DVD Review: Doctor Who: Kamelion Tales

(2entertain)

TWO adventures from the era of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison linked only by the appearance of shape-changing android Kamelion, originally intended as a new TARDIS traveller until the untimely death of his operator left the production team struggling to make him work. He was swiftly mothballed after his debut in The King’s Demons until he was eventually written out in Planet of Fire, both of which stories are included here.

We start off in 13th century England with an impromptu visit by King John to the castle stronghold of Sir Ranulph Fitzwilliam. The arrival of the TARDIS in the middle of a jousting duel sees the Doctor’s party proclaimed as friendly demons by His Majesty, and they swiftly become embroiled in court politics.

But the arrival of Ranulf’s cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Lacey, throws events into confusion with his claim that he left the King back in London, making preparations for the signing of the Magna Carta, the document which will shape the future of western democracy.

The Doctor’s suspicions raised, he soon realises that neither the King, nor the mysterious noble Sir Gilles Estram are exactly who they claim, and uncovers a plot to wreck the future development of the planet Earth using an alien force from light years away…

This two-part story features the return of Anthony Ainley as the Master, the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s Time Lord adversary, and makes the most of the location work at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. However, at its heart is a very pedestrian and low-key scheme for the Master to be involved in, especially considering his previous plans for universal domination, and if you strip away the period detail (something the Beeb always excels in) there’s very little here of any real substance.

The second story contained in this box set wraps up Kamelion’s story with another appearance from the Master, and finds the TARDIS drawn to Lanzarote to track down a mysterious alien symbol. When his companion Turlough (Mark Strickson), an alien exile with an unexplained past, rescues young botanist Peri (Nicola Bryant) from drowning, he discovers her containing a strange artefact bearing the same symbol that Turlough himself has branded into his flesh.

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Accompanied by Peri, the time travellers head to the volcanic planet Sarn, home of an elixir of eternal life, and uncover not only the truth about Turlough’s heritage, but also a plot by the Master to use Kamelion to bring about his own salvation.

With the cast and crew enjoying what at the time was an annual jolly abroad, the volcanic soils of Lanzarote make an exotic change to the usual English quarries which tended to represent alien worlds. It’s just a shame that they bothered with the establishing sequence on the island itself, as it’s blatantly obvious the whole story is filmed at the same place, even those sequences which are purported to be on Sarn.

There are a lot of disparate plot threads juggling for screen time in this story, and perhaps a less complicated effort would have worked better. That said, this is one of the stronger Davison stories, setting the benchmark for the adventure to come (Caves of Androzani), which recently won a Doctor Who Magazine poll for best story of all time.

An interesting selection of stories, with neither really making the most of Kamelion either as a threat or a potential companion. It would have been interesting to see how the character would have developed further had creator Mike Power not been killed in a boating accident, and ultimately what we’re left with is a mere taste of Kamelion’s real potential. A TARDIS companion who could change his appearance at will may have proved too much of a plot contrivance in the same way that K-9 often took away much of the threat factor in his stories, but unfortunately this is not something we will ever know.

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