Didn’t I tell you about my first visit to Peladon?
While monsters and villains have often made encore showings on Doctor Who, the series’ first return to a particular planet—well, one not named Earth or Skaro, at any rate—only comes in Brian Hayles’ “The Monster of Peladon” (Story Production Code YYY), reprising his “The Curse of Peladon” from Season Nine. Hayles took more than just a setting, though; he also carried over the essential plot of his earlier tale, right down to an alien scheme co-opting old Aggedor, the god-beast worshipped by the Peladonians, to acquire the feudal society’s minerals.
The original story stands out mostly for Hayles’ ingenious decision to recast his fearsome Ice Warriors as upstanding, honor-bound members of the galactic Federation, causing much consternation on the part of the Third Doctor, who has all his frankly shoddy detective work undone by their sudden bout of pacifism. Here, the Martian menaces aren’t on hand to help vouch for the Doctor after he re-appears on Peladon some fifty years after his first visit. Luckily for the Doctor, who once again is accused of rank blasphemy for entering the Temple of Aggedor (using the same secret tunnels and doors from five decades prior), the lovable mono-eyed green hexapod Alpha Centauri does show up just in time to recognize his old friend.
Along with Alpha Centauri (who hails from, um, Alpha Centauri) are the Earth engineer Eckersley and the Vegan mining specialist Vega Nexos, all overseeing the exploitation of Peladon’s precious trisilicate deposits; the mineral, used extensively in Federation technology, must be procured in great quantities to assist the Federation’s war effort against the fearsome foes of Galaxy Five (not to be confused with those from Galaxy Four). The constant, and deadly, reappearance of the “spirit” of Aggedor riles up the miners, who, no better treated now than fifty years prior, rebel against Federation influence.
Where before the young king of Peladon fought against the influence of his High Priest, who was being tricked by a Federation envoy into driving away the Federation—the better to allow the envoy’s own planet, Arcturus, to claim Peladon’s rock-bound riches—here, the young queen of Peladon fights against the influence of her Chancellor, who is being tricked by a Federation envoy into attacking the rebelling miners—the better to allow the envoy to traitorously sell the trisilicate to Galaxy Five.
But just to spice things up ever so slightly (and to fill out six long episodes), the traitor this time turns out to be…oh, you’ve probably already guessed.
The Ice Warriors are back and bad to the bone, being revealed in proper Doctor Who villain fashion at the end of the third episode. Even then, however, the Ice Warriors seem to be working on behalf of the Federation as occupation troops summoned to quell the miner uprising caused by Chancellor Ortron’s heavy-handed response to the miners’ grievances. Their true treachery doesn’t come out until near the very end of the story, when Eckersley and the leader of the Federation troops, Ice Warrior Commander Azaxyr, blurt out their scheme to sell the trisilicate to Galaxy Five.
Hayles hedges his bets here, with Azaxyr being described as part of a breakaway group inside the Ice Warrior hierarchy that desires a return to the old, warlike ways; the true Ice Warriors remain devoted members of the Federation. Eckersley, for his part, seeks only power and money by arming Galaxy Five, somehow intent on becoming ruler of Earth thereby in a logical leap even the hapless egomaniacal mathematicians of the evil League of Logicians would have trouble following.
As often happens in the six-episode stories, two good—or at least passable—plot ideas compete for narrative oxygen, with both being stunted in the end. The stronger plot in “The Monster of Peladon” focuses on the lack of progress in the lives of workers on Peladon in the fifty years since the Doctor’s last visit. Far from making a salutary difference in their condition, the Doctor’s prior involvement in the affairs of the feudal society cemented aristocratic rule over the workers, who have been brought to the brink of civil war by their treatment. The last time the Doctor made a time-leap forward in the same setting, in “The Ark,” he saw how drastically his involvement with a society changed it, albeit just from one episode to the next; Hayles glosses over the chance to explore such a realization on the Doctor’s part here.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane do both advocate for the rights of the “common” folk, and Hayles makes a point of having Sarah Jane buck against Peladon’s ingrained misogyny, exhorting the queen that though she may be “just a girl,” she’s the queen and should take charge and act like one. The Doctor consistently defends the miners while simultaneously attempting to curb their desire for bloodshed, so much so that the Chancellor throws him into a pit with Aggedor himself. (But it’s fine, because the Doctor and Aggedor are old friends.) It’s all very pat and dry, but still possessing sufficient nuance to fill four episodes with an intriguing blend of moral conundrums and plenty of sword and fist fights.
