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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (part four)

Happily, the frighteners that the monsters put on our son over the last two sessions wore off for the all-action finale of this story. He really enjoyed the sword fight, which features about a dozen men. It’s honestly not shot particularly well – though in fairness, it must be amazingly difficult to choreograph so many people in a three-camera studio videotape situation – but the action is pretty impressive.

Perhaps less impressive, from his perspective, is the mushiness between Jo and King Peladon, the first of a few fellows that Jo meets on her travels to get her heart a-flutter. Katy Manning and David Troughton have a very nice chemistry together, and I really enjoy her performance as the king tries to persuade her to stay with him. The best little scene, however, is when the two Ice Warriors silently menace Alpha Centauri into changing its vote, and the weird eyeball alien lowers its eye sadly and raises three of its tentacles. Pretty terrific body language for such a ridiculous and ungainly costume!

“The Curse of Peladon” is certainly a well-paced script, even if I really think that the story badly needs to actually see the court officials that it mentions in passing. Sometimes you see people moan that Doctor Who needed more money spent on it, but that’s usually from the perspective of viewers who don’t like the special effects. This is a story where I wish the budget had run to bigger sets and more speaking parts. It’s not great Who, but it’s an entertaining little adventure.

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (parts two and three)

Like a lot of classic Who, “The Curse of Peladon” aims far above its limitations. One of these is the simplicity of the sets. Sure, they look like nice corridors, and they’re actually lit well, which certainly wasn’t always the case in the videotape era, but they insist on looking like the throne room and the delegates’ conference rooms are separated by about twenty feet. A major part of the script involves Hepesh keeping knowledge about a network of subterranean tunnels and secret passages from the king. Twice, the story has the opportunity to change direction completely if King Peladon will just walk down the hall and check out the Doctor’s claim that there are hidden doors in the place. Frankly, everything here would make a whole heck of a lot more sense if he did that. Even if the writer, Brian Hayles, were to insist that the entrance is about a mile’s walk away, then the king should still want to do that. Since the designer and director don’t convince me that the entrance isn’t as far away as the man’s own bedroom, it’s even more ridiculous.

The other thing is with the aliens. Now, if you’re six, all these weird beasties are unbelievably effective. Our son has told us that this is one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever, because it’s not only got a hairy monster who lives under the citadel, but all these freaky alien delegates: the Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri, and Arcturus. From modern eyes, the delegates are all remarkably garish and plastic, colored in bright Sherwin-Williams green and yellow. About Time contrasts their artificial green with the deep blues and purples of the Peladonian court clothes and calls the result, not unreasonably, “glam rock.” Like “The Claws of Axos” the year before, this is television for British viewers in 1972 who’ve bought their first color television set and want to see something they’ve never seen before. Everything here looks like Roy Wood and Mott the Hoople on Top of the Pops, and the next story is going to look comparatively restrained, but it will sound like Roxy Music’s first album.

I said above that the corridors are lit well, but the monsters aren’t. Arcturus’s tank has a big reflective surface behind his wet globe which shows blue-white strobes from the lights, as does the back of the Ice Warrior’s shell, emphasizing the materials and the paint used to construct it in a spotlight. The result from modern grownup eyes is a constant punch in the ol’ suspension of disbelief gene. (Similarly, there’s a story in season fourteen set in a primitive hut without electricity and I just can’t stop staring at the studio lights reflecting off one actor’s bald head.) But the grownups in 1972 who’d made the investment in a color set had never seen anything like this before, and apparently found the visuals incredibly compelling. And the kids in the audience, once they’d peeked out from behind the sofa to see the Doctor scratching the hairy monster behind the ears, they’re every bit as convinced.

Gah. I like this story, honestly I do, but when the Doctor’s telling the king and Hepesh that he’s been scratching the royal monster behind the ears and Hepesh is yelling “Sacrilege,” any intelligent king would turn to his high priest and say “We are amazed that you, of all people, do not wish to verify this remarkable claim. We would see this supposed animal and these caves for ourselves. Lead the way, Doctor.”

