Doctor Who – “The Bride of Peladon”

Peladon will bathe in oceans of blood!

A mysterious voice, a missing girl and a murdered queen. The Royal House of Peladon is once more plunged into intrigue, terror and death. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem must find their way through a treacherous labyrinth of lies if they are to distinguish friend from foe before it is too late.

For deep beneath the Citadel of Peladon, something infinitely ancient and immeasurably powerful is stirring…

Peter Davison is the Doctor in The Bride of Peladon

X X X X X

Cast
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Caroline Morris (Erimem
Phyllida Law (Belldonia)
Jenny Agutter (Voice);
Christian Coulson (Pelleas)
Yasmin Bannerman (Pandora)
Nicholas Briggs (Zixlyr)
Jane Goddard (Alpha Centauri)
Richard Earl (Frankis)
Peter Sowerbutts (Elkin)
Philip Childs(Foreman)
Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Miner)

Directed by: Barnaby Edwards
Written by: Barnaby Edwards
Released: January 2008

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-bride-of-peladon-270

X X X X X

The Bride of Peladon is an audio that takes place on the same planet as and in the shadow of two classic Third Doctor serials, but subverts expectations by calling upon an unrelated third story to provide the powers and motivation of its central villain, for better or for worse.  This is a very dense and rich story with several well-known alien species, familiar faces and new enemies, and well-rounded secondary characters.  While it does suffer from a very extreme “Doctor Ex Machina” near the end, it can be easily overlooked as it provides the catalyst for a major event – Egyptian Princess Erimem’s departure from the TARDIS.

Peladon is awash with mystery and intrigue.  The King of Peladon has just lost his mother in a riding accident and is moments away from meeting his new bride, a princess from the planet Earth.  Their arranged marriage will seal an alliance between the two planets, much to the dismay of his grandmother who feels that anyone from such a backwater planet is a poor match for the King.  The workers of the local trisilicate mines are threatening to strike due to several mysterious deaths deep within the caves, much to the dismay of their supervisor and his unseen business partner.  The ambassador from Alpha Centauri is counting down the days to its retirement while awaiting the arrival of the new diplomat from the Ice Warriors of Mars.  The Doctor, Peri, and Erimem have just met said diplomat, attempting to rescue him from his burning ship as it plunges towards the planet’s surface.  And even though religion has been replaced by science on Peladon, there are rumors of a creature roaming the forests and a mysterious voice echoing throughout the palace…

Barnaby Edwards has done it all when it comes to Big Finish. He’s been an actor (Storm Warning, Sword of Orion, Sisters of the Flame and many, many others) and a director (The Chimes of Midnight, Son of the Dragon, and many, many others). The Bride of Peladon is another feather in his directing hat as well as serving as the first of six audios he has written for Big Finish. For his initial script, Edwards draws upon story elements that were present in two other Doctor Who serials; The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, both televised stories of the Third Doctor. Curse is often regarded as one of Jon Pertwee’s stronger stories, with praise directed towards variety of unique aliens (the noble Ice Warriors, the shady Arcturans, and the unique and unisex Alpha Centauri) and a healthy mix of humor and mystery, all tied together by the gothic atmosphere of a planet coming to terms with its place in the larger galaxy while coming to terms with the eternal conflict of religion vs. science. It is pointed out however that the romantic subplot between King Peladon and Jo Grant feels forced and somewhat unbelievable, even though Brian Hayles rewrote the script during rehearsals due to the chemistry between David Troughton and Katy Manning. Monster, on the other hand, is looked upon as a failed sequel due to rehashing many of the same plot points and reusing several of the same characters, all adding up to a sense of déjà vu that hangs over the proceedings.

