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Published on April 8th, 2012 | by James Whittington

Doctor Who – Ace Adventures Box Set: Dragonfire

Meet Ace in Doctor Who: Dragonfire, now out on DVDAce was the breath of fresh air Doctor Who needed as it entered the latter half of the 1980s. Played perfectly by Sophie Aldred she was the best companion in ages.

Her feisty take on life and constant twinkle in her eye made her so appealing. She was surely a starting point for the characterization of Rose, don’t you agree? Ace came in as the show was sliding in the ratings and her first adventure, which came at the end of Season 24 was one of the most criticised of its entire run.

Anyway this 2-disc set contains 2 of her adventures, Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol, both suffer the same faults but have much to offer. So here’s the first from the set, Dragonfire.

On the planet Svartos, the Doctor and Mel unexpectedly encounter an old friend – Sabalom Glitz. Joined by Ace, a teenage waitress with a love for explosives, the group ventures off to find the fabled Dragonfire treasure.

Also known as the “One where Mel finally leaves” this cheap looking piece of Doctor Who actually has a lot going for it. The story is imaginative and well constructed, yes we all hated the literal cliff-hanger, the poorly designed dragon and the over-lit studio sets distract the viewer for getting involved in most of what’s happening but the end scene where Mel leaves gives the character her best lines. I feel Bonnie could have brought more to the role had she been given the right material, instead was a caricature of her clichéd showbiz persona. This is a mature moment and though disliked by the writer (it was an amalgam of Sylvester McCoy’s screen test script and the episode script from Ian Briggs) it’s the best scene the Doctor and Mel shared.

It has some memorable moments such as the way Kane stares down the camera at the end of episode 2 is bad-guy perfection. Tony Selby as Sabalom Glitz is here only for the cockney-style humour the character is sadly laced with, it is a tad wearing but Selby is a great actor and does pull it back now and again. The star is Edward Peel as Kane, the scene-chewing baddie of the piece. He sneers, he snarls, we suspect he takes more than just their will.

The graphic ending still looks impressive and although this is the only effect to really work Dragonfire is a solid way to introduce one character and say goodbye to another.


Doctor Who Ace Adventures boxset, featuring Dragonfire and The Happiness PatrolCommentary – Mark Ayres is on hand here to guide Sophie Aldred, Ian Briggs, Edward Peel and Andrew Cartmel through this rather friendly gag-track to the story.

Fire And Ice – Writer Ian Briggs, Sophie Aldred, Andrew Cartmel, director Chris Clough, Edward Peel and Sylvester McCoy (thanks to an archive interview) all chat happily about the production of the story. It’s an honest piece, Briggs doesn’t hold back when talking about the way Mel’s leaving scene was two pieces glued together. Also it becomes slightly uncomfortable when a retro piece from the Open Air show is resurrected. The presenter seems to take great joy in reading aloud the bad reviews to McCoy as he sits beside her. It also covers the often debated melting sequence which as a teenager I loved though it did ruffle a few feathers out there.

Deleted and Extended Scenes – 10 minutes of extra material that doesn’t really add anything to the story. Still nice to see these trims.

Audio Options – Here you can jump between the Commentary, Original Feature Audio or listen to the Isolated Score.

The Doctor’s Strange Love: Dragonfire – Simon Guerrier, Josie Long and Joe Lidster chat about Dragonfire. Good to hear about the story from a fan’s point of view this is a light hearted, friendly chat proving that the show is good to be debated in such a positive fashion.

The Big Bang Theory – Danny Hargreaves, Special Effects Technician on new Doctor Who and is here to take us through some the more elaborate exploding effects from classic Doctor Who stories. Very interesting and when he talks about Jack Kine, one of the shows original effects designers you realize how the new run is influenced by the old.

Photo Gallery – The usual shed-load of production stills from the story accompanied by incidental music.

Info Text – As usual I advise you watch whilst using this extra, always packed with useful edutainment sort of facts.

PDF Materials
– Pop the disc into you PC or MAC and enjoy the original Radio Times listings.

Coming Soon – A snazzy and rather fun trailer for Death To The Daleks.

So then, though this is limited by its budget there is much to enjoy here. Now let’s check out The Happiness Patrol.

