Monthly Archives: December 2017

Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part six)

Well, that was certainly flawed, but that’s a much better story than its poor reputation suggests. Anybody who thinks it’s actually worse than “Death to the Daleks” is as wrong as it’s possible to be. Our son was laughing and cheering all throughout this episode as the Ice Warriors are routed. He really enjoyed this one, and says that after being a little confused in the middle of the story, he loved the ending. Like “Dinosaurs,” it certainly should have been a four-parter. I’m predisposed to enjoy anything with Ice Warriors, and from a structural standpoint, the story’s biggest problem is treading water until they show up. It does begin and end well.

Another problem is a cosmetic one. Marie mentioned how she was constantly distracted by the weird paint job on Commander Azaxyr’s helmet, and she’s right. It’s meant to suggest the mottled skin of his jaw, but she’s right: it looks like they had a light green plastic helmet and not enough dark green paint to give it a solid coat. Disbelief is never suspended long enough to stop thinking that.

And Peladon itself remains one of the least convincing alien environments in the history of the series. After ten episodes, we never saw any of the court officials that are mentioned, never visited a banquet hall, receiving room, private royal chambers, museums, public hall of worship, or saw any historical artifacts or paintings on the walls, or anything that says “this belongs to the planet” other than the small throne room, a private shrine, and a corridor or two. Most bafflingly, we never see an actual entrance to the citadel that the people of Peladon would actually use under regular conditions. The only way anybody moves from one environment – the castle – to the second one – the tunnels and mines – is through a secret entrance which, in the first story, the king didn’t believe existed.

Bizarrely, the king didn’t know anything about the tunnels, but in this one, we learn there’s a whacking huge hole in the back of the throne room that connects with them! King Peladon never noticed a draft?

Somehow, though, Peladon caught fans’ imagination in a crazy way. I swear, once upon a time, there must have been more fanfic set on Peladon than any other planet in the show. I should know; I wrote one of them myself. I was fourteen or fifteen, it was called “The Attack on Peladon,” and it had the fourth Doctor and Leela in it. I struggled to have the Doctor explain his different face to Alpha Centauri, as did writer Gary Russell, whose professionally-published novel Legacy for Virgin Books’ New Adventures line covered the same Aggedor-Centauri-Ice Warriors footsteps as a hundred amateur stories.

Peladon was the last contribution to the series for writer Brian Hayles, who moved on to other screenwriting jobs after this adventure. One of his best known films is Warlords of Atlantis, which we plan to watch in 2018. And it’s also, strangely, the final appearance of the Ice Warriors for an extremely long time. They won’t trouble the next seven Doctors! They appeared in four serials over seven seasons. That’s tied with the Daleks for second place behind the Master. That’s partially the list-making kid in me coming out, but I mention it to illustrate how odd it was that they vanished from the show, even understanding that the program’s next two producers would turn out to be far less interested in revisiting old enemies than other people in that job. They went from reliably showing up every couple of years to almost totally forgotten.

We were spared a return visit in 1986. “The Trial of a Time Lord” replaced six stories that were in various stages of pre-production. One of these was a misbegotten mess called “Mission to Magnus,” and the Ice Warriors were one of at least three villains in it. The writer novelized his script for Target Books’ The Missing Episodes line in 1990. I only read it once, but wanted to throw it across the room. Another return visit, “Thin Ice,” was in the planning stages when Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989. The Warriors finally returned in 2013’s “Cold War,” and I enjoyed the heck out of that one. They deserved better than a thirty-nine year wait. We had comics and novels to tide us over, and Big Finish have made radio plays of those two cancelled stories along with a half-dozen or more other Ice Warrior adventures, but these guys should have been on TV.

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part five)

Television: they used to do things a little differently. The BBC announced Jon Pertwee’s departure the second week of February 1974, about when part five of this story was in production, the day that part five of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” was shown. One week later, 40 year-old Tom Baker was announced as the new Doctor. He’d be in the studio taping his regeneration scene on April 2, and began rehearsals for his debut adventure about a week later. Audiences got their first glimpse of the new Doctor’s face in the closing seconds of Pertwee’s final episode, shown on June 8. Baker’s first story would be held over to the next season. February announcement – June regeneration – December debut.

Fast forward forty-three years. Peter Capaldi announced he was leaving the show on January 30th of this year. Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the next Doctor more than five months later, on July 16. She filmed her half of the regeneration scene three days after that. The episode was shown on December 25th, and we’re not sure when series eleven will start, although there’s talk it will be September of next year. I will miss Capaldi and I am looking forward to Whittaker, but this twenty month process is for the birds.

