The Curse of Peladon ****

"Inventive, ambitious Who" with a galaxy of aliens, and surprisingly friendly Ice Warriors...

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Curse of Peladon ****

Season 9 – Story 61

"So, the spirit of Aggedor has risen again. The ancient curse of Peladon… will be fulfilled!" - Hepesh

Storyline

When the Doctor and Jo land on the planet Peladon, which is poised to join the Galactic Federation, they're mistaken for delegates from Earth. The Doctor is alarmed to find Ice Warriors among the other visiting delegates. All of them are unnerved by the sudden death of one of King Peladon's advisers, the other of whom, Hepesh, opposes alliance with the federation. The Doctor dismisses Hepesh's claim that the spirit of Aggedor is behind this and other disruptive incidents, instead suspecting a saboteur…


First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 29 January 1972
Episode 2 - Saturday 5 February 1972
Episode 3 - Saturday 12 February 1972
Episode 4 - Saturday 19 February 1972

Production
Filming: December 1971 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: January 1972 in TC4, January/February 1972 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
King Peladon - David Troughton
Hepesh - Geoffrey Toone
Torbis - Henry Gilbert
Izlyr - Alan Bennion
Ssorg - Sonny Caldinez
Alpha Centauri - Stuart Fell
Alpha Centauri voice - Ysanne Churchman
Arcturus - Murphy Grumbar
Arcturus voice - Terry Bale
Grun - Gordon St Clair
Aggedor - Nick Hobbs
Guard captain - George Giles
Amazonia - Wendy Danvers

Crew
Writer - Brian Hayles
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Gloria Clayton
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Lennie Mayne

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Certain serials stir especially warm memories from my childhood. It's something about those flickering torches in underground labyrinths and savage storms outside the windswept citadel that conjure up cosy viewings in a toasty sitting room. The Curse of Peladon is such a story.

The phrase "diplomatic nightmare" was surely invented for Brian Hayles's exciting, elegant four-parter, which rolls a monster gallery, a whodunnit and a romance into one. A veiled comment on Britain's entry into the Common Market broadened its appeal and gave it the kind of added dimension that can only boost a story's value.

In many ways it's a dry run for The End of the World, gathering a galaxy of aliens (ok, a handful) and lobbing a killer into their midst. That 2005 story had gleaming CGI and a planet-load of prosthetics, but I much prefer the cheaper, claustrophobic chills of this adventure.

We've had a carnival of creatures before, in Mission to the Unknown, but here cast and crew strive to make them all a bit different, and invest them with distinct personalities. Alpha Centauri is a twittering ninny, Arcturus a life-support-assisted schemer (with a voice like the "For Mash get Smash" robots) and the Pels themselves a mixture of very human traits - for an unsurprising architect of chaos, Hepesh is at least well sculpted in terms of motive.

The ace in the pack, however, is the reintroduction of the Ice Warriors. Previous encounters have shown these sibilant belligerents to be arch meanies, and Hayles yanks the rug from under the Doctor - and us - in skilful fashion.

Time and again we're wrong-footed by the reptiles' roundedness ("If you will excuse us, Arcturus"; "Now we reject violence"; "His ignorance of the law at least deserves consideration"). As returning villains go, they must be the politest!

Less successful is Aggedor who, with a great rumbling growl (that actually sounds like the voice artist saying "Roar!"), could have done with being much bigger. In meeker, mesmerised mode, he works rather better. Perhaps he was just confounded by Jon Pertwee singing him God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in blatant gibberish. I know I was.

The Doctor's trial by combat (thrillingly filmed from above) and the lusty swordfight in the king's throne room are well handled, as is the burgeoning affection between "Princess Josephine of Tardis" and King Peladon (played by a Troughton, no less). The way Jo coyly lowers her eyes when he praises her beauty, and her rising colour at his evaluation of marriage as a beneficial pact are both beautifully played by Katy Manning.

As is Jo's loyalty to the Doctor. This may be false memory syndrome kicking in, but the very possibility that we might lose Jo from the series was one that greatly troubled my seven-year-old self. The Doctor treads very carefully around his heartbroken companion, while unable to refrain from wearing his hearts on his velvet sleeve: "I wouldn't want to lose you."

After the grating electronic weebling of previous soundtracks, Dudley Simpson settles into a more familiar sound for the incidentals, one that became firmly embedded in the show's infrastructure for another eight years. We'll excuse him the moment when the Doctor discovers his opponent in combat, and a farty noise on the synthesiser accompanies a laughably low camera shot of Grun. How to ruin a moment!

This is inventive, ambitious Who, resourcefully brought to the screen and thoughtfully performed. A winner in so many ways.


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What Katy did next…

“That was a lovely story. I remember I had a bit of a crush on David Troughton. We didn’t do proper publicity shots then so they now have archived pictures of me with Carmen rollers in my hair [from rehearsals; see main photo above]. I had to climb up the side of a mountain with eyelashes that actually knitted in the wind. I couldn’t open my eyes or see anything.

“To me Alpha Centauri looked like a big pickled cucumber. And I learnt what a hermaphrodite was. A very educational show. It has changed my life.”

(Talking to RT, April 2012) 

Radio Times archive material

RT billings

[Available on BBC DVD; soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]