This story takes
place between the
tV stories "DAY OF
THE DALEKS" and
"THE SEA DEVILS."
THE CURSE &
CURSE OF THE PELADONS
'PELADON TALES' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2744)
RELEASED IN JANUARY
TAKING A TEST FLIGHT,
THE TARDIS MAKES AN
INELEGANT LANDING ON
THE PLANET PELADON.
MISTAKEN FOR EARTH'S
DOCTOR SOON FINDS
HIMSELF CHAIRING THE
COMMITTEE OF ALIEN
TO JOIN THE GALACTIC
WHEN ONE OF THE KING'S
ADVISORS IS KILLED,
THE HIGH PRIEST FEARS
THE ANCIENT CURSE OF
AGGEDOR IS AT WORK,
BUT THE DOCTOR IS SURE
THAT HIS OLD ENEMIES
THE ICE WARRIORS ARE
TO BLAME. CAN JO AND
THE DOCTOR UNCOVER
THE IDENTITY OF THE
SABOTEURS BEFORE A
THEM INTO WAR?
The Curse of Peladon
29TH JANUARY 1972 - 19TH FEBRUARY 1972
The two Peladon serials are commonly regarded as being amongst the finest of
the third Doctor’s tenure, The Curse of Peladon in particular. I think it speaks volumes that DVD booklet scribe Sue Cowley couldn’t confine her adulation for this four-parter to just a single column of text, her scant word count burgeoning with applause for the myriad twists and turns and medieval mystery of this “menagerie of monsters”. Happily I’m not bound by such constraints.
Brian Hayles’ story is certainly a remarkable one, especially when taking into account when
it aired. Prior to this tale, the third Doctor had only enjoyed one off-world adventure, the rest all having been heavily grounded in the Earthbound UNIT format. Accordingly, the prospect of a procession of monsters and a moody alien vista was enough in itself to set The Curse of Peladon apart from its peers. Yet upon closer inspection, Curse is even more extraord-inary. With the intention of broadening the series’ audience, Hayles uses patent allegory to comment on Britain’s reluctance to enter to the European Communities’ Common Market, with Peladon representing early 1970s Britain and the Galactic Federation representing
the European Communities. Perhaps most astoundingly of all though, Hayles’ whodunit culminates in an unprecedented revelation; one that defies both the viewer’s expectations and the series’ narrative convention.
Peladon itself is immaculately presented. The bleak studio lighting and distinctive Pel attire accentuate the script’s forbidding medieval atmosphere, while Hayles’ plot actively exploits studio’s claustrophobia rather than being constrained by it. This being the case, I find it most interesting that The Curse of Peladon was the first Doctor Who serial to be broadcast out
of sequence. Shot after filming on The Sea Devils wrapped but broadcast before, Season
9 places its studio-bound serials in between those that boasted location filming. And so with Curse sandwiched between two serials that are visually much brighter, the dark and doleful atmosphere engendered by director Lennie Mayne is only heightened further.
In marked contrast, the characters
that populate the Pel Court are as
colourful a bunch as you’re ever
likely to find in Doctor Who. Fed-eration delegate Alpha Centauri (who is named after her planet in
an attempt to engender a Shake-
spearian feel) is the most efferv-
escent of the lot; a green-skinned,
yellow-caped hermaphrodite hex-
apod who looks frighteningly like a diseased penis, and sounds like one too. Her opposite number, Arcturus (of the planet Arcturus), is far less memorable, but just as effective within tale; and the Ice Lord Izlyr (from Mars, sadly; not Izlyr) is one of the best-rounded Martians that we’ve ever seen in the series. To say that he spends nearly a hundred minutes hissing, Alan Bennion is able to invest a hell of a lot of depth in the character.
Indeed, my favourite aspect of this story is Hayles’ clever use of the Martians. The first time that I saw this serial, I was completely taken aback by the sight of an Ice Warrior in colour. Their skin is so green, their eyes are so red; they really look the business, all scaly and evil. How ironic then that this story would portray them as a progressive race, wrongly accused throughout by the bigoted Doctor. All too often in these sorts of circumstances the Doctor warns all and sundry about some alien menace – as he does in The Power of the Daleks,
for instance – only to be proven right. Here, however, Hayles had the gumption to break the mould, portraying the erstwhile conquerors as a noble and enlightened people, who by the thirty-ninth century have left their warlike history behind them. Watching this story with almost forty years hindsight, it struck me just how similar theIce Warriors are to the Klingons seen
in Star Trek: The Next Generation and thereafter, not only with their analogous codes of honour but, more fundamentally, in how they began as out-and-out baddies before eventually becoming unlikely allies.
