'Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon' Can Be Rather 'The Phantom Menace'-Like, Only More Fun

There are lessons and simple summaries of good and evil, but stories like The Monster of Peladon delivers them almost without notice.

Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Nina Thomas, Donald Gee, Rex Robinson, Frank Gatliff
Network: BBC
Release Date: 2010-05-04

I’m still learning to watch Doctor Who. As a novice with just a few serials under my belt, I’m struck by what seems to be a total absence of the tidy moral lesson at the end of the story, or even of the humorous tag like those seen at the end of most episodes of the original Star Trek. There are lessons and simple summaries of good and evil, but stories like The Monster of Peladon deliver these almost without notice. They slip in over the course of the episodes, and maybe the viewer can’t easily articulate what they’ve learned, but the lesson is still there.

In this story, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) revisits the planet Peladon 50 years after the events of “The Curse of Peladon” to find the King dead and his daughter, Thalira (Nina Thomas), ruling in his place. Thalira’s position is only ceremonial due to her being a female, she says. The real power lies with Chancellor Ortron (Frank Gatliff), a dastardly aristocrat with a striped red and white beard and flowing purple robes.

When the Doctor and his companion Sara Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive, a dispute is brewing between the aristocratic class and the working class miners. Working conditions are bad and wages are low for the miners, and they’re unhappy about mining a special ore that will help the Galactic Federation in its war with Galaxy Five. Relations between the aristocrats and miners deteriorate further when a ghostly apparition of the Peladonian holy beast Aggedor (Nick Hobbs) appears in the mines and beings killing the workers. Sarah and the Doctor investigate and uncover a conspiracy that threatens the lives of all the citizens of Peladon.

The debate between the miners and aristocrats brings to mind the political nonsense that composed the plot to the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. There are talks of embargoes and labor strikes, hardly the kind of thing one would generally associate with exciting science fiction. Here, though, there are plenty of double crosses and unlikely team-ups, as well as humor, something sorely missing from The Phantom Menace.

The action, cramped sword fights between the furry-headed miners and the Queen’s soldiers, has a clumsy realism that balances out all the political intrigue. Much of the action takes place off screen, creating a palpable sense of action that permeates every scene.

The Monster of Peladon is broken into six episodes instead of the usual four, giving the story more time to develop and allowing the plot to continue to twist toward its resolution. The cliffhanger structure of each episode gives the story a propulsive feeling, but the length of the story at times overwhelms the plot. The Doctor is believed dead not once but twice in the six episodes, a move designed to wring a few more scenes out of the story as it’s winding down.

As the story continues, the miners and the aristocrats join forces against corrupt Federation representative Azaxyr (Alan Bennion) and Eckersley (Donald Gee), the engineer in charge of extracting the ore from the mountains of Peladon. Sarah Jane, looking like a cross between Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde, gives Thalira a lesson in women’s liberation -- “There’s nothing only about being a girl!” -- giving the Queen the will to stand up for herself and her people.

There’s a great beat at the end in which the Doctor advises the Queen to invite Gebek (Rex Robinson), leader of the miners, to replace the deceased Chancellor Ortron. When the Doctor and Sarah leave, Thalira calls to Gebek. He turns to her and says, “Yes, your Majesty?” and the camera cuts away. We know what happens, of course, but are spared any platitudes about equality and the meaninglessness of class or rank. Again, the lesson is there, but it’s up to the viewer to learn it.

This is a big and sprawling story. Some themes -- sexism, tradition versus progress -- are dropped then picked back up before being resolved or abandoned entirely, giving the impression the story might have gone in a completely different direction if time weren’t an issue. The Monster of Peladon is an exciting story that, despite a few stumbles, never falls into the narrative traps in its way.

Bonus features include a lengthy making-of featurette, audio commentary with Nina Thomas, Donald Gee and others, as well as an appreciation of script editor and Doctor Who novelist Terrance Dicks.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.