Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Monster of Peladon - "No, it's not your precious Citadel at all. It's another rotten gloomy old tunnel."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Monster of Peladon - Details

Season 11, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #73) | Previous - Next | Index

It was the early 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore was fighting these battles, too!
Not embarrassed, though maybe I should be, but I rather like this one. I shouldn't and I know it. Things have been pretty dire for a while at this point, and the recycling of material by Terry Nation leading up to this sets it up for failure. Yet, there it is. "Monster of Peladon" is ranked very near the bottom in virtually every poll or list you'll find. Like io9's 229 ranking. Or this 2009 Doctor Who Magazine poll having it 179 out of 200. Polls aren't necessarily the best way of getting after which stories are really the most accomplished though, so if we turn to old standby Mr. Sandifer for his assessment, we find he heaps blistering scorn on it. The inclination leap to this story's defense dissipates as I realize the points he makes are reasonable, well-argued, and are based on a greater knowledge of the real world labor conflict that informed the story.

When it comes down to it though, and falling back on personal taste, I just didn't find this one tedious the way so many others have. What it gets wrong with its politics, I'm able to forgive by making allowances for the fact they were trying to get them right, even though they ended up being patronizing and -- at worst -- dopey and clueless. Ultimately, the miners were right, they were getting screwed. And Sarah Jane is right, the Queen doesn't need to defer to her male Chancellor because she's "only a girl." Sisters gotta do it for themselves. Sure, it makes us cringe watching it, but we're cringing because we know this never should have been something any woman would ever have to explain to another. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution didn't become law until 1920, a mere fifty three and a half years before this story was broadcast in the U.K. When Chancellor Ortron makes disparaging, sexist comments, the look on Sarah's face is priceless. Lis Sladen is never anything less that delightful, doing far more with her expressions than Brian Hayles (or Terrance Dicks) managed to do at the typewriter.

"The Curse of Peladon" wasn't exactly calling out for a revisit, especially not a few short years later. That this is, at best, redundant, strikes me as a fair assessment. But, considering it's basically the same story as the first time around, and has Lis Sladen going for it -- making the very best of some ham-handed writing -- certainly doesn't hurt. The Ice Warriors get a raw deal here, reduced to mere villains after much better treatment in "Curse," but this turn is at least lampshaded by the ones we meet here being a rebellious faction, not representatives of official Ice Warrior policy.

If nothing else, we ought to be able to at least agree that bringing Alpha Centauri back was fabulous, Eckersley was an effective and surprising villain and the miners' badger-esque hair-dos are insanely iconic, or something. Badgerlicious. Does this add up to a great episode? Oh, hell no. But it's not the outright stinker it's often labelled. When all is said and don I'll make my own ranked list, but I'm not ready to to do that for a while yet. This'll be in the bottom half, but not so near the bottom as those lists I've cited have it.

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