Doctor Who complete reviews: The Monster Of Peladon
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
A return to Peladon proves not to quite live down to its reputation...
Poor old Monster Of Peladon. When it comes to polls of the Best Doctor Who story, it always ends up being at the bottom of the pile. Having to spend company with the likes of The Twin Dilemma or Time And The Rani can’t be fun. The story’s detractors will tell you that it’s like a bloated version of The Curse Of Peladon, with two extra parts that are really just surplus to requirements.
Like all good sequels, Monster has plenty in common with its predecessor. Peladon is just as gloomy and windswept as your average day in British winter. There’s a lisping wimp on the throne, who’s being bossed about by a huffy old man. Alpha Centauri’s still shuffling around squeaking at the top of its voice. And the Ice Warriors are back, although this time around, they’re not quite as benevolent.
Another thing that Monster has in common with Curse is that it touches on a contemporary news item. Whereas Curse talked about the entry into the Common Market, Monster looks to the miners’ strikes of the early 1970s for inspiration. So, here we have a group of disgruntled miners who are dissatisfied with their lot on Peladon - the divide between the rich and the poor is a wide chasm. While Thalira and Ortron et al live in the lap of luxury, with flagons of wine and what look like mouldy rock cakes to feast on, the miners are stuck underground with only silly haircuts to show for their efforts.
That’s where the link between reality and fiction really breaks down though. While the sentiments are there to show how tough working life as a miner was, unfortunately, the Peladon miners are a pretty duff bunch. Not only are they tired old clichés (the hothead rebel, the grizzled mediator etc), they’re also stuck with great big badger afros that kind of make them look a bit like prototype Thundercats - or in this case, Blunder Prats. Repeal the magic. Here are the bores. Blunder Prats are loose.
"Overall, it doesn’t quite match up to the original, with one too many clumsy fight sequences or bizarre incidents creeping in"
A problem with Monster is that the Blunder Blunder Blunder Blunder Prats seem to take too much precedence in the story. Their weary debates about who to side with and their eternal bickering becomes very tiresome. And while Rex Robinson is perfectly competent as Gebek, Ralph Watson’s Ettis is ever so slightly OTT. It all comes to a head when, for reasons only known to himself, Ettis decides to hijack the sonic lance and blow up the citadel.
Unfortunately what follows is one of the most inept fight sequences seen in Doctor Who. Who else comes to the rescue but The Doctor? Oh, hold on, that’s not The Doctor… It’s just some stuntman doubling for The Doctor. There’s a whacking great close up of Jon Pertwee’s stunt double Terry Walsh, when he throws Ettis to the ground. And even without this goof, it’s still obvious that Walsh is doubling up for Pertwee - which is fair enough, since there’s a lot of tricky moves that were probably too much for the great man himself. But Lennie Mayne’s rather poor direction doesn’t even attempt to overcome this, and with some equally obvious dubbing on the main action, the sequence is a bit of a shambles.
Oddly, Lennie Mayne’s direction isn’t quite as strong as it was in Curse. There aren’t so many interesting shots or camera angles as before, which is a shame. There are some attempts to impress, including the high shots of the throne room and the multi-coloured whirlpool effects of Eckersley’s defence system. But overall, it doesn’t quite match up to the original, with one too many clumsy fight sequences or bizarre incidents creeping in. Why are the Ice Warriors strutting about in fill-fitting costumes? Why does Azaxyr get stabbed in the goolies? And why does Blor cry like a baby at the end of part one when he’s blasted to nothing by the phantom Aggedor?
The relationship between the ruler and the second-in-command is rather tired already, and Nina Thomas’ performance is all wide eyes and quavering wailing (“Gebek, will you betray me?” she squeals like a frightened mouse). At least, in the end, Thalira does manage to stand up to both Ortron and the Warriors, unlike King Peladon who wouldn’t say boo to a goose until Hepesh had breathed his last.
For all that though, the sets by Gloria Clayton are still very impressive, and the contrast between the lush interiors of the citadel and the clinical whites of Eckersley’s control room add to the feeling of the rulers vs the ruled. And in fact, Monster does throw up one or two new elements into the mix.
One is the mystery of the phantom Aggedor, which is appearing out of nowhere and frazzling miners into atoms. It’s a hokey old device I’ll grant you that, and either Brian Hayles or Uncle Terrance were clearly watching too many episodes of Scooby Doo! Where Are You? But I quite like those old mystery stories, and part of the fun of Monster is guessing who’s behind it. At the end of the day, it can only be Eckersley, the man who takes the meaning of laconic to a whole new level. It wouldn’t be Thalira, she’s too much of a wet blanket. The Doctor Who team wouldn’t make the main baddie the Hepesh figure again, so Ortron’s out of the running. None of the miners could even switch on the phantom Aggedor machine, never mind operate it. So process of elimination points to Eckersley.
