27 January 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 392: The Monster of Peladon, Episode Four

Dear diary,

You know the stakes in a story are pretty dire when the Doctor regenerates! I was as shocked as you. For years, I’ve always thought that the Third Doctor dies at the end of Planet of the Spiders, but here, during the fight against Ettis, Jon Pertwee hangs up his frilly shirt, and a new actor takes on the part of the new incarnation…

TERRY WALSH IS THE DOCTOR!

Oh, ok, I’m being unfair. I think Jon Pertwee’s back problems had a pretty major impact on his final season in the role, so it’s no great surprise that we see Walsh jumping in to help out during this final battle. That said, it is a pretty clear shot we get of his face, isn’t it? I can’t remember the last time we got such a full-on view of a Doctor’s stand-in.

Still, that’s a minor quibble really because - and make sure you’re sitting down, because you’ll need to be - I bloody loved this episode. Literally, right from the start I was gripped. I try usually to give my full attention to the episodes when I watch them (long term readers may recall that in the early days of the Diary, my getting distracted away from an episode was a sign of it being a bit poor), but sometimes they’re on while I do other things. Today’s plan was to set up the episode on the computer and watch it while I folded some washing. Both things were chores, I thought (although Monster of Peladon is turning out to be far less of a chore than I’d been anticipating), so it made sense to do them together.

As I sit down to type out this entry, I’m only a few minutes from the end of the episode. Sometimes I’ll muse over what to write for some time - hours in some cases! - and other times, I just can’t wait to get sat down and start spilling all my thoughts out. Somewhere behind me, a single bit of washing has managed to get folded, because I’ve been too caught up in the events on Peladon to really care about anything else that needs doing.

It’s just so tense all of a sudden. It’s as though the Ice Warriors have turned up and made this into a proper drama. Of course, I knew that they’d be arriving in the story at some stage - though I was surprised to see it be so late - but it still made a nice surprise for me at the end of yesterday’s episode when they emerged from behind a door to confront the Doctor. I’d assumed, the first time Sarah saw something hiding in the refinery, that it was an Ice Warrior. ‘Ooh, clever,’ I’d thought - largely sarcastically - ‘this time the Ice Warriors are back to being the bad guys!’

But then all the stuff had cropped up about calling in some kind of peace-keeping force from the Federation and it rapidly became clear that these would be the Ice Warriors. Ok, I thought, so it’s a rebel faction on the planet? Or maybe it wasn’t an Ice Warrior at all? But no, it’s far more interesting than that. All these Ice Warriors seem to be in league with each other, and it’s all part of some greater scheme, which I’m not entirely privy to yet.

And then you’ve got Azaxyr. To say that he’s rapidly become my favourite Ice Warrior to ever appear in the programme would be an understatement (he even has to compete with the surprise cameo appearance of Big Head Ice Warrior later in this episode). He’s cold and calculating, he’s got some of the greatest dialogue in the story so far, and Alan Bennion is turning in a fantastic performance. Bennion was also under the mask of Slaar in The Seeds of Death, and Izlyr during our last excursion to Peladon, but I can’t remember him making such an impact during either of those stories as he does here.

Some of his dialogue should really be considered quite clichéd, but I’m lapping it all up. A particular favourite has to be ‘’You forget, Doctor, I am your judge. Your jury and your executioner, too… perhaps”. Rubbish, yes. In any other situation I’d probably be complaining about just how typical that line is at a time like this… but I loved it. So beautyfully delivered, and his later channeling of Judge Dredd (several years before 2000AD) is just as great.

But even aside from Axaxyr, the rest of the story has taken a very dark turn. The Miners taking control of the Federation’s weapons has - until now - been the biggest threat in the story, but then they’re gunned down by the Ice Warriors moments after storming the throne room. We’ve reverted to the 1960s style of Ice Warrior weaponry, too, so we get a nice ‘pinch’ effect when their hit by a shot. The whole thing is done so quickly, and so emotionlessly, that it makes a real impact. Until now, the Miners haven’t really been more than a group of characters that all merge into one beneath their wigs for me, but suddenly I actually care that we’ve lost so many of them.

They get their revenge, though. The idea of turning up the heat and then overpowering the Warriors has been going on for as long as they’ve been a part of the programme, but here the Ice Warrior guards aren’t just overpowered, we actually get a shot of the Miners beating one to death! Oh, of course, that’s not made explicit, but the way the creature lays on the ground as a group of men crown round and attack it with various primitive weapons leaves little other alternative to the imagination.

And then you’ve got Ettis becoming a terrorist. I’ve mused before that the Peladon stories are more political than many Doctor Who tales, but dear god! The way he explains his plan to turn the high-tech mining equipment on the citadel and destroy everyone - which, we’re reminded, will include all the women and children as well as the Queen and the Federation members - is terrifying. The man’s gone completely mad, and it’s a very dark theme for the story to bring in. That he then tries to kill his friend in an attempt to stop the information leaking out just makes it even more gloomy.

People often talk about the rapidly-approaching Hinchcliffe and Holmes era of the programme being ‘dark’ and ‘gothic’, and while I’m sure that’s of evidence throughout their time in charge (I’ve not seen enough to comment yet), this is the first time that I’ve ever seen Doctor Who do something quite so dark, or quite so close to reality. Of course, we’ve got the wigs and the Warriors and the Hermaphradite Hexapods, but there’s a real undercurrent of 1970s politics in all this that makes it genuinely quite scary. I never thought I’d say it about an episode from a Peladon story, but this is one of the very best bits of drama that the programme has ever given us.

 

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