Ever since my extremely positive reaction to The Curse of Peladon, I was aware that the sequel is widely considered to be a poor relation of the original. In fact, while I was still watching it a few months ago, a friend asked “is that the good one or the shit one?” But when it comes to the more unpopular serials from the classic era, my opinion rarely seems to match that of the average fan, and this is no exception.
It was reminiscent of the twist in the middle of The Ark, with The Doctor returning to a civilisation that he’s saved, only to find that everything’s much worse than when he left it. I’m always a fan of that particular time travel trope, and with the reused sets and costumes, it felt like we were straight back into the thick of it, with very little messing around. The characters were very similar, but a generation on – the well-meaning but ineffectual monarch, with the bloodthirsty evil priest as their counsel.
Alpha Centauri was also a welcome returnee, although I found him slightly more annoying this time round – it’s partly the voice, but also his knack of getting himself into trouble too often, and then instantly blabbing about The Doctor’s plans. The majority of the guest cast were superb, though – I really took to Gebek, and Eckersley made a great villain, despite his slightly silly name. But the real stars of the show were obviously the Ice Warriors.
So effective was their use as peacemakers in Curse that I genuinely had no idea which side they’d be on when they turned up this time round. In the end, I’m glad they’ve defaulted to their evil ways – they’re proper vicious bullies here, the ruthless bastards we were promised way back in their first appearance. They completely change the story as soon as they turn up, causing the miners and the nobles to forget their differences and join forces against the common enemy. It’s the kind of impact from a mid-story arrival that you’d normally associate with the Daleks or The Master – I didn’t know the Ice Warriors had it in them.
On top of all that, it’s a story with a real heart, and plenty of touching moments during the various times that Sarah thought The Doctor was dead. The way things have panned out since the start of this season, I’m not completely on board with Three/Sarah Jane as a pairing – he’s often condescending and slightly mean to her, and it’s done without much real affection – but Elisabeth Sladen is still absolutely shining through regardless. I’m looking forward to seeing her team up with Mad Uncle Tom, which is only a week away.
I really am failing to see why anyone could be particularly opposed to this story. There were a handful of dodgy moments – like the climactic fight at the end of Part 4, between Ettis and some random bloke in a grey wig – but nothing major. But really, I was always going to be on board with a story that contains a huge pro-feminism speech in the middle, and a parable of 1970s miners’ strikes that sympathises almost entirely with the working masses, and shows the Tory analogues as relentlessly evil. This show is force for good, and so are the people behind the scenes.
Oh, and there was plenty of foreshadowing going on here too – Letts and Dicks are masters of the art. I’ve not seen Planet of the Spiders in full, but I have seen the regeneration scene, so the echoes of the Third Doctor’s last words were not lost on me. Here’s hoping it’s a great send off for a great Doctor.