At first glance, it appears that The Bride of Peladon is going to follow in the footsteps of Monster. King Pelleas worries about the future of his planet as he attempts to ally with Earth via an arranged marriage. There whispers on the wind, ghosts in secret passageways, and monsters in the woods. The Ice Warriors are sending a new ambassador named Zixlyr to replace one who died under mysterious circumstances, and the new emissary is determined to solve the mystery of her death. An Acturan runs a trissilicate mining operation, skirting the law while doing so. Alpha Centauri wrings its six hexopods at it tries to keep the peace. And the newly arrived Doctor introduces his companion Erimem as Earth royalty. What makes Bride a sharp contrast to Monster is the actual script itself. Edwards draws from the previous Peladon stories, but puts his own twist on things and allows the actors to do so as well. Each character gets their own individual subplots that highlight their concerns and motivations, with the climax pulling all of them together – the deaths in the mines, the actions of the Ice Warrior, the diplomacy of the arranged marriage, and the voice in the castle – in a way that makes narrative sense. The script keeps track of the subplots, walking the fine line between “too little information” and “devoting too much time” with ease. It also helps that the secondary cast all do their best to make their characters stand out, all the way from the two guardsmen on the walls to the villain of the piece voiced by none other than Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London, Call the Midwife, and Cobi Is Upset She’s Never Gone On An Aboriginal Walkabout With Him).

There is one part of the story that veers wildly away from the two Peladon serials, and it comes at the end of the third episode/beginning of the fourth episode. Erimem realizes that the symbols she’s discovered are actually a form of Egyptian hieroglyphics…and that the true villain behind the murders and violence gripping Peladon is actually an alien named Sekmet…who is kin to none other than Sutekh from the Fourth Doctor classic serial Pyramids of Mars! Sekmet is an Osirian just like Sutekh, and was imprisoned on Peladon in a prison of trisilicate for all eternity…until the mining operation cracked the tomb open and allowed Sekmet’s mental presence to escape, luring several beings to their deaths in an attempt to break her bindings and free her to rampage across the galaxy once more. While the fourth episode does retain the trappings of Peladon during its runtime, it still feels a little disjointed like the listener has been dropped into another story altogether…or even the climax to another Peladon story. Tying Pyramids of Mars into the proceedings either comes off as Edwards paying further homage to the classic series or a little bit of “wink wink see how clever I am” on his part.

Peri’s meet the Ice Warriors before, eight years and 96 releases previous in the audio Red Dawn. Separated from the Doctor and Erimem in the aftermath of a spaceship crash, Peri teams up with the Ice Warrior Zixlyr in an attempt to discover what happened. Nicola Bryant plays Peri as the headstrong-and-curious American who is determined to do make sure the right thing gets done, and without the Doctor around it falls on her to pick up that mantle. Peri spends a good bit of the story’s runtime opposite Zixlyr (played by, who else, Nicholas Briggs) as what starts out as a respectful relationship soon turns into a heated affair as Zixlyr reveals his true motive for being assigned to Peladon – to find out who killed his sister, the former ambassador, and get revenge on them by any means necessary. Peri and Zixlyr verbally battle to a standstill as she talks him off the proverbial ledge and encourages him to think things through. One thing I’ve always liked about the Ice Warriors is that among the various alien races who inhabit the Doctor Who universe, they’re a noble race who can actually be reasoned with, and who better than Peri “I can shout louder than you” Brown to bring an Ice Warrior to his senses? The pair team up to discover the truth behind the murder of Zixlyr’s sister, forming a short-term friendship that helps to uncover some of the story’s mysteries.

Revenge isn’t justice, Zixlyr! If you truly wanted to put right your sisters death you’d find out for certain who killed her and expose the villains! That way you come out a hero and not just some maniac with a bomb!

