The Monster of Peladon

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.

RATING: 9

The Curse of Peladon

Where did that come from? Out of nowhere, having not anticipated anything particularly special, this was one of my favourite serials in a long time. I think the element of surprise is a huge factor – it’s so far removed from the rest of Pertwee’s tenure so far that the Brig et al don’t even get so much as a cameo. Suddenly the TARDIS is fine again (or seemingly so, before a bit of Time Lord-shaped handwaving at the end), and the Third Doctor and Jo are happily swanning around in an alien setting like it’s an everyday thing. Such a great, affectionate dynamic between these two.

It was all about confounding expectations, this story, not least when it comes to the Ice Warriors. It was a bold move to turn previously ruthless killing machines into reformed good guys, and I spent the whole serial expecting it to be a bluff, but no. The expectation of a twist that doesn’t come is sometimes better than an actual twist. The murder-mystery-esque aspect of this was particularly enjoyable – a proper whodunnit to almost rival The Web of Fear.

The success hinges on the quality of the Federation delegates. Unlike the interchangeable ragtag posse from The Daleks’ Master Plan, this lot all had memorable designs and distinctive personalities, with the morally ambiguous Ice Warriors joined by motorised shrunken head Arcturus, and the squeaky-voiced penis-shaped coward Alpha Centauri. It’s a shame that they’re all the same colour, but that’s what you expect from an all-powerful political alliance.

The humanoid Peladonians were all good too, especially the evil priest, here playing the role of what would now be a UKIP supporter in the surprisingly understated EU allegory. Troughton Junior is also good as the slightly wet king, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Jo Grant, or Princess Josephine as she’s known here. The running subplot of her relationship with Peladon (the king who inexplicably shares his name with his planet) could so easily have been an unwelcome distraction, but Manning is such a fine actress, and Jo such a strong character, that it ends up becoming a highlight.

Never more so than in that final scene, where Jo has to make a heart-breaking decision about whether or not to stay behind. This whole serial could so easily have been leading up to her departure – all the signs were there for a classic marrying-a-bloke-you’ve-just-met exit, and there was a definite sense that she’d come of age by being so capable and useful on what was only her second TARDIS trip.

But I’m very glad she’s staying – she’s already one of the best companions ever, and there’s so much more still to come.

RATING: 10

The Seeds of Death

Sometimes, I get to a serial title that I recognise as being iconic, but with very little prior knowledge of what to expect. I therefore assume that it’s either notoriously good or notoriously shit. The last time that happened was The Celestial Toymaker, and that turned out to be bobbins. So what would I make of this one?

I bloody loved it. So much fun, with a bonkers plot that proved to be absolutely gripping – I found myself wanting to watch the whole lot back to back, but I stayed strong. There’s so much to enjoy here. The TARDIS lands in a space museum (not *The* Space Museum), then the Doctor flies a bloody big rocket to a moon base (not *The* Moonbase). This is a joy – to see him flapping about trying to do “proper” space travel. Later on, he spends a good fifteen minutes having a one-man foam party. It’s a good serial for Troughton faces.

The Ice Warriors are so much better than their slightly underwhelming first appearance. Not that they were rubbish before, it was just that I didn’t feel the execution matched the description. Here, though, they’re a lot tougher – seemingly unstoppable at times, despite only being able to shoot straight when they were aiming at guest characters. Having different ranks of Ice Warrior worked really well, as it gave their actions more structure, and allowed for their complicated plan to be communicated properly.

I enjoyed the slow reveal of this plan, with all the various measures they had to take in order to make Earth hospitable for them, and our heroes thwarting them one-by-one. One thing I didn’t quite buy was how T-Mat (another bit of the mythology making its debut) had eradicated all forms of transport despite there only being machines in a handful of world capitals. Did the whole of the UK just relocate to London?

That’s a nitpick, though – I happily accepted it whilst watching, largely because I was engrossed by the quality of the directing. It’s so easy to lump all the black and white stuff together, but by this stage we’re really seeing work that wouldn’t look out of place later on in the original run, were it not for its lack of colour. Michael Ferguson’s work is stylish and pacey, and – combined with some great music – creates a menacing and gripping atmosphere.

The supporting characters are good too, particularly the doddery old rocket scientist and Fewsham, who really is a brilliant example of a slimy, cowardly shit. It seems like a lot of elements came together for this one, but really I think what’s setting this season apart is the fantastic combination of lead characters. I’ve banged on about Zoe endlessly, but her presence is also bringing out the best in Jamie – while she’s close to being The Doctor’s intellectual equal, that’s pushed Jamie to be his equal in terms of nous, bravery and moral fibre.

He’s learned all of this from the man himself, and we’ve been there every step of the way. I’ve spent so long thinking about how I’m going to miss Troughton, I’ve only just realised that I’m *really* going to miss Jamie too. He’s like no other companion – the sheer length of his tenure has made him feel so integral to the show.

But still, I won’t have to worry about that for another couple of weeks. Next up – the last of the recons…

Oh, one last thing. I had no idea that this was an Ice Warrior episode until I took the DVD out of the Revisitations slipcase and saw one on the cover. (Lovely cover as well, if you’re reading, Clay.) It’s completely and utterly unavoidable, but it’s a shame that it’s not possible to be completely spoiler-free for this journey. I’d love to know how long it would have taken me to figure out the surprise. Now I’ll never know if I was wrong.

RATING: 8

The Ice Warriors

Aaaand I’m back, with the rare sight of a custom title sequence, suggesting that this should be approached as being a very special episode. So is it?

Well, the premise and setting are brilliantly compelling. Human race develops artificial food, has no need for vegetation, destroys plantlife just for the extra space, and unwittingly triggers an ice age. Scientifically questionable, but it does the job of keeping your interest. Less successful is the anti-computer moral weaved throughout – similar ground to The War Machines, but because the message is over-egged, it feels more dated as a result.

Getting on board with the concept wasn’t an issue, but after a while I found my attention waning. Admittedly, this could be entirely down to me – between a  Red Dwarf convention, being busy at work and staying up for 27 hours straight to watch the election coverage, it’s not been the ideal environment to follow a 1960s-paced story. But even so, it definitely could have been tighter – there are a couple of episodes where all parties just stand around speculating about what the others might do, rather than doing anything useful themselves.

Another issue I had was that the main three characters are mostly kept separate throughout most of the story. It allows for some good moments – particularly the various traumas that Jamie goes through – but I really like the three of them as a team. We got a good glimpse of some flirty bantz between Jamie and Victoria at the start, and I want more of that kind of thing.

As for the eponymous Ice Warriors themselves, I liked them, but I wasn’t particularly blown away. They look good and imposing, but they need a little something extra – much was made of how ruthless they are, but this was largely told to us rather than shown to us. Plus, their whispery, hissing voices were a little bit annoying. (As was the computer voice by the usually excellent Zippy.) But I’m looking forward to seeing them again, to see if they can improve in their second outing as much as the Cybermen did.

On the plus side – and it’s a very big plus – Peter Motherfucking Sallis. Those warm, reassuring tones are instantly recognisable, and instantly create the impression of a likeable and trustworthy character. I recognised the voice before the face – I think I was thrown because despite the fact that this was nearly fifty years ago, he is still by no means a young man here!

Coming up next, I become incredibly grateful that I didn’t start this project a couple of years earlier…

RATING: 7