Big Finish: Doctor Who PELADON Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who PELADON Review

Matthew Kresal returns to Peladon.
In two serials made during the Third Doctor's era, the TARDIS took the Time Lord and companion to the world of Peladon. An alien planet in the future with a mix of the medieval and the modern, steeped in ancient tradition while wanting to step out into the wider cosmos. The clash between modernity and the traditional, yesterday and tomorrow, duty and greed, were wonderfully explored in those stories from the pen of writer Brian Hayles. Now, five decades on, Big Finish takes listeners back to this world for four new stories stretched across the history of this unique planet and its role in the Doctor Who universe.

The opening installment, The Ordeal of Peladon by Jonathan Barnes and Robert Valentine (the latter serving as script editor for the four stories), sets the tone. Occurring between TV serials The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, Barnes and Valentine focuses on an older version of King Peladon, played once more by David Troughton. Continuing the themes of Curse especially, Barnes and Valentine have the King coming into touch with a Rasputin style holy man named Skarn (played with a sense of fundamentalist zealotry and menace by Ashley Zuckerman). Though seemingly a standalone tale, and enjoyable as an episode as such, Barnes and Valentine set up much of what is to follow while also giving Troughton some solid material to play with, reprising the role for the first time since The Prisoner of Peladon for Big Finish's Companion Chronicles range. It's a strong opening for the set and the standard-bearer for what follows.

The timeline of the set moves to after the other televised Peladon serial for the second episode, The Poison of Peladon with Lizzie Hopley's script offers a mix of Classic and Modern Who with its inclusion of Alex Kingston's River Song alongside an older Queen Thalira. Poison offers up a prime example of the kind of Doctor Who storytelling Big Finish delves into from time to time, putting Steven Moffat's time-traveling archeologist into a Classic Who setting and a plot worthy of a third Peladon serial. Kingston's riotous performance in such a stoic setting leads to plenty of humorous moments that underline the tension, as does River's chemistry with hexapod ambassador Alpha Centauri (a delightful Jane Goddard, once more taking the role over from Ysanne Churchman). Like its televised predecessor, it's a story that's perhaps a tad longer than it needs to be, but the strength of its performances and some late plot twists carry it through.

Peladon moves into the future, beyond its televised appearances, with the latter two episodes. Mark Wright's The Death of Peladon builds neatly on both the TV serials and its aural predecessors, as elements from previous stories rear their ugly heads and the tensions between those in the Citadel and the miners boil over. Into this steps Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and Bonnie Langford's Mel, a TARDIS team which has had something of a second wind with Big Finish. Death of Peladon is no exception, with the two of them separated while dealing with court intrigue and the threat of civil war, with both the Doctor and Mel getting to play to the strengths of their respective performer. It's a story with a surprisingly large scope and a sizable cast of characters, giving it an epic feel while never losing the sense of an increasingly besieged world.

Tim Foley brings the set to a close with The Truth of Peladon, bringing Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor into the mix. If Death of Peladon was grand in its scope, Truth goes for a more intimate tale, with the Eighth Doctor appearing alongside Arla Decanto (Meera Syal), the last great seamstresses of Peladon. Foley creates a story with just four actors, with Nicholas Briggs and Jason Watkins complimenting McGann and Syal as the Doctor takes Arla on a journey to see what her world has become in the years since the previous episode and the beginning of the Doctor's association with this world. It's a story of consequences, one that follows in the tradition of Hayles' original TV scripts by offering up an allegory for the here and now in an SF context. Foley offers up some meaty writing, something that McGann, in particular, sinks his teeth into, playing into all of his strengths as the Doctor, from a sense of sadness at what this world has become to a stirring willingness to do something about it. One that lets this Doctor, and the entire set, end on a hopeful note about change, if only we're willing to make it happen.

As is often the case with Big Finish, this is a wonderfully produced collection of stories. There isn't a daft performance in the entire set, with all of the major players getting plenty to work with, be it Troughton's King Peladon to Kingston as River and, of course, the two Doctors, all given able backing by solid supporting casts. The real star of this set, though, may well be Howard Carter's sound design and music, with Carter once more proving himself to be one of the company's unsung heroes in recent years. His work here includes recreating in sound the torch-lit corridors of the Citadel to mines and locations explored across the generations in the different episodes. And his music scoring reflects that, as well, with Carter even going so far as to include a call back to a well-remembered musical element from the original serials in the set's theme music.

After four episodes, it's hard to call Peladon anything but a triumph. Together, they highlight Big Finish's ability to take the existing Doctor Who mythos and expand upon it, offering hints of nostalgia alongside new stories and modern takes on classic themes. And like their predecessors fifty years ago, they also offer up something to say about the here and now alongside telling good SF stories.

In short, everything you need for a great Doctor Who storytelling.

Doctor Who: Peladon is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 28th February 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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