Thursday, 13 June 2013

Story 73 - Monster of Peladon

In which the Doctor decides to take Sarah to the planet Peladon to visit his old friend the King. The TARDIS materialises in the tunnels beneath the royal citadel, but the Doctor finds that they have arrived some 50 years after his last visit. The King is dead and his daughter, Thalira, now sits on the throne. The Federation are still present, overseeing Trisilicate mining operations. In charge of these is an Earthman named Eckersley, aided by a native of Vega Nexos, renowned mining engineers. Ambassador Alpha Centauri is also here. It is able to vouch for the Doctor when he is captured by the soldiers of Chancellor Ortron.
The mining operations are at risk, after the sighting of apparitions of Aggedor, which have struck down the miners. Vega Nexos also wants to use advanced technology - a sonic lance - but the superstitious natives are against this and suspect that Aggedor is angry with the aliens are their machines. Trouble is being stirred by a firebrand miner named Ettis. The Pel miners are being kept in check by their leader Gebek, who is a more pragmatic and reasonable man. The Federation is at war, and the mining of Trisilicate is vital, so any disruption has terrible consequences. Vega Nexos is killed by the Aggedor apparition when he tries to demonstrate the sonic lance to Thalira and Ortron. The Doctor decides to investigate and is escorted by the Queen's Champion, Blor. Aggedor appears once more and Blor is killed. The Doctor is saved by Gebek, who informs him of his peoples' woes. The Doctor has observed that the apparition is a man-made phenomenon - the projection of an image coupled with a heat ray weapon.

Relations break down further between Orton and the miners, as he tries to imprison both the Doctor and Gebek. At one point he tries to execute the Doctor and Sarah by throwing them into a pit beneath the temple. They are attacked by the real Aggedor, but the Doctor is able to subdue it through hypnotism as he had done 50 years before. Ettis leads a failed attempt to break into the armoury to steal energy weapons. Eckersly convinces Alpha Centauri to call upon the Federation for help. Whilst searching for the Doctor in the mines, Sarah stumbles upon the disused refinery control room. She is sure she sees a large figure moving around within.
A squad of Ice Warriors arrives on the planet. Commander Azaxyr is prepared to put the planet under martial law in order to get the Trisilicate mining operations up and running. Sarah informs the Doctor that the figure she had seen in the refinery was an Ice Warrior - despite their not having been summoned at that time.
The Doctor urges Ortron and Gebek to work together. If everything appears to be back to normal, the Ice Warriors should withdraw. Unbeknownst to them, Azaxyr is a member of a rebel faction who are allied with the Federation's enemies. He wants to see his people return to their belligerent ways of old, rather than act as puppets of the Federation.

Ettis steals the sonic lance and aims it at the citadel - intent on wiping out the aristocracy as well as the aliens. He does not know that Azaxyr has sabotaged the weapon. The Doctor struggles with Ettis and the machine explodes, killing the miner. Eckersley is unmasked as Azaxyr's ally. He wants wealth and power. After Ortron is killed saving Thalira, the miners are rallied by Gebek and attack the Ice Warriors. The Doctor takes control of the Aggedor apparition weapon (controlled from the refinery) and uses it against the Martians. Azaxyr is killed by the Queen's guards. Realising their plan has failed, Eckersley abducts Thalira and makes through the mines to a waiting escape ship. The Doctor uses Aggedor to track them. It kills the traitorous Earthman but dies in the struggle. Thalira offers the Chancellorship to the Doctor - but he recommends Gebek for the role.

This six part story was written by Brian Hayles, and was broadcast between 23rd March and 27th April, 1974.
It is significant for being the first proper sequel in the eleven year history of the programme. It is a general rule of thumb that sequels tend to be inferior to their originals, and this proves to be the case here.
The Curse of Peladon had been a reasonable enough story, but one often bogged down in politicking. This one has even more of it - people arguing in the mines, followed by other people arguing in the throne room, then a few more arguments in the mines. The action set pieces are a bit too few and far between.
The Ice Warriors only turn up at the end of part three, by which time we've grown a little bit too bored of the bickering Pels. Basically, the story just doesn't hold up over 6 episodes.
And all this despite a wide range of alien creatures on show. As well as Ice warriors, Alpha Centauri and Aggedor reprising from the earlier Peladon tale, we get mole-man Vega Nexos.
I saw this story on transmission, but when Weetabix did their second Doctor Who promotion - including Blor and Vega Nexos I failed to recognise either.

