THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Face of the Enemy
The Monster of Peladon
The Seeds of Death
BBC
The Curse of Peladon

Episodes 4 The Doctor is forced to impersonate the Chairman Delegate from Earth.
Story No# 61
Production Code MMM
Season 9
Dates Jan. 29, 1971 -
Feb. 19, 1972

With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning.
Written by Brian Hayles. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Lennie Mayne. Produced by Barry Letts.

Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo are mistaken for a Federation Delegate and a princess by a council that must decide the fate of the planet Peladon, which is guarded by a powerful spirit that kills outsiders.


Reviews

A Review by James Mansson 4/2/98

A primitive planet, caught in a struggle between tradition and progress, is saved from disaster by the Doctor. Reduced to its plot line, The Curse of Peladon does not sound too exciting, but it is in the details that the story really shines.

The inside of the royal palace is well-realised, and the torch-lit rooms are splendidly atmospheric. Indeed, such "historical" settings are something for which the BBC has a real flair. The costumes of the Peladonians are not bad, while the distinctive hair colourings are a nice touch.

The Doctor and Jo make a fine team pretending to be the Earth delegation. This plot device is not new (compare, for instance, the Doctor posing as an inspector in The Power of the Daleks), but it does make the willingness of the others to accept the Doctor's advice easier to swallow than in other stories, where the locals move from total hostility (typically threatening the Doctor with execution!) to absolute trust with surprising speed.

The Peladonians themselves are the least successful part of the story. The King himself is an utter wimp, and how Jo could even think of falling for him is beyond me! His treacherous, but well-meaning, advisor is better. In contrast to some villains, his motivation is quite plausible. The problem is that as a character he is quite boring. The king's champion is unspeakably bad, while the rest of the Peladonians are a pretty faceless bunch.

The best part of the story is the Federation delegation. Supposedly more civilised than the Peladonians, their willingness to threaten their hosts with annihilation if they are harmed reminds us that even the most civilised societies can behave in a savage fashion. The Ice Warriors are splendid; while there is still evidence of their militaristic past, we get to see a more constructive side to their nature. The alien on the life-support machine is quite disgusting, and makes a memorable villain, while the distinctly phallic Alpha Centauri ambassador is the real reason everyone remembers this story. Quite the funniest monster in Doctor Who -- and there is plenty of competition! -- the hermaphrodite hexapod with a squeaky voice and cowardly disposition easily steals the show.


A Merry Menagerie by Christopher Fare 16/1/99

The third Doctor's second foray away from Earth is a very successful one -- this story remains one of the most popular adventures of Jon Pertwee's Doctor.

Perhaps the best thing about this story is that it features, typically for writer Brian Hayles, great attention to characterization in every character. David Troughton and Geoffrey Toone play King Peladon and High Priest Hepesh very well, giving their relationship a greater deal of depth than we have come to expect from the series. Likewise, each of the Federation delegates have their own personality, which is what lifts this story above The Web Planet -- a story which also featured many different types of non-humanoid life forms. In that case, however, the Zarbi and larvae guns were completely bereft of dialogue and came across terribly. Not so in The Curse of Peladon. From the nervous Alpha Centauri and the duplicitous Arcturus to the practical nobility of Izlyr and Ssorg, the delegates are a memorable group of characters. The Doctor's initial mistrust of the Ice Warriors is well handled too, and a nice plot twist.

Speaking of the regulars, both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning do well here. Although Jo's "romance" with Peladon is very forced indeed, her attempts at regal tones and spirited arguments with the other delegates show us why Jo was such a good character. Likewise, Jon Pertwee's Doctor is totally in control of the situation here -- he knows all the angles, and his humanitarian streak of his Doctor comes through strongly once more.

The other highlight of the production is Lennie Mayne's direction, ably assisted by the other technical personnel. Peladon is very well brought to life, with atmospheric flaming torches and darkened caves. The filming on the mountainside is also well achieved.

The Curse of Peladon ranks as one of the best adventures of the third Doctor after 1970, and a classic example of what can be achieved on a small budget with just a few main cast members.


