Season 11 – Story 73
“If we cannot have the trisilicate, then our space fleet will blast your ‘hostile planet’ to dust!” – Azaxyr
Returning to Peladon 50 years after his last visit, the Doctor finds the planet in turmoil once more. Queen Thalira is now the ruler, and her adviser Chancellor Ortron arrests the Doctor and Sarah for trespassing on sacred ground. Fortunately Alpha Centauri, now a Federation ambassador to Peladon, intercedes on their behalf. But the Doctor wonders why the “spirit of Aggedor” is killing men in the trisilicate mines – human engineer Eckersley knows more than he is saying – and also why the Ice Warriors are involved…
Part 1 – Saturday 23 March 1974
Part 2 – Saturday 30 March 1974
Part 3 – Saturday 6 April 1974
Part 4 – Saturday 13 April 1974
Part 5 – Saturday 20 April 1974
Part 6 – Saturday 27 April 1974
Filming: January 1974 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: January 1974 in TC8, February 1974 in TC6
Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Eckersley – Donald Gee
Queen Thalira – Nina Thomas
Ortron – Frank Gatliff
Gebek – Rex Robinson
Ettis – Ralph Watson
Azaxyr – Alan Bennion
Sskel – Sonny Caldinez
Alpha Centauri – Stuart Fell
Alpha Centauri voice- Ysanne Churchman
Vega Nexos – Gerald Taylor
Preba – Graeme Eton
Blor – Michael Crane
Guard Captain – Terry Walsh
Aggedor – Nick Hobbs
Rima – Roy Evans
Miner – Max Faulkner
Writer – Brian Hayles
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Gloria Clayton
Script editor – Terrance Dicks
Producer – Barry Letts
Director – Lennie Mayne
RT Review by Mark Braxton
They say you should never go back. Russell T Davies ignored them. He visited New Earth for the eponymous 2006 caper and returned there for Gridlock a year later. But then, he did have a different tale to tell the second time around.
You feel with this ragged rebound that the decision was primarily an economic one. Because on the face of it, The Monster of Peladon and its 1972 forebear, The Curse of Peladon, are the same adventure. Old order threatened by revolution, interference from outsiders, a beast in the bowels, an unknown killer, and so on. Dust off some old props, sets and costumes, and hey presto!
Both stories have the same writer, director and designer, and the sense of déjà vu doesn’t end there. Poor Roy Evans must have felt like he was trapped underground, having played ill-fated miner Bert in The Green Death, only to be asked back to play ill-fated miner Rima. And Rex Robinson – good-egg Dr Tyler in The Three Doctors – here plays good-egg Gebek.
The casting is well below the mark in other ways: while clearly intended to be naive, Queen Thalira requires more authority, and concern for her subjects, than young Nina Thomas was able to give her. Maybe she just wasn’t ready for some of those (lack of) reaction shots. And Donald Gee invests the incongruously named Eckersley with all the villainy of a village postman. Ortron, on the other hand, though well played by Frank Gatliff, is a sexist dullard (“Since she is only a female, her activities are of little importance”).
[Jon Pertwee, Donald Gee, Alpha Centauri and Elisabeth Sladen. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre TC8, 28 January 1974. Copyright Radio Times Archive]
But there are sporadic thrusts at innovation, and over the course of six episodes, they are desperately needed. The struggle for trisilicate possession is a clear reference to the 1973 miners’ strike (“We earn barely enough to feed our families”). The sincerity of such a subplot is rather devalued by the miners looking like Mungo Jerry after a hair-dyeing accident. I also find myself distracted by the Clangers’ soup trolley masquerading as a sonic lance.
A brand-new alien, Vega Nexos, could have been developed further, but instead he’s killed off minutes into the opener. I can remember as a boy being mystified by his inclusion in a set of Weetabix character cards, alongside Daleks, Cybermen and other icons.
For me, Alan Bennion is the voice of the Ice Warrior, in the same way that Kevin Lindsay is the definitive Sontaran. This was the Martian marauders’ final appearance in Doctor Who (at the time of writing). Just imagine the wonderful ways that designers could spruce them up for today’s audience…
But what of the leads? Well, the rapport between a weary-looking Pertwee and keen-as-mustard Elisabeth Sladen still stumbles. However, the two occasions when Sarah believes the Doctor has died do edge them a little closer together, the latter’s “Tears?” anticipating his regeneration in the very next serial.
Despite its muddy motivations and Pel-mell plotting, Brian Hayles’ second bite of the galactic cherry has its moments. But it’s hard to get away from the word “retread”. You wait patiently for a copper-bottomed justification for the Doctor’s reunion with Alpha Centauri, Aggedor et al. Unfortunately, I think the Doctor’s declaration “I have a special interest in this planet” is supposed to be it.
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Radio Times archive
[Available on BBC DVD]