Vega Nexos even turned up prominently in the second DW Poster magazine. Again, I failed to recognise him - but could work out which story he came from by the background. It is likely that in the pre-VHS days I might have missed part one of this story - and Blor and Vega Nexos are confined entirely to that episode.
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have stated that, apart from The Green Death, no story was ever commissioned to have an overt current political theme. However, The Curse of Peladon obviously paralleled Britain's efforts to join the EEC, and this reflects the massive industrial unrest of the mid 1970's. Come to think of it, perhaps that's why I have no recollection of Vega & Blor - a local power cut in North Ayrshire...

It is nice to see the Ice Warriors back to their bad old ways, and Alan Bennion's Azaxyr is pretty nasty even before it is found that he is a traitorous rebel. He is quite prepared to execute hostages in order to resolve the protests. The character of Ettis just does not work at all - mainly due to Ralph Watson performance. He is just too mad for it to be likely anyone would actually heed what he says, let alone follow him. Watson had played Captain Knight in The Web of Fear (after Nicholas Courtney had been promoted to Colonel). The other villain of the piece is Eckersley, played by Donald Gee. His is a far more nuanced performance. His villainy is well enough hidden, and he comes across as someone who just wants to be left alone to get on with his job - even if this does make him quite cold towards the Doctor, Sarah and Gebek.
Nick Hobbs reprises Aggedor, and Alpha Centauri is realised once more by Ysanne Churchman (voice) and Stuart Fell (body).
Gebek is played by Rex Robinson, a regular performer for director Lennie Mayne (The Three Doctors and The Hand of Fear).

Frank Gatliff is Chancellor Ortron - a mean spirited man who keeps his queen under his thumb, but who redeems himself before the end. Things might not have changed that much for the better on Peladon with entry into the Federation, but at least the more extreme aspects of their religion have been toned down. Workers are subjugated and women regarded as inferior, but you don't get executed for blaspheming the temple any more.
Thalira (Nina Thomas) is a bit wet. Sarah has to talk her into believing in herself a bit more, with some words on Women's Liberation. There's nothing "only" about being a girl, after all.
Episode endings are:
  1. Ettis has sealed the Doctor and Blor in a cave. The apparition of Aggedor appears and strikes down Blor, the Doctor next in the firing line.
  2. The Doctor and Sarah have been cast into a pit beneath the temple. Aggedor lurches out of the shadows to attack them.
  3. The Doctor and Gebek break into the refinery - only to find an Ice Warrior already inside.
  4. Ettis activates the sonic lance. There is an explosion - killing him and, apparently, the Doctor as well.
  5. The Ice Warriors begin burning through the door to the refinery, with the Doctor, Sarah and Gebek trapped within.
  6. The Doctor and Sarah depart from Peladon.

Overall, a touch over-long with insufficient incident to really grab the viewer. It will be a very long wait indeed before we see the Ice Warriors again, and Peladon will only be revisited on audio and in the novel Legacy. I would dearly love to see Alpha Centauri brought back, using new costume and CGI techniques. The kids would love it.
Things you might like to know:
  • Continuity with The Curse of Peladon is achieved by using the same director and designer (Gloria Clayton), as well as having the recurring monsters.
  • Lennie Mayne's wife, Frances Pidgeon, is Thalira's hand maid in early episodes. She has a more prominent role is her hubby's later The Hand of Fear.
  • Max Faulkner, playing one of the Pel miners, gets quite noticeably killed twice in the same episode.
  • Terry Walsh is the Doctor! He's rather too obviously seen in the fight sequence just before Ettis gets blown up.
  • If you can't stand the heat, keep out of the mines. Always worked for me.
  • This is Frank Gatliff's only appearance in Doctor Who. He was quite a flamboyant character - usually dressing head to toe in black and sporting a cloak.
  • In The Curse of Peladon, Trisilicate comes only from Mars, whereas here Peladon is full of it.
  • One great mystery is how did UNIT manage to get hold of a picture of Sarah in the temple? Are we to assume that the Doctor takes souvenir photos of his travels in unfilmed scenes? (He got his library card picture taken in the Celestial Toyroom after all - plus a photo of Clara the Clown which he gave to the coulrophobic Sarah). If you're wondering what I'm talking about, watch the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Lost Boy.
  • Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns by the way.
  • And the fear of chopsticks is Consecotaleophobia. I mention this only as I found it next to Coulrophobia in a list of phobias... See if you can fit it into a conversation tomorrow.

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