The Federation’s influence likewise is shown to have been self-serving, high minded in theory and greedy in practice; even the well-intentioned Alpha Centauri has done nothing on behalf of the miners laboring to provide trisilicate to the Federation over fifty years. Indeed, the galactic Federation remains mostly unexplored in these Peladon stories, sort of a Nation-esque organization with a generic name and no substance. Quite a few plot threads hang off the loosely woven tapestry, just waiting to be plucked.
The other plot, alas, takes precedence, featuring much running back and forth between the Throne Room, where Azaxyr threatens to kill hostages if the Peladonians don’t mine more ore; the Communications Room, where Alpha Centauri dithers with emergency circuits; and the Refinery, where the Doctor and Sarah both get a chance for psychedelic gurning as they attempt to break in and take control of the fake Aggedor, which is but a statue that can be moved via matter transference, linked to a deadly heat ray.
Once Eckersley and Azaxyr reveal their plan, the story devolves into predictable ruts, with the Peladonians papering over their differences to present a united front to the offworld invaders and the Doctor managing to use the “spirit” of Aggedor against the Ice Warriors. The Doctor here racks up a fearsome body count, or would if the heat ray utilized by the projection of Aggedor left bodies to be found. The Third Doctor directly kills more individuals in this story than in all his prior stories combined, and his indirect efforts in support of the Peladonian uprising add more to his tally. It’s really rather shocking, and not commented upon at all in the story, but still somewhat in keeping with the starker tone of the current season.
He even gets Aggedor himself killed, using the god-beast as a bloodhound to track down an escaping Eckersley. Having tamed Aggedor earlier in the story (an ability first demonstrated in “The Curse of Peladon“), the Doctor unleashes the horned creature upon Eckersley, who shoots the beast even as it delivers a fatal blow. Given the extent to which Aggedor has been worshipped, and feared, by the Peladonians, one wonders at the ease with which they run down tunnels in its actual presence and acquiesce to its use as a weapon.
In a tidy ending, the Doctor and Sarah Jane impress upon Queen Thalira the wisdom of appointing the leader of the miners, Gebek, as the new Chancellor, the old one having been killed by Ice Warriors. Though the TARDIS might have landed, in Sarah Jane’s words, “five hundred yards and fifty years off,” this time, the Doctor will leave the place a little better than he found it, with the aristocrats sharing power with the workers. Presumably, too, the Federation will moderate its presence on Peladon; the war with Galaxy Five ends as soon as their illicit supply of trisilicate from Eckersley and Azaxyr stops.
Jon Pertwee provides an adequate performance, but he seems to be going through the motions at this point. A bit of pontificating, a bit of swordplay, a bit of overacting, and that’s that, though in fairness, the script doesn’t offer him much to work with, certainly nothing he hasn’t done many a time before. His departure from the show beckons, and one would have hoped that a veteran like Hayles, with much strong work in his portfolio, could have provided a more Doctor-centric script. Other characters take up much more screen time in this one, more than one would expect for the Third Doctor’s penultimate story.
Elisabeth Sladen shoulders a fair bit of the narrative burden in this one, frequently separated from the Doctor and constantly in fear of his (and her own) life. Hayles joins the all-star list of Doctor Who writers—Malcolm Hulke, Robert Holmes, and Terry Nation—who have tried, and thus far mostly failed, to come to terms with the character of Sarah Jane Smith. They’ve all written strong female characters before, but they can’t quite get at the essence of Sarah Jane, theoretically a strong-willed, intelligent foil to the Doctor, at once pursuing her own interests as well as being concerned for the Doctor’s well being and the rightness of his cause. Nation and Hayles in particular have slotted her into the damsel-in-distress role, fearful at the unknown beyond anything ever foisted upon Liz Shaw or Jo Grant. We get much of her kindness and concern, particuarly in the scenes where her initial revulsion at Alpha Centauri’s appearance causes him great sadness and she consoles the alien, but not much of her insightful, feisty nature.
At least Hayles refers to Sarah Jane as a companion with gusto. The term comes into play frequently, usually in the construction of “the Doctor and his companion.”
Queen Thalira: The Doctor and his companion have been most barbarously treated.
Commander Azaxyr: Take the Doctor and his companion to the Communication Room.
The Doctor himself does not use the term, as he did in the last story.
For a first proper return to a planet, to see the effects of his intervention in the past, “The Monster of Peladon” doesn’t quite reach the heights it could, and time is running out, odd as that might be for a Time Lord, for the Third Doctor to have one last strong story. We haven’t long to wait for a second return to a planet, though, as Jon Pertwee’s finale takes us back to that very blue place first encountered in “The Green Death,” Metebelis 3.
(Previous Story: Death to the Daleks)
(Next Story: Planet of the Spiders)
Post 75 of the Doctor Who Project