The Monster of Peladon

Written by:
Brian Hayles
Directed by: Lennie Mayne
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1974
Video Availability: Try

Fair enough, Brian Hayles was contracted to write this story, but even Terry Nation doesn't take the piss this much. Essentially Curse padded out to two more episodes, it's a desperate attempt by Barry Letts to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Curse was, as I commented at the time, one of those stories that clearly shouldn't work, yet does. Such a freak effect can perhaps only be achieved once, and does indeed prove to be the case here.

Often it just comes down to circumstance, and the way in which Hayles has to follow up his earlier work. In Curse they had the novel twist that the Ice Warriors, second-tier villains of the late 60s, were reintroduced as the good guys. In order to repeat such a twist Monster gives us the villains who were heroes… are now villains again. As twists go, it doesn't really work, does it?

Yet despite all of this, Monster isn't really so bad as its reputation, or as I initially thought. When I first watched it, I thought it was the most interminably tedious Doctor Who story ever produced - and being boring is a crime Who rarely made. Yet once you know what to expect, it's easy to brace yourself for the misery that season eleven's weakest story holds.

It begins with miners that resemble amazingly camp badgers. Maybe zebra afros were all the rage in 1974, but a reheated Alpha Centuri and a ginger fish-face don't a decent sequel make. At least they keep continuity by having the King's daughter lisp. She's a simpering sap but I definitely would. It's pure endurance test this story, though. I can't give you any real plot details or observations as every minute involves me taking gasps for air and drinking caffeine to bolster myself until the end. Can you imagine if they released this one onto DVD? The commentary would just be people snoring as one by one they lost consciousness.

It's alarmingly anorakky, with lots of references to a story that was two years old, a long time in TV terms. What amazes though is that while Curse was clearly filmed in a set it didn't look all that like one. Well…. much. You know what I mean. This never loses its sense of artificiality, possibly due to the harsh lighting. Of note is Sarah's out of character "for Heaven's sake, man!" and the scene where the miner bursts in, with him, Sarah, Eckerslike and Alpha talking over each other's lines. Stop building up your part, Lis, you daft bint, it's somebody else's turn. And look out for Jon apparently mouthing "what the bloody Hell is it?" at the climax.

One thing I will say about the season overall is that, amazingly, Jon does manage to act in all five stories. I know this shouldn't be a selling point, but after his no-shows in stories like Planet of the Daleks and The Mutants, this is something of a feat. Sure, this is weakest turn of season eleven, but he still tries a little. And let's be honest, if Jon does nod off from time to time in Monster… can you really blame him?
* ˝

So hackily written you half expect to see the words "Terry" and "Nation" in close proximity during the credits, the direction by Lennie Mayne is also alarmingly blocked and stagy. It tries to go for some unusual angles, but they're all so stoicly set up it defeats the object.

You know, I'd pay anyone who could watch this story all in one go a million pounds. Not literally, obviously, but if I met such a person I'd certainly shake them by the hand. My plan was to get through the story as quickly as possible - sort of like ripping off a plaster in one go to limit the pain - by watching it in two blocks of three. We're only three minutes into episode two and I'm already losing the will to live.

What is the point of the King's/Queen's champion not being able to speak anyway? And talking of "points" this is nominally supposed to be about the then real-life miner's strike, though as it's so half-hearted and overstated I won't even bother to mention it. Well, except for just now when I mentioned it, obviously.

Doctor Who can be bad. In Jon's era alone then The Three Doctors often makes me want to kick the screen in. But the widely acknowledged "turkeys" nearly all have one thing in common - they might be bad, but they're never dull. I can't even explain why this one is so will-sappingly stupefying, either. You'd think a story with a bright green alien, some skunk-haired miners and flames everywhere would do anything but make you nod off.

The Doctor claims to be starting his "investigations" here, but the detection element of the original doesn't really come across, not helped by what seems like the two hundreth stunt fight this episode. And - tolerate or loath them - you have to admit that Jon and Katy did have a good rapport. Did Sarah and Jon? As this is the fourth story in a row where they're separated (a Who staple, I know, but it seems more pronounced in season eleven) then we never get to find out. So with no real Doctor/Companion interaction there's little for the viewers to identify with. Is there a plot in this episode? God knows.
* ˝

For a six-episode story then the fact that this only appears to have about three sets is not a positive sign. The pit entrance down which the Doctor and Sarah have been thrown was a bit of old plywood, while Jon even sings his Venusian lullaby out of tune so bored is he with events. Some might say that the beast of Aggedor being the cliffhanger is flat given that we already know he's friendly, but who am I to judge? And check out the scene where we see the Queen, the Chancellor and Alpha looking down, supposedly from the Doctor's viewpoint. Yet the upright position of the statue proves that it's a head-on shot framed with a tunnel effect to appear that way - unless the statue was looking down the tunnel with them too, of course. All of which may seem like quibbling, but just illustrates the slap-dash attitude taken to proceedings. The following episode features the most obvious stunt double in the entire history of Who (23'14 minutes in, Anorak fans!), while a hole in a door that's been burnt through appears and disappears and you can see the boots on Aggedor when he dies. (Both episode six).

