Doctor Who #372: The Monster of Peladon Part 1

"I'll say one thing for your friend the Doctor, he's got quite a knack of talking himself out of trouble." "Mmm, just as long as he hasn't talked himself into a whole lot more."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Mar.23 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor brings Sarah Jane to Peladon, but it's been 50 years since his last visit and the Spirit of Aggador is killing miners.

REVIEW: Going back to past successes, the Doctor (or rather, writer Brian Hayles) returns to Peladon, and though everything looks familiar, there sure are a lot of new faces. In fact, the Doctor will have to play the game of proving his friendship to the new guest cast, just as he had that of The Curse of Peladon. Instead of King Peladon, there's his daughter Queen Thalira, who just like her dad aspires to Federation ideals and proves a gracious host. There's a new high priest, but Ortron seems even more pig-headed and potentially crooked than Hepesh, constantly silencing anyone with anything relevant to say. There's a new mute Champion, even bigger than the first, and the same exact Alpha Centauri who finally vouches for the Doctor (even though he was pretty much impersonating an ambassador in the story 50 years prior). So it's certainly fun to see Alpha again, but everyone else is a bit of a copy of the more complex we saw before. I'd say there are problems with the newer characters too. The rebelling miners are wearing terrible "badger" wigs that makes them less credible than they should be. The ambassador from Vega has been designed to look like a mythological satyr, so of course he has to be the one to call others superstitious (he dies). And Eckersley is just your typical company man working the mines for the Feds. No character there as yet.

The story probably suffers from being well divorced by now from the current events that inspired it. The infamous miners' strike in 1970s UK is even more difficult to see as subtext by viewers outside that country. I only know about it because I know a fair bit of Doctor Who lore. As it is, Peladon's miners, who haven't seen much of a hike in life style since the still-feudal Peladon (though nice to see the Queen is a woman of the people and deigns to go down to the mines) signed a treaty with the Feds, are afraid to use sonic lance technology because the spirit of Peladon invariably shows up and disintegrates people. It's not quite the murder mystery of the original story, though once again, agents of Galaxy 5 (whether that's a place or a group) seem to be behind it. I suppose we can return to Earth again and again without it seeming redundant, but an alien planet seen twice has a lack of freshness, even if director Lennie Mayne makes good use of its space, shoots it from above, etc. It's still the same old place with the same old character types and the same old kind of plot.

The one truly new element in this story is Sarah Jane, experiencing Peladon for the first time. Of course, Hayles writes her more than a little like Jo, a bit impertinent while before the local royalty, and gets pushed around harshly for it, but Lis Sladen brings a lot to it above and beyond the scripted word which makes her performance worth watching. Sarah still isn't used to alien creatures, and even after warming to Bellal on Exxilon, she is repulsed by Alpha Centauri. But once she realizes she's hurt its feelings, she immediately feels bad about it and comforts the poor hexapod. It's rather sweet and comical. There are, in fact, a number of gentle moments of humor peppered throughout the episode. Sarah's assessment of the Doctor's ability to find trouble. The Doctor swallowing hard at the sight of the gigantic Queen's Champion. Alpha checking with the Doctor as to whether it's right to call Sarah Jane a "female". It is in these brief moments the episode finds its sweet spot.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A bit stale, though the regulars make the best of it. And always nice to visit with Alpha Centauri.

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