The Curse of Peladon

Posted in Episode by - November 01, 2016
The Curse of Peladon

Aired 29 January – 19 February 1972

‘The Curse of Peladon’ is a throwback to the adventures of the First and Second Doctors where, aside from a throwaway line at the end explaining that the Time Lords had sent the Doctor to the planet of Peladon on their behalf, the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS and quickly finds himself embroiled in the local events of a mysterious alien planet. Like ‘The Colony in Space’ the previous years, ‘The Curse of Peladon’ acts as another dry run for the Third Doctor’s time after exile when he would not be confined to Earth, this time adding in more ostentatious science fiction elements and alien races.

The Third Doctor’s era had already become notable at this time for offering, on the whole, more sophisticated and adult-oriented scripts that kept their fingers on the pulse of social consciousness, and that aspect fortunately continues to some extent even as the episode hearkens back to and older style of offerings. At the same time avoiding static and one-dimensional villains that were often the plague of the black and white era, ‘The Curse of Peladon’ takes great strides in adding a much richer layering to one of the Doctor’s most well-known foes, the Ice Warriors of Mars. While the Ice Warriors were presented as basic evil in their previous outing, ‘The Seeds of Death,’ resulting in the Doctor’s annihilation of the invaders, this story so full of mystery and political intrigue makes it much more difficult for the Doctor to act on his inherent distrust of the species.

Keeping the time of production and broadcast as a frame of reference, the United Kingdom was undergoing intense debates as to whether it should join the European Union, mirroring medieval Peladon’s internal debate about joining the Galactic Federation. Accordingly, the distrust of the alien species and Federation by Hepesh, in particular, is a resounding metaphor for the dissenters within the UK yearning for the status quo to remain, while the hopes and dreams of the affable and youthful King Peladon represent the younger generation on Earth thinking of the benefits of an interconnected society.

Intriguingly, it’s Katy Manning as the naïve but strong and capable Jo Grant who really drives the story forward. The character has progressed substantially since her first appearance in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and has taken on the role of being the eyes and ears of the audience, here unafraid to use the King’s infatuation with her to guide him towards being a better ruler while also undertaking her own investigation into affairs while showing the ability to quickly think on her feet to maintain her cover. As the Doctor remains blinded by his distrust of the Ice Warriors, he is unable to provide the answers of the murder mystery as he so normally would, and it’s interesting to note that the mystery may have remained unsolved had the true culprit not tried to murder the Doctor.

Even if the resolution and Hepesh’s coup lack some of the intended impact, it’s fitting that the Ice Warrior Izlyr reveals he was responsible for the Federation ambassadors staying in order to try to fight the Doctor’s death sentence, showing that even the heroic Time Lord is capable of being wrong. It would have been nice to see the Doctor and Ice Warrior show some sort of sign of a mutual respect following these events, but that omission certainly does not detract from what is overall a successful foray into alien territory for a programme that always retained a burgeoning sense of adventure at its heart.

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