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11x04. The Monster of Peladon
Writer: Brian Hayles
Director: Lennie Mayne
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Doctor returns to Peladon fifty years after his first visit to the planet, where King Peladon's daughter Thalira has become the first Queen. The planet has become crucial to the Galactic Federation's war effort against Galaxy Five, since it possesses large deposits of the crucial ore trisilicate. Controversy has erupted ever since the workers in the trisilicate mine have begun seeing manifestations of Aggedor, believing that their god is angry over the Federation's alien influence. The Doctor and Sarah are drawn into the politcal conflict, which heightens even more when a ruthless crew of Ice Warriors arrive claiming to represent the Federation. In fact, these Ice Warriors and their human ally Eckersley plan to betray the Federation by providing the trisilicate to Galaxy Five.

Review: After "The Mutants" and "Frontier in Space," I find that I'm once again in disagreement with fandom's consensus about a six-part outer space Pertwee serial. "The Monster of Peladon" seems to be widely regarded as a second-rate runaround and an unworthy sequel to "The Curse of Peladon," while I actually think it's a slight impovement. Like most of Pertwee's ventures outside 20th-century Earth, this one is a fairly obvious political allegory, but the issues and conflicts are explored with enough complexity and imagination to avoid the sense of having been here and done this.

"Curse" revolved around the question of whether the conservative society of Peladon could find a comfortable place within the Galactic Federation. In "Monster," we see that Peladon has made some progress in terms of its place in this interplanetary alliance, but some of their more archaic traditions and inclinations remain. Executions still seem to be an accepted form of punishment, and Queen Thalira confides that, though she holds titular power, Peladon is still a male-dominated society and that real authority lies with the High Priest Ortron. Sarah's discussion of women's liberation with Thalira is rather abbreviated and perfunctory, but Thalira does turn out to be a strong character, eventually standing up to Ortron and maintaining the presence of mind to give the Ice Warriors false information when Ortron is later killed right in front of her. The most serious problem that Peladon faces, of course, is the dispute over the rights of the miners who are supplying the trisilicate; this dispute has played out on class-based lines, with Ortron and the aristocratic establishment fearing a threat to their power, and the more radical elements among the miners, led by Ettis, ready for full-scale revolution. In the middle stands Gebek, the formal leader of the miners who would rather negotiate than fight, but who has trouble gaining the trust of either side.

At first I thought "The Monster of Peladon" was going to be a well-intentioned but somewhat heavy-handed workers' rights fable, but it won me over by placing this issue in the context of a war involving the Galactic Federation and the resulting alien presence on Peladon. Though I sympathized with the miners' desire for better working conditions, it's clear from early on that the manifestations of Aggedor are some sort of trickery, and their fear that their god is angry about the Federation's presence comes off as slightly xenophobic. On the other hand, what seems like Peladonian xenophobia one minute later seems more like a healthy streak of nationalist independence. When the Ice Warriors attempt to impose martial law, the miners and the aristocratic faction led by Ortron join forces to resist the alien takeover. Eckersley, meanwhile, seems like the sort of ruthlessly pragmatic individual that inevitably shows up as part of any war effort. He's utterly disinterested in what he calls "local politics" and doesn't even care if people get killed as long as he gets his trisilicate -- and this is his cover. While it's clear that this story was inspired partly by real-life labor-management disputes, it also seems to be a warning against exploiting a foreign culture for material resources.

I suppose I should mention at this point that the American broadcast version of "The Monster of Peladon" differs slightly from the original, in that it omits a scene explaining that the Ice Warrior Azaxyr leads a "breakaway" faction and that Eckersley plans to rule Earth when Galaxy Five wins the war. This does clear up one point that I thought needed explanation, namely whether or not all the Ice Warriors had returned to their villainous ways, but it's also to the detriment of Eckersley, who would have been a better villain if he'd simply been selling the Federation out and not harboring any megalomaniacal plans. In a way, though, I wonder if the whole story might have been more interesting if there had been no treachery at all and the Federation had been encouraging the Ice Warriors' brutal methods for the sake of expediency, as this would have raised some thornier questions about how far a society could and should go in order to win a war. The script implicitly acknowledges this issue, in that Eckersley's indifference to the miners is apparently at least tolerated by the Federation, but by making Eckersley and Azaxyr traitors to their own people, these questions still feel unanswered at the end.

That said, the script by Brian Hayles does a nice job of forcing the characters, particularly the Doctor, to make some tough choices about when and how to fight when one is overmatched in terms of firepower. At one point, for example, the Doctor and Gebek have to stand by as Eckersley and Azaxyr kill several miners because there's simply nothing they can do to stop it, and the Doctor also has to talk the Peladonians out of immediate violent resistance to the Ice Warriors because he knows they'll all just be killed if they try it. (Speaking of which, I'm not sure if it's because they were the good guys in "The Curse of Peladon" or for some other reason, but Hayles has finally made the Ice Warriors scary and intimidating, something he failed to do in their first two appearances.) The Doctor's role in the dispute between the miners and aristocrats also reflects this theme of choosing one's battles carefully, in that he's not so much taking sides as he is just trying to avoid bloodshed and convince both sides that negotiation is in their best interests. (If anything, he's a bit too chummy with the royalists for my tastes.)

It would be fair to say that "The Monster of Peladon" is not an exemplar of original plot mechanics or three-dimensional characterization, but in a way it doesn't need to be. I can name at least six characters or pairs of characters who don't have exactly the same agenda -- Thalira, Ortron, Eckersley and Azaxyr, the Doctor and Sarah, Gebek, and Ettis -- resulting in a very complex set of conflicts with everyone but Eckersley and Azaxyr being allowed at least some degree of sympathy. Some of the characters may be little more than archetypal representations of different elements in society, and there are a number of "captures and escapes" along the way, but we almost need the formulaic aspects in order to keep track of what exactly is happening at any given moment. The numerous plot twists and shifting alliances not only keep the story moving at a basic "what's going to happen next?" level, but also reinforce the notion that the Federation's single-minded focus on obtaining Peladon's trisilicate has stirred up conflicts that they don't understand and can't control. The only plot twist that doesn't really work is to have Sarah twice think the Doctor is dead and then find out he's alive, about which not much can be said except the obvious point that it's repetitive.

One can make the case that things are resolved a little too easily in this story, between the revelation of Azaxyr and Eckersley as traitors and the apparent sudden end to the war when the Galaxy Five leaders realize that they won't be getting Peladon's trisilicate. Still, I am not so cynical that I can't enjoy a story in which the better angels prevail, and I must give Brian Hayles credit for the thought that he clearly put into the premise and for requiring the characters to make some difficult choices along the way. Season 11 is seen by some as a period of decline, but I actually see it as a rebound following a season marked by too much self-conscious ambition. I only hope the quality can be maintained as the season winds down and that the Pertwee era goes out in style.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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