The Pel nobles are portrayed with comparable finesse, particularly
David Troughton’s King Peladon and Geoffrey Toone’s Hepesh.
Peladon has a vulnerability about him that’s almost tragic; so much
so, in fact, that I’m still half-surprised that the story ends as well as it
does for him. His relationship with Hepesh is agonisingly portrayed,
the viewer able to see on the faces of the two men the conflict that is
tearing them apart. Both actors give enthralling performances, though
this shouldn’t be all that surprising given their associations with the
series. Toone had previously played the Thal Temmosus in the Aaru
movie Dr Who and the Daleks, and Troughton had appeared as a
walk-on in The Enemy of the World during his father’s time as the
Doctor, on the strength of which he won this role. Troughton has
returned to the series on a number of occasions since too (sans
postiche!), in 2009 even reprising the role of the King for the Big
Finish audio book The Prisoner of Peladon.
Jo Grant; perhaps even her strongest. Katy Manning’s
“cuddly kitten” character has always proven popular
amongst fans, often because she was just so damned
dogged and amiable. To the Doctor though, despite
his obvious affection for her, more often than not she
was a total liability, blundering into danger time and
again and causing him no end of trouble. Her heart
was always in the right place, but her head wasn’t
always where it should have been. In many ways, Jo
was exactly the type that Jon Pertwee always said
he wanted as a companion – not some intellectual,
independent scientist or some ballsy journalist, but
someone that he could draw under his big cloak and
just look after. Here, however, Jo shines in a different
way. Much as she did in The Dæmons, she plays a
fundamental role in the resolution of events – arguably
a more important role than even the Doctor himself –
and serves as the voice of reason throughout, despite
been swept up in a gentle romance with an alien King!
The fact that she’s posing as a Princess, and looks
every inch the fairytale princess, only helps matters. In
fact, Manning has only ever looked better when posing
with that Dalek (right)…
The DVD presents this serial’s four episodes looking better than they ever have, although when compared with contemporaneous serials that are fortunate enough to have survived the purges of the 1970s unscathed, inevitably the picture quality is poorer. Toby Hadoke moderates a commentary that plays across all four cleaned-up episodes, featuring actress Katy Manning, script editor Terrance Dicks, production assistant Chris D’Oyly-John and late producer Barry Letts. As ever, Letts and Dicks are a pleasure to listen to, though of course it’s a much more sombre experience now that Letts is no longer with us. Given the decades that have passed since The Curse of Peladon went before the cameras, Hadoke’s input here is absolutely invaluable as he gently probes the contributors’ memories without ever really intruding on their reminiscences.
The release’s flagship documentary is Part 1 of John Kelly’s Peladon Saga, the concluding part to which follows on the second disc of The Monster of Peladon DVD, released in the same box set. This opening instalment sees the surviving cast and crew of both serials look at the political climate of the early 1970s, and how it palpably influenced writer Brian Hayles. It’s a well-researched and beautifully presented programme; one that I feel really does this seminal serial justice.
Warriors of Mars is a little shorter, and I suspect a little more derivative too. It’s been a while since I watched The Seeds of Death DVD, but I could swear that some of the interviews with Ice Warriors Sonny Caldinez and Alan Bennion have been lifted from the bonus material on offer there (either that, or they tell the same stories!), and the audio clips of the deceased Bernard Bresslaw definitely have. This doesn’t really matter though, as the anecdotes and insights offered here are just as relevant to The Curse of Peladon as they were to the tales of Patrick Troughton’s era, irrespective of when and why they were recorded.
Above: Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning, the focus of Jon and Katy
My favourite special feature though is one of the disc’s shortest – Jon and Katy. Doing exa-ctly what is says it will on the tin, this seven-minute featurette takes a touching look back at the warmly remembered third Doctor and Jo Grant partnership, splicing clips of the pair’s most tender moments with the musings of Katy Manning, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. The Green Death’s closing scene still gets me every time.
In writing this review, I’ve realised that I don’t have a bad word to say about The Curse of Peladon, which has come of a bit of a surprise, as I’ve never raved about it in the way that some have - if anything, I’ve always thought it overrated. But watching it again, lifted by some loving restoration work and some insidiously influential bonus material, flaming torches and ill-lit corridors suddenly hold an appeal for me that they never really have before.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2010
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