Thursday, 21 June 2018
Inspirations - The Curse of Peladon
With Season 8 considered a success, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks decided on more of the same for Season 9. We've already talked about using the Daleks as a draw for the season opener, and Malcolm Hulke had been approached about providing a sequel to his Silurian story. This would see the reintroduction of the Master, so that he would be around for the season finale, now that it would no longer feature Daleks. Letts and Dicks were keen to get the Doctor off Earth again, and Colony in Space had given them the perfect vehicle to allow this, bearing in mind that the Doctor was still in exile on the planet. He could be sent on special missions by the Time Lords, and two such missions were to happen this year.
Writer Brian Hayles, who had written for both the Hartnell and Troughton Doctors, had submitted a pair of story ideas in 1971. One was another Ice Warrior tale - "The Brain Dead" - and the other was a whodunnit set on an alien planet - "The Shape of Terror". This would be of the base-under-siege format, with no location filming required. Letts and Dicks liked the idea of the second submission, but did not like the monster. It was then decided to proceed with it, but to bring in the Ice Warriors into it. The Martians had proven to be very popular in their two previous outings.
The Curse of Peladon, as it eventually came to be known, would be a relatively cheap story to make, what with the reuse of existing monster costumes and its studio-bound nature - useful as Hulke's "The Sea Silurians" was to have a great deal of location filming. As it was, only one Ice Warrior costume was reused, with elements of Slaar's Ice Lord outfit being used for Izlyr.
A decision was also taken to record the story out of sequence.
Right from the beginning, some stories had been held back to be broadcast after the summer break, but stories had always been shown in the order they were made. Towards the end of the Troughton era, it had been impossible to do otherwise, as episodes were being recorded only a week or two prior to transmission. With shorter seasons, Letts was able to have The Sea Devils recorded first, but have Curse shown before it. This was because the Hulke story had extensive filming at sea, and they needed to make sure it was filmed when the weather might be fine. Letts also wanted a long enough gap before the Master was reintroduced, acknowledging he had been overused in the previous season, and it also meant that the two space-bound / Time Lord mission stories could be separated.
This would be the first story of the Pertwee era, as broadcast, not to feature any of the UNIT cast members.
Hayles' storyline featured an assembly of alien delegates gathering on an alien planet on a diplomatic mission - to decide if that planet, Peladon, should be admitted to the Galactic Federation. Initial drafts called it simply "The Curse" or "The Curse of the Peladons".
Hayles was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles when he decided to have a supposedly mythical beast haunting the planet. As with the Conan Doyle story, the beast would turn out to be a real animal, and be the tool of a human agent. High Priest Hepesh keeps it locked away and only lets it out to do the killing for him, in the same way that Stapleton does. It may be purely coincidental, but the Doctor wears a rather Holmesian costume in this.
It was felt that having the Ice Warriors as the villains would be too obvious, and undermine any efforts to include a whodunnit element. Hayles decided to embark on some character development and show how the Martians had changed over time. The Doctor - and the audience - would automatically assume they were the bad guys, only to discover that he was at fault in blaming them initially.
The Ice Warriors are now respected members of the Federation, and have turned their back on their old warmongering ways. Slaar had been introduced in The Seeds of Death in order to develop the race further, showing different classes. He was also easier on the ear, able to converse fluently with the Doctor and other characters, whereas the Ice Warrior soldiers had been stuck with slow, whispering voices, which had to be dubbed on. Actor Alan Bennion was invited back to play the new Ice Lord - never referred to as such on screen - Izlyr. Playing his deputy, Ssorg, was another Ice Warrior veteran - one time wrestler Sonny Caldinez. He had featured in both of the Troughton Ice Warrior stories, and inherited the "hero" costume. (Caldinez had one other credit - Maxtible's Turkish servant Kemel in The Evil of the Daleks).
Another link to the Troughton era was the casting of his son David as King Peladon. He would provide some love interest for Jo Grant, though the story opens with her apparently on her way to a dinner date with Mike Yates. David Troughton had appeared as an extra in The Enemy of the World, directed by Barry Letts, and had then taken on a more substantial role as Private Moor in The War Games. Looking at his costume in this, it ought to be noted that the Glam Rock phenomenon was in full flow at this time. Troughton's outfit would not have looked out of place worn on Top of the Pops by Brian Eno of Roxy Music (and Rick Wakeman of Yes could have easily gotten away with Hepesh's robes).
