It’s also the end of Mel’s travels with the Doctor as she joins Glitz to keep him in line. We didn’t know much about her when she joined the previous Doctor and even less in this regeneration. Ace is more than a little cautious as to whether the Doctor will take her as companion but accepts the roundabout route to go home to Perivale.

The audio commentary is more a game of musical chairs which I haven’t seen for a while. The common denominators are host Mark Ayers with actors Sophie Aldred and Edward Peel and a rotation of writer Ian Briggs, script editor Andrew Cartmel, composer Dominic Glynn and director Chris Clough. Briggs discusses how the story evolved from something that never ended up like this. Kane was originally going to be called Hess but better minds prevailed. The timestorm was left open for interpretation in another story. Producer John Nathan-Turner insisted Glitz be used. This is also Sophie Aldred’s first television work and although she says there was no screen test, her audition piece was recounting her history from episode 2. I did wonder on the point that only the Doctor and Ace slid on the ice but Glitz probably weighed more than both of them and I bet his boots had studs. Oh, the dragon was going to be much taller but the original performer wasn’t available. Edward Peel reveals he’s technically minded with cameras and how to give them the right angle and taught Sophie Aldred this interest.

Onto the features, with ‘Fire And Ice’ running at 35 minutes goes into the making of ‘Dragonfire’. Everyone has something to say and the only one missing is Tony Selby. There is much discussion of the change of companions and getting the contrast right from screamer Mel to tomboy Alf…until she was renamed Ace, who ultimately ended up being the prototype for Rose many years down the line. There was also a little matter of shoehorning some lines from Sylvester McCoy’s lines from his screen test into the end scenes.

The ‘Deleted And Extended Scenes’ blend black and white/colour and fade-through and, at 10 minutes, there are a lot of them. The longest scene is showing both the Doctor and Glitz sliding on the ice with the latter getting trapped under a giant icicle and the Time Lord freeing him. The cutest is the girl Stellar offering her teddy to Kane which at least explains a scene in the final cut where she puts it in Kane’s freezer unit.

The 16 minute ‘The Doctor’s Strange Love’ is two podcasts with Simon Guerrier interviewing fans Josie Long and Joe Lidster about aspects of ‘Dragonfire’ on what appears to be the Matt Smith Doctor’s TARDIS interior set. The only thing they couldn’t answer was why did it take Kane 3000 years to set up fast food restaurant and get someone to hunt the dragon down for him. I can readily explain some of that. We have no idea how long the dragon was left in his presence before it decided to go to the lower decks. Having a diner would at least entice people on-board which he could develop his military and, as they were travelling around a lot, needed to wait for a gullible pirate to come on-board.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ running over 12½ minutes has Special Effects Supervisor Danny Hargreaves passing his expert eye over the prokinetics used previously and currently on ‘Doctor Who’ and the safety regulations for everyone’s safety.

Finally, a 5 minute ‘Photo Gallery’ to complete the DVD.


Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol by Graeme Curry

(pub: BBC, 2012. 1 DVD 3 * 25 minute episodes and extras)

cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Shelia Hancock, Ronald Frazer, David John Pope, Harold Innocent, Leslie Dunlop, Georgina Hale, Rachel Bell, John Normington and Richard D. Sharp

The arrival of the Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (actress Sophie Aldred) on Earth colony Terra Alpha reveals things aren’t right, although it takes a while to find out just what it is. This makes keeping track difficult, not helped when the Doctor and Ace are continually split up, so excuse the synopsis being more a checklist.

The leadership is Helen A (actress Shelia Hancock) and Joseph C (actor Ronald Frazer) who want a happy colony and anyone who doesn’t comply are called killjoys and ‘disappear’ or rather sent to the Kandy Man (actor David John Pope) who resembles Bassett’s Bertie Bassett figure which caused a few problems over copyright at the time to add some taste to the sweets it manufactures.

The place is also brewing for revolution. In the sewers are the original planet’s inhabitants. All off-worlders names are renamed ‘Sigma’. Considering the Doctor’s school nickname was Theta Sigma, you do have to wonder if ‘Sigma’ is a common word in the universal vocabulary. There’s also Earl Sigma (actor Richard D Sharp), a blues harmonica playing off-worlder who is working to getting things changed.

