Doctor Who: Peladon
Starring: Colin Baker, Paul McGann, Alex Kingston, Bonnie Langford, David Troughton, Nicholas Briggs, and Jane Goddard.
Written by: Robert Valentine, Lizzie Hopley, Mark Wright, Tim Foley, & Jonathan Barnes
Directed by: Barnaby Kay
“There are no gods! There is only us!”
Doctor Who: Peladon receives an epic The Crown-inspired exploration in its recent “Special Release” from Big Finish Productions, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the planet’s originating serial “The Curse of Peladon.”
Pulling from that serial, its sequel, “The Monster of Peladon,” and even Big Finish’s past efforts on the planet across previous ranges, this box set is steeped in history. Yet stands as accessible for those coming to the stories brand new.
Spread across four tales spanning generations, Doctor Who: Peladon presents keen court drama for the listeners. Tracking the planet from the end of the reign of King Peladon (a returning and absolutely game David Troughton) far into the planet’s constantly shifting history and power structures and standing like a living document and vastly entertaining oral history of the world. This box set puts the “special” in “Special Release.” And it’s all just waiting for you, just behind the slopes of Mount Megeshra.
Firstly, we have “The Ordeal of Peladon” by Jonathan Barnes & Robert Valentine – an aging King Peladon hears word of a new “holy man” who is swaying the populace into anti-monarchy attitudes. But is this “holy man” all he is claiming? And who truly benefits from his rhetoric?
From the beginning, director Barnaby Kay and the vastly talented sound/music designers let listeners know that Peladon will be a different experience. Gone is the regular range’s theme tunes, and in their place is a brand new musical sequence. Music taken directly from the original “Curse of Peladon” serial and grandly redone as the set’s main theme.
Next is “The Poison of Peladon” by Lizzie Hopley. A cheeky and twisty River Song tale that picks up and runs with threads throughout the whole saga. Better still, this second story is all energy. Centrally anchored around the luminous Alex Kingston, another returning fan-favorite, Alpha Centauri, played with a bubbly endearing charm by long-time Big Finish performer Jane Goodard.
“The Poison of Peladon” hammers home the box set’s progressive intentions and socially conscious aspirations. For example, each of the four Peladon stories is affixed fully on some environmental or political narrative. Likewise, each character’s personal identities, gender expressions included, are always respected. Particularly in the case of Alpha Centauri, a non-binary hexopod who uses they/them pronouns.
Nowhere is this more apparent or well dealt with than in Hopley’s “The Poison of Peladon.” Proving quite adroitly, backed by very fun performances and keen direction from Kay, you can still deliver driving, fun stories while still addressing real-world issues and respecting the various gender identities available to you in a progressive property like Doctor Who.
Thirdly, we have “The Death of Peladon” by Mark Wright. Admittedly, the most conventionally episodic of the stories, but a rollicking Sixth Doctor and Mel story nonetheless. The always sparkling combo of Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford find themselves back on Peladon, more than fifty years removed from The Doctor’s first arrival.
And the planet is poised on the edge of destruction.
Ravaged by the aggressive mining of the current regime (and their almost weaponized apathy against ruling), Peladon is quite literally boiling, pitting the Doctor and his companion once more between the royalty and religion of Peladon and its suffering working-class populace. In contrast, “Death of Peladon” is a bit more what one would expect from old-school serials. But its commitment to the set’s social commentary, generational storytelling, and focus on the fictional (but real-world mirroring) environmental issues make it a worthy penultimate story for this already strong box set.
Finally, we arrive at “The Truth of Peladon” by Tim Foley. Decades into the planet’s future, Meera Syal’s Arla Decanto takes on a new apprentice, Paul McGann’s The Eighth Doctor. Together the pair work on a new “cloak of coronation” for an unseen new Pel monarch. The Doctor reveals more and more of the rot that’s taken to the heart of Peladon. Arla is faced with her part in its spread and is further forced to confront what the planet has become in the hands of people with too much power.
Centrally focused on the Doctor and Arla and framed in a sort of Christmas Carol-like lattice, “The Truth of Peladon” is a quiet gut-punch of a finale. Chiefly, it brings the whole thematic tone of the set to a head. Specifically, ending the set on a lower key but no less powerful note. Sending us into the ending with four great stories. All united in tonality and talent but wildly different in their execution. Like I said before, one really special “Special Release.”
In short, Doctor Who: Peladon is a resounding success. Simultaneously, it is a grand exploration of a cult-classic planet and a powerful example of Doctor Who at its best. It is brought to life by a wickedly talented cadre of creatives and actors who display real care to get these stories “right” for themselves and their fans. As a result, Doctor Who: Peladon shines.