Eckersley’s a funny one. At first, he tries to slip under the radar by going along with everything that every other character says. If Thalira wants a demo of the sonic lance, not a problem. If Sarah wants help rescuing The Doctor, that’s not a problem too. However, you can tell that under his Mr Nice Guy persona, Eckersley isn’t quite what he seems. There’s a point in part three where Sarah points out her and The Doctor’s suspicions about a plan to frighten off the miners. “Well of all the daft ideas,” he says, but a slow close-up on his face shows that at that point, it’s blatantly obvious that Eckersley’s the mastermind of the whole dastardly scheme. In this case, he’s teamed up with Azaxyr, one of the mean Ice Warriors (presumably he’s not friends with Izlyr), and before you know it, by part six, he’s gone mental, dragging around Thalira like a sack of spuds, in order to get to his spacecraft and escape (to the sound of groovy bongo music from The Man Simpson). Donald Gee is actually rather good in the role, and brings a nice sense of ironic detachment to Eckersley (“Sorry chum, I’ve got too much to do!” he says when casually gunning down a grunt in part six). Facially, I can understand why people think he looks like Tom Baker, but I always thought he looked more like Jasper Carrott.
"Despite the rather tatty costumes, the Warriors are still a welcome presence, and it was a neat move to keep them in the shadows"
Another difference to Curse is that of course, the Ice Warriors are back to their nasty old habits of rule by terror. Alan Bennion is again excellent as the chief Warrior. Azaxyr is more of a political schemer than Slaar or Varga, blackmailing the population of Peladon into doing things his way (and getting his Warriors to shoot some luckless guards by way of a warning). Despite the rather tatty costumes, the Warriors are still a welcome presence, and it was a neat move to keep them in the shadows (literally, in Part Two) until the surprise reveal at the end of part three. And Dudley Simpson’s eerie, howling motif for the Warriors is inspired - in fact, all of his score for the story is again fantastic. Simpson always judges each scene perfectly, with dramatic cues for the fight sequences (at least the score is effective enough for the ropey climax to part four) and some gentler ones (such as when Sarah spots a Back From The Dead Doctor at the entrance to the refinery on a screen in part five). Further evidence for Simpson being the best composer in Doctor Who history and also one of the best composers on TV, period.
The interplay between The Doctor and Sarah is good fun. There’s almost a Love/Hate thing going on here. Initially, Sarah’s spending her time moaning about the tunnels, the natives and The Doctor’s bragging about his previous trip. For all that though, it’s clear that a lot of this is said with tongue in cheek (“Name dropper!” she says at one point), and it’s also clear that she’s grown very attached to her new friend. Just look at the X amount of times that she thinks that The Doctor’s met his maker. The most obvious case is when The Doctor’s put himself into a self-induced trance to ward off the effects of Eckersley’s defence system. Teary-eyed, she stumbles into the refinery, but is shocked, angry and delighted (all at the same time) to find out that The Doctor’s still alive. It’s not quite the same reaction that Jo would have given (she’d probably just hug The Doctor like there was no tomorrow), but that affection between the two is still very much in evidence.
In fact, this is a good one for Sarah. There’s that rather charming scene where she finds herself regretting her abruptness towards Alpha Centauri, gently apologising for her behaviour and making friends with the hermaphrodite hexapod. She also makes plans to gang up against the Ice Warriors with Thalira and Ortron, and also tells the Queen about Women’s Lib. Yes, it’s totally clunky and just a token way of broadcasting about a topical issue of the day, but Elisabeth Sladen’s charming delivery makes Sarah sound totally sincere without being too OTT.
"Taken on its own rather than as “Poor Man’s Curse”, the story at least, is entertaining and easy to follow. Even though the direction isn’t as strong as it could be"
And Jon Pertwee makes the most of his penultimate story, combining his usual mix of dignity, warmth and authority to great effect. He’s clearly established a great rapport with Sladen, the two indulging in barbed banter throughout.
I actually quite like The Monster Of Peladon. Taken on its own rather than as “Poor Man’s Curse”, the story at least, is entertaining and easy to follow. Even though the direction isn’t as strong as it could be, with one or two over-ripe performances, at least there’s the designs, the nasty Ice Warriors, the incidental music and The Doctor/Sarah interplay to enjoy. Overall, nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.