A Review by Daniel Spelner 13/4/00

Of all of Jon Pertwee's interplanetary excursions this visit to Peladon was the best. The planet Peladon is backward, the King is aware of the need to progress and renovate. By joining the Galactic Federation (similar to United Nations) he hopes they will show guidance and backing in the modernisation. In order to assess the planets suitability for entry, delegates are sent. But there are those on Peladon opposed to the King's plan..... The skillful plotting ensures your interest is held, and by populating the story with a selection of plausible characters with agendas of their own, further deepen the intrigue and mystery inherent in Hayle's magnificent script. Mention, in particular, must go to the Ice Warriors for being amongst the most fascinating and intelligent alien races to feature in Dr Who, indeed Alan Bennion's discerning Izlyr is brilliant. Also watch out for the thrilling fight between the Doctor and Grun. And the late Lennie Mayne managed to stage the whole production with a enchanting ambiance. This absorbing, shrewd story is impeccable.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 25/9/01

If you like Monsters then this is the story for you. The story works in as much as you like all the different monsters on show. Let’s go through these Monsters:-

4 major monsters all brought together on an alien world shrouded in mysticism – Peladon.

Peladon is wonderful. The castle on the mountain, the dark corridors, the mystic religion. It is a fantastic setting on which to display Dr Who Monsters. King Peladon and Hepesh are good characters too, very human – and therefore a nice contrast to the Monsters. The Doctor and Jo are there too. The Doctor trying to figure out whom the assassin is, Jo (looking terrific in her Princess get-up) getting rather friendly with the King.

But this is a story that will succeed or fail because of its Monsters. And thus it is only partially successful – the brilliant Ice Warriors – the cringeworthy Alpha Centauri. Take out Centauri (Jo thinks it is rather sweet, Dr Who Monsters are not meant to be sweet!) and you actually have an excellent story.

Caves of Androzani had its Magma Beast, Talons of Weng-Chiang had its Giant Rat. But they were seen briefly and didn’t keep rearing their ugly heads throughout proceedings. Alpha Centauri does and the story suffers massively because of it. 6/10


Grun and Bear It by Andrew Wixon 7/11/01

There comes a moment in every fan's life when the carping about has to stop. No more pointing out dodgy plotting, obvious padding, risible plotting or silly costumes, just a simple admission: I really, really, really like The Curse of Peladon.

I don't know why, but things like Ssorg's Bristol accent, the King's lamentable dress sense, the fact that episode three's cliffhanger is completely out-of-character and pointless, and wild veering of the whole enterprise between the cloying and the corny do not in any way lessen my enjoyment of it. It's even clearly based on Star Trek, for crying out loud, yet I still love it! And I have absolutely no idea why.

Well... yes, I do. Despite all the above flaws this is still a great story, and here's why:

Oh, well, enough trying to rationalise things: perhaps not the greatest story ever made, but one of my personal favourites. So there.


We don't need Aggedor by Mike Jenkins 28/11/01

While good Whoviana, worthy of a 7/10 it is still the most overated story in the programme's history. PERIOD. It is in no way superior to it's predecessor, Day of the Daleks and while the acting is up to standard, it's nothing special. Apart from the Doctor and Jo, they all get a bit wooden and even Jo can tire a bit with her somewhat boring soap opera like relationship with Peladon. The action, music and deception are all good but many things in between are left loose and not threaded tightly if you know what I'm saying. It's a bit like having take away while driving. Good but messy. Grun sounds like he's got a haemorrhoid problem, Hepesh sounds like a general from a Monty Python sketch, Peladon sounds like a child whining for cotton candy, the Ice Warriors sound like tweekers about to OD (they are a grotesque parady of the Troughton originals) and don't even get me started on Arcturus and Alpha Centauri.

Aggedor himself however is both cute and frightening. Pertwee's scenes with him are truly classic, as when Pertwee reveals Hepesh for the fraud that he is. The way that Jo and the Doc fool them all into thinking they're Federation blue bloods is quite nice as well. It's a good thing the conference happend when it did or the Ice Warriors might have recognised the Doctor, or even worse, been able to discern that TARDIS was not a royal house of Earth. The Doctor's mistrust of the Ice Warriors is a nice twist. It's interesting to note that in the previous story, the Doctor announced that he was a scientist not a politician yet in this story he's revelling in it. But I guess Earth polictics could get anyone down. This story is well above average but at the same time, not all that it's cracked up to be.