With Ace being allocated to be recruited into the Happiness Patrol, meeting Susan Q (actress Leslie Dunlop) who is considered a failure due for disappearance. The Doctor has quickly learnt how to outwit the Kandy Man, who is obviously too sweet. He also gets the Census Man, Trevor Sigma (actor John Normington) on his side and getting to meet Helen A and work out what is going on. From there, it’s more a case of causing an insurrection and revolution which is pretty much spoiler. I do think the Doctor and Helen A’s final confrontation a bit too talky and would go over junior viewers’ heads and still puzzled how the Kandy Man ended up melted.

I always felt ‘The Happiness Patrol’ was the odd one in the pack of the Sylvester McCoy regeneration. Seeing it again now, I still think it could have had a couple more polishes. I mean, even the Happiness Patrol officers didn’t seem particularly happy at any time. The make-up could have been in contradiction happy to their inner expressions and certainly have some more malice when killing…er…disappearing people and make them a bit more sadistical. A bit more sense of humour with the Killjoys, those who prefer depression, staying sad would have done lots to this story. It would certainly have thrown the viewers as to what was really going on here in this Earth colony. One would also have to wonder how the Doctor got his information to visit Terra Alpha. Oh, in case you didn’t recognise him or did but can’t place him, actor Jonathan Burn who played Silas P, was in ‘The Champions’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Smiley’s People’ amongst other things.

The audio commentary is a real musical chairs. Actress Sophie Aldred in all three, composer Dominic Glynn in the first, writer Graeme Curry in the first two, script editor Andrew Cartmel in episodes 1 and 3 and director Chris Clough in 2 and 3, all hosted by Toby Hadoke. It’s a shame they couldn’t get Shelia Hancock. Let’s hit some highlights. Dominic Glynn points out that this was the first time that the blues was played in a ‘Doctor Who’ story and actor Richard D. Sharp couldn’t play a harmonica. The complexities of Thatcher politics and the cutting of the arts funding is covered. I did wonder why these stories took so long to come out in DVD in 2010. Then again, the same could be said because of the Kandy Man. Granted he only vaguely resembles Bertie Bassett but I do suspect that the liquorice all-sorts themselves have their own copyright. My puzzle of why we didn’t see the Kandy Man’s meltdown was because they weren’t allowed to show it. Oh, Helen A’s pet Fifi was made by the modellers from ‘Spitting Image’. Chris Clough explores the problems of lighting and small sets. Something I hadn’t spotted was all the Happiness Patrol were played by older women although I couldn’t tell the difference. The mystery of why we don’t see the Kandy Man’s demise is explained as the poor actor David John Pope had got ill confined in the costume that morning.

On to the few extras which oddly aren’t that numerous but certainly long. ‘Happiness Will Prevail’ running at 23 minutes is mostly script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Grame Curry and director Chris Clough discussing how the story was done before cast members chip in. Trying to get a ‘Third Man’ film noir look was only partially successful. Cartmel makes a telling point that matches mine in that studio lights were generally far too bright but that is all the lighting people knew how to do at the time. This piece is quite telling.

‘The Deleted And Extended Scenes’ is almost the length of a complete episode running at 23 minutes. The best scene is the Census Man telling Helen A about alternative ways to hide the disappeared. There’s also some shots showing the kitchen under different lights. The biggest nuisance was having the scenes often switching from black and white to colour.

‘When Worlds Collide’, running at 46 minutes, explores political subtext when applied over the regenerations. As producer Barry Letts points out, he had no problems with this as long as it didn’t hurt any story. Writer Terrance Dicks makes an even stronger point that it’s obvious to recognise extreme right-wingers to be being bad people but extreme left-wingers can be more insidious. The general agreement from all the writers is that the Doctor is anti- authoritarian with a dash of liberalism. If he has a failing is not going back often enough to people he’s changed to see what good he’s done. This is a rather telling extra, often reflecting the real life political regimes in the UK at the time.

The ‘Photo Gallery’ runs at just under 6 minutes. Oddly, there aren’t many if any photos of the Happiness Patrol themselves. Cue, harmonica.

GF Willmetts

April 2021

(pub: BBC, 2012. 2 DVDs with extras. Price: I pulled my copy for about £12.00 (UK). ASIN: BBCDVD3387)


Category: Doctor Who, TV

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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