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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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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (part four)

Happily, the frighteners that the monsters put on our son over the last two sessions wore off for the all-action finale of this story. He really enjoyed the sword fight, which features about a dozen men. It’s honestly not shot particularly well – though in fairness, it must be amazingly difficult to choreograph so many people in a three-camera studio videotape situation – but the action is pretty impressive.

Perhaps less impressive, from his perspective, is the mushiness between Jo and King Peladon, the first of a few fellows that Jo meets on her travels to get her heart a-flutter. Katy Manning and David Troughton have a very nice chemistry together, and I really enjoy her performance as the king tries to persuade her to stay with him. The best little scene, however, is when the two Ice Warriors silently menace Alpha Centauri into changing its vote, and the weird eyeball alien lowers its eye sadly and raises three of its tentacles. Pretty terrific body language for such a ridiculous and ungainly costume!

“The Curse of Peladon” is certainly a well-paced script, even if I really think that the story badly needs to actually see the court officials that it mentions in passing. Sometimes you see people moan that Doctor Who needed more money spent on it, but that’s usually from the perspective of viewers who don’t like the special effects. This is a story where I wish the budget had run to bigger sets and more speaking parts. It’s not great Who, but it’s an entertaining little adventure.

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

Like a lot of classic Who, “The Curse of Peladon” aims far above its limitations. One of these is the simplicity of the sets. Sure, they look like nice corridors, and they’re actually lit well, which certainly wasn’t always the case in the videotape era, but they insist on looking like the throne room and the delegates’ conference rooms are separated by about twenty feet. A major part of the script involves Hepesh keeping knowledge about a network of subterranean tunnels and secret passages from the king. Twice, the story has the opportunity to change direction completely if King Peladon will just walk down the hall and check out the Doctor’s claim that there are hidden doors in the place. Frankly, everything here would make a whole heck of a lot more sense if he did that. Even if the writer, Brian Hayles, were to insist that the entrance is about a mile’s walk away, then the king should still want to do that. Since the designer and director don’t convince me that the entrance isn’t as far away as the man’s own bedroom, it’s even more ridiculous.

The other thing is with the aliens. Now, if you’re six, all these weird beasties are unbelievably effective. Our son has told us that this is one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever, because it’s not only got a hairy monster who lives under the citadel, but all these freaky alien delegates: the Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri, and Arcturus. From modern eyes, the delegates are all remarkably garish and plastic, colored in bright Sherwin-Williams green and yellow. About Time contrasts their artificial green with the deep blues and purples of the Peladonian court clothes and calls the result, not unreasonably, “glam rock.” Like “The Claws of Axos” the year before, this is television for British viewers in 1972 who’ve bought their first color television set and want to see something they’ve never seen before. Everything here looks like Roy Wood and Mott the Hoople on Top of the Pops, and the next story is going to look comparatively restrained, but it will sound like Roxy Music’s first album.

I said above that the corridors are lit well, but the monsters aren’t. Arcturus’s tank has a big reflective surface behind his wet globe which shows blue-white strobes from the lights, as does the back of the Ice Warrior’s shell, emphasizing the materials and the paint used to construct it in a spotlight. The result from modern grownup eyes is a constant punch in the ol’ suspension of disbelief gene. (Similarly, there’s a story in season fourteen set in a primitive hut without electricity and I just can’t stop staring at the studio lights reflecting off one actor’s bald head.) But the grownups in 1972 who’d made the investment in a color set had never seen anything like this before, and apparently found the visuals incredibly compelling. And the kids in the audience, once they’d peeked out from behind the sofa to see the Doctor scratching the hairy monster behind the ears, they’re every bit as convinced.

Gah. I like this story, honestly I do, but when the Doctor’s telling the king and Hepesh that he’s been scratching the royal monster behind the ears and Hepesh is yelling “Sacrilege,” any intelligent king would turn to his high priest and say “We are amazed that you, of all people, do not wish to verify this remarkable claim. We would see this supposed animal and these caves for ourselves. Lead the way, Doctor.”

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (part one)

The United Kingdom joined what was then called the Common Market in 1973, and there were many years of debate in that nation as to whether it should. While not formally a satire or a pastiche of this event, the politics of the day certainly formed some of the background behind Brian Hayles’ first story about the feudal planet Peladon as it is considered for membership in a Galactic Federation.

Part one of the story, the first of four Who serials directed by Lennie Mayne, is a little heavy with court intrigue and political squabbling, and so we paused the action, such as it was, to give our son a little recap. King Peladon, played by David Troughton (Patrick’s son), is ready to move his primitive planet forward into the Federation, and his superstitious high priest Hepesh is opposed. Hepesh is played by square-jawed Geoffrey Toone, who may have been familiar to audiences from playing numerous upper class and military villains, perhaps most notably as the regular villain Von Gelb in the first three series of Freewheelers, so all eyes are on him here to be up to no good.

But Toone is quickly overshadowed by the arrival of a couple of Ice Warriors, who were last seen on Who three years previously. As part of our story-so-far, I pointed out that the Federation’s assessment group contains four members: Alpha Centauri, Arcturus, the delegate from Earth who has not yet arrived, and one we have not met yet. Then a big Martian lumbered into frame. “We HAVE met them,” he yelled. “It’s an Ice Warrior! A GREEN Ice Warrior!” I asked him later what color that he thought they were, if not green. “White and black,” he answered, reasonably.

