This story takes
place BETWEEN THE
RADIO DRAMA "THE
GHOSTS OF N-SPACE"
AND THE NOVEL
'PELADON TALES' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2744)
RELEASED IN JANUARY
THE TARDIS LANDS ON
PELADON 50 YEARS
AFTER ITS FIRST VISIT.
THE DOCTOR AND SARAH
DISCOVER A TROUBLED
PLANET AT THE CENTRE
OF A WAR - AND THE
DESPERATELY NEEDS A
MINERAL FOUND IN THE
MINES. BUT WHY IS THE
GHOST OF AGGEDOR
KILLING MINERS AND
WHY CAN'T EVERYONE
QUEEN THARILA NEEDS
THE DOCTOR'S HELP TO
23RD MARCH 1974 - 27TH APRIL 1974
Given the popularity of The Curse of Peladon amongst viewers, and particularly the cost-effectiveness of producing a serial for which most of the costumes and prosthetics already existed, the production team decided that they’d send Jon Pertwee’s Doctor back
to Peladon for his penultimate televised adventure. Brian Hayles was again commissioned to pen the script, and Lennie Mayne was again hired to direct it. And – as no Peladon tale would be complete without a quasi-mythical monster, a small platoon of Ice Warriors and
a hermaphrodite hexapod – actors Nick Hobbs, Alan Bennion, Sonny Caldinez, Stuart Fell and Ysanne Churchman were all invited to return to the fold.
However, the resultant tale is a very different animal to the original. Whilst Ageddor, Alpha Centauri and the Ice Warriors are all present and correct, the Peladon portrayed here is most unlike that seen in Curse. Fifty years have passed since the Doctor’s last visit, and Peladon now stands as a proud member of the Galactic Federation. The young King that
fell in love with Jo Grant has long-since departed, and his beautiful daughter, Thalira, now rules over a cosmopolitan world plagued by inequity and industrial dissent, rather than a sheltered, superstitious society held back by fear of change.
Perhaps this serial’s greatest strength is that it manages to tow the fine line between being more of the same, whilst also being quite different, which sadly a lot of sequels can’t quite manage. Many lament King Peladon’s absence here, and rightly so, but in my view the fast-forward imbues not only this serial but its forerunner with a sense of history and scale that most Doctor Who planets lack. I can’t help but wonder how different subsequent stories such as The Bride of Peladon and Legacy would have been in the absence of Monster, or in the event that Monster had been set relatively soon after Curse. The bold leap forward taken in this story allowed and encouraged future writers to make similarly significant temporal leaps, each new chapter of Peladon’s unfurling legacy offering us a snapshot of a society that is always changing… yet always the same.
In any event, as Peladon’s ruling monarch Nina Thomas is every bit as appealing as David Troughton, and I’m sure that she must have proven even more popular than her predecessor “with the Dads.” However, the convincing characterisation of the two young rulers is in fact very similar, though Thalira’s vulnerability and foolhardiness is even more pronounced than her father’s. Unfortunately, and I dare say inevitably, Hayles often uses Thalira as vehicle to hammer home Sarah Jane’s “women’s lib” manifesto for the umpteenth time in the season, marring just about scene that Elisabeth Sladen and Nina Thomas share.
Moreover, though this serial lacks its predecessor’s portentous
personality and chilling sense of claustrophobia, the story itself is
every bit as clever and piercing as the original. Having discovered
that their planet is rich in Trisilicate, a rare mineral previously thought
to have been exclusive to Mars (and named after an ingredient in
toothpaste!), Queen Thalira and her advisors are frantically trying to
juggle the welfare of their workers with the mineral demands of the Federation. The ensuing industrial strife leads to a satire of the 1973
miners’ strike that makes The Curse of Peladon’s allegory appear
understated, as well as a welcome heel turn for the Ice Warriors that
packs the double-punch of being both startling and yet magnificently
Indeed, as novel and surprising as the Martians’ beneficence was in
the original, I think that deep down everyone wants to see them trying
to conquer and enslave. And so here, with the thoroughly abhorrent
Azaxyr prepared to stop at nothing in order to secure the Trisilicate
needed to fuel Galaxy Five’s war against the Federation, the viewer
is treated to the best of both worlds. The Monster of Peladon plays
upon the viewer’s assumption that the Martians are now a peaceful
people, before unmasking the renegade Azaxyr as the villain and
traitor of the peace. Hayles’ shock tactic works splendidly once again,
only this time we get to enjoy some good old-fashioned Ice Warrior
malevolence to boot.