I’m a little iffy on the Fifth Doctor’s turn in The Bride of Peladon. Not because of Peter Davison’s performance, far from it, but rather because of two “deus ex Doctor” moments that pop up in the story. In the beginning of the story, the Doctor is wounded while running through the forest to escape a beast rampaging after him and Erimem. He soon heals quickly, and when asked his remarkable recovery Five just waves her off with a “no need to explain it.” This one I can overlook (see Sarah Jane’s language translation question in The Masque of Mandragora), but at the end of the story, after Erimem sacrifices her life to defeat Sekmet via poisoning her own blood (with the distilled Mandrake root that Erimem mentioned in The Kingmaker), the Doctor transfuses some of his own blood to her, stating that the regenerative properties of his blood were triggered after being weakened by Sekmet’s assault on him, and that by introducing them into Erimem’s bloodstream they helped cure the fatal poison. To which…and we couldn’t have done this in HOW many other Doctor Who stories to help save someone’s life, including, I don’t know, The Caves of Androzani?!?. I’ll allow it to slide because that story came out over three-and-a-half decades before before this audio, but it’s just such a cop-out that never (to my knowledge, I admit) gets brought back up anywhere else in the show’s history. With that said, Peter Davison is great in The Bride of Peladon. His Doctor has always favored logic over mysticism, which makes Peladon’s acceptance of science and dissolution of its official religion something that appeals to him. There is the dashing charm that highlights the Fifth Doctor as he effortlessly mixes with Peladon’s royalty and its alien ambassadors. And there’s his nature to throw himself headlong into danger and put his own life on the line to help defeat Sekmet, including a little moment where it it Peri’s turn to carry the Doctor away from certain doom.

The Bride of Peladon is Caroline Morris’ last story as the Egyptian princess Erimem, wrapping up eleven stories with her as a companion, some good (Eye of the Scorpion, The Church and the Crown, The Kingmaker, Son of the Dragon) and some not so good (Nekromanteia, The Roof of the World). Erimem’s departure has been foreshadowed for a long time going back to Three’s a Crowd, and The Bride of Peladon provides the perfect exit vehicle for her. The regal nature and royal blood of Peladon calls to Erimem, who left Egypt in part because of the cultural norms that would never allow a female Pharaoh. Morris plays up Erimem’s comfort and ease around not only King Pelleas, but her handling of his overprotective grandmother Beldonia. The politics of Peladon are not only familiar to her, but her travels with the Doctor have shown her just how insignificant one is when compared to time and history. History is a large tree, and you can snip a twig or prune a branch, but from a distance the tree will always look the same. Maybe it’s this reason that Erimem decides to settle down and attempt to focus on one particular branch, to ensure that it’s well taken care of. It also might have something to do with Erimem’s near death experience as she willingly sacrifices herself to defeat a creature who troubled her people thousands of years previous once and for all. Heck, it might even have something to do with her encounter with Vlad Tepes in Son of the Dragon or her flower-induced dream state in The Mind’s Eye where she was indeed Pharaoh of an Egyptian-flavored planetary colony. While Erimem decided to stay behind and marry King Pelleas might come off as a bit rushed, it’s no different, and actually a bit improved on, a lot of other sudden companion departures. Although Peri’s last line is a hoot for long time fans…

It’s going to be three-and-a-half years before Nicola Bryant steps back into the TARDIS as Peri, and it’s a fine send-off for Caroline Morris. Overall, Erimem’s run as a companion was a solid one. It had its ups and downs, but the downs were rarely the fault of Caroline Morris, the ups were mostly all her, and most importantly the character didn’t overstay her welcome. Her time in the TARDIS was definitely better than C’rizz’s, and she made a nice foil to the dashing Fifth Doctor and the hyperactive Peri. The Bride of Peladon is the perfect story to end her time with the Doctor, drawing from three classic Who episodes without too much deja vu or drowning the listener in a sea of continuity. The script and direction are solid, the secondary cast is wonderful, and all three main characters get a chance to shine with Erimem finally finding a place where she could be a fine and regal queen.

Pros
+ A top-notch final performance by Caroline Morris
+ A wonderful secondary cast
+ The script pulls upon previous television episodes without a sense of repetition

Cons
– The reveal of Sekmet’s origin is a little jarring
– A few moments where the Doctor’s abilities are a bit overplayed

Cobi’s synopsis – Caroline Morris takes her final bow, becoming The Bride of Peladon in a gothic story packed with mystery, humor, and intrigue, all tied together with wonderful performances all around and Erimem leaving the Doctor’s company with grace and aplomb.

Next up“Dr John Smith – you’re under arrest. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court…”

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…The Condemned.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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