Recap: Doctor Who S24 E4 "Dragonfire"
Trading in Mel for the streetwise and incredibly Bad Ass Ace
Belasz: What are you doing here?
The Doctor: That’s a very difficult question. Why is everyone around here so preoccupied with metaphysics?
Glitz: I think she’s going to kill us, Doctor!
The Doctor: Ah! An existentialist!
The Doctor and Mel visit Iceworld, a waystation for space travellers on the inhospitable ice planet Svartos, where they run into old
acquaintance Sabalom Glitz
, who has come in search of a dragon that is rumoured to guard a treasure
in the tunnels below Iceworld. They are joined on the quest by Ace, a young woman working as a waitress in one of Iceworld's eating establishments after being stranded on Svartos by a Negative Space Wedgie
Along the way, they cross paths with one of Iceworld's long-term inhabitants, a Humanoid Alien
named Kane who must live in sub-zero temperatures to survive, and who is also seeking the dragon's treasure for his own purposes.
The first episode ends with an infamous Literal Cliffhanger
, as the Doctor climbs past a safety railing and dangles himself over a precipice for no apparent reason. (The intention was that he'd found his way blocked by a rockfall — which isn't shown in the episode as aired — and was trying to reach a path that crossed the cliff face — which also isn't shown until Glitz helps him down onto it at the beginning of the following episode. Much later on, in "The Name Of The Doctor"
, it was finally explained that it was one of the many attempted interferences of the Great Intelligence, and a Clara had a hand in saving him.)
At the end of the adventure, Mel — in a front-runner for the hotly-contested title of Most Arbitrary Doctor Who
Companion Departure Ever — decides to leave the TARDIS and travel with Glitz, and the Doctor offers Ace a lift home (via the "scenic route").
- BFG: Kane's men gear up with some in preparation for the "ANT hunt"
- Changeling Fantasy: Discussed and subverted. At one point in a moment of vulnerability, Ace confesses to Mel that as an escape from her miserable life back in Perivale she used to dream that she was actually a Changeling from the stars who would one day be whisked off to an alien world. Then, one day, she actually was whisked off to an alien world... only to end up in the same miserable life she'd had back home.
- Children Are Innocent: The writer Ian Briggs intended the little girl to represent innocence but was dismayed by the choice to put her in a Mini Pops-esque dress which caused controversy in both fan and media reviews.
- Convection Shmonvection: Strange inverted version with Kane. He freezes people to death with his bare hands... but since he can't stand warm (or even non-liquid nitrogen) temperatures, the body heat of his victims should burn him horribly at the same time.
- Crying Little Kid: Whose getting lost saves both her life and her mother's.
- Continuity Cameo: There's a brief cameo by an Argolin from The Leisure Hive, in the restaurant where Ace worked.
- Continuity Nod: The Doctor scoffs at the idea that the dragon is a myth like the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, The Doctor has already encountered two different Nessies.
- Deal with the Devil: Kane with Belasz, and unsuccessfully Ace.
- Dragon Hoard: So the rumors have it.
- Evil Counterpart: So we have an ancient alien, exiled from his home planet, who recruits disaffected teenage girls to act as his Dragons. Who are we talking about, again? Lampshaded by the fact that the console in the centre of Iceworld's control room has a very similar silhouette to the TARDIS console.
- Evil Is Deathly Cold
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Kane, exposing himself to direct sunlight, resulting in his face melting off, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style (one of the few occasions on which the series' special effects managed to be memorably gruesome).
- Foreshadowing: Ace, a lonely and disaffected human teenager who dreams of seeing the stars, is sorely tempted to accept Kane's offer to join his mercenaries when he offers to show her the universe but ultimately rejects him. She has no such hesitation in accepting the Doctor's offer to show her the universe at the end of the episode.
