Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon
by Steve Ashfield
The Curse of Peladon was the second story from series nine and certainly had a hard act to follow. The series had begun with the Third Doctor's first encounter with the Daleks in Day of the Daleks. The basics of the story was the debate over whether the planet Peladon should or shouldn't join the Galactic Federation. This storyline mirrored the predicament the UK faced when deciding whether or not to join the Common Market (they eventually joined a year after this was broadcast).
The first three series of Jon Pertwee's reign as the Third Doctor featured his exile to Earth by the Time Lords after the events seen at the end of The War Games. This new storyline did prove highly entertaining even if poor old Earth seemed to be facing a new alien invasion almost every week. The appearances of UNIT and never ending battles with The Master provided some great stories but the writers did provide for those who were used to seeing the Doctor arrive on a succession of different planets.
To satisfy this need the previous series had included the story Colony in Space in which the Time Lords sent the Doctor to the planet Uxarieus on a special mission. Even with the Doctor on temporary break from his exile the story still featured The Master as the chief enemy. The Time Lords really were a cheeky lot, they'd exile him to Earth as a punishment but as soon as a problem comes along they'd get him to do their dirty work for them. This is the situation again in The Curse of Peladon though the Doctor doesn't mention this until right at the end of the story. Jo Grant (Katy Manning) certainly doesn't get the evening out she was expecting. She's all dolled up for a night out on the town with Mike Yates but ends up in the TARDIS with the Doctor who initially believes he's actually managed to get his beloved time machine to work again.
Unfortunately though the TARDIS lands on a cliff edge and the moment they pop out to see where they are it falls down the mountain. So poor old Jo ends up having to climb a mountain in a long dress and heels bang in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm.
It's a common theme in all sci-fi series that other planets take two forms. They are either futuristic and have amazing scientific advances or resemble something out of the Middle Ages. The planet of Peladon most definitely fits into the latter category. We don't really get to see a great deal of the planet apart from the mountain and the King's Palace.
All is not well on the planet but rather than the usual wars that we've seen on Skaro for example, the problems here are more of a political nature. The yet to be crowned King has a major decision to make, does he keep the planet isolated or join the Galactic Federation. While Chancellor Korbis is all for joining, High Priest Hepesh is totally against the idea and warns that the curse of Aggedor will punish everyone if they join the Federation. Again it's the situation that faced the UK at the time as politicians argued for and against joining the Common Market though without the threat of being ravaged by a vicious monster.
The King is played by David Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton who was of course the Second Doctor. At the time he was living with Colin Baker and was to return to the series in the future, most recently in the David Tennant story Midnight. His name often gets mentioned when the role of the Doctor becomes vacant.
The story certainly contains a varied group of aliens. Whereas the residents of Peladon totally resemble Middle Age humans the delegates certainly don't. Alpha Centauri is a hermaphroditic hexapod with one massive eye and several tentacles. Her voice sounds a bit like the Queen on Spitting Image and she panics at every possible moment. Arcturus is simply a tentacle head in a glass dome kept alive by a life-support machine. It's an idea that was pretty much copied for Davros years later. When told of the murder of Torbis he uses an energy weapon to destroy a vase in order to prove he's not one to mess with. Meanwhile the Doctor and Jo are making their way through a secret tunnel discovered by Jo. When they finally make their way into the palace the Doctor gets a major shock when he spots an Ice Warrior. It's the Palace guards though who capture the Doctor and Jo only for them to be mistaken as the yet to arrive delegates from Earth. The presence of the Ice Warriors - Lord Izlyr and Ssorg -- continues to dominate the thoughts of the Doctor and considering their past history that's not surprising. The Ice Warriors had been introduced into the series during the Patrick Troughton era; any poll for most popular villain would have most likely seen them come third behind the Daleks and the Cybermen. Here however, the Martians who always came across vocally as a cross between a lizard and a snooker commentator play a very different role - or do they? From the moment that the Doctor first sees an Ice Warrior his prejudiced views towards them are totally clear. The fact that the climate on Peladon is extremely suitable for the Ice Warriors soon has him adding two and two together and getting five, hardly the mathematical skills expected of a Time Lord.
Early on in the story the Ice Warriors do appear to be prime suspects to be partly responsible for the incidents that are occurring. We know that Hepesh will do anything he can to prevent Peladon joining the Federation but does he have allies? Could the Ice Warriors be manipulating him just as other alien races always find an ally on the planet they intend invading and claiming as their own? As attempts are made to kill the delegates the story becomes a whodunit. While the Doctor is wary of the Ice Warriors, they in return accuse the Doctor of being responsible. In time though Lord Izlyr explains to Jo that his race has turned its back on violence and will only use it in self defence. So why have the Ice Warriors changed their villainous ways? Well it could be something to do with the similarity between the Galactic Federation and Common Market situation. For Ice Warriors read Germans, the old enemy who caused two World Wars in the 20th century. Should the UK join an organisation that means they would now be partners with West Germany? Just imagine the feelings that a lot of older members of the community had over beginning such close dealings with the West Germans just over a quarter a century after the end of World War II. It's hard to discard those feeling towards the Germans just as the Doctor remembers his previous battles with the Ice Warriors. The use of the Ice Warriors to show that villains can change their ways is an interesting one but they are so much better as evil opponents of the Doctor plus they look great in colour. They return as peace-keepers in The Monster of Peladon but only get the occasional mention until a return to evil ways in a 2014 Matt Smith story.
Another regular feature of the period that Jo Grant spent in the series is prominent here as the King falls for her and asks her to become his Queen. Whereas the current series loves to create some idea of romance between the companion and the Doctor, Jo always seems to find someone else interested in her. The same happens in Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death, the latter seeing someone finally sweep Jo off her feet and cause her exit from the series. A bit of a let-down in this story is the creature, Aggedor. When the Doctor finally comes face to face with it he simply uses a hypnotic device and a Venusian lullaby to becalm the creature. By the end of the story it becomes obsessed with him, good job K9 hadn't been invented as he'd surely have been extremely jealous.
One of the highlights of the story comes when the Doctor is found guilty of sacrilege and has to fight Grun in a battle to the death. Jon Pertwee may have been in his 50s when recording this series but he was still capable of putting on a good fight, hopefully Peter Capaldi can do the same. The Curse of Peladon represents a welcome break from the ongoing battles with The Master who returns in the next story when the disappointed Doctor resumes his exile on Earth. It's an entertaining story with a fair few twists along the way to keep the viewers on their toes.
Steve Ashfield May 2014