The last time I watched 'The Curse of Peladon', I thought that it was incredibly dull. On this occasion therefore I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Well directed and designed, the story looks great, but its real strength lies in its thoughtfulness.
The basic premise of 'The Curse of Peladon', that of a technologically undeveloped society poised to join the Galactic Federation, a decision that is dividing its citizens, is a strong one, and it is well handled. On the one hand we have King Peladon, the angst ridden young Monarch of Peladon (an almost tortured performance from David Troughton) keen to see his people reap the benefits offered by the Federation, and on the other we have Hepesh, terrified of change and desperate to preserve the traditional beliefs of his people. This provides the basis of the conflict in the story, with Hepesh secretly conspiring against his King, with an alien conspirator thrown into the mix and the Doctor and the other delegates caught up in Hepesh web of intrigue. Part of the reason this works so well is that Hepesh is a well-rounded character. The scene in which he admits to the Doctor in episode three that he is frightened of the consequences of joining the Federation is impressive, because it emphasizes that he is not just another moustache-twirling megalomaniac, but a misguided man who genuinely thinks that he is acting in a good cause, even if that cause makes him so desperate that he will resort to murder. This is also demonstrated by his willingness to let the delegates go home in episode four, since he just wants them to leave his world in peace and not interfere, and is not prepared to risk the consequences of harming them. This then forms the bones of 'The Curse of Peladon'.
Several notable aspects flesh out 'The Curse of Peladon'. The most obvious is the delegates. The return of the Ice Warriors is most welcome, and given an interesting twist by having them prove not to be the villains. This confounds the long-term viewer's expectations, but more interestingly confounds the Doctor's. It is quite understandable that having only met hostile Martians in the past, the Doctor should be wary of them, but it's still rather satisfying to see this most moralistic of Doctors succumb to prejudice. This also provides the story with its big twist, since the Doctor's distrust of the Ice Warriors is conveyed to the viewer; as it transpires, Arcturus is the villain, whilst Izlyr proves to be a staunch ally. Since I personally prefer the Ice Warriors as noble allies, this scores particular points with me.
The other delegates work quite well. Arcturus is perilously close to looking cheap, but actually manages to look quite revolting as monsters go. Alpha Centauri of course looks like a penis in a cloak, but the twittering, hysterical hexapod is quite endearing and provides a nice contrast to the coldly calculating Arcturus and the unflappable Ice Warriors. The other "monster" on display here is Aggedor, who looks rather good when kept in shadow, which director Lennie Mayne wisely realises. Direction is strong throughout, combining with superb design work and great use of model shots of the Citadel to make 'The Curse of Peladon' very atmospheric. The fight scenes, both the fight between the Doctor and Grun in episode three, and the sword fight in the throne room at the climax, are very well staged and surprisingly convincing.
The two regulars are both exceptional here. Jon Pertwee puts in one of his most charming and charismatic performances, again in keeping with the Doctor's generally better demeanour whenever he manages to get away from Earth. The Doctor rises to very challenge that he encounters on Peladon, whether that challenge is impersonating the Earth delegate (a role he adopts with relish), fighting Grun in the pit, or hypnotizing Aggedor. This particular Doctor's ease at being accepted by establishment figures stands him in good stead, King Peladon never once doubting that he is a man of rank. Katy Manning puts in one of her finest performances up until this point, especially during her scenes with King Peladon. Jo's emotional pleading with the King to overrule the Doctor's death sentence is of especial note, and is a strong reminder that Katy is a fine actress. She also gets more to do than in previous stories, due to the attraction between her and Peladon.
In summary, 'The Curse of Peladon' is a modest but effective story that maintains the high quality set by 'Day of the Daleks', a trend that will continue with the next story.
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Whilst I still rate tom Baker as my favourite Doctor, I think Jon Pertwee was the one that influenced me most. I came to Curse of Peladon as a nine year old and this was just the time that I was getting into the series. I had vague memories from the year before of the spitting daffodils and the gingerbread-man killer doll, but not much else - I have a feeling that Mum felt it was all to scary and stopped me watching for a while. But somehow I got back into things with Day of the Daleks and was hooked by the time of Curse, although I did have to keep asking my Dad what the name of the telephone box was.
