Doctor Who: Kamelion Tales Collection DVD review
Alex reviews a Doctor Who box set with a tenuous link - the shape-shifting robot, Kamelion - but finds a collection not lacking in 80s charm...
Doctor Who box sets have been constructed around many themes, but this is surely one of the most tenuous. I always thought the three Davison two-parters would be released together - they all have a historical flavour and would provide an interesting snapshot of each of his three seasons. However, assuming (like the video release) The Awakening will appear with Frontios, what to do with The King's Demons? Of course, Kamelion, (and to be fair, the Master) links The King's Demons to Planet Of Fire...
Kamelion was more of a backseat passenger than fully-fledged companion. When initially demonstrated to an impressed production team, Kamelion walked and talked. Unfortunately, Kamelion's time on the programme was beset by problems and tragedy. Co-creator Mike Power, a talented software designer, was killed in a boating accident not long after Producer John Nathan-Turner agreed to have Kamelion in The King's Demons.
Consequently, the fully-functioning robot was never able to be replicated. Kamelion became a burden to the cast and crew as he could only "stand" if propped up against something and had very limited movements.
Convinced of the potential of the robot, Nathan-Turner refused Peter Davison's request that Kamelion should be played by a man in a suit (something akin to Red Dwarf's Kryten one imagines).
Nathan-Turner clearly saw Kamelion as an attempt to pacify those missing K9. Yet nothing had been learned from the problems the tin dog caused the production team. Unlike K9, however, Kamelion had little personality, in the main because he was meant to be a "blank canvas".
This boxset includes Kamelion's introductory story The King's Demons and his exit story, the original four-part Planet Of Fire from 1984, and an updated 2010 widescreen movie version of the story. There is a chance to see the deleted Kamelion scene from The Awakening on one of the extras, making this the complete Kamelion collection.
Disc one: The King's Demons
The TARDIS materialises in England of 1215. The police box is seen as witchcraft. Greeting the TARDIS crew as demons is 'Good' King John. Realising the Master is trying to twist the course of history by robbing the people of the Magna Carta, The Doctor, with something approaching understatement says it’s "...small time villainy by his standards".
The Doctor discovers King John is actually a robot called Kamelion manipulated by the Master, heavily disguised as the King's champion Sir Gilles Estram. He reveals himself when defeated in a sword fight by the Doctor, which recalls The Sea Devils.
The Doctor manages to convince the court of the Master's evil intentions only for his nemesis to escape. Kamelion joins the crew bound for the Eye of Orion...
In March 1983 the phrase 'season finale' was unknown on British television. The Davison seasons had a notorious habit of petering out. Season 19 ended with the execrable Time-Flight, which followed Earthshock. Just think how much more shocking Earthshock's final scene and end credits would have been at the end of the season.
Season 21 ended with the introduction of Colin Baker's sixth Doctor in The Twin Dilemma, a truly poor piece of television overshadowed (and then some!) by the superb Caves Of Androzani. Why spend all the budget in Lanzarote, then give your new leading man such a poor introduction?
Season 20 had just given us Enlightenment and the close of the Black Guardian Trilogy - a bonafide story arc. However, The Return, which was to have featured the Daleks, was dropped because of strike action, and so The King's Demons found itself the season finale by default...
The King's Demons, in common with the few two-part Who stories of old, barely gets going when it has to end, and while it’s not really anything more than a pit stop on the way to Gallifrey's death zone, it still has a few elements which stand up well. The castle interiors are pretty convincing, while the jousting scene adds some medieval colour.
The Iron Maiden TARDIS is well realised, and the richly detailed court banqueting scene is reminiscent of the first series of Blackadder, which appeared just three months later. On the minus side, the use of Kamelion by the Master seems odd when he would have more authority as himself than using an avatar robot. The Master's presence seems to get in the way and is handled rather clumsily.
What could have been an interesting short trip through history is saddled with an unnecessary appearance by the goaty-bearded one. If his motives are such 'small time villainy', why bother at all? His 'disguise' is so transparent and his French accent is easily one of the worst in the series - The Underwater Menace's Joseph Furst would have been envious!
All in all, The King's Demons isn't in the same league as the season finales we have today, but it is an efficient two-parter that is nothing more and nothing less than a distraction between the Guardian trilogy and the events of The Five Doctors.
Disc 2: Planet of Fire
The Doctor is coming to terms with Tegan's departure after his recent encounter with the Daleks. The TARDIS receives a distress call which Turlough realises is from his home planet Trion, and sets about sabotaging the TARDIS. The travellers are diverted to the Earth island of Lanzarote.
Turlough rescues a young student Peri from drowning. The Doctor uncovers the truth about the Trion distress call and detects the Master's hand in events. The Master, shrunken after an accident, uses the robot Kamelion to manipulate Peri to do his dirty work.
Reunited with his brother Malkon, Turlough manages to convince the elders, lead by Timanov, of the error of their superstitions. The Doctor destroys Kamelion at the robot's own request using the Master's tissue compression eliminator. The Master also appears to perish in the flames. Turlough elects to stay on Sarn and Peri joins the TARDIS crew.
Seen from a 2010 perspective, Planet Of Fire looks like the epitome of camp 80s TV. Lots of young men in New Romantic make-up and very short shorts, a new girl companion going for a swim in a pink bikini minutes after being introduced, and just when you thought it couldn't get any more unlikely, the dubious cult legend that is Jason King's Peter Wyngarde, dressed like a refugee from a nativity play, atop a pair of clogs with four inch heels no less.
