“Your legend appears violent and unpleasant. And rather too convenient!”
The Curse Of Peladon – starring Jon Pertwee & Katy Manning, and featuring David TroughtonThe Monster Of Peladon – starring Jon Pertwee & Elisabeth Sladen
After a paucity of Pertwee over the last few years, January’s Peladon Tales is the next classic Who release after November’s Dalek War.
There are mitigating circumstances. While the Third Doctor’s era exists complete in the archives, the episodes are a hotchpotch: some original transmission tapes (all six episodes of Monster), others as monochrome film until restored to colour by the various means of scientific sorcery evident on Doctor Who And The Silurians and Planet Of The Daleks, and then a selection of 525 NTSC re-conversions from Canadian broadcasts, including the masters for Curse Of Peladon.
Passable in the days of VHS, clips from unrestored NTSC conversions on DVD documentaries show how nasty they are on a less forgiving, large flat-panel TV. A digital process, Reverse Standards Conversion, was developed and implemented a few years ago, and applied to bits of Claws Of Axos and The Sea Devils, and all of Inferno.
Although clearly better than unprocessed material, it still wasn’t quite there, with jagged, pixelly bits that pull you out of the experience. Fortunately, restoration techniques have been further refined in the time since the release of The Sea Devils, and while your technical geek mileage may vary as much as your Who-geekery, Curse Of Peladon looks pretty spit-spot.
A proportion of the serial’s 16mm film work survived, and has been dropped in, most notably in Episode Three’s lengthy fight scene between The Doctor and Grun, for a considerable upgrade.
Special spit ‘n’ polish notwithstanding, Curse Of Peladon is the more interesting. The Doctor, seemingly having repaired the TARDIS after two years of being grounded by the Time Lords, takes her on a test drive. But things don’t go according to plan.
Final negotiations between various planets in the ‘Galactic Federation’ and the medieval, superstitious inhabitants of Peladon, ruled by King Peladon. Taking the place of the delayed Earth Delegates, The Doctor and ‘Princess Josephine… of TARDIS’ embroil themselves in a plot to derail diplomacy, with the previously treacherous Ice Warriors the obvious candidates.
Right, we’ve done Common Market.. The treatment of the Ice Warriors is Curse’s party piece, for those of us who’ve sat through stories from the 80s, muttering “if you’re not going to do anything interesting with an old villain, don’t bother bringing them back” having icy (sorry) but essentially decent delegates was quite a novelty for the time.
The Ice Warriors are taken so seriously as characters that they are the only non-Peladon guest turns to be given names. The being introduced as The Delegate From Alpha Centauri becomes ‘Alpha Centauri’, the delegate from Arcturus, ‘Arcturus’. So we never actually learn what Alpha’s name actually is – if camp Sea Anenomes even have names. I’m gonna go for ‘Bob’.
There’s a jolly wheeze where the most pompous of Doctors takes a knock to his status, as the necessary inveigling blag sees him assume the role of liege to ‘Princess Josephine of TARDIS’ and it’s a great help to Pertwee, bringing more warmth and humour after the rather too many unlikeable excesses of the previous year.
Katy Manning is, as usual, cute as a button, ditzy as space dust and utterly adorable, and she’s given some really good material. Jo Grant gets ringlets and dignity. Alongside The Green Death, it’s her best outing. David Troughton, in the third of his four Doctor Who appearances, is rounded, gentle and sensitive. One imagines the brief peck of a kiss he and Jo share might have lingered longer if redone today, swamped in piano and violins from Murray Gold rather than Dudley Simpson’s sparse electronica. Let no-one tell you that old Who was devoid of emotional character subplots when looking at the subtle, sweetly-played scenes.
Lennie Mayne doesn’t let any shoddy performances go by, but technically the direction is a bit slapdash. Considering the era, we’re spared too much CSO, which is always a mercy, and there’s a few interesting camera angles outside the norm, but there’s some odd editing at times in cuts from scene to scene that go beyond the sort of thing the Restoration Team can smooth over. And as much I’m a fan of Dudley Simpson’s scores, this isn’t his best. But even so, when all’s over, you do wish you could see more.
And… you can see more! Brilliant! Probably. So, the sequel. It’s 50 years later fictionally, two years on factually. King Peladon has passed on and his daughter, Queen Thalira (Nina Thomas) now rules the king.
Trisilicate is now being mined large-scale… but the miners are being killed by what appears to be the ghost of Aggedor, as are visiting alien species.
Alpha Centauri is back, and there’s nasty things in the basement. We have a different companion in the TARDIS, and a cold, beautiful, new title sequence, but there’s little else new. Same writer (Brian Hayles) director (Lennie Mayne), and certain guest stars, including Alan Bennion as well-differentiated Ice Lords Izlyr and Azaxyr, Sonny Caldinez as their Ice Warrior deputies, Ysanne Churchman as the sublimely filthy-looking hermaphrodite gherkin, Alpha Centauri, and Nick Hobbs as cuddly, horny old Aggedor. All together now, “Klokleda partha menin klatch, arroon, arroon arrooooon!”
