Doctor Who is often at its best when brilliant actors get to do their thing together on screen. In Dragonfire, there are two of the best: Edward Peel as Kane and Patricia Quinn as Belazs.
Kane is an icy, vampiric despot. Belazs is an underling, who signed up to Kane’s service as a youngster. Once they were lovers, but now they are simply master and servant.
Peel and Quinn are terrific actors, but even they can’t save a poorly written scene. This clunker is from Part One, and is the first time they meet on screen.
BELAZS: He says he lost the money in a game of cards.
KANE: I know he lost the money in a game of cards. The game was fixed. What about the map?
BELAZS: He’s convinced it’s genuine.
KANE: Excellent. He’ll soon realise if he wants to see his spacecraft again he has no alternative but to go after the treasure. And when he does, I shall be with him every step of the way.
There’s not a line in that scene which isn’t inelegant exposition. It’s a case study in how not to write a scene. Characters telling each other things they already know. Sentences twisted into shape to include plot details. And it gets worse as it goes along:
BELAZS: He appears to have two colleagues.
KANE: Colleagues? I thought he sold his entire crew.
BELAZS: They’re not from his crew, sir. Space travellers. A man and a girl. Do you want them eliminated?
KANE: Not for the moment, I think. There’s no reason for them to suspect that the seal on the treasure map contains a tracking device.
I just had to italicise that last one because it is so awful. It’s so awful it’s almost beautiful. No-one talks like that. Surely not even if they’re ancient space villains turned grocery centre owners.
But then, the very next scene Kane and Belazs have together, is brilliant. Not awful brilliant, just brilliant.
BELAZS: It’s Glitz’s spacecraft.
KANE: What of it?
BELAZS: It’s just that…
BELAZS: Well, if Glitz and the Doctor are as good as dead, I’d like the spacecraft.
KANE: Oh, you’d like the spacecraft, would you? (He creeps towards her impassively) When you first came here you had nothing. You were willing enough to take my payment then. But now you want to leave. Perhaps you have memories of a home you can return to? Perhaps I should have put you into cryosleep along with all the others and erased your memories.
(He grabs her hand, which bears the burnt imprint of a coin.)
Perhaps you need reminding. As long as you bear my mark, I own you.
(Kane flicks a switch on the console.)
MAN [V/O]: Yes, sir?
KANE: (doesn’t take his eyes of Belazs) Glitz’s spacecraft. Have it destroyed.
I just had to italicise that last one because it is so brilliant, and y’know, out of fairness because I paid out the last scene.
The spacecraft means much more to Belazs than just transport. It represents freedom. Kane orders it destroyed for no other reason but to keep Belazs in her place. And he does it to her face because he wants her to know she’s in her place. Stylishly performed and directed, it’s an astonishing turnaround from just two scenes before. I’ve written before about Who‘s tendency to mix brilliance with rubbish, but rarely does it happen so quickly.
Belazs goes behind Kane’s back and rescinds his order to destroy Glitz’s spacecraft, the gothicly named Nosferatu. She runs into the Doctor and Glitz while attempting to abscond and there’s another snippet of handsome dialogue.
BELAZS: Only one of us can leave Iceworld aboard the Nosferatu, and one way or the other, it’s going to be me.
GLITZ: What about the boss, Mister Kane? Does he know of your little enterprise?
BELAZS: Kane doesn’t own me.
DOCTOR: Oh, I think he does. I think he bought you like he buys everything in Iceworld.
BELAZS: What would you know about it?
DOCTOR: I think he bought you a long time ago. He paid seventeen crowns for each of Glitz’s crew. How much did he pay for you? Was it worth it? Were you worth it?
BELAZS: (she brandishes her burnt hand) That’s what I sold myself for, Kane’s mark. I ought to cut my hand off for doing it.
With her path to freedom blocked, Belazs’ thoughts turn to murder. She conspires with fellow grunt Kracauer.
BELAZS: Do you see this?
KRACAUER: Yes, the mark of the sovereign.
BELAZS: You’d have thought it would begin to disappear after twenty years.
KRACAUER: We sold ourselves. We knew what we were doing. We had a choice.
BELAZS: I was sixteen.
KRACAUER: Even at sixteen we had a choice.
BELAZS: He’ll kill us. He’ll find someone younger and he’ll kill us unless we kill him first.
KRACAUER: How do you propose to do that?
BELAZS: With heat. Even here in Iceworld it’s too warm for him. I’ve seen inside the restricted zone. That’s where he keeps his refrigeration unit. He has to return there whenever his body temperature rises too high.
I just had to italicise that last bit because it’s the point where a perfectly lovely scene turns to awkward exposition.
Off screen, Belazs somehow convinces Kracauer that he’s the one who has to turn off Kane’s air conditioning and let him roast. (How exactly did she do that, hmmm?) But he’s too slow and Kane kills him with his trademark icy face palms. But Kane realises that Kracauer doesn’t have the gumption to dream up this scheme. He know that the true architect is:
KANE: (whispers) Belazs!
Her number’s up. The next time we see him, he’s charm itself.
KANE: Ah, my dear Belazs. You know, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking of your request to leave. You’ve been with me a long time now. I’ve grown very fond of you, but I’ve been thinking it over carefully and I’ve decided. You may leave me.
KANE: Whenever you wish. Go in fortune and happiness. (Then he turns on her. He grabs her by the face) You traitor! I’ve been planning my revenge for three thousand years. How can you stand in my way now I am so close?
I love that first bit – I’ve grown very fond of you – cloying words to an old flame, to draw her in before he kills her without mercy. But then that unnecessary and melodramatic addition – How can you stand in my way blah blah – when all that’s needed is that brilliant two word accusation: You traitor. It’s so typical of Dragonfire; smart and spot on one minute, overwritten the next.
That’s where the ballad of Kane and Belazs ends. She doesn’t even make it to Part Three. There’s much more to this story, in all its comic, gothic, plastic grandeur. It’s got colour and monsters and smart arse humour and synth crashes and unlikely plot twists and inexplicable stunts all wrapped up in a film theory text book. It’s dizzying.
But amongst it all, Belazs’ story shows us just what a bastard Kane is. It’s importance to the plot is tangential; at best it shows us what might become of young tearaway Ace (Sophie Aldred) if she grasps that blistering coin. And even with its on again off again dialogue, it’s far and away the best thing about Dragonfire.
LINK to Destiny of the Daleks. Both star Tony Osoba! How about that? Wouldn’t it be great if our next story is Kill the Moon?
NEXT TIME… But no, it’s Flatline. Argh! So close!