To this day, curse remains for me one of the very best stories. There was the mixture of the highly advanced TARDIS (only barely glimpsed, but it could survive falls down mountains as well as travelling to distant planets) and the gothic citadel of Peladon. I found Peladon utterly convincing as a distant planet. The great use of shadows probably helped, and I loved the idea of the pivoted flambeaux which opened secret doors, leading into even more shadowy caves. By the second or third week as a viewer, I was privy to secrets about Peladon that many of the inhabitants didn't possess.
The monsters were great. Arcturus in particular achieved a completely alien look. To my adult eyes, he still seems well realised, but as a nine year old I was utterly convinced by the notion of this wicked weed-like alien with his huge collar and tropical palm house container. His evil disposition was very effectively shown by the destruction of a plant pot in episode one. It's not actually an impressive moment for an adult, but at the time the fact that he could destroy every last trace of the object was quite chilling. Alpha Centuri was a great favourite, and was fairly well rounded as a character: basically good, but prone to let the Doctor down from fussy-minded obedience to rules, or from sheer cowardice. The combination of the Doctor calling it a 'chap' and it's high squeaky voice added to its alien's and charm. At 9, the phallic symbolism simply didn't register with me, although the notion of a being with just one huge eye captivated my imagination and appeared in most of my artwork at school for months afterwards.
The Ice Warriors were marvellous. I was young enough to be terrified of them, because they had the essential ingredient of most Doctor Who monsters, they were like something out of a nightmare. They might not be agile or very well armed, but what impressed me was their relentlessness, as they lumbered along, breathing heavily, just about to find Jo hiding in their room. They were that nameless something that comes after you in a dark dream. That they turned out to be friends, added to the roundness of the story.
Aggedor was another wonderful addition to the tale. Half hairy foe; half cuddly friend, again as a viewer was privy to inside information about him and generally he was rather well filmed and came over successfully to my child's eyes. It was the rounded storytelling that helped to imprint the character of the Doctor into my mind. Here was a hero who could befriend a roaring beast and tame him, just by singing him a song. He could also take the Ice Warriors on as allies, despite their past history, as a story telling device this was useful in pointing out how King Peladon could help his world; but also it was a useful lesson for a viewer, especially of school-age when friendships and enmities can run so deep.
The political overtones of the story resonated with me, because I was aware of the news stories about our status within the Common Market. I didn't understand all the nuances, but Hepesh was quite clearly carved out of the same wood as Mr Heath and Mr Wilson, who were always on the telly - either in person, or as Mike Yarwood - arguing about the future of the country.
Some people look back and regard the Pertwee Doctor as patronising and establishment. At the time, I found him reassuring and challenging. He was never prepared to put up with boorish behaviour, from friend or foe, but he knew all the social niceties, and could make his point forcibly and diplomatically. Unlike Centuri, he would never be afraid to step outside the proscribed limits - such as exploring the caves beneath the citadel; then when things went wrong and he was in terrible danger, his authority and courage gave me reassurance as a viewer that things would work out well. I like the Pertwee Doctor's moral and generally liberal stance on many issues. Looking back I can see that he was a mixture of Lett's compassion, Dicks gung-ho courage, and Pertwee's natural authority.
Jo was a marvellous companion, used very well here. The notion we are always fed that the latest Doctor Who girl will be braver than the last, would suggest that way back in 1972, the girls were terrified of everything. Jo wasn't like this at all, she spoke her mind, even to the doctor and would generally take it upon herself to have a go, even if it meant edging along a castle wall in high heels during a gale. And in the end she had the sense not to take up with the drippy Peladon.
I have always regarded Curse as one of the best Who stories. It had just about the right amount of continuity in it, with a brief TARDIS scene, and even briefer reference to the Time Lords. It had an array of imaginative monsters, very atmospheric design, and a mysterious, heroic Doctor. I wonder if I would remain a fan if Curse hadn't caught my attention all those years ago.
