This is the latest in the series of Ko-Fi sponsored posts, this one from Ade, who asked me to explain what was going on at the end of the first episode of the Doctor Who story Dragonfire.
So, after careful consideration, here is my full answer:
Buggered if I know mate.
Thank you all very much, see you next time.
Wait, that’s not enough? Tough crowd.
So there are basically three versions of what is meant to be going on at the end of that first episode, what was written, what was filmed and what was unexpectedly retconned to have been happening a mere 26 years later.
The former, according to writer Ian Briggs and his novelisation of the story, was that the Doctor would be crawling along a narrow ledge, that got smaller and smaller until he was forced to desperately hang by his fingers over a precipice.
In realisation... well, season 24 is very much a recovery year for the show. Unexpectedly kept on as producer with no leading man and no scripts, it’s somewhat remarkable John Nathan-Turner managed to put out any episodes at all, let alone 14 that show a steady course correction across the year thanks to new script editor Andrew Cartmel. But it’s still a generally unpopular year full of many odd production decisions, seen at best as a necessary stepping stone to the new golden era of the final two McCoy years.
But the downside is also very much apparent here where, amongst other things, Sylvester McCoy is the only person doing “walking on ice” acting throughout the entire story. And if the director can’t get that small detail consistent, a desperate crawl along a cliff was always going to be a challenge.
So the net result is the Doctor is cheerfully walking along, comes to the edge of a cliff carefully petitioned off by a little fence, and chooses for no readily apparent reason to hang off the cliff by him umbrella, before gurning at the camera. And then at the start of part 2, he’s barely six feet off the ground.
Considering the story has a lot of meta commentary on film and TV criticism (including a character quoting The Tardis Inside Out), they could have perhaps brazened it out by pretending the entire moment was a clever joke about the artificial nature of (literal in this case) cliff-hangers. Instead Ian Briggs famously told a convention they’d have to read the novelisation to understand what was going on.
Which went down about as well as new companion Ace’s attempts at teenage dialogue.
Including the end of Dragonfire Part 1. Which, as the moment to represent McCoy seems a strange one (especially from a writer who, before the show came back, wrote a piece for Doctor Who Magazine about rushing home from working on Press Gang to watch Remembrance of the Daleks), but the entire purpose of this moment is to explain that scene.
Why does the Doctor hang off a cliff for no reason?
Because Richard E. Grant is a petty dick.
Presumably Clara is responsible for the overly easy resolution as well.
This also gives us an easy out for all inexplicable Who moments: Richard E. Grant did it.
What a sod.