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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Ace Adventures Box Set


Starring: Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
RRP: £30.63
Certificate: PG
Available 07 May 2012

A new month cometh, as does a new Doctor Who themed box set. This time the two stories both involve Sophie Aldred, who played Dorothy Gale McShane, better known to viewers as Ace.

Travelling to the Iceworld trading station, Mel and the Doctor once again run into Glitz, who has a treasure map which supposedly shows the way to a treasure guarded by a terrible dragon. Intrigued the Doctor decides to investigate. He is appalled to discover the Glitz has sold his crew to Iceworld’s owner Kane, who is also obsessed with recovering the crystal which is embedded in the dragons head. Aided by disgruntled waitress, Ace, the Doctor, Glitz and Mel race to get to the dragon before Kane...

Dragonfire is a three-part Sylvester McCoy story, which ran between 23 November and 07 December 1987. The story was written by Ian Briggs and directed by Chris Clough.

Under McCoy the show was unknowingly heading towards cancellation. The stories remained varied in quality, partially due to a new Doctor, but also due to Andrew Cartmel as the new script editor. As the remaining three seasons progressed the Doctor became darker, more alien and distanced from human morality, almost a dry run for the show's eventual return. With its move away from the pantomime days of Nathan-Turner, early stories often presented an uncomfortable compromise between the two approaches, some of which can be seen in Dragonfire.

Our first introduction to Aldred, as the new companion, wasn’t particularly auspicious, her trade mark expression ‘Ace’, still sounds false and forced two decades later. Aldred would grow into the role and her later adventures are far superior, especially Ghostlight, which may be confusing as a story, but it allowed Aldred to play a deeper, richer Ace.

Being made on the cusp of the show's change, the production still holds pantomime elements, as the show had previously tried to appeal to a younger audience. The costume design by Richard Croft, whilst it is of its time has not held up well. The Dragon, though obviously a man in a costume, still remains impressive. Given its television budget, an even better visual effect, courtesy of Andy McVean, is Kane’s ultimate demise, which rivals Raiders of the Lost Ark for the best face melting sequence.

For all its faults the story boasts some real quality in its supporting characters. Kane (Edward Peel) really commands every scene he is in as a man embittered, only able to live in a below zero environment, mourning his one lost love and planning revenge, having waited many hundreds of years. His henchwoman, Belazs, is played by Patricia Quinn who had stared in such disparate projects as I, Claudius and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A seasoned actress, she brings gravitas to a minor role, imprinting her presence on the show. Tony Selby trots out Glitz, in his second appearance, and plays the characters with comfortable ease.

For all its faults as a transitional show the story still has much to offer.

Extras on the disc kicks off with the full length commentary, an easy going affair with Sophie Aldred, Edward Peel, Chris Clough, Ian Briggs, Andrew Cartmel and composer Dominic Glynn - you can’t say fairer than that, having all the main players in the stories creation.

Ice and Fire (35 min, 07 sec) is the usual excellent documentary about the making of the show, with contribution from Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Edward Peel, Chris Clough, Ian Briggs and Andrew Cartmel. Deleted and Extended Scenes (9 min, 58 sec), the extra bits are mostly in black and white, some little padding, but nothing which really expands the story. The Doctor's Strange Love (15 min, 43 sec) is another chat with fans Josie Long, Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier about the show.

The Big Bang Theory (12 min, 34 sec) is a look at the special effects in Doctor Who with special effects supervisor, Danny Hargreaves, who works on the current show, looking at both past and present explosions. The disc is rounded off with a Photo Gallery, PDF Materials and Coming Soon for Death to the Daleks.

The Doctor and Ace land on the human colony of Terra Alpha, a place where happiness is compulsory to the point of death for anyone identified as a killjoy. Helen A. enforces happiness with the aid of, not only labour camps and public executions, but also with the terror which the Kandy man instils in the population…

The Happiness Patrol is a three-part Sylvester Mccoy story, which was originally transmitted between 02 and 16 November 1988. The story was written by Graeme Curry and directed by Chris Clough.

For the most part this is a very simple morality tale stating that happiness cannot exist without the chance of sadness. Ace and the Doctor run around the colony, finding it ludicrously easy to find allies and defeat the Kandy Man, who looks so much like he is made out of Liquorice Allsorts that I’m surprised the show wasn’t sued for copyright infringement.

McCoy’s Doctor is a little more enigmatic and Ace is becoming less whiney, much ballsier. The story works on two levels, the first is a colourful parable, whilst, at the same time it works as a reflection on the contemporary political landscape, with Helen A. standing in for Thatcher, creating a disempowered underclass in her search for mono-vision of how the world should be.

Sheila Handcock does a good turn as Helen, though she thankfully does not play too much on the Thatcher connection. The one element of the show which I never thought worked was the Kandyman himself. Now, the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was really scary, as he tempted children into his cart, but a bloke dressed in a costume made of sweet just doesn’t really cut it as it lacks an undercurrent of threat.

Extras on the disc kick off with the full length commentary with contributions from Sophie Aldred, Chris Clough, Dominic Glynn, Graeme Curry and Andrew Cartmell.

Happiness Will Prevail (23 min, 47 sec) is the making of documentary. Deleted and Extended Scenes (23 min, 20 sec) once again a lot of the extra scenes are in black and white, not sure why. When Worlds Collide (46 min, 05 sec) takes a look at how Doctor Who has reflected the sociopolitical landscape within which it was made. The disc is rounded off with production subs, PDF materials and photos.

Neither of these two stories are the best of the last three series, but they still have much to offer.


Charles Packer

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