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An allegory of its own time and space
on 22 February 2003
Although a long way from a highpoint of the series, this six-parter is interesting for the surprisingly political (and often overtly Socialist) slant the script takes. Whereas social revolutions have been a staple of science fiction even before H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, it's rare for a film or television entry in the genre to focus on labour relations and class warfare so explicitly. Just as Frank Herbert's Dune saga was an allegory for the Middle East's political tensions during the oil boom, The Monster of Peladon is an allegory of its own time and place. 70s Britain is now almost ancient history, so many of the references will be lost on a new generation of viewers, but for those who lived through it, watching this show again brings it all back.
For Peladon, standing on the brink of great wealth or even greater disaster, read Britain, for its coveted rare minerals, read North Sea Oil. Joining the Federation (read the Common Market) has not improved the lot of the workers, only the rich; the miners striking for improved wages and conditions (read any of the militant trade unions of the early 70s) are dismissed as bolshie rebels by rulers who would rather confront them than negotiate; while outside enemies manipulate their divisions not so much for conquest as for profit (read the growing trade deficit that saw Britain hover on the verge of bankruptcy). Add a subplot where the Doctor's assistant urges the figurehead Queen of Peladon to seize power by explaining something they have on earth called Women's Lib, and you've got a perfect reflection for the concerns and paranoias facing 70s Britain - that dark, depressing time of strikes, power cuts, IRA bombing campaigns, the three-day week and inept government.
As drama, it works well enough, but as social history, it's positively fascinating.