I’ve been blogging about ‘epics’ in Doctor Who that span several episodes to tell one cohesive story and while there are some legitimate ones (Dalek’s Masterplan, Key to Time) and some rather dubious ones (Abominable Snowmen, Web of Fear), the most curious has to be the pair Peladon adventures.
Written by veteran scriptwriter Brian Hayles, the pair of stories attempts to mount a tale with all the trappings of space opera and a murder mystery. The creator of the Ice Warriors, it is important to note that Hayles previous two scripts for the program are cracking good reads. The Celestial Toymaker is a bizarre oddity far ahead of its time as the Doctor and his companions pit their wits against a cosmic being obsessed with high stakes games. The Ice Warriors (which introduced the hard-case Martians to Doctor Who) is similarly gripping drama. His Peladon stories… not so much. Part of the problem is that they are essentially the exact same story with minor changes to differentiate them from each other, such as Joe Grant is in one and Sarah Jane Smith is on the other.
But is it all bad news?
‘The Curse of Peladon’
Screened in 1972, just after Day of the Daleks brought fans back to their screens rapt in anticipation of what could come next, The Curse of Peladon is a step backwards in many ways for Doctor Who. The program had become sophisticated and more action-oriented than ever before in recent years. The Doctor had moved from the clownish character played by Patrick Troughton into a more straight-forward role as dynamic hero in the form of the dashing man of action played by entertainer Jon Pertwee.
The Pertwee era is very schizophrenic, however, and roams freely from taught melodrama to absurd comic book high adventure from week to week. The ninth season has its share of both high and low drama with The Curse of Peladon falling somewhere in the middle.
Part of the reason why this story is so hard to categorize is that it attempts to make a statement on the relationship between cultures that are at odds with each other but also sorely need each other (possibly a reflection of the dynamic between Scotland and England) while also depicting alien lifeforms as shrill annoying creatures dressed in shower curtains. Yes, I’m talking about Alpha Centauri. The story also functions as a ‘whodunnit’ as the ambassadors of the Galactic Federation are being targeted by some shadowy adversary. The Doctor has a rather pivotal role to play as an investigator into just who is out to prevent Peladon from joining the Federation and he is continually tripped up his own prejudice against the Martian Ice Warriors.
Introduced in the Troughton era and seen in two adventures (The Ice Warriors and Seeds of Death), the Ice Warriors at this time had been established as power mad monsters out to destroy the human race. After foiling a pair of grandiose schemes to cause large scale murder, it is understandable that the Doctor would be more than a little suspicious at the presence of two Ice Warriors as part of the Galactic Federation party on planet… especially when people start turning up dead.
That being said, the big reveal is that the Ice Warriors are in fact not the bad guys and the least suspected suspect is actually the perpetrator of the heinous deeds threatening the future of the Peladonian culture. The friction between accepting the new ways of the universe or holding by the old traditions is embodies by the young King Peladon played by mini-skirt wearing and lisping actor David Troughton (the son of the second actor to play the Doctor, Patrick Troughton). The fact that the King looks more like Ziggy Stardust than royalty is very distracting as is the awkward romance angle between the King and the Doctor’s companion Joe Grant (well, they would, wouldn’t they?). The mysterious deaths are put at the feet of the mythical boogie man known as Aggedor. Of course, the Doctor manages to make friends with the real Aggedor by cooing it into submission with the ‘Venusian Lullaby.’
The Galactic Federation ambassadors consist of the goofiest aliens ever seen, from the rubber novelty toy in a tub of Jell-O mounted on a microfridge (the Arcturan delegate) to the hissing Ice Warriors and the afore-mentioned Alpha Centauri (a giant eyeball with tentacles wearing a shower curtain). If you ever want to drive anyone away from Doctor Who, this is what you show them.
In fact it’s so absurd that there’s a RiffTrax DIY-style video.
The aliens are so goofy that it immediately kills any credibility that the story ever had. Alongside the goofy aliens problem is the hairstyles of Peladonians which is a killer ‘fro that connects to the eyebrows and in some cases to the beard as well. It’s a veritable hair mask. It’s all… even for Doctor Who… very very silly.
It’s so silly in fact that almost all I can remember from either story is the goofy aliens and the funny hair. The story does have a point (of sorts) about the threat of losing one’s culture to another by blending into a larger society… but you have to stifle the giggling of your roommate to make that out.
‘The Monster of Peladon’
Set some 50 years after the Doctor’s previous visit to Peladon, the 1974 story The Monster of Peladon is a veritable rehash of the previous adventure. This time accompanied by the feminist journo Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor arrives on Peladon to find that it has become part of the Galactic Federation but that the planet’s status is being threatened by unruly trisilicate miners. The visions of Aggedor that had plagued the people before are being seen again and the miners are viewing it as a sign that they should not be part of the Galactic Federation at all. Whereas ‘Curse’ could be seen as a statement on Scotland’s real-life uneasy relations with England, this could also be another such statement as it related to miner’s strikes of the 1970′s.
That said, you’d have to look past the goofy aliens and hilarious hair to see any of that.
In the place of the King, this time we have a Queen (no doubt so that the vocal feminist Sarah Jane Smith could have some dialog with her), but aside from that it’s a rehash of the previous Peladon story with one difference… the Ice Warriors really are the bad guys this time. Seeking to gain power over the precious mined Peladonian ore, the Ice Warriors and a human agent are in cahoots to gain the upper hand this time.
Much like the first Peladon story, this is also a whopping six 23 minute episodes long and you feel each one like a punch on the face. While not terrible, it is a snooze-worthy story, especially when you take into account that it is in the same season as The Time Warrior and Planet of Spiders. There is one redeeming thing that can be said about both Peladon stories and that is that they tried something new. It’s not common for the Doctor to have to put his detective hat on and really dig into the details of a political murder mystery… I just wish that the result had been more engaging.
Both Peladon stories are due to be released at the end of the year as a box set in place of the previously planned Kamelion Box Set of King’s Demons and Planet of Fire. Ah, well. I’m a big fan of Pertwee’s Doctor myself so I will no doubt be purchasing the set, but these stories are far from the best that the program, or this era, have to offer.