Thursday, 21 February 2013

Story 61 - The Curse of Peladon

In which the Doctor gets the TARDIS working again, and decides to test it out by taking Jo to meet Captain Yates for a dinner date. The ship materialises instead on a rocky ledge on the storm-lashed planet of Peladon. After they leave it, the ship falls down the mountainside. They see a huge citadel far above them and decide to climb up to it - but come upon a cave which leads to a tunnel system.
In the palace above, alien delegates are gathering to assess the planet's suitability for membership to the Galactic Federation. Young King Peladon, whose mother was from Earth, fervently seeks this - but opposed is High Priest Hepesh. He thinks membership will see the planet enslaved, and the ancient traditions destroyed. The Chancellor, Torbis, who also favoured admission, has just been killed - and Hepesh blames the spirit of Aggedor - the mythical royal beast. When the Doctor and Jo turn up, they are assumed to be the Earth delegates. The Doctor is expected to chair the deliberations, whilst Jo poses as a royal observer - Princess Josephine of Tardis.

An attempt is made on the life of delegate Alpha Centauri - a hermaphrodite hexapod. The Doctor suspects the delegates from Mars - Ice Warrior Lord Izlyr and his deputy Ssorg. An attempt is also made to kill Arcturus, who travels around in a self-contained life support unit. Whilst evidence points towards the Ice Warriors, they suspect the Doctor. They are concerned that Jo's presence here is to facilitate a royal match - which would give Earth greater influence on this primitive but mineral-rich world. The King's Champion, Grun, lures the Doctor into the tunnels, where he finds that Aggedor is no myth. It is a savage furry beast with a single horn on its forehead. He is able to pacify it through hypnotism. When he finds himself in the inner sanctum of the temple, Hepesh accuses him of sacrilege - for which the sentence is death. Jo is appalled when the King can only offer combat to the death against his Champion instead of execution.

The Doctor wins the contest against Grun and elects to spare his life. Arcturus tries to kill him but is destroyed by Ssorg. It transpires that the dead delegate had been plotting with Hepesh to sabotage the proceedings - so that Arcturus could make its own treaty with Peladon for its wealth. In return, the old traditions would have been preserved. Hepesh had found Aggedor and kept it in the tunnels - training it to kill at his behest. He launches a coup and captures the King, Jo and the delegates. The Doctor fetches Aggedor and brings it to the palace - causing the rebel soldiers to surrender. When Hepesh orders it to kill the Doctor, it remembers his cruelty to him and strikes down the High Priest instead. Jo declines a wedding proposal from the King. The Doctor has realised that the Time Lords sent them here at this crucial point in the planet's history. They are going to stay on for the King's coronation - but make a hasty exit when the real Earth delegate finally arrives.

This four part story was written by Brian Hayles, and was broadcast between 29th January and 19th February, 1972. It is significant chiefly for the return of the Ice Warriors after a three year absence - seen in colour for the first time. It marks the Third Doctor's second trip in the TARDIS to a alien world - and the first UNIT-free story since producer Barry Letts took over - save for the reference to Mike Yates. None of the UNIT regulars appear.
Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks have stated that, apart from The Green Death, they never actively sought any story based on current affairs. It is a widely held opinion that the basic plot backdrop for The Curse of Peladon is influenced by the UK's efforts to join the European Common Market. Dicks claims this may have been "in the air" at the time - but it was not intended as a deliberate mirroring. The fact that the sequel to this story includes a miners' strike suggests that Brian Hayles was very much looking at the newspapers as he was writing.
The story features the biggest range of alien creatures since 1965's The Web Planet. As well as the Ice Warriors (played by Alan Bennion - Izlyr - and Sonny Caldinez - Ssorg), we have Alpha Centauri, Arcturus and Aggedor. Caldinez had been an Ice Warrior since the beginning, and Bennion was reprising his Lordly role from The Seeds of Death when he had played Slaar. It is a nice twist to have these old enemies now noble allies. The audience are expected to assume they are the villains of the piece.

Alpha Centauri is a wonderful creation - the costume containing stuntman Stuart Fell - and voiced by Ysanne Churchman. The combination of twitchy movement and screechy voice works very well. It adds a welcome element of humour to what is a rather dark, gothic tale. The rather phallic appearance had to be softened with the addition of a cloak - on the orders of director Lennie Mayne. Less effective is Aggedor - played by another stuntman, Nick Hobbs. It's a bit too obviously a man in a fur suit. Arcturus (Dalek operator Murphy Grumbar) looks quite impressive. Letts asked for the squeaky voice in order to tone down its scariness.
Of the Peladonians (Pels?), the young King is played by David Troughton, in his third appearance in the programme, and Hepesh is Geoffrey Toone.
Episode endings for this adventure are:

  1. As they leave the throne room, the Doctor sees a huge statue of Aggedor tumble from a ledge towards the delegates...
  2. The Doctor has desecrated the Temple of Aggedor. Hepesh insists the penalty is death...
  3. The Doctor has just won the contest. Jo screams as she sees Ssorg fire his weapon...
  4. Izlyr and the Earth delegate, Amazonia, enter the delegate's chamber just in time to see the TARDIS dematerialise...

Overall, quite an atmospheric little story, with an interesting array of alien creatures. It might be a bit slow and wordy for younger viewers. The Ice Warrior "twist" is welcome.
Things you might like to know:
  • At the time he was making this, David Troughton was sharing a flat with one Colin Baker.
  • Arcturus' skull-like head is adapted from an Ogron mask.
  • The DVD cover for this story has the wrong Alpha Centauri on it. In this story, its cloak is a ragged crepe material, whereas in the sequel it is thicker curtain-type material. That's how you tell them apart, Mr Hickman.
  • This was the first ever story broadcast out of production sequence. The Sea Devils was recorded first. This was never possible in the past as stories used to made too soon before transmission.
  • Stunt team PROFILE gets its one and only credit. This was set up by Terry Walsh (Pertwee's regular double amongst many other things). Walsh had taken over as the programme's stunt co-ordinator from Derek Ware, who ran the HAVOC group.
  • The episode three cliff-hanger is one of the most badly edited bits of Doctor Who ever. The opening scenes of part four don't help much. This is mainly down to Letts wanting to tone down the violence.
  • The Doctor reprises his Venusian lullaby from The Daemons to pacify Aggedor.
  • Foreshadowing events on Peladon in the sequel, episode three was missed by many in the UK due to a miners' strike. A special recap had to be shown before part four. Ratings were badly affected.
  • The Ice Warriors appear to have only one bed in their room. Either Ssorg doesn't sleep - or...

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