Friday, February 15, 2019

Tales from Peladon


Jo, Alpha Centauri and Izlyr discuss affairs of state in the 
fondly remembered THE CURSE OF PELADON.

IN the first serial, the medieval and superstitious planet of Peladon -  led by its young king (David Troughton) - is on the verge of joining the Galactic Federation. High Priest Hepesh (Geoffrey Toone) is opposed, warning that the curse of Aggedor, the Royal Beast of Peladon, will bring doom upon such sacrilege. After the TARDIS gives The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) an ignominious entry, they are taken to the throne room where the delegates are gathered: Alpha Centauri (Stuart Fell, voiced by Ysanne Churchman), Arcturus (Murphy Grumbar, voiced by Terry Bale), together with Lord Izlyr (Alan Bennion) and Ssorg (Sonny Caldinez) of the Ice Warriors. The Doctor is mistaken for the delegate from Earth, and introduces Jo as "Princess Josephine of TARDIS," a neutral royal observer. Exploring the tunnels under the palace, The Doctor runs into Aggedor, a very real creature that can be tamed with a Venusian lullaby. After Hepesh and Arcturus are revealed as saboteurs - and Arcturus is blasted by Ssorg's sonic gun - Hepesh retreats to the tunnels and forms a rebellion.

THE CURSE OF PELADON is a diverse four-parter, mixing monsters and political intrigue with more than a passing nod to the UK being on the brink of joining the EEC after over a decade of negotiations. Playing out within the science versus progress debate, there is also an emotional core of a young monarch yearning for his bride against more pressing duties. The execution of the creatures are a mixed bag, but overall successful in creating real characters behind the masks: Alpha Centauri is a nervous, shuffling phallicesque mass that was instructed by director Lennie Mayne to sound like a gay civil servant, and Arcturus is one of the most bizarre Time Lord adversaries (an abrasive tentacled skull encased in an elaborate survival cell). Aggedor is too small to be threatening, the Royal Beast further undermined by its tepid taming, leaving the Ice Warriors to slowly go about their business as reformed characters.

Terrance Dick's Target novel of THE MONSTER OF PELADON, released in December 1980.

THE CURSE OF PELADON was broadcast during the 1972 UK Miners Strike, which led to many parts of the country undergoing scheduled power cuts. This accounted for a drop in viewers for the last two episodes, and such industrial action inspired the sequel THE MONSTER OF PELADON. Here, a power struggle is in place between Trisilicate miners (sporting Badger hairstyles) and the ruling class, with the workmen calling for improved conditions. Queen Thalira (Nina Thomas) - daughter of the late King Peladon - is sympathetic, but knows her planet is vital to supply the war effort of the Galactic Federation, who are in conflict with Galaxy 5. The Doctor (Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive at the Citadel, and an apparition of Aggedor has been causing deaths underground. It transpires that human engineer Eckersley (Donald Gee) has created the spirit with the use of a matter projector and heat ray, and is in league with renegade Ice Warriors led by Commander Azaxyr (a returning Alan Bennion), in a plot to seize Trisilicate for Galaxy 5.

Again written by Brian Hayles and helmed by Lennie Mayne, to call THE MONSTER OF PELADON a sequel is overly generous, as it is just a drawn out six-part retread with major liberties. Set fifty years after the first adventure, Alpha Centauri and the real Aggedor are still present, and it seems particularly sloppy to duplicate The Ice Warriors so centrally. But the biggest coincidence is that the mineral Trisilicate - which The Doctor explained in THE CURSE OF PELADON to be exclusive to Mars - is now in such abundance on an alien world. Even Pertwee, in his penultimate serial, seems unenthusiastic, with Sarah Jane left with nothing to do apart from share a limp monologue on women's lib with Thalira and play hostage.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Skeletons in the Closet


"Don't see this picture unless you can withstand the emotional shock of a lifetime!;" fresh from THE INNOCENTS, Peter Wyngarde experiences the NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (or in America, BURN, WITCH, BURN!).

