Monday, July 27, 2015

"The Monster of Peladon"

Aired Mar 23 - Apr 27, 1974


6 Episodes

Story 73

Written by: Brian Hayles

Directed by: Lennie Mayne



Synopsis

Returning to the planet Peladon fifty years after his previous visit, the Doctor finds King Peladon's daughter Thalira on the throne, and the planet once again on the brink of conflict with the Galactic Federation. The Queen's chancellor, Ortron, is mistrustful of the Federation's mining operation on Peladon to obtain the valued mineral trisilicate. The miners, second-class citizens on Peladon, are on the point of uprising, and Federation representatives Alpha Centauri and Engineer Eckersley are struggling to keep the peace.

According to reports, a ghostly figure of Peldon's sacred beast Aggedor has been responsible for deaths in the mine, and the Doctor must use all of his wits to keep the miners from full-scale insurrection while calming the paranoid xenophobia of Ortron.

Eventually, the Doctor uncovers that the deaths have been due to the machinations of Eckersley, in league with a renegade group of Ice Warriors hoping to obtain the trisilicate for themselves and sell them to Galaxy 5, who are at war with the Federation. Eckersley has been using a matter transmitter combined with a heat ray to make it seem as if the statue of Aggedor is killing miners. 

While the Ice Warriors take ruthless control of the planet, the Doctor and the miners manage to mouth a counter-attack, taking control of the matter transmitter and heat ray and turning it against Eckersley and the Ice Warriors.

After the Ice Warriors are defeated, Eckersley takes the Queen hostage, but he is killed by the real Aggedor, though the beast sadly dies in the process. 

In the end, with peace restored, Galaxy 5 surrenders and the Doctor and Sarah head on their way in the TARDIS.

Analysis

The Curse of Peladon was one of the highlights of the ninth season; a thoughtful and well-structured adventure that actually had some nice examples of larger themes and allegory. It made sense the the production team would want to return to that setting with a sequel. 

But, sadly, The Monster of Peladon doesn't come close to matching the effectiveness of its predecessor. The reasons for this are many, but let's start with the fact that the serial covers a lot of the same ground, namely the clash between cultures and the pressures brought about by a small society's contact with a larger, more advanced one. The issues are examined using the same relationships as the first serial; the ruler is idealistic and optimistic and naive, the court advisor is noble but a paranoid protectionist, the representative of the larger culture is well-intentioned if feckless, and there's a hidden conspiracy from outside forces trying to exploit the situation. It's the same story, with very little variation. 

The only new element are the miners, and while their subplot is initially interesting it never advances beyond their anger at being exploited and the internal power struggle between negotiation and rebellion. 

Indeed, the six episode length is ultimately what sinks the serial. Things improve hugely once the Ice Warriors are finally revealed and the actual plot begins in earnest, but that doesn't happen until Episode Four! That means we get a lacklustre retread of The Curse of Peladon for three whole episodes, except without characters as interesting or the sweet love story we had in the first story. 

I'm forgiving when it comes to the slower pace of television of this period, but three episodes of faffing about until the main plot gets going is ridiculous. The story is over-padded to a laughable degree, and the plot of the initial episodes are repetitive. The Queen never becomes the figure she needs to become, and that's a performance issue, while the Ice Warriors lose all of the development they received in their last appearance and revert to rampaging baddies once again. The make really good rampaging baddies, and Alan Bennion is once again hugely effective as the Ice Lord, but it's a bit of a shame. Donald Gee turns in a good performance as Eckersley, giving the character way more flair than is written. But the rest of the supporting characters are pretty dull, to be honest.

Finally, the direction is a bit uninspired.  Not bad per se, but it just feels by the numbers. I still think Sladen is great as Sarah Jane, but Pertwee lacks the sparky energy he used to have, and their rapport feels more forced than natural. On the whole, things are beginning to look tired for Doctor Who.

Alpha Centauri still looks like a dick in a shower curtain. It's a better curtain, but still...

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