A strong political allegory by Tim Roll-Pickering 1/4/02

A striking feature of The Curse of Peladon is the lack of location work which in some ways makes the story a throw back to the 1960s when this was far more common. Like many stories from the black and white era it is driven by character far more than by action. The story is a clear allegory of the political controversies about the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community (now European Union) that have raged in the country ever since the start of the 1970s. Not only are the conflicting factions amongst the Peladonians clear parallels for the Pro-Europeans and Euro-Sceptics but the Ice Warriors and Arcturus can be seen as parallels for Germany and France respectively - old enemies that have been seemingly united through their membership of a federation with the latter reluctant to allow the new applicant to enter (France twice vetoed the UK's application for entry to the EEC) whilst the former still suffers from the associations of its past despite now having honourable intentions.

The rehabilitation of the Ice Warriors is one of the most striking features of the story and it generates much of the mystery with both the Doctor and the viewers remembering the events of The Seeds of Death and so it is a genuine revelation when the real villain amongst the delegates is revealed to be Arcturus. The delegates are an interesting mix, with both Arcturus and Alpha Centauri breaking away from the norm that most alien races must be humanoid and Alpha Centauri being a hermaphrodite goes one step further to emphasise the alieness of the delegates. Often the series produces several different aliens in the same story who are for the most part silent background figures supporting one or two leading individuals, but here every single one of the aliens is fleshed out and made a character in their own right.

The Peladonian court is shown as a fully medieval system, complete with Chancellors, High Priests and King's Champions and so the desire for the young ruler to bring his kingdom into the modern era is highly understandable as is the resistance of the High Priest. The costumes and sets work well in supporting the medieval theme, and the music and lighting helps to add to this immensely.

Brian Hayles' script is full of sophistication and charm, handling the various elements of the story and presenting a strong set of characters from the young and lonely King Peladon to the scheming and fearful Hepesh. There are no real villains in this story with Hepesh's motivation coming across as merely wishing to preserve the old order in the face of the perceived threat from the Federation whilst Arcturus is only exposed after he is slain. Both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning give strong performances, helped by the absence of the other regular members of the cast, whilst the guest cast is strong with top honours going to David Troughton who brings King Peladon to life in an exceptionally sympathetic way.

The story does have a few minor points such as Aggedor looking like a cuddly toy and the hideous use of the "Doctor Who?" gag at the end but these are only small quibbles in a story that is otherwise a strong jewel for the series. 10/10


Beauty and the Beast by Joe Ford 4/6/02

I was encouraged to watch this thanks to Tim Roll-Pickering's excellent review, in fact many of his recent Pertwee reviews have caused me to go back and re-watch and enjoy many of those stories I hadn't in the past. Curse of Peladon has always been a particular favourite of mine anyway and let me tell you why...

Not many Doctor Who stories get away with succeeding because of their look alone but Curse of Peladon simply thrives on atmosphere. Just look at the scenes on the rock face in episode one, with careful camera work, a harsh blue light and a wind machine director Lennie Mayne manages to conjure up a inhospitable planet far more effectively than any of the location work in say The Mutants. The story has a wonderful medievil feel that I always love from my childhood, storm lashed castles, flickering shadows, flame lanterns, caves with the dripping of water... cliches they may be but when used as effectively as this they create an alien world to rival the effectiveness of Ribos, Karn and Varos. The camerawork is inventive throughout with some marvellous high shots and long lingers as the aliens traverse the corridors of Peladon.

Director Lennie Mayne has often been critisised for substandard direction but it is just not true here. As well as giving the show a vivid, alien feel he also coaxes some fine performances from his cast that do justice to Brian Hayles' textured script. I can't think of any time in their history (except perhaps The Green Death) that Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning were better suited than they are here. There is a terrific scene here when they discuss the situation in their quarters when you can feel a genuine warmth and affection for each other, obviously leaking in from the actors too and it is heart warming indeed. Jo is especially good in her role as 'Princess Josephine of TARDIS', actually given something to do for a change like investigate the sabotage of Arcturus and have a sweet mini-romance with King Peladon. In fact her 'What do mercy and compassion mean to you?' speech is possibly her best moment in the entire show.

Speaking of Peladon, the character as written is a bit wet but in the hands of David Troughton he becomes sympathetic and interesting. His short scene with Hepesh near the beginning concerning his receiving of the throne is superbly performed.