There's one of those interminable scenes here where the miners stand around debating the issues of the story, while this is the second story in a row to be heavily corridor-based. ("Could it be… the SAME corridors?") Alpha Centauri's no fun without a straight man to play off, and the Queen lacks the acting gravitas to hold her central position. The Doctor distracts a guard by doing a trick with a coin coming out of his mouth. What's that? He did exactly the same thing in Colony in Space? Terrance Dicks has run out of script-editing ideas? Surely not!

Thankfully, the Ice Warriors appear at the end of this one, meaning that the rest of the story might be able to climb to the lofty level of only extremely crap.
* ˝

I'm doing these reviews from UK Gold, and for some reason they've omitted over five minutes of material between the end of episode three and the start of this one. It makes little sense, but by removing some of the story you feel UK Gold are at least being humane.

There's plenty more mine scenes in this one - why does it take so many men to tunnel through a bit of plywood? They should have used this story to drill through it - it's a big bore, isn't it? "We have a saying on Peladon - if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the mine." Oh good God. There perhaps is a parallel here with the Ice Warriors being an occupying force, but while my Pertwee reviews have been influenced by the before, during and after of Bush's war, this is very much after. Besides, is it disrespectful equating racoon-headed miners with the people of Iraq? Probably no more disrespectful than it seemed to the real striking miners at the time.

Etiss (Who? I know, I wasn't paying attention either) finally falls into madness this episode. Brian Watson ably enacts the harrowing onslaught of insanity in scenes that are psychologically harrowing. Sorry, I meant to say he hams it up like a mad bastard in a kid's panto, it's easy to get the two mixed up. The episode ends with that rarest of things - a two-minute Pertwee fight scene. Still, at least the sight of Terry Walsh with a silly grey rug on his head makes you smile.
* *

It's really hard to work out how padded this story is, because your mind keeps wandering while you're watching it. That speck of dust on the floor - how longs it been there? What's its life cycle like? Anyway, must focus back on the story, as arduous a task as that is. Sarah claims that the third Doctor was "the most alive person" she's met. She obviously hasn't got out much, has she? Jon's time on the show was clearly outstaying its welcome by this stage of the series, his shallow take as a "good" Doctor who "never tells lies" extremely limiting, especially in staid stories like this one. Would Tom Baker's manic energy and off-centre persona have improved this one? It's hard to imagine even Tom sparkling in dross like this, but at least he would have brought something new to the take. Pertwee is okay, but his parameters are so limited the character has become predictable.

This episode gives us the revelation that Eckerslike is a traitor, which is handy as it was obvious four episodes ago. He wants to be "the richest and most powerful man in the galaxy" apparently. Wasn't that sort of stuff dated in the 1940s? Was Alpha Centauri always so piercing and annoying? Oh well, only one more to go. Yawn.
* ˝

EPISODE SIXzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz:
Where's the charm in this story? The appeal? Possibly as a four-parter it would have been a passable Xerox of the original, but whereas before sequels had been action remakes (Terror of the Autons, The Sea Devils) here the trick is reversed by extending a fairly pacy story into six loooooooong episodes.

As with The Seeds of Death, the Doctor ends the story by massacring Ice Warriors. Okay, it's direct self-defence here, but he still doesn't show much compunction at using Aggedor to blow the mothers away. One thing I will say about the Pertwee era is that while the naff effects in high-profile stories (Terror, The Green Death, Invasion of the Dinosaurs) are noted, it's often easy to overlook the good effects in the overlooked stories. While we tend to think of the years 1971-1974 as a CSO overdose, the flying mutants in their eponymous story, or the appearances of Aggedor here are actually very well done for their time. Just little things, like the lights overdubbed around Jon's head, are quite nifty special effects considering they were achieved thirty years ago.

This one doesn't so much end as collapse in a heap of its own ineptitude. Seeing an extra dressed up in a cuddly bear suit and wrestling with the limp lead villain is hardly a fitting end. The Chief Ice Warrior is also stabbed in the Queen's throne room, and dies nobly, almost like a Greek tragedy. Well, it's a tragedy at any rate - a tragedy this it was ever made.
* ˝

A couple of times before I've said that this story is better than The Three Doctors and Planet of the Daleks because, while weak, it doesn't have the same high expectations placed against it. Yet that's clearly a nonsensical argument - if a story is bad, it's bad, regardless of the context.

A fair contender for the most boring Doctor Who story of all time, Monster is a thoroughly pointless sequel that dumps all over the memory of the original. The only plus is that it's so forgettable you can quite comfortably watch Curse without ever once thinking of this dire tedium. The worst Jon Pertwee story ever made, and a possible contender for an all-time worst top ten.
PMS: 3