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon (part one)

The United Kingdom joined what was then called the Common Market in 1973, and there were many years of debate in that nation as to whether it should. While not formally a satire or a pastiche of this event, the politics of the day certainly formed some of the background behind Brian Hayles’ first story about the feudal planet Peladon as it is considered for membership in a Galactic Federation.

Part one of the story, the first of four Who serials directed by Lennie Mayne, is a little heavy with court intrigue and political squabbling, and so we paused the action, such as it was, to give our son a little recap. King Peladon, played by David Troughton (Patrick’s son), is ready to move his primitive planet forward into the Federation, and his superstitious high priest Hepesh is opposed. Hepesh is played by square-jawed Geoffrey Toone, who may have been familiar to audiences from playing numerous upper class and military villains, perhaps most notably as the regular villain Von Gelb in the first three series of Freewheelers, so all eyes are on him here to be up to no good.

But Toone is quickly overshadowed by the arrival of a couple of Ice Warriors, who were last seen on Who three years previously. As part of our story-so-far, I pointed out that the Federation’s assessment group contains four members: Alpha Centauri, Arcturus, the delegate from Earth who has not yet arrived, and one we have not met yet. Then a big Martian lumbered into frame. “We HAVE met them,” he yelled. “It’s an Ice Warrior! A GREEN Ice Warrior!” I asked him later what color that he thought they were, if not green. “White and black,” he answered, reasonably.

But Troughton, Toone, and the Warriors are all overshadowed by Katy Manning, who completely steals the show. Dressed for a night out on the town with Captain Yates, she’s wearing what appears to be something from the 1974 Sears Christmas Wish Book, but Jo immediately understands the problem of sexism in the Peladon throne room and promptly improvises the persona of Princess Josephine of TARDIS so that she can be presented to “our royal host.” There’s never been a way around it: Jo is undeniably a retrograde step down from her more progressive antecedent companions Zoe and Liz, but would Liz Shaw have been at all believable pretending to be a princess to avoid a royal scandal?

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Doctor Who: The War Games (parts six and seven)

Resuming this epic Doctor Who adventure with its next two episodes, we saw our son dive behind the sofa twice tonight, with each cliffhanger. Part six ends with the Aliens’ space-time capsule being fiddled with to have its internal dimensions shrink. No longer bigger on the inside, it threatens to crush our heroes. This very nearly brought our son to tears, and he stomped away and threw his beloved security blanket “Bict” at the sofa. Part seven ends with the Doctor abducted by the villains, and he didn’t see that at all, hidden as he was. He bolted as soon as he heard the sound of the SIDRAT’s engines. Man, part eight’s cliffhanger is going to have him livid.

Now there’s a word. I love how these villains are written to use words that they’d know and the audience wouldn’t and the script doesn’t stop to explain things because there aren’t any heroes present to ask what they’re talking about. That will come later. So they call their capsules SIDRATs, which is, of course, TARDIS spelled backward. A decade later, this story’s co-writer Malcolm Hulke novelized the adventure for Target Books, and explained that SIDRAT is an anagram for Space and Inter-time Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter.

Another thing that they say, just as casual as anything, is “Time Lord.” Right there at the beginning of part six, the Security Chief tells his scientist buddy that the War Chief is a Time Lord, a phrase that this series has never uttered before. That’s not followed up in these two episodes.

So on the villain front, the Aliens’ battlefield generals Von Weich and Smythe are both killed in these episodes, but Philip Madoc, who last appeared in this series as a character in “The Krotons” just four months previously, arrives as the Aliens’ leader the War Lord. He’s so beatnik that you expect him to tell his squabbling Security Chief and War Chief “Cool it, Daddio.” I love how these villains are constantly at each other’s throats.

One important acting note tonight: making what I believe was his TV speaking debut in the small role of Private Moore in part six was the star’s son, David Troughton. He’s had a fun and busy career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and more than a hundred television roles over nearly fifty years, and would later appear in this show opposite both Jon Pertwee and David Tennant, thirty-six years apart.

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