Regrettably the Ice Warriors’ undercover operative is easier to read, Donald Gee playing Eckersley with such transparent treachery that the game is given away right from his first scene. In a sense though, this actually benefits the serial, as Eckersley serves to deflect attention away from his paymasters until the big reveal.
Presented as a two-disc set, The Monster of Peladon DVD features a little more in the way of the bonus material than The Curse of Peladon did, beginning with the concluding half of John Kelly’s Peladon Saga. This showpiece twenty-two minute documentary takes a look
at the diverse array of characters that appeared in both Peladon tales, covering everyone (and everything!) from the infamous “dick with a cloak on”, Alpha Centauri, to the “badger-head miners” of this serial.
However, my favourite featurette by far is the long-awaited Terrance Dicks edition of On Target – the recurring DVD special feature that examines individual authors’ contributions
to Target’s range of Doctor Who novelisations. Needless to say, Dicks was the founding father of Doctor Who books full stop, penning over sixty novelisations in the 1970s and 19-80s before racking up an impressive number of original novels and novellas in the twenty years since. As such I was a little wounded that the DVD producers had the gall to try and shoehorn his gargantuan achievements into just twenty-one minutes, but at least this mini-documentary has all the “simplicity, clarity and pace” of Dicks’ renowned prose, which has
to count for something.
Above: Prolific Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell discusses the work that inspired him in On Target
I could have watched writers Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Alan Barnes and Target Book
author David J Howe discussing Dicks’ work for hours. The slick but slim production fuses
interview clips with dramatic readings from selected books (which
I presume are lifted from recent BBC Audio adaptations) that play
over muted television footage, exuding all the love and reverence
befitting the occasion. The programme even tenderly pulls apart all
the “wheezing, groaning sounds” and “pleasant, open faces” that
populated many a paperback, Cornell confronting Dicks with the
erroneous cricket inferences that he drew from the latter. The man himself, meanwhile, seizes the opportunity to finally set the record straight as to why he abandoned so many stories’ original titles when he novelised them.
‘Spearhead from Space?’ asks Mr Target Editor. ‘What’s that all about them?’
‘Well,’ Dicks replies, ‘it’s about these creatures called Autons that invade and-’
‘Call it Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion.’
What I enjoyed most of all though was the contributors’ championing of a single book each - Roberts, for instance, highlights the tidiness of Doctor Who and the Android Invasion’s last paragraph, whilst Cornell waxes eloquent about the prologue to Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon and Barnes praises his Dicks favourite, Inferno.
The disc is rounded up with
a brief clip of actress Ysanne
Churchman (Alpha Centauri)
being interviewed by David
Jacobs for an absurdly-dated
edition of Where Are They
Now?; a remarkable recreation
of a deleted scene created from
an old audio recording (a curious undertaking, trying to recreate a scene that was deemed
redundant); and, of course, a commentary track moderated by Toby Hadoke featuring the
late Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, and a selection of surviving cast members. An alternative
commentary (in every sense!) is also available for Episode 6, featuring Dalek writer Robert Shearman and fans Mark Aldridge, Kate Du-Rose and Philip Newman.
Ultimately, The Monster of Peladon is a bigger, louder and much more lavish production than its precursor, and I could apply the same sentiments to its luxuriant DVD release. But whereas Monster itself might lack the je ne sais quoi that the chilling original had in spates, the bonus material on offer here most certainly does not.
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