As for the menagerie of monsters... well they are pretty much all good. The Ice Warriors look great in this story and the first shot of Ssorg menacing down the passageway (with an excellent drum beat score!) is excellent. The twist that they are now good characters makes for great viewing, especially the Doctor's misplaced suspicion, and leaves us unsure whether to trust them or not. Arcturus and Centauri are both highly imaginative in design if a little embarrassing on screen. However Mayne once again capitalises on the fact and gives them strong characteristics that improve their appearance. Centauri's voice may be a little camp but it is wonderfully fitting that such an odd looking alien would be a gentle, amiable creature.

Hayles' backstory is very good and he clearly has the Robert Holmes ability to generate realistic alien worlds through words alone and all the stuff about legends, misplaced High priests, fights of honour, etc is quite fascinating.

Great stuff then from a disappointing season... personally I can only stand this and Day of the Daleks from season nine but it is nice to know that there were some quality stories that year.

Nine out of ten.


A Review by Paul Williams 17/5/03

As a child The Curse of Peladon was one of my favourite Doctor Who novels. I am belatedly starting to enjoy the serial on which it is based, having seen it for only the second time recently. Enjoy, that is, when I don't think about the plot.

This is really a story about characters rather than events and it is Jo Grant who steals the show. For the first time she is able to stand on her own two feet and skillfully manipulates the king's attraction to her. She is also superb when arguing with the fantastic Ice Warriors.

You still aren't sure if you can trust the Martian delegates until Arcturus is seen eavesdropping on their conversation. He had already given himself away with the alleged attack. What was the point in that? His demise is badly handled although it is preferable to Hepesh's death-bed admission of a possible error. The writer obviously wanted us to feel sorry for Hepesh but having shown his madness develop to the point where he threatened his beloved king there should have been no way back.

Having recently been to a country which is on the verge of joining the European union I can identify with the allegory. It is interesting to speculate that the delegates represented countries already in the union, the reformed but still strong Martians (Germany), the weak Alpha Centauri (Belgium, Luxemborough, Switzerland) and the treacherous Arcturus (don't want to offend anyone but it should be obvious). Peladon itself could now represent any of the former eastern bloc countries as they hover between tradition and alleged progress. For this reason The Curse of Pleadon remains an interesting, and relevant, adventure.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 8/9/03

The Curse Of Peladon harks back to what is essentially staple Doctor Who, with its inclusion of various monsters, in this the Third Doctor`s second foray away from Earth. Fortunately writer Brian Hayles has blessed them all with strong characteristics which makes them individuals in their own right, whether it be the scheming Arcturus or the highly strung Alpha Centauri. More interesting however are the Ice Warriors, whose redemption here is a novel take on most of the Doctor`s foes (but not uncommon in the Pertwee era). Added to this Jo Grant gets some character development thanks to her tryst with King Peladon, and it is subtly handled by both Katy Manning and David Troughton. Strong performances and a clever use of lighting in the sets make this one of the strongest Pertwee tales and something of a gem.


A Review by Brian May 10/1/04

The Curse of Peladon is an enjoyable, if somewhat slow, adventure. However, the lack of pace gives it an added depth, for it's a very talky piece, but full of interesting ideas. In its original context it's an allegory concerning the UK's entry into the Common Market - which, after many incarnations is now the European Union, which is further expanding with the addition, and proposed addition, of many eastern European countries. In this light, the story is very dated. However, after this paragraph I intend not to refer to any of this again, but rather focus on the story on a standalone basis.

It's almost a Star Trek adventure, with a backward, regressive world given the opportunity to join a greater body - in this case, the Galactic Federation (the very name echoes the US series). In this sense, it's a most un-Who like story - for the Barry Letts/Jon Pertwee era, it's perhaps a bit more at home, but the third Doctor/UNIT alliance is not as pro-establishment as it's widely purported to be. However this story reflects a most conservative Doctor, even by Pertwee standards - and more so than in any UNIT adventure - as evidenced when he argues the virtues of the Federation to Hepesh in episode three (the most Trek-like moment in Doctor Who ever, perhaps!)

