MAKING OF: Doctor Who – ‘Planet of Fire’

  • Part 1 Broadcast: February 23rd, 1984
  • Part 2 Broadcast: February 24th, 1984
  • Part 3 Broadcast: March 1st, 1984
  • Part 4 Broadcast: March 2nd, 1982 

Character: Timanov

Implausible as it may sound, but the original idea for ‘Planet of Fire’ came via a postcard that dropped through the letterbox of Doctor Who producer, John Nathan-Turner, around Christmastime, 1982. The card had been sent by none other than Director, Fiona Cummings, who’d been passing time on the Mediterranean island of Lanzerote during a strike by BBC technicians, which had halted the recording of another Doctor Who episode she’d been working on.

For some time, Nathan-Turner had been toying with the idea of shooting Season 21 of the series in a more exotic location, and after making the requisite inquiries, had discovered that the volcanic island of Lanzerote was not only expedient for air travel, but was both economical and easy to reach, thereby making it an agreeable place to work for all concerned.

At the time, Cumming’s was on the verge of introducing a new Companion for the Doctor; a young woman with the improbable name of Perpugilliam Brown which, mercifully, would be shortened to just Peri. It was also around this point that regular cast member, Mark Strickson, who’d played Turlough for the previous 15 or so months, asked to be freed from his contract – saying that he felt he couldn’t take the character any further. Co-incidentally, Peter Davidson had also announced via the tabloids that he had no plans to return after series 21 came to an end, and so it was suggested that the time was ripe to bring in a completely new regular cast.

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⇐PETER as Timanov at the Observation Point on Lanzerote

Having reached an amicable agreement with Strickson, Nathan-Turner turned to Script Editor, Eric Seward, who really had no wish to see Turlough depart at the same point that Peri arrived. But as fate would have it neither he, nor Scriptwriter Peter Grimwade, were given little option, especially as Davidson’s contract was due to end in May of 1984.

Nathan-Turner was especially keen that Davidson’s successor – who turned out to be Colin Baker, should appear in the very last story of Season 21. Indeed, given the number of minor characters that were also due to jump ship in the fourth serial of that year, there’d be a greater than normal roll of personnel either arriving or departing in ‘Planet of Fire’, so a number of other plots and scenarios that’d originally been considered, were put on the backburner.

A decision was also made at this point to scrap the Doctor’s robotic ally, Kamellion, given that technicians working on the show were experiencing more than their fair share of glitches when operating the contraption; most notably in keeping the computer controlled pre-recorded dialogue co-ordinated with the movement of its mouth.

Finally in May 1983, Eric Seward met with Peter Grimwade to discuss a storyline that might include all of the previously mentioned components and more. Grimwade’s association with Doctor Who had dated back to the early 1970’s when Jon Pertwee was in the lead role. Back then he’d acted as Production Manager, and it was he who’d introduced Turlogh to the series, so it couldn’t have been more fitting for him to have also overseen the departure of the character.

One of the constraints that would bind Grimwade was the shortlist of locations that would be used during filming. Astonishingly, his only aid was a set of snaps taken by Fiona Cumming’s on her holiday on Lanzerote from which he was expected to create the setting for the fictional planet of Sarn. Having never visited the island himself, much of what he wrote was based on his own travels to the Greek Islands over the years. Such was the budget for the episode, that he was forced to contact the Lanzerote Tourist Office, who kindly furnished him with the additional information he required.

Meanwhile, Fiona Cummings who, to date, had worked on three earlier Doctor Who stories, was named as Director on ‘Planet of Fire’, whilst virtual new-comer, John Peacock, was appointed as Costume Designer.

Since the original Technical Specialist responsible for programming the Kamelion robot had tragically died in an accident several months earlier, it was suggested that extra technicians would be need to control the metal companion. But that, it was quickly realised, would drain additional cash from an already overextended budget. Peter Grimwade solved the problem by using the android as little as possible in his script, and by having it taken over by The Master – therefore making it appear in human form.

Initially, the core of Grimwade’s script had been intended to accentuate the menace of religious radicalism through the character Timanov, who would be played by PETER WYNGARDE. However, Script Editor, Eric Seward, was resolute in “watering down” the role of the ‘Chief Elder’, despite Grimwade’s belief that he was being “too cautious”. Nevertheless, a sequence in which Timanov was seen sacrificing himself in a volcano was lost in the final edit.

In the end, the script was amended several times to fit in with the locations – if or when they were found. This disheartened Grimwade to the point where he left all the re-writing to Seward.