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Hard to imagine now of course, but us midling-youngsters of the early eighties were well and truly Pertwee-starved, relying on dim and distant memories of the elegant Third Doctor, and of course the ever-increasing chronicles recorded by Target. Then JNT became a hero by bringing three full adventures to our screens! After the previous Five Faces outings for The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters, over the summer of 1982 we were then treated to a monster cornucopia in the form of The Curse of Peladon.
In the Black Scrolls of Fandom this story is categorised as "an Ice Warrior story", which - though of course being true - does do an injustice to the other memorable alien races we meet on Peladon. We have the Peladonians themselves with their distinctive hair styles (maybe the Golgafrinchans stopped off here at some point!), the big shaggy beastie Aggedor, the shrill-voiced, green-skinned, semi-phallic hermaphrodite hexapod delegate from Alpha Centauri, and the downright disturbing delegate from Arcturus. Having no memory of the story on original broadcast I had only my battered Target version of events to go by, and whilst Aggedor was perhaps a little more cuddly than intended (he worked well in the shadows), and Centauri overly 'feminine', Arcturus was just as creepy as his literary counterpart - the production team had a field day on that creation! Perhaps the only let-down was his laser weapon, which suffered from its seventies effects legacy (oh no, the red blob of doom again!).
It was my first remembered experience with the Martians, too, and they perhaps didn't come across as huge and looming as I had been led to believe. Having seen The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death now I can fully appreciate this image of them, but unfortunately the rather taller cast here kind of dilluted their presence a bit. Plus of course there's the twist in which they turn out to be goodies rather than baddies this time around, though the Doctor was still able to instill a sense of threat about them when relating his previous experiences, and Izlyr or Ssorg can still be intimidating in spite of their relative heights!
(An an aside - these days we have the likes of Dan Starkey and Neve McIntosh creating a consistent look to a race, but back in the classic series this seldom happened - we're introduced to Sontarans being a clone race, but with the Martians we're actually treated to creatures that seem to fit the bill more admirably, thanks to the Alan Bennion cornering the market in Ice Lords.)
"The ancient Curse of Peladon will be fulfilled"
The story itself could almost be a Shakespearian play in its opening moment, with the array of characters paraded in front of us and their roles ascertained, through it soon settles down into the more traditional sci-fi trappings of a Doctor Who story. Torbis and Hepesh sound it off in front of their young King, and then the former apparently falls foul of the "curse" as a sign of displeasure of the mythical beast of Peladon over the decision to join the Federation. Here the "mistaken identity" strategy is used to introduce the Doctor and Jo to events, and it doesn't take long to see how the pretty Earth 'princess' has caught the eye of the King (who seems to quickly forget that she was meant to be on a date with Mike Yates - as Katy says on the commentary, "there's something about a prince that is irresistable!"). Then the Martian delegates turn and up the next couple of episodes are spent trying to convince us (and the Doctor) that they are the good guys, only to turn out that they actually are, hoorah! The real villains turn out to be Arcturus in league with Hepesh, and the ensuing revolution looks set to be victorious until the Doctor turns up proving the mythical Aggedor beasts are real, and its representative in the Citadel promptly shows its displeasure on its 'master' Hepesh. Hmm, actually it could have been written by Shakespeare after all!
"Holy flaming cow!"
Lennie Mayne's directorial debut for the series provides us with a competent traversal through the script, ably maintaining the journey through the layers of intrigue and no dud casting to be seen (or under costume!). David Troughton handles his first leading role well, and Gordon Stothard continues to excel in his non-speaking roles, this time visible on-screen as the mute champion Grun (strangely with a name-change as if the actor didn't want people to realise it was him!); plus with barely a minute on-screen Wendy Danvers makes her formidable presence known as the real Earth delegate Amazonia, who had she arrived when she was supposed to might well have been able to take on Izlyr, Hepesh and Aggedor on her own with the fierceness on display!
The sets are well-designed, too, with the mountainous slopes of Peladon superbly realised at Ealing, seamlessly integrating with the excellent modelwork as the TARDIS seemingly plummets to its destruction early on. Stunt-work is also excellent, but you can still play the "see Terry Walsh as the Doctor" drinking game and have a good chance to get sloshed [and of course the Uncle Terry commentary drinking rules might well send you into a stupor at around 22:55 into episode one :)].