But Troughton, Toone, and the Warriors are all overshadowed by Katy Manning, who completely steals the show. Dressed for a night out on the town with Captain Yates, she’s wearing what appears to be something from the 1974 Sears Christmas Wish Book, but Jo immediately understands the problem of sexism in the Peladon throne room and promptly improvises the persona of Princess Josephine of TARDIS so that she can be presented to “our royal host.” There’s never been a way around it: Jo is undeniably a retrograde step down from her more progressive antecedent companions Zoe and Liz, but would Liz Shaw have been at all believable pretending to be a princess to avoid a royal scandal?

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Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death (part six)

Our son is mostly – mostly – very well-behaved when we watch TV together. We think it’s very important to teach him the manners of being quiet and still while watching something with other people. Later today, I’m taking him to see The Lego Batman Movie. He’s been to the theater twice before, but I learned from experience with my older kids that it’s a constant process, to be quiet and respect other people in the audience, and you constantly, constantly have to reinforce it.

But the reality is that he’s five and that some grumbling is simply going to happen. Once in a while, it’s pretty funny. Today, he got very worried as the Ice Warriors seemed to regain the upper hand and take the Doctor prisoner. And he let us know “If the Ice Warriors win, I’m not going to watch Doctor Who again. For a month!” When the Doctor’s plan worked, and he and Jamie tackle the remaining enemies, he was thrilled, and yelled “THAT! WAS! AWESOME!” I guess we won’t have to wait until April to see what happens next.

One major bone of contention, however, came with the Ice Warriors’ heavy breathing. The sound of their asthmatic hissing really aggravated both Mommy and our son. The head villain, Slaar, rasping and gasping, reports to a grand marshal on a video-link in his invasion flagship. The marshal speaks without any breathing problems. In fact, he speaks in the dulcet tones of somebody more accustomed to delivering lines about slings, arrows, and outrageous fortunes than about retro-active rockets and orbits around the sun. Fans have suggested that the marshal, in an atmosphere mix that Ice Warriors can breathe without issue, didn’t need to hack and cough and hiss like Slaar and the grunts. But geez, couldn’t the guy have made a little effort to sound more like an alien menace than a town crier?

Unfortunately, the next serial, “The Space Pirates,” is mostly missing, without any of the telesnaps that almost all of the lost Doctor Who stories have. The man who shot these photos, John Cura, had stopped taking the snaps due to illness, and passed away in April 1969. This slot was given to Robert Holmes to write after two other planned serials fell through. It was script-edited by Derrick Sherwin again, while Terrance Dicks, who had worked on “Seeds” and the previous two stories, worked ahead on the season’s final ten episodes.

Meanwhile, producer Peter Bryant was preparing to leave Who for something a little more prestigious, and in color, as the BBC began phasing out black and white broadcasts. This would be Paul Temple, a detective series that would become very important to Who‘s production as 1969 and 1970 rolled on. Derrick Sherwin planned to move up the BBC chain and become a producer himself. In March 1969, Bryant formally moved over to begin work on Temple, with “The Space Pirates” his final Who production credit. Sherwin became Who‘s producer, and the serial after that, “The War Games,” would be his first in charge. More on that in a week or so.

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Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death (parts four and five)

I decided we’d watch two episodes together, in part because part four of this serial is the traditional middle-of-the-story one where not much happens, and in part because part five ends with a terrific cliffhanger. Part four was rewritten to give Patrick Troughton seven days’ vacation. He didn’t trim his sideburns during his time off, and the hairdresser didn’t spot the difference. When the Doctor wakes up, having missed out on an episode from exposure to the Martian seed pods, his bushy sideburns are the first thing you notice.

So, at this point, the Ice Warriors have completely bypassed the Daleks as our son’s most feared alien menace. (And, looking ahead at our viewing schedule, since the Daleks weren’t in the series at this time, it’ll be several months before they have a chance to retake the lead!) This was a real behind the sofa, eat the blanket, crawl on Mommy’s lap experience. When Jamie and Zoe realize too late that they’ve trapped themselves in a building with one, he very nearly broke into tears he was so worried. Troughton saved the day by getting stuck outside yelling “oh no” and “oh dear” and making silly faces while the BBC’s foam machine dumped hundreds of gallons of soap and stuff on him. It’s precisely the clowning comedy that was needed to break the tension.

I like how this is pitched so perfectly at children. There’s plenty for the grownups to appreciate – the script’s pretty good, the direction’s great, the Ice Warriors are sadistic and brutal, Louise Pajo and Ronald Leigh-Hunt are terrific – and also to smile about the inescapable BBC-ness of it all. The actor Hugh Morton shows up for no other reason than the writers decided that what this show really needed was another middle-aged man in space pajamas to talk about full inquiries and closed-door meetings about food shortages.

But for kids, especially the ones with beginners’ chemistry sets, this has bits of foam under the microscope and talk about oxygen and splashing acids on balloons looking for the way to stop the fungus. (It’s water. Really. Water.) The set designer was evidently watching Batman, and gave the thermostat on the moonbase a whacking great steering wheel on the wall to raise the temperature, and the weather control station is a gigantic complex whose critical piece of equipment is a small box with four levers, all of which the Ice Warrior can fix in the “DRY” position to stop it raining. It’s like that because this is a show for all audiences. It’s there for our five year-old to figure out, when he’s not hiding in terror.

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