I hope Whittaker plays the Doctor for a really long time – after all these “three series and a special” Doctors, I want her to beat Tom’s record – but whenever it’s time for the Fourteenth Doctor, whoever’s producing the show and managing the brand and acquiring corporate synergy for BBC/ESPN/Comcast/Warner Brothers/AT&T LLC (a wholly-owned subsidiary of GodCorp/Disney Inc. under license from NetAmazonFlix) should look back at the comparatively simple process of 1974 and conclude “That’s the right way.”

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part four)

Most film and TV people have to fake it a little, and make a handful of costumes represent dozens of characters. The problem here is that the BBC had three and a half Ice Warrior costumes. You see that fellow on the right? He’s the Bubblehead Warrior. That head had been sitting in storage since the Ice Warriors’ first appearance seven years previously. Now, you can’t tell the other three actors’ costumes apart, so any of those guys will do for any closeups, but the director keeps bringing the Bubblehead in for closeups in these last three parts. I don’t understand why Lennie Mayne did this. Don’t draw attention to the one that is a) the most distinctive and b) the most obviously crap. That seems like a simple enough plan!

When I read Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles’ About Time, I had a good belly laugh over an observation. Commander Azaxyr is stomping around in a helmet with only his square jaw visible, giving lines like “You forget, Doctor, I am your judge,” and “Must I remind you, Ambassador, here on Peladon, I am the law!” He’s like a proto-Judge Dredd! That’s exactly what I thought when I first saw this story on WGTV in 1986 or so, and I dashed off some fan art and mailed it to 2000 AD. I drew the commander, gave him a judge’s badge, and a word balloon that read “Here on Peladon-City One, I am the law!”

Last I checked, I was in the top five for having the most letters printed in 2000 AD, but I don’t have any art credits on the input page. I’m sure the Tharg of the time – probably Steve MacManus? – turned it down because it was a reference to a very obscure character who had been on TV for three weeks some twelve years previously and never repeated in Britain, and not because my art completely stinks. That’s the reason, right, Green Bonce?

This episode ends with the umpteenth swordfight we’ve watched recently. This time, Ralph Watson matches blades with Jon Pertwee, and, painfully obviously, Pertwee’s double Terry Walsh. It’s a good fight, but I felt the need to assure our son that in the real world, people just don’t get into swordfights anywhere near as often as they do on television. My wife added that she took fencing in college and so she’s had a few matches herself. I don’t think that’s quite the same, but maybe we should buy a nice blade for a wall decoration, just in case she needs to take it down and defend our home against fanatic miners, Hellfire Clubbers, or renegade Time Lords.

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The Avengers 4.23 – The House That Jack Built

“The House That Jack Built” is one of the high points of season four. It isn’t even a shame that it turns from a weird, creepy house story into a tale about another sixties supercomputer, because it’s so good, and so visually interesting. It’s one of Brian Clemens’ most entertaining scripts for the show, and really shows off how resourceful Mrs. Peel is. I watched this one more easily than a dozen times in the eighties, and all the years away from it haven’t dampened my enthusiasm at all.

Our son thought this one was really weird. He’s probably still struggling with the idea of computers that fill rooms and are programmed to be evil. This world is even stranger to him than the pioneers in the desert that we watched this morning!

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The Twilight Zone 2.23 – A Hundred Yards Over the Rim

And then there was that time that Batman’s enemies Shame and the Riddler teamed up and got lost in Arizona.

How funny! I picked some of these episodes because of the guest stars, and as you may know, I have a fondness for the actors who would later play Batvillains on ABC. I didn’t expect to run into two of them together! Cliff Robertson, on the right above, has the lead role in this time travel tale by Rod Serling, but John Astin, who played the replacement Riddler in season two when Frank Gorshin wasn’t willing to return, also has a small part in this story. Familiar sixties teevee faces John Crawford and Ed Platt also appear.

Stories that are set in the past are a stumbling block for our son. I think this is because the reality of modern television means that kids have 24/7 TV intended for them, and made within the past decade, and set in a contemporary or futuristic world. If you remember when we were kids, there was only a small window of children’s programming each afternoon, and a chunk of that was probably an hour of Tom & Jerry and Woody Woodpecker shorts made for audiences in the 1930s and 1940s that were set all throughout history.

If we were watching TV outside that window, we’d see things like The Rifleman or The Big Valley or Bonanza because there were a thousand episodes of westerns available, cheaply, to small TV stations, and kids could follow these simple and straightforward stories. Sure, we’d rather be watching Star Blazers or The Space Giants in the afternoon, but in the seventies, there was a whole lot less programming available. So if any of us, then, were to tune into this Twilight Zone, we’d have enough background to understand what this wagon train was doing in the desert.