The Doctor Who: Ace Adventures boxset – comprising Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol – can be purchased for an excellent price of £19.97 from Amazon!


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About the Author


James has been a Doctor Who fan for as long as he can recall. A child of the 70s and 80s, he weathered all the storms and controversies the show encountered, though he didn’t buy the “Doctor In Distress” single.

7 Responses to Doctor Who – Ace Adventures Box Set: Dragonfire

  1. avatar Rick Lundeen says:

    I’ve always disliked Dragonfire as some of the worst Who ever but I always enjoyed Happiness Patrol, mostly for the uniquely bizarre Kandyman. I’ll obviously get both anyway because I usually find something to like in all the adventures–usually. I’m just kind of curious though as to why they didn’t just throw “Greatest Show on Earth” into this set as well and finish off the McCoy era. It had Ace in it,so…..?

    • avatar Gordon says:

      Its because of budget reasons Rick. Greatest show is better off on its own. Its the best story out of the 3 and it ends up as more budget on its own. I do believe boxsets get higher budget but once its split over 2/3 titles there is less budget to spend on each title for extras etc It should be out by july/august/september at the latest so it

  2. avatar Gavin Noble says:

    I think Dragonfire is only worth buying for two reasons: Firstly, the dragon is actually well designed. I thought it was one of the better looking monsters from that era of the show and secondly, the melting special effect is wonderful. Apart from that it’s not one of 80′s Who’s finest hours. Bonnie never worked with McCoy’s Doctor as a character but she does get a nice farewell scene.

    All said and done it’s probably a good thing this is in a box set with Happiness Patrol as Patrol is a stronger story – however both adventures have not dated well in terms of their look and it’s only because (like many other Who fans) I have the rest of the DVD’s I will but them – well that and the fact the bonus material will be worth watching.

  3. avatar Castellan Spandrel says:

    I won’t buy this set because I don’t hold either story in much regard.

    Dragonfire – remember this as the better of the two. After the horrible whackiness of the first 3 stories in S24, it felt at the time like this was more of a return to a ‘traditional’ Who story, with Mr Kane’s desire for vengeance on his home planet having echoes of the Graff Vynda-K and Eldrad.

    However, the studio work looks horrible in every respect – plasticky and unreal. The story makes little sense – the prisoner has the key to his freedom under his nose all that time. Okay, the same criticism could be made against Pyramids of Mars, but that gets away with it because it’s so well done.

    Edward Peel’s performance as Kane is easily the highlight of this one. The lowlight: that little girl. No point in her being there at all.

    Happiness Patrol: a true nadir in Dr Who’s history. The central message re: happiness and sorrow is fine, but the trappings of this story, Kandyman and all, are a disaster. Why didn’t they learn from the Kangs the previous year that sticking your supposedly strong female characters in feather-duster fright wigs dooms the whole enterprise from the start?

    Worth remembering what Verity Lambert said about this era – can’t remember if she was referring to Happiness Patrol in particular, but she might as well have been: something to the effect that “it’s as though the people making it thought they were being funny and clever, but it was just awful.”

  4. avatar bryan simcott says:

    I love Happiness Patrol Kandyman and all. The reason Greatest Show is not in this boxed set is becuase it is probably the most superior MCoy story left to release and MArk Ayres is doing the 5.1 mix. we might even get a new film edit version . So I can see why its been kept as a solo release.

    Dragonfire IS good in places and its a shame we are not getting a new edit of this as i`m sure with a film version it could be tightened up a little to make it flow better without having to hit pause for the episode endings

  5. avatar Scott Varnham says:

    Good review – DWM concentrated almost entirely on one of the extras, which left me knowing nothing about the stories in the boxset. Poor show on their part!

    • avatar Castellan Spandrell says:

      Scott – DWM normally provides a ‘Coming Soon’ feature on the DVDs, mainly focusing on the extras, but they always review the stories later after they’ve been released.

      I think what you’ve read is probably just the ‘Coming Soon’. You can expect a review of the actual stories in the next issue, I think.

      Gary Gilliat usually writes 2 pages’ worth of story review; very funny and insightful he is, too.

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