Nevertheless it's a nice diversion from the staple Pertwee grind of "Earth under threat" stories, although this results in the second most clichéd story of the era: "the Time Lords send the Doctor on a mission" - in itself a rather contrived way to escape the sameness of the programme's current Earthbound scenario. Exactly why the Time Lords want Peladon to join the Federation is unclear. The Discontinuity Guide's suggestion, "Doubtless it pacifies many potentially aggressive species in the Milky Way" is a nice try, but still not the most convincing of arguments. An off-handed guess by the Doctor would have helped!

Still, contrivance or not, the finished product is an impressively written and realised piece of television. Plotwise, the complex twists and turns make for intelligent and interesting viewing, if not that riveting. The situation at the beginning of episode four is quite a thought provoking political can of worms, which instils a true sense of "how will they get out of this?"

Design wise, the production is practically faultless. The Curse of Peladon is a costume drama by any other name - something the BBC excels at and an asset all historically based Who stories benefit from (as well as ones like this). The tunnels, corridors and the throne room are all wonderfully realised, but it's the scenes on the mountainside that stay in my mind. When the Doctor and Jo climb the rockface to find a way into the citadel, it actually looks like the side of a windswept mountain - for a story with no location filming, the mock exteriors are extremely effective. The model of the citadel is great too - the opening shot is very stylish! The only aspect that fails to impress is the monster, Aggedor, but it's hardly what you'd call terrible.

The characterisations are also excellent. For once, Jon Pertwee is overshadowed, and by almost the entire cast! He's still the suave, debonair and bombastic third Doctor we all know and (sometimes) love - he has great presence in the throne room in his guise as the Earth delegate, and the trial by combat in episode three is Pertwee through and through. But there's a plethora of other great characters. First of all, there is Hepesh. While traditionally the villain of the piece, he is a man of his convictions, and believes his actions are for the best. His concern for Peladon, both the planet and the King, is his sole motivation, and his relationship with the young monarch is touching, making his death quite tragic. Geoffrey Toone's performance is understated but excellent.

Another character of note is Izlyr. Alan Bennion's three roles in Doctor Who may all have been virtually the same, but each of his Ice Lord portrayals have their distinctive features - the suave, elegant Martian delegate from this story is undoubtedly his best. Izlyr is a wonderful, dignified character, especially when defending himself against the Doctor, and also acknowledging his debt to the Time Lord. Brian Hayles's decision to turn the Ice Warriors into allies is one of the most inspired in the entire series. It's also a chance for the Doctor to eat humble pie, bringing his often arrogant third incarnation down a few notches as he realises he has misjudged the aliens.

Jo Grant is also given a good outing in this story. In previous reviews, I've criticised her character (I've never intended to criticise Katy Manning, as it was never a reflection on her, but instead the way her character was often written). The bumbling, scatterbrained companion who always has to be rescued occurs a lot in the Earthbound UNIT stories (with a couple of exceptions). It's during the adventures in space that she seems to fare a little better. Jo has a lot to do here - she's wonderful in her impersonation of a princess, which leads to some of the aforementioned political complications; she doesn't pre-judge the Ice Warriors like the Doctor does; she's a terrific leader and organiser when gathering the delegates in the Doctor's absence. Note what I just said: in the Doctor's absence! All the proof needed to justify that Jo is capable of a lot, when out of the Time Lord's shadow. The only typical Jo scene is when she scares Aggedor away, believing the beast is attacking the Doctor. (But Ian, Jamie, Sarah Jane and Peri would all have done the same thing.)

David Troughton puts in an impressive performance as Peladon, a credible fledgling king, who is lonely at the top and aware of the limits of his power. However, his effete nature becomes a bit irritating at times, and certainly dents the romantic sub-plot between him and Jo which, political consequences aside, is not really that convincing.

The story has no bad performances, an important asset to such a dialogue and character driven tale. But, as I have mentioned a couple of times already, this approach comes at the expense of any real excitement, despite some attempts to inject a bit here and there (the attack on Arcturus; the rather lukewarm final battle). The only real action sequence is the Doctor and Grun's trial by combat, which takes up about three minutes of screen time - it's perhaps a bit too long, but very well done (arranged by stunt stalwart Terry Walsh).

Thank goodness The Curse of Peladon isn't a six-parter - it would have been excruciating! At four episodes it's not exactly scintillating, but it is nevertheless a good watch, especially so in its presentation. It's magnificently directed, with lush costumes and design. Sumptuous is the word. 7/10