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The Monster of Peladon

(Or: 'Eckersley and the Badgermen')

Reviewed by Alistair Hughes

"It's more than the scanner that's on the blink..."

The first (and best) appearance of the Sontarans... the return of the Daleks and Ice Warriors... and the introduction of someone who was to become one of the most popular companions ever - all in one season!

It certainly sounds like an exciting prospect. However, Season Eleven seems instead to have a distinctly tired air, almost as if the 'Pertwee era' had run its course, and the programme was just going through the motions one last time. Pertwee himself seems to lack a little of his usual vitality, possibly (as is suggested in his second autobiography, I am the Doctor), due to his constant back pain worsening in his final year with the programme.

Undeniably, Elisabeth Sladen does freshen things up with her wonderful portrayal of Sarah-Jane Smith, and there are at least two very good stories in Season Eleven; sadly The Monster of Peladon is not one of them.

Insufficient plot for six episodes seems to be the main problem, with endless violence providing the padding. We see the demonstration of a lesson which was also ignored in the later INT years; that nostalgia (in the form of familiar monsters and settings) does not alone a good story make.

"As far as I'm concerned, a tunnel is a tunnel is a tunnel..."

And what a lot of them there are in this serial. At times the story itself resembles a long gloomy corridor, stretching ahead with insufficient plot or visual interest to sustain six episodes. As a fourparter, like its Peladon predecessor, this story would probably have worked quite well, but instead we are subjected to at least two episodes worth of padding. Nothing of any real consequence seems to happen until well into Episode Three and we see Sarah's anguish at witnessing the Doctor's apparent death - on two separate occasions! A moment such as this loses impact dramatically when over-used.

The Curse of Peladon managed to completely distract us from its studio bound setting by keeping us moving at a brisk pace with four well-scripted episodes, but the plodding plot and extra episodes here seem only to accentuate the lack of variety in visual settings. You really do feel as if you've spent six weeks down a mine by the time this story ends!

"I've been meaning to pay a return visit to Peladon for ages" says the Doctor in Episode One. Although admittedly it is good to see Aggedor, Alpha Centauri and the Ice Warriors again, it's just a pity that this return visit had to be such a long one.

"I must get back to the fight!"

"They go for rough justice here on Peladon, Sarah," explains the Doctor on their arrival, "they chop your head off first and apologise afterwards."

And 'rough' seems to be the key word here, because everything which happens in this story is caused or solved by violence.

So cue six episodes of endless brawling: fist fights, sword fights, mining tool fights, rubber band fights; on and on it goes. There's more sweating, grunting, half-dressed men running about here than a Duran Duran video! (Even Alpha Centauri is knocked unconscious at one point.., is no-one safe?) By this time the viewer must be wishing that Ettis had blown away everyone with the sonic wheelbarrow; at least it would have stopped the interminable fighting.

Mention of this incident leads to a particularly disturbing aspect of this story: the Doctor's attempt to stop Ettis in Episode Four. If we had to have a prolonged and nasty fight scene could we not at least have had the Doctor in a more heroic role, instead of a victim? The sight of someone using a man apparently twice his age as a punching bag is not a pleasant one, and this is exactly what appears to happen. It could be argued that the Doctor is taken by surprise and keeps coming back for more because he's determined to stop Ettis, but the end result only erodes the Third Doctor's image of someone, despite appearances, who could defend himself in any situation - for seemingly no very good reason.

This isn't to imply that violence does not have a certain role to play in Doctor Who. In fact, many of the Pertwee era's best stories have fight scenes among their feature attractions; the sword fight in The Sea Devils, the storming of Stangmoor Prison in The Mind of Evil, even the pit scene in The Curse of Peladon. But these were relatively brief diversions from the main plot, they didn't attempt to become the plot as sometimes seems the case in The Monster of Peladon.

"If we cannot have the trisilicate - my space fleet will blast this hostile planet to dust... here on Peladon, I am the law!"

Let's take a pause from dwelling on the negative aspects of this story and examine instead a very enjoyable feature - the performances.

The characters seem to come in pairs: the Doctor and Sarah, Queen Thalira and Ortron, Eckersley and Azaxyr, and in each case the actors bounce wonderfully off one another. We see equally good scenes when these partnerships are mixed and matched also. Most of the dialogue scenes in the throne room, for example, are very well written and directed.

Pertwee's Doctor is typically moral and endlessly resourceful, combined with enough humour and fallibility to make his interpretation of the Time Lord as enjoyable as ever. However, he can't seem to make up his mind as to whether the planet's inhabitants should be called 'Pels' or 'Peladonians', and changes his mind from scene to scene.

Sarah has some very good scenes with Alpha Centauri, leaving us to marvel at how the combination of a ridiculous costume and an even more ridiculous voice can produce such a credible character (no, not Elisabeth Sladen, who is as brilliant as ever, but the Federation Representative!). Hermaphroditic Alpha Centauri's very uncertain use of the word 'Female' when describing Sarah and her anxiety over Centauri's totally alien appearance provide good comedy relief, enhanced by credible reactions.

Our two main villains are also entertaining to watch; Eckersley turning our initial impression of him on its head while Azaxyr leaves us in absolutely no doubt of his true nature from the very beginning.

As Davros is to the Daleks, Azaxyr is the voice of the Ice Warriors. He displays a cold and calculating intellect, coloured with a hint of irony (calling the traitorous Eckersley: "A splendid example to you all..." for example) Incidentally, am I the only person to think that Azaxyr looks and sounds like a green Darth Vader?

Unlike the Cybermen in their latter stories, the Ice Warriors actually fare quite well here, and are presented as powerful and intelligent - most of the time, anyway!

"I missed the target by 500 yards and 50 years..."

Personally speaking, my dissatisfaction with this story could be due in some part to, on initial viewing, anyway, my then dissatisfaction with the series as a whole. That isn't to say that I enjoyed Doctor Who any less, but rather the first time I saw this story corresponded with an age where I began to see past the 'magic' on screen with slightly more adult eyes. I would hazard a guess that we all might go through this. Having watched Doctor Who for as long as we remember, we'd always accepted what we saw as, if not actually real, at least realistic. Then suddenly, almost over night we start to notice the very rubber-like folds in the back of an Ice Warrior's legs when it walks, or that the mighty Aggedor only seems to be about four feet tall, and his trouser leg comes untucked during his death scene. It's widely known that Doctor Who has always had a minuscule budget, but suddenly it seems glaringly obvious, traumatic indeed for a young fan who suddenly finds himself in the position of having to defend his favourite programme from jeering classmates. The fact that Star Wars was just around the corner, waiting to push the whole world's expectations of special effects through the roof did not help one little bit.

But alas, we all have to grow up sometime, and I'd also guess that we all came to realise that there's more to life than special effects. With this new- found maturity perhaps we began to appreciate other aspects which the programme had to offer: wit, intelligent story-telling, certain companions... I really wanted to like this story, especially considering that it is the sequel to one of my all-time favourites. But even as a forgiving and nostalgia-blinkered adult, I still find little with which I could honestly recommend The Monster of Peladon.

This item appeared in TSV 52 (November 1997).

Index nodes: The Monster of Peladon