The main inspiration for this story is one which Letts and Dicks have been at great pains to argue against. They state in numerous interviews and DVD commentaries that, save for The Green Death, they never actively sought out current news stories to be the basis of any Doctor Who story. They do admit that sometimes a writer might pick up current affairs by osmosis, and so these things find their way into the scripts. It is hard to believe that The Curse of Peladon was not consciously inspired by the moves to have the United Kingdom join the European Economic Community - in the same way that Hayles must surely have been influenced by the widespread industrial action which backgrounds its sequel.
In 1957 West Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands met in Rome to begin the process of forming the European Economic Community. What emerged was the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - better known as the Treaty of Rome. It came into effect on 1st January 1958. The purpose was to create a single market amongst the member states, removing trade barriers and allowing freedom of movement for goods, labour and services. The Common Agricultural Policy grew out of it. Thousands had died of famine across Europe in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and it was determined that this should never happen again.
The UK had applied to join the EEC in 1961, but the moves were vetoed by the French President Charles De Gaulle. You'll recall the scene in An Adventure in Time and Space where William Hartnell tells his co-stars they have finally made it when there is a cartoon featuring a Dalek in the newspaper - the De Gaulle Dalek. The French President was famous for exclaiming "Non!" every time UK membership of the EEC was raised. Resistance ended when De Gaulle resigned in 1969 - which prompted one of those funny quotes you may have heard. Mme De Gaulle was asked by an interviewer what she most looked forward to now that her husband was retiring from public life. After a pause she replied: "A penis". Her husband lent forward and said, "No my dear - in England they pronounce it Happiness".
Which brings us to Alpha Centauri... No - we'll get to it shortly.
The UK finally signed up to join the EEC in 1972, following a referendum in which some 67% of the country voted in favour of going in. As of 1st January, 1973, the UK was a member.
It can be no coincidence that The Curse of Peladon revolves around a proud, if archaic and backward-looking, state joining a wider confederation. Today, Gormenghast is lurching backwards...
By the time this story was broadcast, the UK had caught up with Star Trek, and from now on some of its stories have been cited as possible inspirations for Doctor Who ones - and indeed vice versa.
Many see the ST-TOS Season 2 episode Journey to Babel as a possible inspiration for Curse. It also features an assorted group of aliens on a diplomatic mission, and one of the delegates is, for a time, suspected of having committed a crime (Spock's dad Sarek).
Star Trek's influence is also felt in the manner in which the Doctor resolves this diplomatic crisis. Rather than face execution, he accepts trial by combat. He is deposited in an arena where he must fight the King's Champion - Grun. Captain Kirk was often called upon to fight aliens in similar circumstances - most notably the episode called Arena, though you might also want to consider The Gamesters of Triskelion. The one with the planet which is run like Imperial Rome - Bread and Circuses - naturally has gladiatorial combats.
We also have the fact that the organisation which Peladon wants to join is called the Federation.
Returning now to Mme De Gaulle's accent, we should mention that this is the first story to be directed by Lennie Mayne. A speaks-his-mind Australian, he was mortified when he first saw the Alpha Centauri costume. Initially it did not have a cape, and he thought it looked like a giant membrum virile. The cloak was hastily added, but Mayne just felt that it now looked like a prick in a cape. A much embroidered convention tale has Mayne urging a stronger reaction from the cast when Aggedor enters the throne room. Pertwee worked the room and after a break everyone exclaimed "Holy F***ing Cow!" when Aggedor appeared. One of the embellishments to this story is that this took place just as Barry Letts was showing some easily offended guests around the studio at the time.
Before we go, one further inspiration is the tune for the Doctor's Venusian lullaby. Pertwee was notorious for disliking scientific jargon in the scripts. He found that he could remember the words to the song by singing it to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
Next time: Pertwee remembers another bit of jargon by putting it to another tune - and it's his most famous line. The Master finally returns to the show, and everyone - even the monsters - is all at sea...