- Fun with Acronyms: Agressive Non-Terrestrial.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: And why would Glitz know where a teenaged girl lives...? Word of God by author Ian Briggs confirmed that it was intentional. To elaborate, Mel would have left during "Delta And The Bannermen", Ray (from that story) would have become the companion, and Ace was originally supposed to go off with Glitz at the end (instead of Mel).
- Also, an earlier draft of the episode stated that Ace lost her virginity to Glitz.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: The Doctor successfully distracts a guard by engaging him in metaphysical debate.
- Hostage for MacGuffin: Ace for the Dragonfire.
- Humanoid Alien
- Human Popsicle
- An Ice Person
- I'm Melting: The graphic nature of Kane's death.
- Jumped at the Call: Ace.
- Kick the Dog: Kane herds all the innocent travellers aboard Iceworld onto Glitz's ship and blows it up, either For the Evulz or because he doesn't want anybody reporting his escape.
- Literal Cliffhanger: The ending of episode one is a particularly notorious example, in that there is absolutely no reason given for there to be any kind of cliffhanger, much less a literal one.
- Made all the more baffling because at the same time Ace and Mel are being menaced by the just-revealed dragon; leaving on Mel's scream would be a perfectly serviceable (if less memorable) cliffhanger.
- The Lost Lenore / Posthumous Character: Kane's lover Xana, who committed suicide rather than get captured.
- Mark of the Beast: Kane freeze-brands the hands of all his workers with a super-chilled coin.
- Moral Dissonance: The Doctor and the story treat Glitz as a Lovable Rogue to the point that Mel happily goes off with him, despite the fact that he sold his crew into slavery and that his response to the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds of innocent people is anger that his ship got blown up.
- Name of Cain: It was originally intended to be Hess, but then Rudolf Hess hit the headlines again.
- Named After Somebody Famous: Many of the guest characters are named after famous figures of academic film criticism and theory. Plus Kane and Ace's real name Dorothy.
- Not Using the Z Word: Kane's army of vacant-eyed, shambling, Nigh Invulnerable men. Their behaviour is explained as being due to their memories being wiped by cryo-freezing.
- Outlaw Couple: Kane and Xana, by implication.
- Pimped-Out Dress: the little girl wears a silver dress that is a space-age version of this. Shame no one told her what crawling under a table does to your dress vis-a-vis your knickers.
- Plank Gag: With the Doctor's brolly. Glitz is Distracted By The Shiny and ducks in time.
- Rage Quit: Kane's suicide on finding out that everyone he wanted vengeance on is already dead.
- Retcon: "The Name Of The Doctor" had a bit of fun with the very random literal Cliff Hanger and finally revealed that it was the Great Intelligence's influence on the Doctor's timeline that resulted in it.
- Rule Number One
- Running Gag: Glitz defining "philanthropic", from "The Mysterious Planet".
- Same Character, but Different: John Nathan-Turner suggested that Glitz should be reintroduced; in the original script, his part was written for a Space Pirate character tentatively named Razorback. This accounts for some of the issues mentioned under Moral Dissonance: Glitz was already established as a Lovable Rogue, but here he has to fill the part of a more ruthless character.
- Sealed Army in a Can
- Sensor Suspense: The "ANT hunt", a flagrant Alien homage.
- Shortcuts Make Long Delays: Inverted: when the Doctor offers to take Ace aboard the TARDIS, he's clearly noted that she's in no real hurry to get back to Perivale and outright promises to take as long as possible to get back there:
The Doctor: Ace, where are you going?
Ace: [Sullenly] Perivale.
The Doctor: Ah, yes, but by which route? The direct route, with Glitz — or would you prefer the more scenic route?
- Something That Begins with "Boring"
- The Starscream: Belasz, unsuccessfully.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Ace's speciality.
- Totally Radical: Ace, thanks to Executive Meddling.
- Tracking Device: The treasure map. Unusual example, as the Doctor and Glitz never apparently realise it or find out.
- Treasure Chest Cavity: The dragon's treasure is inside the dragon's head; it's a cyborg that was built around the MacGuffin to keep it safe from Kane.