Saturday, October 08, 2005

'The Curse of Peladon'

4 episodes

200 episodes down, only 500+ to go...! I have to say, I've long had a strange half-forgotten affection for 'The Curse of Peladon' ever since I listened to the cassette of Jon Pertwee's reading of the tale about seven years back - despite remembering very little of it! Essentially a political allegory (about Britain's entry to the Common Market) crossed with a haunted house mystery, this is a thoughtful rather than overtly exciting story, and none the worse for it. Straight away it is refreshing to see the Doctor and Jo end up on an alien planet, and the theme of the quasi-medieval Peladon society teetering on the cusp of being dragged into civilisation via inclusion in the Galactic Federation (very Star Trek) is interestingly played out. The relationship between the tentatively forward-looking King Peladon (David Troughton, son of former Doctor Patrick, then-flatmate of future Doctor Colin Baker, and veteran of 'The War Games') and his violently traditionalist High Priest Hepesh is nicely written, and its variations form the thread through the serial. That the lonely, indecisive, misled yet moral King is finally confronted with Hepesh's death, where the priest shows his actions were born out of his misguided desire to protect his world, allows at the last the former to shake off some of his shackles and the latter to regain his dignity.

The assorted collection of aliens is a rare delight, from the tentacled blob Arcturus in its mobile life-support system to the endearingly girly, six footed hermaphrodite Alpha Centauri - whose marvellous pillar-shaped costume has one huge eye that actually blinks... Actually, those two are the entirety of the new creatures on display, notwithstanding the okay Aggedor beast - isn't a collection of just four planets' delegates (including Earth's Delegate Leader) a bit on the small side for a galactic summit meeting?!? This fact notwithstanding, the appearance of the Martian delegation is fascinating: a unique instance of an old enemy of the Doctor's being totally rehabilitated within the series. That the Ice Warriors have left their savage, warlike past behind them and adopted a peaceful civilisation based on a code of honour and nobility, is a very pleasant surprise and a real turnup for the books in Doctor Who, where 'bad' races tend to stay that way. The way the story plays on the Doctor's understandable distrust of them after his earlier experiences to obfuscate the real villains of the piece is very clever, and his subsequent alliance with them quite heartwarming.

Further to this, the scenery is suitably gloomy and claustrophobic, there is a nice romantic subplot between the King and Jo - who does a good job pleading for the Doctor's life, navigating high ledges in high winds in high heels, keeping the delegates on the same page and not upsetting the Doctor's activities too often - that threatens to end in her staying behind, and crucially the aliens' distinct personalities are all well defined: particularly amusing are the scenes where Izlyr turns aside from the hysterically babbling Alpha Centauri to confess to Jo that despite its faults he finds himself longing for the company of the treacherous Arcturus, and where Centauri, now the only delegate remaining not from Mars, acquiesces to a unanimous vote when flanked by the intimidating brace of Ice Warriors! The Doctor gets lots of good stuff to do throughout, effortlessly impersonating an important official (again), combating Hepesh's machinations, exposing the murky 'myth' of Aggedor through his pacification of the actual animal, and has an excellent pit fight with the King's champion, the speechless Grun, that is conducted in a compelling near-silence and further emphasises Pertwee's willingness to do virtually any stuntwork possible... My only quibble is why someone doesn't just show Peladon the 'secret' tunnels beneath the city at some point to prove the Doctor's case - after all, half the cast have traipsed up and down them with such regularity there's no reason why the King couldn't be led around a corner or two to have them pointed out, which makes the Doctor's meek acceptance of punishment mystifying in the circumstances. Ah well, can't have everything...


Episodes watched: 203
Episodes still to watch: 519

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