By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Owen once again looks at the characters from the history of Doctor Who who have helped form the character. All these characters – some you’ll recall, some you won’t – were vital to the series that we all love so well. This week… Kamelion.
Kamelion was one of those ideas that seemed brilliant at the time but turned out to be something of a disaster.
First seen in the King’s Demons, Kamelion was used a puppet of the Master to stop the signing of the Magna Carter to change history. Kamelion seemed to be linked mentally to the Master who took great delight in showing the fifth Doctor Kamelion’s shape shifting powers which included turning into the Doctor himself. To break this connection, the Doctor enters a battle of wills for control over the sentient machine. The Doctor wins, bundling Kamelion aboard the Tardis where he immediately shows self awareness and puts Tegan firmly in her place. His link with the Master seems to have been permanently broken. The Master, played by Anthony Ainley, had found Kamelion on the Xerephan homeworld and used it as a means to escape. This was a planet the Doctor had banished the Master to in a previous adventure, Time Flight, which ended Peter Davison’s debut season.
Kamelion could change appearance and look like anyone in the universe.
Then producer, John Nathan Turner, saw the potential of adding such a companion to the show but, in reality, Kamelion was little more than a mannequin that could do little more than turn its head and blink lights. Such a character could have opened great story possibilities and would have come in very handy recently on the banks of Lake Silencio when time decreed the Time Lord must die. But for some reason, Kamelion was doomed to off screen appearances.
Instead of having him become a person that could be more mobile, Kamelion stayed aboard the Tardis but was ignored story wise, bar a brief deleted scene in the Awakening with Turlough that was released on the story’s DVD release. And one question of continuity that fans have pointed out is in the story Frontios and Kamelion’s whereabouts. In that story, the Tardis is destroyed, seemingly in a meteor storm, but in fact has been ripped apart and displaced under the surface of the planet. Fans quite rightly asked where Kamelion was when the Tardis was left like that but answers as always were strangely mute from the mouths of the production office.
When Peter Davison decided to leave the show, Mark Strickson and Jane Fielding were to follow, and the decision was made that Kamelion needed to go too.
In Planet of Fire by Peter Grimwade, not only was Turlough written out and Peri introduced, but the fifth Doctor had to destroy Kamelion at his own hand to stop the Master’s plans.
The renegade Time Lord had linked into Kamelion’s mind, causing him to steer the Tardis to a volcano world where people from Turlough’s homeworld where banished as political prisoners. The Master had accidentally shrunk himself and needed the healing blue flames of the planet’s natural gases to cure himself.
Kamelion became an unwilling slave as he was forced to carry out the Master’s bidding by turning the religious zealot inhabitants against the Doctor as he became the Master to secure his will and death of the Doctor. Peri became his helpless prisoner before the conflict between being loyal to the Doctor and carrying out the Master’s plans allows her to escape. She is pursued across the planet surface by the robot which is constantly shifting between appearances as his mind falls apart. It seemed that the Master had somehow been able to re-establish his mind control over Kamelion. It is this conflict that finally allows the Doctor to stop his enemy when Kamelion sacrifices himself, his mind ripped apart by the pressure. In a heart breaking scene, Kamelion is lost, his mind shattered by the conflicting loyalties. He lies helpless begging for the Doctor to kill him and the Time Lord can only offer a few words as he destroys his companion. This sees the first time the Doctor has willingly terminated the life of a companion.
The robot was voiced by Gerald Flood, a veteran of television, but the whole experiment was far from successful. Kamelion could have been an asset to the show in ways K9 could never have been but again sloppy writing and bad back stage decisions saw Kamelion side-lined.
He would appear once more as a hallucination as the fifth Doctor regenerates showing the guilt the Time Lord has over his actions. And, like many companions, he reappeared in novels, the missing adventure range book the Crystal Buchephalus being the best example, written by Craig Hinton.
In a series that sees so many human and alien companions, it was a refreshing change to have a robotic one, but budgetary and logic restrictions often work against such characters. But in this case, lack of imagination on behalf of the Doctor Who production team made this concept a failure.
But while he has been rarely mentioned, Kamelion deserves our recognition. After all, if a human companion had sacrificed themselves in this way, they would have been heroes. Just because he was a robot, Kamelion deserves no less.