Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but until recently rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between. This has changed in the last couple of years as I have been using birthday and Christmas money to buy some of the old episodes, usually enjoying them with one or two of my nerdier daughters. This year, though, my wife and I bought a year of Britbox for each other as a gift, which gives me access to nearly all of classic Who.
The Monster of Peladon
Starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor.
Companion: Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith.
Written by Brian Hayles. Directed by Lennie Mayne. Produced by Barry Letts. Script Edited by Terrance Dicks.
Format: 6 episodes, about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired: March-April 1974 (Seasons 11, episodes 15 – 20).
For the Third Doctor’s penultimate adventure, the production team decided it was time to revisit his old stomping grounds of Peladon (from an adventure from two seasons prior). This gave a chance for us to see how the world had changed since the Doctor’s previous visit, as well as to see again (for the last time in the classic era) the Ice Warriors.
The Monster of Peladon has never had a good reputation for me. I’ve seen it before, at least once, and my memory of it has been that’s drab, slow, and boring. Of course, now times have changed, I have changed, and this time around I watched the story one episode at a time over several days, rather than trying to binge my way through the whole thing on a DVD. The impression for me is still not that the story is a great one, but it’s not terrible either, and is built upon some interesting ideas.
Those ideas involve the political and social dynamics on Peladon, with the tension between the world’s nobility and the working class–specifically miners. Issues related to rights of miners would have been pretty familiar to British audiences of the day (there had been a huge strike in 1972) so the story would have had a timely feel.
What I appreciated about it is the way the story conspired to bring the different factions amongst the people of Peladon together in unity against an external threat. I know it may sound simplistic to have the enemy be just “invading aliens,” but given that the story is largely about the tension between the miners and the noble class, seeing them land on the same page was quite exciting.
Indeed, I fully expected (and misremembered, I guess) that one of the villains was going to be Ortron, the world’s chancellor. I guess I was mixing him up with high priest Hepesh from Curse of Peladon. But given that he most obviously represented the “establishment”, he was the obvious person to suspect of villainy in a show like this. Of course, he’s still not actually very nice–trying to execute the Doctor as he does–but it was refreshing to see that really he was just a guy trying to do right by his world and his queen.
Thanks to Curse of Peladon, the Ice Warriors are amonst my favorite of the classic-Who monsters. I was always disappointed that Monster turned them back into bad guys, but in rewatching it I didn’t mind so much. It’s clear that the idea isn’t that all Ice Warriors have gone evil, but rather just that Commander Azaxyr has got his own secret agenda. I think it helped to keep the Ice Warriors off-screen until they were revealed to be up to something nasty–that was ultimately more enjoyable than any attempt to repeat (or reverse) the “surprise” of the previous Peladon story. Back then, the Doctor assumed the Ice Warriors were behind the problems before he realized the truth. If in this story we had had the Doctor assume the Ice Warriors were being friendly before he realized the truth, it would have felt a bit repetitive. Better to just keep them out of the picture and make the big surprise that they are present at all.
In any case, Alan Bennion is again a great presence as the Ice Lord du jour, a function he filled in all three of his Classic-Who appearances. It was also extremely gratifying to see Azaxyr die not at the hands of the Doctor or a major guest star, but during a scuffle with an ordinary and unnamed Peladonian guard. It somehow makes all the action more believable. (And it makes that guy into a hero!)
There’s plenty I don’t like about The Monster of Peladon as well. It seems unnecessary that Aggedor gets killed, and is a bit strange that nobody seems to react particularly to the death of their traditional god. Queen Thalira is sweet but less interesting than her father King Peladon from the earlier story, and the idea of Sarah Jane explaining “women’s lib” to her is kind of obnoxious (although thankfully it doesn’t go on that long). And there’s also Alpha Centauri involved again–who I kind of love but let’s face it, is completely ridiculous.
The more fundamental issue is that the story is just kind of long and meandering, and like many stories of the era could indeed become a bit dull. There’s a bit of unnecessary back and forth with the miners before the Ice Warriors are introduced, and I think it could have easily been about an episode less without losing much.
Still, Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen give earnest performances, and there are some nice moments between the two (including a bit where the Doctor wakes up from being seemingly dead and asks Sarah about her tears–an exchange with foreshadows an interaction in the following story just prior to the Doctor’s regeneration). So not a classic by any means, but much better than my earlier impressions.