The Curse of Peladon [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my 50th birthday spending money and my Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #327)

The Curse of Peladon

Starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor.
Companion:  Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
Written by Brian Hayles.  Directed by Lennie Mayne.

Format:  4 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  January-February 1972 (Episodes 5-8 of Season 9)

For the first couple of years of the Third Doctor’s era, he spent almost all of his time in (nearly) modern day earth. Story-wise this was because he was exiled to a single time and place. Production-wise it was presumably to save money and also to shake up the storytelling. Now into Jon Pertwee’s third season as the Doctor it was presumably time to shake things up again.

The season’s first story, Day of the Daleks had kept the Doctor on earth but brought him to its future. Now in the second serial, we find the Doctor heading off to another time and another planet, in the Third Doctor’s first story with no earthbound scenes at all.

Spoilers Ahead!

There are a couple of notable things about The Curse of Peladon. In addition to its unusually non-earth setting, it also brings the Ice Warriors back to the screen, and in so doing offers an intelligent and mature evolution of the species. According to their commander, Izlyr, the Ice Warriors have forsworn violence and are now part of the Galactic Federation. The Doctor is understandably suspicious of this, and as a result we get the refreshing plot point of the Doctor being wrong about something.

Less is made of than it could have been, but it’s still very cool to see how the Ice Warriors have developed, and it provides a nice kick to the story’s mystery plot.

The story is on the whole quite successful and fun. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning have got charming chemistry which is in fine form in this story.

It’s amusing watching them pretend to be an ambassador and a princess as they navigate the politics of the situation. It’s not a big surprise that Hepesh turns out to be a villain but ultimately the plot is pretty satisfactory.

Peladon itself provides a fun locale for the story, and the design-work is inventive and well-done–even if the production has all the limitations that one expects with 1970’s Doctor Who. I think my biggest disappointment was the realization of Aggedor, an animal revered by the people of Peladon.

Of course, living things are often the hardest thing for the show to pull off, but I think it would have been better if Aggedor had just moved around on all-fours all the time. That would have helped sell the illusion that it’s not a guy in a suit a bit better.

Peladon, though, is one of the more immersive places that the TARDIS has brought us to. We don’t see much of the place, but the culture is given more attention than we usually get with Doctor Who. Geoffrey Toone is good as Hepesh, and David Troughton (son of Patrick Troughton) is solid as the local King. It’s his third role on the show, but his first in a major role.

It’s cute watching Peladon takes a fancy to Jo Grant–the script does a nice job with their attraction, and playing the tension that creates their value differences.

A big part of the fun of The Curse of Peladon is the presence of all the various alien races.

Arcturus–literally a head in a dome–is pretty creepy looking, but a bit hard to fully accept as a character. Alpha Centuari is ludicrous and laughable, but somehow likeable as well. You kind have to admire the chutzpah of the show to present a character with such an outrageous look and silly voice.

Alpha Centauri proved successful enough to make another appearance when the show returned to Peladon a couple of seasons later with The Monster of Peladon, and then again an astonishing forty-three years later in Empress of Mars. In all three appearances of the alien, Alpha Centauri is voiced by the same actress, Ysanne Churchman.

Best of all are the Ice Warriors themselves. Alan Bennion appears for the second of three times as an Ice Lord (although each was a different characters) and does a great job as Izlyr, a character with lots of intelligence and dignity.

It’s a pity that we’ve never really gotten to see them function as the Doctor’s allies again after this–it’s because of this story that the Ice Warriors one of my favorite of Doctor Whos classic “monsters.”

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