The story has some notable firsts and lasts: it's the first time we're told the TARDIS is indestructible (though that had been suggested in stories like The Chase - but then why would we need the HADS in The Krotons?); it's the first story to be shown out of production order, having swapped with The Sea Devils to make the season flow better (though I've always felt that The Claws of Axos/Colony in Space make better continuity when reversed); it's the first story since The Space Pirates to have no location filming (indeed it and Monster are the only Pertwee stories like that) - Barry Letts said on the commentary that this helped finanically with the location-heavier stories in the season; and it's the last time the TARDIS console room appears in this configuration (perhaps the drop down the mountain did more damage than initially thought!).
Probably the best 'fluff' to watch out for is Pertwee muffling his lines under the TARDIS console as a picture of a naked lady comes into his eyeline (*not* Katy Manning!).
In conclusion, a fun story with lots of intrigue, good acting and great sets, plenty of monsters (the biggest gathering of races since The Daleks' Master Plan!); being a four-parter, there's also little of the sluggishness that can occur in the longer stories of this era).
I'll leave you with this thought: how must poor Peladon have felt, having lost both of his father-figures in the space of a couple of days - one initiated by the other and both by his mythical Royal beast - and then having a beautiful woman first turn down his marriage proposal and then turn out to be an imposter!
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Brian Hayles’ novelisation of The Curse of Peladon was among the earliest Doctor Who adaptations published by Target, appearing on bookshelves in January 1975. Reprinted numerously in the 1970s, 80s and 90s it is one of the more memorable books in the range and it’s surprising that it’s taken AudioGo this long to adapt it.
Doctor Who and The Curse of Peladon
Originally starring Jon Pertwee
Written by Brian Hayles
Narrated by David Troughton
Released by BBC AudioGo, May 2013
The Curse of Peladon is one of the highlights of the Jon Pertwee era, seeing the Doctor and Jo taking a rare excursion to another world, and a world which is one of the best defined and realised that Doctor Who had given us up to that point. The story is full of incident and moves along at a fair pace, making the running time of over 5 hours less of an ordeal than some of AudioGo’s other releases. Unlike some of the other early Target novels, Hayles sticks closely to the TV version, making a few additions here and there but mainly sticking to his scripts. However Hayles clearly takes delight in fleshing out his creations, giving us a little more insight into the customs and politics of Peladon and taking the opportunity to make alien delegates Alpha Centauri and Arcturus rather more impressive than they were on screen. Here Alpha’s, octopoid nature is constantly stressed, depicted as a mass of constantly shifting, colour changing tentacles rather than the phallus with hoover attachments we saw on TV.
However, Hayles fails to transcribe much of what worked in the visuals of the TV version. The Curse of Peladon was an unusually lush production for the time and had a distinct visual style. The purple robes, unusual hair pieces and visual iconography of Aggedor which brought the original production to life are not described in the novelisation, with Peladon’s citadel and inhabitants depicted in sparse detail.
Hayles has a rather unusual take on Pertwee’s Doctor, often emphasising the arrogance and egotism of the character (perhaps suggesting a preference for his predecessor). It’s an intriguingly different take on the Doctor, and one of the highlights of novelisations written by authors other than the prolific Terrance Dicks is that they sometimes offer unusual interpretations of familiar characters.
While Hayles’ take on the Doctor is interesting he is less successful in his depiction of Jo. On TV Katy Manning had a tendency to play against lines, managing to show Jo’s intense affection for the Doctor at the same time as chastising him. Here, although her dialogue is the same as the TV version, the narration fails to capture the subtleties of Manning’s performance, meaning she comes across as a constant whinger, who doesn’t seem to like the Doctor or enjoy her adventures at all.
David Troughton, who played King Peladon in the original version, is (as usual) an excellent reader, performing all the alien delegates dialogue with gusto, closely replicating how they sounded on TV, and helped out by some skilful post-production to emphasise their alienness. The story is a sound designer’s dream, filled as it is with crashing thunder, echoing caverns and an assortment of strangely voiced creatures, and is coupled with a subtle yet effective score.
This is an excellently read and produced version of one of Target’s more iconic titles, and will appeal to fans of Pertwee and the early Target novels.
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