December 10: Delta and the Bannermen Part Three / Dragonfire Part One

Considering how they've only got an episode left, there's a surprising amount of incident packed into these 25 minutes. There are a number of skirmishes between the Bannermen and various parties as they try to track Delta down, but there's also time for some quieter moments as well, and for a proper ending too.  This means that the whole episode feels really quick and exciting.

Ray examines Billy's bike while the Doctor, Mel, Weismuller, Hawk,
and Goronwy look on. (Delta and the Bannermen Part Three) ©BBC
And there are definitely some great moments here: the tracking device hanging from the goat, the honey trap set for Gavrok and his men, the way in which Goronwy's description of bee behavior mirrors Billy's efforts to become a's a well thought-out episode with a definite undercurrent of intelligence, elevated by the little touches present throughout the story.  It's also nice how humane the ending is; other than Gavrok, the Bannermen are left alive to be taken a way for trial, rather than all dead -- and Gavrok dies because he falls into the booby trap he laid for the Doctor, so there's a sense of poetic justice as well.

Delta and the Bannermen is a quick, breezy story from new writer Malcolm Kohll -- it's energetic, entertaining, and charming, with a welcome summery feel to the proceedings.  And, more impressively, there's not really a sense that anything is rushed (which won't be the case for many of the 3-parters coming up) -- everything happens at the right moment, and you don't get the feeling that you're missing anything.  It is something of a "slight" story -- nothing here strikes you as Important or Monumental -- but frankly that's a plus; it's about time Doctor Who got back to making fun stories that aren't weighed down by excessive continuity or inflated self-importance, and Delta and the Bannermen fits the bill admirably.

But now it's time for part one of Dragonfire, which was promoted as the 150th Doctor Who story -- a number which involves not counting Shada (fair enough) and splitting The Trial of a Time Lord into four stories (something that Nathan-Turner insisted back in season 23 wasn't the case).150  But anything for a bit of promotion -- especially at this point in the show's history...

Dragonfire also bears the personal distinction of being the first new Doctor Who that I actually remember watching.  I have earlier memories of the show, but they were all of stories that had aired a number of times (such as Spearhead from Space).  Dragonfire, on the other hand, was a brand-new story, and as I was sick at the time, I got to stay home and watch it as it was broadcast (instead of on tape later) -- which is probably why I remember it.

The episode itself isn't terribly memorable though.  There are some nice interactions between Glitz, the Doctor, and Mel, as they encounter each other in an Iceworld cafĂ©.  We're also introduced to a young woman named Ace who, frankly, makes Mel look like cardboard in contrast.  It's not a perfect characterization by any means (there are a number of less-than-stellar moments, such as Ace yelling about not having parents), but what's striking is how much more interesting Ace seems as a character than Mel does.

The villain of the piece, Kane, is suitably creepy, and I like the idea both of how he's so cold that he can kill people by touching them, and by the mark of Kane that Belazs bears on her palm.  "As long as you bear my mark, I own you," Kane tells Belazs.  There's also enough going on to keep things interesting, but nothing really stands out so far.

Well, except for that damn cliffhanger.  Dragonfire Part One is rather infamous for having one of the strangest cliffhangers of all time, where the Doctor appears to be trying to climb down a sheer ice cliff by hanging from his question-mark umbrella.  It might be acceptable if they had given us any sort of indication as to why the Doctor is trying to get down there, but as it is it looks like they just wanted to give us a literal cliffhanger, rationale be damned.  But that's the image we're left with as this episode closes.  Sigh.

150 We'll get into even more complicated numbering shenanigans when "Planet of the Dead" -- billed as Doctor Who's 200th story -- comes along.