Typical of John Nathan-Turner's 'shopping list' style of production, Peter Grimwade's script has plenty to do in four episodes: Write out Turlough and create a backstory for him. Write out Kamelion. Introduce new TARDIS companion Perpugilliam 'Peri' Brown, an American botany student. Oh, and write out the Master! That the story holds up at all is a minor miracle.
The story was directed by Fiona Cumming, who suggested the locale of Lanzarote as a potential alien planetscape to John Nathan-Turner after she'd taken a family holiday on the island. In truth, despite many attempts to convince us otherwise, this story is clearly an excuse for a trip abroad for the cast and crew.
The location is different but not so different - rocks are rocks be they in Lanzarote or a quarry in Surrey. Following the innovative Winter Olympic schedule which gave us two 50 minute slabs of Resurrection Of The Daleks, Planet Of Fire returns us to the (then) familiar 25 minute twice weekly 'soap style' episodes of the Davison era.
For those stuck at home in February 1984, suddenly there was sunshine, foreign locations and crystal blue seas in er... Doctor Who!?
Disc 3: Planet Of Fire Special Edition
Like Enlightenment before it, Planet Of Fire receives the 2010 widescreen/CGI makeover treatment. What is the point? In some cases this improves the more filmic parts of the story, however, at other times it just gets in the way. The red swirling fire clouds probably looked very pretty on someone's computer, but they are overused here and are somewhat distracting.
As the whole story hasn't been film graded (like the current TV series) the new effects seem a little out of place. Throw in the inevitable 'modern' prologue - a video-taped, made-on-a-shoestring attempt to give the tale some 'back story' and a revamped version of the Davison theme tune, and you have an answer to that much asked question: 'what would this show look like with state-of-the-art effects and modern television's sophisticated, filmic grammar'?
Surely that's the kind of question best answered in your imagination! Do we really need to see it? Remember the controversial update of The Five Doctors? The 90s effects paradoxically now look more dated than the original 1983 effects work. Surely part of the charm of releasing archive television is to appreciate just how far TV has come in the intervening years?
That said, the movie version of this particular story actually works better as a 90-minute special than in the original four-episode cut. UK Gold has something to answer for, I suspect, when one finds the 'feature length' version so palatable. Then again, how many of us actually watch DVDs as the programme was originally presented?
The King's Demons
The story of the doomed droid who was prone to malfunction. Script Editor Eric Saward, Chris Padmore (Kamelion's co-creator) and stars Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant discuss the few pros and many cons of having a robot for a companion.
Interesting if rather worthy history lesson which borrows heavily from Simon Schama's History Of Britain. There's several computer treated visuals of Gerald Flood as King John and Julian Glover as Richard The Lionheart from The Crusade, effectively the sister story to King's Demons.
Peter Davison, Eric Saward and Isla Blair try to recall what they can. I was hoping Janet Fielding would be on this commentary as anyone who’s heard Davison and Fielding together knows what good value they can be. They mentioned on the Black Orchid DVD that they both had plenty of juicy gossip about The King's Demons, so Janet's unavailability is a shame. That said, Isla Blair, who is married to Julian Glover (The Crusade, City of Death), provides some insightful comments and clearly enjoyed her time on the programme.
PDFs of Radio Times billings
Photo Gallery and Production Information Text
Isolated score option and subtitles
Planet of Fire
The Flames of Sarn
A competent 'making of' documentary featuring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Script Editor Eric Saward and Director Fiona Cumming. The Kamelion problems continued and consequently there is some overlap with anecdotes from the King's Demons documentary Metal Man. There is an interesting discussion of what it was like to work with the eccentric, clog-wearing Peter Wyngarde. The cult icon insisted on playing Timanov as a very old man before being convinced to make the character recognisable as Peter Wyngarde.
Return To The Planet Of Fire
A 'now and then' style documentary. Director Fiona Cumming and Designer Malcolm Thornton revisit the locations used in the story.
Designs on Sarn
Malcolm Thornton recalls the influences behind his studio sets, including the Master's TARDIS (not unexpectedly) a black repaint of the Doctor's TARDIS.
Edits, Deleted Scenes and Extended scenes
A fascinating compilation of film trims and unedited material.
On-screen introductions for all four episodes as they aired on BBC1. A classic 1984 Thursday menu trail dynamically voiced by the late Ray Moore and an announcement for Saturday Superstore which included an appearance from John Nathan-Turner canvassing opinion on whether the TARDIS should remain a Police Box. Sadly this item doesn't appear as an extra in its own right.
Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicola Bryant and Fiona Cumming are on commentary duties. They are clearly enjoying the chance to relive this over-the-top adventure. There is plenty of talk of make-up and dyed hair and stuck on eyebrows, German nudists, Peter Wyngarde's eccentric behaviour, and the fact that Kamelion was no C3PO. The last episode features a fun public Q&A session. A light and funny entry into the commentary canon.
A Tribute To Anthony Ainley (Planet Of Fire Special Edition)
An affectionate tribute to the much missed actor, marking his last appearance on a Doctor Who DVD release.
PDFs of Radio Times billings
Photo Gallery and Production Information Text
Isolated score option and subtitles
A modern jump-cut trailer of The Dominators, the Troughton tale which featured the Quarks. Surprisingly this appears on two of the three discs.
Like the previous Myths And Legends box set, the clever DVD repackaging succeeds in making two very average stories seem marginally better than remembered. In truth, one for the dedicated fan but not without a certain charm.
3 DVD Set
The King's Demons:
Disc: Planet Of Fire:
Disc: Planet Of Fire Special Edition: Disc: Overall:
The Doctor Who: Kamelion Tales Collection is out now.