Thursday 4 October 2018

Inspirations - The Monster of Peladon

The Monster of Peladon's main inspiration is, of course, The Curse of Peladon, broadcast two seasons previously. Credited to Brian Hayles, it is a sequel to that earlier story - one of the rare sequels from the Classic phase of the programme. There have been many appearances by returning aliens and characters, but Monster explicitly shows the consequences of events from Curse, albeit 50 years later. It is ironic that these two stories also just happen to be those most steeped in 1970's current affairs. As we mentioned when looking at Curse, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have stated many times that this topicality was never intentional, though both admit that the zeitgeist may have found its way into Hayles' scripts. However, we should mention that Hayles was a writer who was frequently paid for earlier drafts of stories which were subsequently heavily rewritten by the script editor (Gerry Davis for The Celestial Toymaker, and Dicks himself for two of the Ice Warrior stories - this one and The Seeds of Death). Such was Dicks' input into this that his successor, Robert Holmes, had to join the production team well before he was officially credited with the role.

If The Curse of Peladon intentionally, or coincidentally, mirrored the UK's joining of the European Community, then The Monster of Peladon arrived in the wake of the national miners' strikes of 1972 and early 1974, the latter being part of the Three Day Week crisis.
The 1972 strike began in January, and was the result of a pay dispute. Miners had, since the 1920's, enjoyed much higher wages than workers in other industries (by up to 22%), but by 1970 they had slipped behind (7.4% behind other skilled labour). The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called the strike, and the dispute escalated when they employed flying pickets to demonstrate outside other workplaces - leading to other unions joining them in sympathy. Prime Minister Edward Heath called a state of emergency. One Doncaster miner was killed when he was run over by a lorry whilst manning a picket, and this led to violence breaking out in the region. The strike ended after 7 weeks, when a pay rise was agreed. This incident led to the government's COBRA (from Cabinet Office Briefing Room) emergency planning meetings being created, which continue to this day.
Come the beginning of 1974, immediately following the oil crisis, the UK economy was suffering from high inflation - so wages were not going as far. The NUM elected a more militant deputy leader in Mick McGahey. Heath called for emergency measures to be put into place at the end of 1973, including the introduction of a three day working week in order to reduce the need for electricity production. The BBC and ITV were forced to close down by 10.30pm each night, and then each broadcaster could only broadcast on alternate nights - though this was lifted for the Christmas period.
In January 1974, the miners rejected a pay offer and went on strike again. A couple of days later Heath called a General Election - basically a referendum on who ran the country: the government or the unions. The result was a hung parliament, with Heath's Conservatives having most seats but no overall majority. The miners went back to work in March, and when a second election was called in October, the Labour Party won. (In 1979, during another period of intense industrial unrest, Mrs Thatcher invoked memories of the Three Day Week to secure her victory over Labour, even though it had resulted from Conservative policies).

If Mick McGahey was considered a firebrand, this was nothing compared to his junior colleague Arthur Scargill, the man who had masterminded the flying picket strategy. Some people have claimed that the two principal miners seen on Peladon - Gebek and Ettis - are based upon McGahey and Scargill respectively.
Ironically, it was The Curse of Peladon which suffered most from the power cuts which accompanied the 1972 industrial action, with a couple of episodes being blacked out for much of the country. The BBC had to run recaps of the previous week's installment prior to broadcast of the new episode so that viewers could catch up. (The strike ended the day that Part Four went out). Director Christopher Barry found himself caught out when filming The Mutants on location in and around Chislehurst Caves in Kent, when the power went off.
So, this was the background to the writing of The Monster of Peladon. Little wonder that militant miners appear. Hayles originally made more of the politics of the planet, with the upper echelons of the court being more openly corrupt, and the miners more blatantly put upon. This conflict would have been made more of, and Sarah would have been duped into siding with Chancellor Ortron and his cronies after being threatened by the miners. The conflict is still there in the finished script, but it's pushed into the background - mentioned but not really seen.