Our son had absolutely no idea. He interrupted very early – before Rod Serling’s introduction in fact – to say “Wait. I don’t understand what’s happening.” I stopped and gave him a quick history lesson about the dangers of crossing the desert in the pre-railroad days, so he got that this took months and was incredibly risky. He really enjoyed this episode, in large part because Cliff Robertson is completely excellent and convincing as a stranger in a strange land. It still blew our son’s mind to imagine a world before power lines, but he learned a little bit. It’s always nice when TV’s actually good for something. Idiot box, my eye!

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (parts two and three)

I’ve got a theory about why “The Monster of Peladon” isn’t very highly regarded. Most of the six-part Pertwee stories are too long, as I keep saying. But most of them start strong and peter out as they go, unable to keep the momentum and padding parts four and five. But “Monster” has the problem of episodes two and three being the completely unnecessary ones.

The whole story is built up to the surprise reveal of the Ice Warriors at the end of the third part, so we’re going to get three episodes of Alan Bennion being entertaining – at least I remember him being entertaining – as Commander Azaxyr when we resume this story in a couple of days. But we could have been introduced to the refinery and Alpha Centauri phoning home for Federation troops in part one and shoved out alllllll this padding and had one lean, mean, awesome first episode instead.

As for the content of that padding, “Curse” had Geoffrey Toone as a believable obstacle to the protagonists, the high priest Hepesh. His replacement, Ortron, just seems to be an antagonist for no reason beyond putting audience sympathy with the miners. And because he has to be evil and obstinate for fully half the story and repeatedly block the Doctor, who spends most of episode three in Ortron’s dungeon, there’s absolutely no reason not to sympathize with the miners. The queen is so weak that she needs Sarah Jane to explain women’s lib to her – ah, 1974, never change – and as the plot reveals that the miners have moved some stolen Federation technology into position and have the power to destroy the Peladonian citadel, I’m not sure why we shouldn’t all be cheering them on.

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Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon (part one)

Weird aliens in the throne room? We must be back on Peladon! That’s Vega Nexos in the picture above, a mining engineer from a race of satyrs. Fifty years after the first Peladon adventure, Vega Nexos is working on Peladon with our old pal Alpha Centauri and an Earthman named Eckersley, played by Donald Gee. Vega Nexos is only in three scenes and gets killed before the seven minute mark of episode one, but the character was oddly included on some very popular Doctor Who merchandising in the 1970s, leading thousands of British kids to scratch their heads and wonder what the heck story this guy was in.

“The Monster of Peladon” is nobody’s favorite Pertwee adventure, but it starts well enough. Not content with reassembling costumes and sets from the original Peladon story, this one also brings back writer Brian Hayles and director Lennie Mayne. Mayne cast Rex Robinson, whom he’d used before and would use again in Who, in the role of the leader of the miners, and that’s where this episode’s conflict lies. Interestingly, the miners on Peladon are either a separate race or a separate caste, and are forbidden to enter that giant citadel on the mountain despite doing all the Federation’s dirty work.

So when a “spirit of Aggedor” starts materializing and murdering miners, there’s a revolution brewing. Last time out, the high priest was in league with the alien Arcturus. This time out, there’s a high priest who, just like his predecessor, doesn’t trust anybody and worships old gods, and a monarch, the daughter of the king we met last time, who has faith in the future. This is good, but it could have been better, or at least felt a great deal less like a retread, had their roles been reversed.

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The Avengers 4.22 – What the Butler Saw

Happily, this episode of The Avengers was much more our son’s speed than some of the others that we have watched recently. It’s a light and fun story by Brian Clemens in which there are three suspects for some defense secrets going missing. There’s an admiral who gambles too much, a brigadier who drinks too much, and a group captain who likes the ladies too much, and all three are having staffing problems in their homes. Steed takes four undercover roles, two of them with remarkable facial hair, and signs on for a course in butling, and Mrs. Peel initiates Operation: Fascination to bewitch the group captain. I think it’s one of the lesser adventures from season four, but it was simple and silly enough for our son to really enjoy it.

In the cast, I was interested to see that Thorley Walters and Howard Marion-Crawford share an amusing career similarity: perhaps their best known roles were as the assistant partner to a well-known fictional detective. Walters played Dr. Watson in at least three different Sherlock Holmes films, and Marion-Crawford was Dr. Petrie, the confidante of Nayland Smith, in the five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies. John Le Mesurier is also here, as a butler who, we know from the pre-credits teaser, done it!

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