'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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.