To tie the two Peladon stories closer together stylistically, Barry Letts hired the same director - Lennie Mayne - and sought out the same designers. Alpha Centauri and Aggedor were also brought back, along with the Ice Warriors.
The action, as mentioned above, takes place 50 years after the Doctor has helped the planet join the Galactic Federation. He actually wants Sarah to meet the King whom he and Jo had encountered, but the TARDIS arrives much later. This might be down to the Time Lords once again, but if so then it isn't stated. King Peladon is dead, and his daughter Thalira is now Queen. The miners are unhappy that they have not seen any of the promised benefits of joining the Federation, and are quite a xenophobic lot, distrustful of the aliens who they think have too much say over the planet's affairs. (If Curse was about the UK joining the EU, then we can see how Monster foreshadows Brexit...).
The first half of the story deals with the industrial unrest and militancy of the miners - especially the hot-headed Ettis, who wants to throw the aliens off the planet and start an armed rebellion. Gebek, on the other hand, is the voice of moderation and negotiation. The Doctor naturally sides with the latter. Alongside this politicking, we have the mystery of an image of the statue of Aggedor turning up intermittently, striking down miners, royal bodyguards and aliens alike. A new alien, Vega Nexos, is an early victim. He seems to have been inspired by a mole or similar burrowing creature.
We also have a nice mining engineer from Earth named Eckersley, who wants nothing to do with all these politics and just wants to get on with his job.

Barry Letts had already informed fans that the Ice Warriors would be returning (in a piece for the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special), and at one point Sarah sees something big and green lurking behind frosted glass in the refinery control room, so it comes as no surprise that the Martians turn up at the mid-point of the story. They've been called in by Alpha Centauri to restore order - at the prompting of Eckersley, who is starting to become a little bit Machiavellian. As the Federation is currently at war with Galaxy Five, and this unrest is halting much needed Trisilicate supplies, the Ice Warrior commander Azaxyr declares martial law. Viewers with longer memories would have recalled that, in the previous story, this mineral could only be found on Mars. Hayles - or Dicks - must have just liked the name. (Magnesium Trisilicate is a real compound - a food additive which makes cooking oils less fatty, as well as acting as an antacid).
Sonny Caldinez makes his fourth appearance as an Ice Warrior, wearing the costume designed for Bernard Bresslaw for their first outing, as he did in Seeds of Death and Curse.
There is more continuity as the late Alan Bennion once again portrays the 'Ice Lord'. Curse had played with expectations by making the Ice Warriors appear to be the villains, only for them to turn out to be good guys. Here, there is no pretence, and they are set up as wrong 'uns from the start.

But what of the Monster of The Monster of Peladon? Aggedor - Nick Hobbs again - only features briefly in two scenes. The first is when Chancellor Ortron chucks Sarah and the Doctor into his pit to be savaged by him - only for the creature to remember the Doctor after he hypnotises it as he did on his last visit. It reappears later when the Doctor uses it to track Eckersley, now outed as being in league with Azaxyr's breakaway group of Ice Warrior, after he abducts Thalira as his hostage. Poor old Aggedor is killed by the Earthman, just as it kills him. Of course, we have seen frequent apparitions of the Aggedor statue striking people dead throughout, so this is the Monster of the title.
We've mentioned before how Sarah Jane Smith's introduction was designed to bring the programme up to date as far as Women's Liberation was concerned. This agenda has its most blatant airing here, as the Doctor specifically asks Sarah to have a chat with Thalira about her being continually patronised by Ortron - telling the Queen "There's nothing 'only' about being a girl...". You could argue that this scene actually shows the Doctor being patronising towards Sarah - you have a girly chat whilst I go off and do the real work.
The story ends with the Doctor tugging Sarah by the ear as he bundles her into the TARDIS. Definitely something which would not be approved of today. The last shot is of the Doctor taking one last look at Peladon, which is rather poignant as we know that this incarnation of the Time Lord is about to meet his end.
Next time: lots of story elements sown throughout the latter Pertwee era come together as it draws to its conclusion. Arachnophobes might want to give the next Inspirations post a miss...

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