The Doctor: Thats a very difficult question. Why is everyone around here so preoccupied with metaphysics?
Glitz: I think shes 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").
- All for Nothing: After three thousand years of waiting, Kane finally gets his hands on the "Dragon's" head to power Iceworld so he can return to Proamon, to gain his revenge and conquer the planet....at which point, the Doctor reveals Promamon was wiped out when its sun when nova a thousand years after Kane was exiled.Doctor: Your people were annihilated, your planet obliterated. You're too late, Kane, for your revenge! You have no home! Time has flowed by!
- 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.Ace: I ended up here. Ended up working as a waitress again. Only this time I couldn't dream about going nowhere else. There wasn't nowhere else to go.
- 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.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Glitz' partner Dibber is nowhere to be seen here. It's quite possible that the two parted ways sometime after "The Mysterious Planet" or perhaps even that he was one of the crew members who Glitz decided to trade away.
- Clarified in the Past Doctor Adventures novel "Mission: Impractical", in which Dibbler is killed while he and Glitz are assisting the Sixth Doctor, Frobisher and an old gang of theirs in a complex heist.
- Cliffhanger Copout: Probably the most (in)famous and literal example. The Doctor dangles himself over a precipice for no obvious reason other than because the episode was coming to an end, and just... climbs out of it next episode.note Of course, given the episode never gave the viewer any reason to believe the Doctor couldn't just climb up, this is less of a copout and more just confusing.
- 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.
- 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.
- Corpsing: When Mel and Ace first see the dragon, Mel lets loose with a characteristic scream. Sophie Aldred, inches away, grimaces for real. (Aldred was nursing a large migraine on the day the scene was filmed.)
- Deal with the Devil: Kane with Belasz, and unsuccessfully Ace.
- Dragon Hoard: So the rumours have it.
- Establishing Character Moment: Ace dumps milkshake over an annoying customer's head, which gets her sacked from the cafe.
- 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
- Facial Horror: Kane's face melting off his bones, one of Doctor Who's most gruesome moments.
- 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: Aggressive Non-Terrestrial.
- Gem Heart: The dragon's treasure turns out to be a large Power Crystal contained within its body. Justified in that the "dragon" is actually a robot built around the crystal to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.
- 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: Kane.
- An Ice Person: Kane is an ultra-low-temperature humanoid alien who can't endure above-freezing conditions, and whose ungloved touch can freeze someone to death within seconds. Coincidentally, his backstory features The Lost Lenore, much like Mr. Freeze.
- I Choose to Stay: Mel decides to leave the TARDIS and travel with Glitz. For some reason.
- 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.
- Last of His Kind: By all indications, Kane, due to his homeworld having long-since been vaporised by a supernova. Whether or not anyone else may have survived ends up being moot, as he's Driven to Suicide by this revelation.
- 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.
- Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex: It is strongly implied that Kane had previously had a rather abusive sexual relationship with Belasz. Given what happens to anyone who has skin contact with him, it's a little challenging to understand how that would have worked.
- 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: The villain is named Kane.
- 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 that 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 has "Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!" and ducks in time.
- Pseudo Crisis: In the last few minutes of the first episode, the Doctor puts himself into a literal Cliffhanger ending situation, for no apparent reason. He suddenly leaves a perfectly safe path to clamber off a high ledge - at which point he finds himself dangling by his umbrella handle, looking horrifiedly down at the yawning chasm below... Then at the start of the following episode he makes it back up again with no real difficulty.
- Rage Quit: Kane's suicide on finding out that everyone he wanted vengeance on is already dead.
- Rule #1: The Doctor welcomes a new companion:
- The Doctor: Do you fancy a quick trip around the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?
The Doctor: But, there are three rules. One: I'm in charge.
Ace: Whatever you say, Professor.
The Doctor: Two, I'm not the Professor, I'm the Doctor.
Ace: Whatever you want.
The Doctor: And the third... Well, I'll think up the third by the time we get back to Perivale.
- Running Gag:
- 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.
- Saved by the Platform Below: Happens due to poor editing when the cliffhanger at the end of episode one had the Doctor dangling over a giant bottomless chasm, but by the start of episode 2 a small ledge has appeared for him to clamber down onto.
- Sealed Army in a Can: Kane's mercenaries.
- 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?
- Not only is Kane named after Citizen Kane, but Xana is named after Xanadu.
- The Iceworld cafe was inspired by the Mos Eisley Cantina.
- The idea of holographic messages from the dead was inspired by Superman.
- Glitz's ship is named Nosferatu.
- There are several references to the Alien franchise, the second instalment of which had been released a year before this episode was first shown; for example, the Xenomorph like appearance of the Dragon, and the Dragon being hunted through corridors by soldiers with large guns and motion detectors before it ambushes them.
- Kane's death was inspired by the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Andrew Cartmel said that Mel's departure was inspired by Watchmen.
- Something That Begins with "Boring": Mel and Ace play this when bored, in an ice cavern. The word of course is "ice". By the time the Doctor returns, Ace has spotted something beginning with 'M'. We don't find out what it is, but it's probably "more ice" (or possibly "Mel").
- The Starscream: Belasz, unsuccessfully.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Ace's speciality.
- Suicide by Sunlight: Kane's death.
- Take That, Critics!: The Doctor's philosophical dialogue with a guard is taken from a notoriously abstruse phrase in the early academic critical work on Doctor Who, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text.
- 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.
- Unreliable Narrator: At least potentially apples to Kane and the recording discovered by the Doctor when discussing Xana's fate as Kane reflects that Xana was killed escaping arrest but the recording claims that Xana committed suicide to avoid capture. Taking a pragmatic view of the situation, both sides would have reason to lie about what happened, with Kane deliberately deceiving himself or the recording basically discussing the official record of events, making it uncertain which is the truth.