PRODUCTION DIARY

20160815-153032This photograph shows some of the cast and crew during a break filming ‘Planet of Fire’. PETER is fourth from the left in the background. Director, Fiona Cumming’s can be seated on the rocks to the right in the foreground ⇒ 

Friday, 19th August, 1983: John Nathan-Turner appears at a news conference which had been organised to introduce Nicola Bryant (Peri) and Colin Baker (the new Doctor) to the public.

In the meantime, PETER, plus 34 other members of the cast and crew, was flown out to Lanzerote.

Thursday, 13th October: The Production Crew arrived on the island. 

Friday, 14th October, 1983: 6am. The very first scene was shot at Papagayo Bay, which featured all three members of the regular cast, plus Michael Bangereter as Curt and the late Dallas Adams, who plays Professor Howard Foster.

As it turned out, the morning proved to be considerably cooler than normal on the island, much to the consternation of Niciola Bryant, who was scripted to swim to shore from Howard’s boat, which had been hired locally. Almost all of the scenes that day are shot off-shore.

A much smaller version of the TARDIS had been flown out to the island by the crew, which was 1/3 the size of the regular prop. When in shot, it was cleverly lined up closer to the camera so as to make it appear normal size. It also explains why none of the cast were ever seen either entering or leaving the Police Box during the episode.

As a result of his character not being part of the primary days shoot, PETER spent the day at the hotel sunbathing. 

Saturday, 20th August, 1983: This turned out to be a very gruelling day for everyone involved. The cast and crew were required to take a long coach-ride out to the North-Eastern tip of the island, where several scenes involving PETER as Timanov and Edward Highmore as Malkon were committed to film for Part 1. Some additional scenes when ‘The Lookout’ spots the TARDIS for the very first time, were also shot.

PETER, Highmore and Simon Sutton, who played ‘The Lookout’, were also required for a sequence at a popular observation point on the island known as the Mirator del Rio. The exterior lighting of the café at the Point was used to complete the scene, plus a couple of interior sequences involving Timanov and Malkon.

One of the major problems that the actors and crew faced during the days shoot was the high winds for which Lanzerote is famous. Due to rapid cloud movement, one particular sequence involving PETER and Simon Sutton at ‘The Lookout Point’ had to be shot more than once, since the earlier part of the scene had begun in shadow, while it ended with both actors immersed in intense sunshine.

20160815-153441⇐ PETER with Edward Highmore

By late afternoon, filming had fallen badly behind schedule. In an attempt to make up the time Director, Fiona Cummings, was compelled to approach PETER to ask if he might possibly say his lines a little quicker than he’d originally been asked to do (in the original script, the ‘Chief Elder’ was styled as a man who was as ‘Old as the mountain itself’, but looked much younger due to his breathing in the invigorating fumes of the volcano over many years). Peter Grimwade had actually proposed that PETER should present his lines much slower than all the other actors so as to give the impression of his advanced years. But, of course, when the story was conceived, he’d had no idea that the clock would prove to be such an enemy.

Sunday, 18th October, 1983: After Saturday’s exertions, everyone was given the day off. PETER spends his time sunbathing (again!) – one of his favourite pastimes.

Monday, 19th October, 1983: The cast and crew were taken to the National Park area of the island, as the volcanic region which surrounds it was used as a stand-in for the ‘Fire Mountain’ on the planet of Sarn.

PETER was needed to work largely at the ‘Guides Caves’, where he takes part in several scenes involving Bryant, Sutton, Davidson, Strickson, the late Anthony Ainley as The Master, plus James Bate as Amyard.

Tuesday, 20th October, 1983: More scenes on the ‘Fire Mountain’ were filmed near the National Park, and at the Cave of Doves, Sheep Hill and at assorted other locations on and around the mountain.

A very steep area known to locals as Camel Path doubled as the mouth of the ‘Great Volcano’, where the Doctor and Amyard meet Peri in Part 4 of the episode. Also shot that day were Adams’ scene as M-Kamelion-H (his face was coated in silver make-up for the sequence), and Timanov’s very first encounter with the so-called ‘Outsider’.

Wednesday, 21st October, 1983: The last day of the shoot on location largely involved the three regular cast members at the ‘Yellow Area’ on ‘Fire Mountain’ and at Los Hornitos. There was one sequence, however, which featured James Bate and Jonathan Caplan as Roskal, who Timanov had sent in search of the great god, Logar.