Well, okay, there’s a bit more. Rex Robinson is most noticeable as Gebek, in the second of three Doctor Who appearances (The Three Doctors and The Hand Of Fear complete the triad, all directed by Mayne.)Robinson’s got that natural conviction about him that makes him worth watching. There’s another Who returnee, too. Donald Gee was in The Space Pirates. Gee seems to have been going for a detached and pragmatic vibe in playing Eckersley, but he comes across as rather flat onscreen most of the time. Still, he contributes a likeable commentary and very enthusiastic narration to a couple of featurettes.
Like most sequels, Monster Of Peladon just isn’t in the same league as Curse. Objectively, tone words are ‘slow,’ and ‘repetitive’. Beyond the returnees, for Geoffrey Toone’s Hepesh see the remarkably similar, if thinner-faced Frank Gatliff as Ortron. For Grun, read Blor.
And then there’s the repetition within: the miners go on the warpath and are tamed by Gebek every so often, everyone spends an awful lot of time in the monitoring room, flicking security cameras. It’s still probably tighter than Planet Of the Spiders, coming after, and marginally smarter and better played overall than the preceding Death To The Daleks.
I’d contest the accusation that Pertwee’s going through the motions, on marking time. He has this effortless quality but in the right way. I’d also forgotten how different Sarah Jane can seem depending on which Doctor and producer she’s with.
Her grief over the Doctor’s apparent death at one point draws great praise from commentators and this viewer alike. Less mannered and worldly wise than her Sarah Jane Adventures intepretation, still slightly out of her depth and a little more abrasive than the more experienced adventurer of later years, the bobbed, leather-jacketed, stroppy-yet-vulnerable version of Sarah Jane gives Monster that bit of freshness it needs.
Featurettes are a diverse and serviceable mix. There’s a principal two-part documentary, split by theme (production and characters) rather than story. Like What Lies Beneath on The Silurians, clips from the news of the times puts the story into context, without the rather patronising devices of The Perfect Scenario on the Dalek War set.
Seeing substantial commentary and interview footage with Barry Letts and Chris D’Oyly John so soon after they passed away make for a slightly melancholy experience, but is welcome nevertheless. Elisabeth Sladen is notable for her absence on Monster, and we don’t have David Troughton for Curse either. It’s not up to the standard of the best Ed Stradling or John Kelly pieces, and I wasn’t keen on some of the music used, but it does the job.
There’s a lovely fan commentary on the fourth episode. Rob Shearman, Toby Hadoke, Kate Du-Rose, Mark Aldridge and Philip Newman give us a collectively erudite and witty fan analysis, and while the less well-known names perhaps defer to the pro-fans, everyone gets a little chance to be an ambassador for the nice side of fandom. Toby also moderates the rest of the commentary participants, and does a great job as usual, with well-researched prompts and facts for every occasion.
The last time we had one of these was on Survival, unless you count the Gardner, Collinson and Tennant Easter egg on The Five Doctors. It’s a fun bonus and I’d welcome more, on any of the good, bad and ugly stories left.
Sides include Warriors Of Mars, an overview of the Ice Warriors which boasts Alan Bennion and Sonny Caldinez, as well as archive audio interview with Bernard Bresslaw, Jon And Katy, whichlooks at the relationship between the leads and is a warm tribute to this lovely popular pairing.
It’s not the only time there’s a sense of déjà vu on the discs; the On Target series, begun with Malcolm Hulke for The War Games release, returns with a look at Terrance Dicks’ contributions to the Target novelisations series.
Long term collectors might recall something similar on The Horror Of Fang Rock. That’s not to say there’s nothing new here, though. It’s the best feature here along with the fan commentary, for Paul Cornell’s query on pleasant, open faces, and for the discussion of Dicks’ plot-hole fixing. It makes you long for him to novelise some of the new series stories and buff up the undernourished plots.
Bits and pieces include a brief interview with Alpha-female Ysanne Churchmann ( from Where Are They Now) and there’s a fun little Easter egg I won’t spoil.
The Production Notes, usually unsung heroes of these DVDs anyway, are top-tier, witty and informative, keenly aware that Monster needs all the help it can get.
It should come as no surprise that Centauri’s appearance on the notorious Black And White Minstrel Show does not appear, but you can find it on YouTube if you’re that curious.
Finally there’s Ian Scoones’ original storyboard for the rock fall sequence, cut together as a nice little bonus. The Coming Soon trailer, ever-slick, is for The Masque Of Mandragora.
The Curse Of Peladon: The Monster Of Peladon: Discs:
Doctor Who: Peladon Tales will be released on January 18 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.