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Fifty years after our first visit, we return to the planet Peladon for four new audio adventures. Journeying from the reigns of King Peladon and Queen Thalira, to the uncharted future of this far-off world, this new boxset promises political intrigue, adventure, and the return of many, many old friends. But is it any good? Read on to find out!
1. “The Ordeal of Peladon” by Jonathan Barnes and Robert Valentine
The Ordeal of Peladon takes us to the reign of King Peladon himself, as the arrival of Skarn, a holy man with the power of foresight, begins to threaten his rule. Joining with one of Skarn’s disciples, Harfair, King Peladon undertakes a journey to meet this mysterious prophet… but this is a journey from which he will return a changed man.
Quite honestly, I was pretty bored by this story for most of its runtime. There’s a lot of great worldbuilding and a fun little cameo in the final act which was a nice surprise but other than that, there’s not much else to The Ordeal of Peladon. It’s very much set-up for the rest of the boxset, which is always useful, but it means that this story isn’t particularly interesting on its own.
David Troughton returns to the role of King Peladon, and does a good job at portraying his weariness and frustration at what’s happening to his planet. Meanwhile, Ashley Zhangazha and Moyo Akandé star as Skarn and Harfair, playing these more antagonistic characters with suitable nuance. The cast is rounded off by David Sturzaker as Raarlan, a courtier with ideas above his station, and Nicholas Briggs as Ice Warrior Ixmari. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Ice Warriors before now, and there’s a reason for that… because they barely do anything in this story! Ixmari is such a non-entity that Briggs doesn’t even give him a proper Ice Warrior voice; he sounds more like an old man than an alien lizard!
Overall, this is an average story elevated by its worldbuilding and a fan-pleasing surprise towards the end.
2. “The Poison of Peladon” by Lizzie Hopley
The Poison of Peladon jumps forward in time to the reign of Queen Thalira, the daughter of King Peladon from the previous story. River Song has come to Peladon in the guise of Cantica, a priestess, in order to investigate rumours of a republican uprising. Joining with the inimitable Alpha Centauri, River must work out which of many suspects is responsible for the sinister goings-on in Queen Thalira’s court… before the future of Peladon is changed forever.
Now THIS is more like it! The Poison of Peladon is a great story, full of political intrigue, action and adventure: very Game of Thrones-esque, with a lot of nuanced characters who aren’t necessarily good or evil and all with their own interesting motivations. River Song is a really interesting character to throw into this kind of story, operating as she does in such a morally grey area, and writer Lizzie Hopley characterises her excellently throughout. Seriously, this is a really strong story for River- among one of her best at Big Finish, I think.
Another highlight of this episode is the character of Alpha Centauri, played here by Jane Goddard. Centauri is an absolute delight throughout this script; their relationship with River is a thrill to listen to, and their cheeky, giggly demeanour is so much fun. The other guest characters are very effective too: Justin Salinger as sly Arcturan ambassador Ribble is delightfully antagonistic, while Deborah Findlay, Ariyon Bakaré and Aaron Neil put in good performances as Thalira, Mendica and Gobran respectively.
Overall, this is a massive step up from the opening episode of this set, giving us some arresting political drama, an enormously fun pairing in River and Alpha Centauri (please let them meet again, Big Finish!) and some good twists and turns. Great stuff.
3. “The Death of Peladon” by Mark Wright
The Sixth Doctor enters the fray in The Death of Peladon, which sees him and Mel arrive on Peladon in the midst of an environmental disaster. As the Time Lord bands together with a group of commonfolk, and Mel encounters the lackadaisical Queen Minaris and her cruel daughter Isabelda, they begin to realise that catastrophe is on its way, and that their only hope of averting it is uniting Peladon’s warring classes.
Like The Ordeal of Peladon, this unfortunately is another weaker story. Again, there’s nothing egregiously wrong with it, but it’s just not very interesting. Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford are excellent as ever in their roles as the Doctor and Mel, but this is one of those stories where their roles could really have been filled by any Doctor-companion pairing. Sarah Powell and Remmie Milner impress as Queen Minaris and Isabelda too (probably the most effective part of this story), but apart from that I don’t really have a lot to say about this one.
Overall, this is an average story tied with the opener as the weakest of the set.
4. “The Truth of Peladon” by Tim Foley
The journey ends with The Truth of Peladon by Tim Foley, which sees another Doctor become involved in goings-on on Peladon. The Eighth Doctor, passing himself off as a seamstress’s apprentice, is determined to expose the truth behind what’s happening on Peladon. Can he convince Arla Decanto that all is not right on her home planet? Or is Peladon doomed?
This story is a fantastic way to end the boxset, weaving together threads from the previous three episodes to create a thoughtful, impactful conclusion to this saga. Unlike many boxset finales from Big Finish, this isn’t a loud, fast-paced, action-adventure story, adopting a quieter, more contemplative tone that really fits with the core themes of Tim Foley‘s script.
Paul McGann is excellent as the Eighth Doctor here; it’s not often we get to hear him on an adventure without any of his companions, so it was great to be able to see this new side of his character here. He’s joined by Meera Syal as seamstress Arla Decanto, who puts in a delightfully nuanced performance, constantly shifting her portrayal of the character so that her true nature remains ambiguous throughout.
While the ending may be a little too open-ended for some people’s tastes (I can’t quite decide if it’s a bit of an anticlimax, or a stroke of genius), The Truth of Peladon is a really strong finale. If nothing else, it has Paul McGann singing the Third Doctor’s Venusian lullaby from The Curse of Peladon!
All in all, Peladon is a boxset of two halves, with the opener and third episode being remarkably poor, and the second and fourth episodes being strong. The cast are all on top form throughout, and there’s great worldbuilding in each of the four episodes, but the fact that the plots of The Ordeal of Peladon and The Death of Peladon are so pedestrian (dare I even say weak?) really drags this set down. For fans of the Peladon stories looking for nostalgia, pick this one up, sure. For everyone else, it’s worth thinking whether you’re interested in Peladon enough to slog through the two weaker episodes. Above average, but only just.
Doctor Who: Peladon is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com