Wednesday, 26th October, 1983: After arriving back in England, and being granted a few days off, the cast and crew reassembled at TC1 at BBC Television Centre in London for the first part of the interior recording. The first scenes put onto film were set in the ‘Bunker’ and featured James Bate, Barbara Shelley as Sorest and a rag-tag band of extras playing the “None-Believers”.

Recording continued with a number of sequences which were situated outside the ‘Hall of Fire’, which involved Peter Davidson, Bryant, Ainley and Highmore. The ‘Hall of Fire’ was made up of a series of interlocking sets with hinged walls for effortless removal and stowage. At the moment that Timanov musters ‘The Fire Lord’, the camera was simply juddered about to give the feeling that an earthquake was taking place. Fragments of polystyrene and other airborne debris was flung from an overhead gantry to give the impression of falling rubble. 

Thursday, 27th October, 1983: The entire day was dedicated to the outstanding scenes in the ‘Hall of Fire’, all of which were filmed in running order. Initially there were proposals to record some scenes in ‘The Master’s Laboratory’, but because progress had slowed to a snail’s pace by this juncture, those segments had to be delayed for several days.

In the ‘Sacrificial Chamber’, which was part of the ‘Hall of Fire’, the action was shot using a gas burner and blue filter, which was then overlaid onto film in post-production. In certain other scenes, the back wall of the ‘Cell’ was removed so that the views from behind the gate into the ‘Hall’ where Timanov was standing, were visible.

During a couple of sequences, Timanov was armed with a staff-like weapon from which a red beam was superimposed. The very same method was used during the shooting of both Zuko (Max Arthur) in Part 1 of the story, and Malkon in Part 3.

After the recoding of this group of scenes was finally completed, another fortnight of rehearsals took place for the second phase of shooting.

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⇑ Original listing for the four-part story in The Radio Times

Wednesday, 9th November, 1983: Shooting began on the Second Phase at TC6 at BBC Television Centre. The majority of work involved the Special Effects Team, and was set in and around the TARDIS, and on Kamelion who would change from a mechanoid into human form and back again. Some scenes set in the ‘Seismic Control Centre’ were also shot – again using filters for the Numismaton Gas sequence.

A model of an underground chamber had been especially constructed and put behind a CSO Screen to produce the illusion of a lava flow, and a rage of flames that emerged from the tunnel. Meanwhile, a series of slides showing the Lanzerote landscape were projected as a backdrop. Work involving The Master’s metamorphosis was also completed, whilst Gerald Flood made a series of audio tapes of dialogue for the Kamelion character at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Thursday, 9th November, 1983: Finally the scenes in ‘The Master’s Laboratory’, which had been deferred from October 27th were recorded, plus a couple of sequences in the ‘Trion Spaceship’.

“Planet of Fire’ was my first TV work since ‘Jason King’, and it nearly killed me on location in Lanzerote. The place is full of volcanoes, which is ideal for scenes of an alien planet, but it played hell with a trapped nerve in my back. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t walk properly, We came up with the perfect answer – give the priest a staff. Doctor Who fans will think it’s a prop, but I really needed it!” PETER WYNGARDE.

Friday, 10th November, 1983: More special effects using CSO’s were produced, and smoke boxes were added to the scenes that were set amongst Sarn’s ruins and the Master’s Black TARDIS.

Entirely for reasons of timing, some of the shorter scenes that had been shot both on location on Lanzerote, and in the studio in London, were deleted, and the sequence featuring PETER in the ‘Hall of Fire’ was held in reserve until the running order had been finalised. A scene which was cut completely from the final edit involved PETER and James Bate – the latter of whom had come to refute the reality of the great god, Logar, to Timanov.

A number of pieces of ‘stock footage’ from the BBC Library were used in Part 3 of the story. These included over 50 feet of 35mm film from Movietone, and several 16mm shots of erupting volcanoes courtesy of Visnews.

Composer, Peter Howell, recorded a 34-minute score at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in London for the episode, which predominately featured flutes and pipes [1].

Although no Reaction Index was recorded for the four-part story, viewing figures were considered to be good, with each part of the story picking up around 7,500,000 viewers.

[1]. In February, 1985, BBC Records released an album of music entitled ‘Doctor Who – The Music II’, which included a band devoted to Howell’s incidental tracks from ‘Planet of Fire’, and which featured the piece, ‘The Outsiders Appearance Before Timanov’ from Part 2.

Other spin-offs from the episode included a novelisation of the story by Peter Grimwade, which was published in hardback by W.H. Allen in October 1984. A paperback version followed in February of 1985 as book No.93 in the Target Series. The latter was also issued as part of the Seventh Doctor Who Gift Set in 1985.


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

 

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