I have enormous fondness for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and thoroughly enjoy most stories he features in. Sadly, this adventure suffers not so much from inherent problems as paling in comparison to other great Pertwee classics, and being but a shadow of The Curse of Peladon that preceded this adventure some two seasons previous.
Like the previous Peladon adventure it is very much a political commentary of its time – but where Curse grappled with the weighty issue of the UK joining the (then) European Economic Community, Monster grappled with the equally weighty issue of strikes, as it was around this time that a certain Mr Scargill was making both mischief and a name for himself – rather appropriately it is the miners who are causing the mayhem in this adventure. As with the best political satire and comment, it is not necessarily subtle!
Like many Pertwee adventures, its greatest benefit is also its greatest weakness – six episodes. Plenty of time to allow characters to develop, but also plenty of time for the story to proceed at an almost pedestrian pace. The Monster of Peladon is a definite candidate for a story that would not have suffered for the loss of two episodes – I think one of my main regrets is that it took until Tom Baker became the Doctor for the BBC to land on the optimal format of 5 four-part adventures with a concluding 6 part epic adventure. To my mind, it leaves the Pertwee era with a lot of slightly over-long stories, and the regret that instead we could have had another four part adventure for each of Pertwee’s seasons – but that’s a comment for another time!
Accepting that it is a little pedestrian in places, the story is perfectly enjoyable, and the reveal of the Ice Warriors is (forgive the pun) suitably chilling. I strongly suspect that it was less enjoyable watched in the midst of Season 11 however. I had the benefit of buying the Peladon boxset, and so watching the two serials more or less back-to-back. Watching in real time, I think it would have become obvious to the viewer that Pertwee was feeling somewhat dispirited by the untimely loss of Roger Delgado, and by Katy Manning leaving the show at the end of Season 10. Lis Sladen is of course excellent and feisty as Sarah-Jane Smith, not shrinking from the opportunity to tell Queen Thalira that she ought to stand up for herself … but I think this episode more than any other shows that, mentally at least, Pertwee had already moved on from Doctor Who.
Like many of these middling episodes, it is precisely that – middle of the road. Rather like Planet of the Dead in the modern series, there’s a distinct hint of indulgent self-referral and contentment that isn’t harmful in small doses. I finished watching the DVD feeling it had been pleasant enough to enjoy – but I think also painfully aware that it doesn’t measure up to many serials of this time in the show’s history.