Sure isn’t Greek.
Intent on cleaning up all loose narrative strands before Peter Davison’s imminent departure from the title role, producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward bring in veteran Doctor Who hand Peter Grimwade to sweep out the TARDIS cupboards in “Planet of Fire” (Story Production Code 6Q), getting rid of two companions (sort of) and introducing a new one for the forthcoming Sixth Doctor. As the originator of alien teenager Turlough (Mark Strickson), Grimwade takes the opportunity to send the intergalactic scoundrel off in style over the course of the four episode story, finally filling in his oft-teased background and even giving him a first name. Also leaving is the robot everyone forgets, including the crew of the TARDIS: Kamelion.
First (and last) appearing in “The King’s Demons” some six stories and nearly a year earlier, the shapeshifting android from the planet Xeriphas never once merits a mention in the interim, even when the blue box blows up in “Frontios,” ostensibly scattering the silver savant into atoms. As though making up for lost time, Kamelion returns to the screen with a literal shout, caterwauling horrendously from its room in the TARDIS while simultaneously taking over the controls, sending our time travelers to contemporary Earth (again), this time the port town of Órzola, in the north of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, conveniently the destination for Doctor Who‘s now-annual foreign location shoot.
The brief layover serves two purposes for Grimwade and the production team, bringing on board not just Perpugilliam Brown (Nicola Bryant)—Peri to her friends—but also a convenient stand-in for Kamelion. (The humanoid robot prop, intricate and blinking as it is, suffers from the minor fault of not being able to move and indeed scarcely being able to stand.) Peri, a headstrong American college student in her late teens or early twenties, has accompanied her archeologist step-father, Howard Foster (Dallas Adams), on a diving expedition to ancient wrecks, one such dive unearthing a curious metal cylinder bearing overlapped triangles. The cylinder emits a distress call when brought from the deep, and while Grimwade remains fuzzy on the details, the suggestion is that Kamelion homes in on the signal. On arrival, the Fifth Doctor and Turlough go looking for it, a perfect excuse to take a bit of a beach excursion—one with much nicer weather than the Doctor’s last trip to the seashore.
Before they can triangulate the position of the signal, Peri steals the cylinder from Howard’s boat, where he abandoned her to prevent her from taking an impulsive trip to Morocco with some new English friends. Jumping overboard with the device, hoping to sell it to fund her travels, she tries to swim to shore but misjudges the strength of the current. Turlough swims out to rescue her in a scene that drags on far too long, as though they needed to justify the expense of hiring the boat and putting a camera crew in the water in the first place—though one also suspects an attempt to attract “lads and dads” via Nicola Bryant in a swimsuit. Rather than tend to her on the beach, he takes Peri into the TARDIS to recover. Woozy from her ordeal, Peri lapses into a dreamlike state, thinking of Howard’s poor treatment of her; the strong emotions pass into Kamelion, transforming the android into a replica of the archeologist, one with the ability to walk upright.
When Turlough finds the cylinder amongst Peri’s belongings, he immediately knows, and fears, what it is: a Trion distress beacon. Grimwade begins to neatly unveil the mystery behind Turlough’s origins here, slowly parting with his secrets. After the Doctor discovers the beacon and plugs it into the TARDIS console, it shorts out; Kamelion takes over once more and sends them all to another unknown destination before popping out of a back room, pretending to be Howard Foster, who “accidentally” wandered into the unlocked police box parked carelessly on an Órzola jetty. The Doctor and Turlough leave “Howard” and Peri behind in the TARDIS to investigate where, and why, they have landed, just in time for the first episode cliffhanger, as Kamelion changes again, from archeologist to antagonist…