Aired 23 March – 27 April 1974
‘The Curse of Peladon’ was one of the most important serials of Jon Pertwee’s tenure, not his Third Doctor’s first trip off of Earth but certainly the first one to create a vast and rich alien world that showed the true potential of the colourized programme’s extraterrestrial adventures. With how beloved that serial instantly became, it makes sense that Doctor Who would revisit the world of Peladon in a rare direct sequel, but ‘The Monster of Peladon’ does little new and instead seems content to revel in repetition as if celebrating the success of its predecessor.
Set some fifty years after ‘The Curse of Peladon,’ ‘The Monster of Peladon’ asks the audience of believe that Alpha Centauri is still present on the planet, that the last surviving native creature Aggedor is still alive and well, that the rare trisilicate mineral has shown up in abundance on Peladon, and that the Ice Warriors are again involved in events. All of these plot points, aside from trisilicate’s abundance, are well-trodden and were used to good effect before, but it strains credulity to suggest that all of them would coincide for another tale. The script does seem to acknowledge its lack of imagination in some instances, and the Doctor going into complete sensory withdrawal to excuse himself from much of the final episode is quite telling.
‘The Curse of Peladon’ famously gave Katy Manning’s Jo Grant a chance to truly step into the spotlight and show her bravery and guile, and thankfully ‘The Monster of Peladon’ does the same for Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith for the first time since ‘The Time Warrior.’ Even though the writers still seem a bit unsure about how to write the character, Sladen is immensely charismatic and adds wonderful personal touches to many scenes that make her a very believable and pleasant presence. This early unsteady voice may be down to struggling to write a character amidst the chaos of federations and dominions spanning galaxies rather than reacting to the danger of individuals and smaller groups that would become her familiar surroundings across from Tom Baker, but Sladen already has a firm grasp on her character than shines through regardless.
One of the most surprising elements of ‘The Monster of Peladon’ is its willingness to put the Ice Warriors back into the villainous role after their seeming rehabilitation in the earlier tale. On one hand, this bravely inverts the threat of the previous story in which the Doctor was positive that the Ice Warriors were the villains only to be proven wrong; on the other hand, even having a rebel faction of Ice Warriors responsible for the terrible events here gives credence to the Doctor’s earlier profiling and undoes almost all of the positive work put into the Ice Warriors’ redemption. This turn is simultaneously bold and odd, but the story- probably wisely- doesn’t choose to dwell on it.
Admittedly, it is a nice touch that the optimism Peladon felt about joining the Federation at first has now turned to a general sense of dismay, the Queen speaking of needing to accept both the duties and benefits of membership even as Federation soldiers occupy her planet and as the bloodshed continues. Much of the plight here was written in response to the British Miners’ Strikes of the early seventies, but this serial is unwilling to openly support or denounce the actions of those involved, trying to walk a very fine line as it evokes a sense of sympathy for the miners while suggesting that bringing about any change would be a betrayal of what has come before.
With its somewhat muddled political message, ‘The Monster of Peladon’ fails to recapture the magic of its predecessor. The production is solid and the world of Peladon is still immensely intriguing, but the repetition of previous events and characters strains credibility and makes this serial a somewhat padded walk down memory lane that doesn’t truly offer anything new.