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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Doctor Who: The Monster Of Peladon (1974)

In the penultimate tale of the Pertwee era, The Third Doctor returns to Peladon - scene of his earlier adventure The Curse Of Peladon - accompanied by Sarah Jane Smith (Lis Sladen).

While some things have changed - camp King Peladon has died and his supercute daughter, Queen Thalira (Nina Thomas), sits on the throne and Peladon is now a member of the Galactic Federation - the planet is still riven with superstition and the class struggles inherent in a feudal society.

Not only that, but someone is again using fear of the "curse of Aggedor" to cause trouble and stir up tension in the miners working in the caves under the castle.

The miners - with their two-tone 'fro hairdos - are digging out the precious mineral trisilicate (previously only found on Mars) which is crucial for the Galactic Federation's war against the mysterious Galaxy Five.

The Federation has sent in mining expert Eckersley (Donald Gee) with the new high-tech sonic lance to speed up operations, but the Peladonian miners don't like the idea of "alien technology" being brought in to do their jobs and tension is running high.

Eckersley is assisted by a satyr-like native from Vega (Gerald Taylor) whose eyes, rather disconcertingly, point in different directions, but he is soon killed by a manifestation of Aggedor and the troubles snowball from there, until it gets so bad that Ambassador Alpha Centauri (yes, the wonderful monocular hermaphrodite is still there) panics and calls for more Galactic Federation troops.

That's when the ice warriors show up and things only get worse...

At first, The Monster Of Peladon plays out like a carbon copy of The Curse Of Peladon, with a new narrow-minded, blinkered High Priest, Chancellor Ortron (Frank Gatliff), using religious bigotry and ignorance (no matter how well intentioned) to muddy the waters, as his predecessor did in the earlier tale, but when the military force of ice warriors show up The Monster Of Peladon takes off in an entirely new direction.

Where Curse was an allegory for the drawn-out negotiations to get the UK into the EEC, Monster was Brian Hayles' allegory for the miners' strikes of the 1970s and even though the story unfolds over six episodes, it's still more exciting - with the general to-ing and fro-ing of the characters as sides are established and allegiances change - than our first visit to Peladon.

There are still some cringeworthy moments, such as Sarah Jane explaining "Women's Lib" to the Queen or The Doctor's brawl with zealous miner Ettis (Ralph Watson) when we can clearly see it's a stuntman and not Jon Pertwee, and while the plot is - possibly unnecessarily - complicated rather than complex, like Curse it's clear the show's producers have a lot of enthusiasm for this story.

The arrival of the Galactic Federation has seemingly boosted the technology of Peladon, but the story still carries the glorious aroma of planetary romance, and even a touch of Dungeons & Dragons, in the large amount of time it devotes to the underground catacombs that honeycomb the mountain the castle sits on and the primitive weaponry of the natives against the blasters and gadgetry of the newcomers.

However, where Curse was a Gothic mystery interwoven with political and religious tension, Monster is more of a Scooby-Doo romp. Personally I actually preferred the latter in its execution - although I would have thought I'd have gone for the former - but your mileage may vary.

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