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The Curse of Peladon

story 62 | season 9 | serial lll
Michael Stead

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.

Paul Clarke

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.