THESE two films focus on academics who have to question their sceptic beliefs towards the paranormal. Adapted from Fritz Leiber's 1943 novel Conjure Wife, Sidney Hayer's NIGHT OF THE EAGLE has sociology Professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) discovering that his perfect wife Tansy (big-band singer Janet Blair) is actually a Witch, and has been practising her craft since their honeymoon. Tansy has manipulated Taylor's rising career at Hempnell Medical College, and discovering this, the Professor destroys all of her inventory of magical paraphernalia. Thereafter Taylor suffers a number of sinister situations, one of which is an accusation of "violating" one of his students. It transpires that his path is now being orchestrated by the hostile intent of another faculty wife, Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston), driven by both educational and sexual jealousy.

Fittingly shot in moody monochrome by Reginald Wyer, the movie is underplayed in the tradition of Val Lewton, and possesses a tangible chill. NIGHT OF THE EAGLE is comparable to NIGHT OF THE DEMON in its more adult approach to the uncanny, and Hayers cut large portions of occult and voodoo material from the original script - by Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and George Baxt - to concentrate on the plight of the Taylors. The Eagle itself - a stone embodiment that rests at the entrance of the school - comes to life with risible results, but it can't take away the fact that Hayer's film is a beautifully played classic of British horror; Wyngarde and Blair convince at every level of their descent, but Johnston steals the show with her permanently off-kilter performance.

"Everything is exactly as it seems;" for GHOST STORIES, horror fans Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman liberally draw from the genre - especially Hideo Nataka's DARK WATER - and even had the set blessed by a Rabbi.

Based on their own Olivier Award-nominated stage show, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's GHOST STORIES arrived on a wave of glowing reviews and hype that no film could fully justify. This three-part anthology mashes together Amicus and the BBC GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS strand for old school scares and J-Horror that builds to a hokey finale that undermines its own building premise. Professor Goodman (Nyman) is given a trio of unsolved mysteries by his assumed-deceased idol Charles Cameron: Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) is a night watchman of a disused female correctional facility, haunted by the spirit of a young girl; jittery teenager Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) encounters a Satyr in the woods; and country-based stockbroker Mike Preddle (Martin Freeman) is plagued by a poltergeist while awaiting his IVF-induced child.

The performances embrace its emotional tropes of family resentment, belief systems and childhood traumas. Simon's story is the most effective - underpinned by some wonderful black humour (Sooty and Sweep anyone?) - but these powerfully-played themes grate somewhat with its peripheral ghosts and jump scares, and the atmospherically barren landscapes of concrete halls, a daytime pub and an out-of-season caravan park. It's worth a second watch to pick up the easter eggs, but they are not so much Ghost stories as Ghost settings. In conclusion, it contains too odd a mix even for a horror movie, and reeks heavily of Nyman's misdirection and overblown showmanship evident in his association with Derren Brown.

Margaret Johnston in NIGHT OF THE EAGLE. Australia-born to English parentage, the stage and screen actress - also memorable in Amicus' THE PSYCHOPATH - latterly managed an agency with American director husband Albert Parker, whose clients included James Mason, Helen Mirren and Frank Finlay.

The most grounded argument from supernatural skeptics is not so much if ghosts exist, but why the human psyche actually needs them; ultimately it is a longing for comfort, away from the harsh and bleak reality of death. More specifically, the biggest difference in NIGHT OF THE EAGLE and GHOST STORIES handling of their respective Professor's is that Taylor's professional life is manipulated by the constant indignation of females, whether in the name of love - Tandy is even willing to die for him as he has much more to offer the world - or bitterness. Conversely, everything in Goodman's journey is devoid of women; partnerless and childless, he exists in a closed, work-dominated world. Though when Flora Carr sets fire to a pyramid of Tarot cards - the otherworldly equivalent of the character's beloved Bridge evenings - and spits "burn, Witch, burn," Goodman has certainly opted for a less suffocating existence.