I’ll give this to The Monster of Peladon: this feels like the climax to a four-part adventure rather than a tedious six-parter middle episode. The script has a plot (maybe too much plot – it absolutely burns through it compared to the last three), and it has a pretty relentless pace that clearly inspires Lennie Mayne: the chaos of the revolt is represented really well, and the Doctor’s desperate race to stop Ettis, who has gone mad and decided to ‘kill them all!’ with his stolen sonic lance, really feels like life and death.
Maybe Brian Hayles has just been killing time while waiting to introduce the Ice Warriors, once again led by Alan Bennion’s haughty Ice Lord. Azaxyr is much more in the vein of Slaar than Izlyr. In fact, it’s a shame that he’s outed as a villain so soon after he arrives, as this element of the plot has legs and The Curse of Peladon’s reformatting of the Martians as loyal Federation members could have been used to cast doubt on his badness. And it’s hard to believe Sarah could have recognised Sskel in a line-up of Ice Warriors given she only glimpsed a shape through the frosted glass of the refinery. Still, at least it means the story now has a focus point in a way that the cross-purposes of Ortron, Ettis and Gebek lacked. Bennion is brilliant, giving the kind of layered performance that must be incredibly difficult when you have nothing but your voice and fairly limited movement. He reminds me a bit of Darth Vader, striding through corridors, cape swishing, as he issues orders to everyone. But, like Vader, he’s not just some brutish conqueror: the Martian respect for nobility shows through in his oddly tender and respectful exchanges with Queen Thalira.
Everyone else is a bit in Bennion’s shadow, although for the first time Nina Thomas shows a bit of regal fire and blood as she confronts Azaxyr and collaborates with Gebek. I’m more intrigued by her glamorous handmaiden, though. There’s a whole Missing Adventure in her cold, scrutinising presence at the Queen’s shoulder. Certainly she seems a tougher customer than both Thalira and Sarah Jane, who has a moment of misery as she asks ‘Why can’t we just go home?’ Sarah does seem prone to these bouts of ostentatious self-pity (see especially The Hand of Fear). She needs to cheer up, though: things are looking up.
Next episode: The Monster of Peladon – Part Five