THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Curse of Peladon
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon

Author Brian Hayles Cover image
Published 1974
ISBN 0 426 10452 8
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: Again, the terrifying cry rang out. The Doctor quickened his pace along the gloomy tunnels of the castle. Suddenly, from the darkness lumbered the mighty Aggedor, Royal Beast and Protector of the Kingdom of Peladon! The Doctor fumbled in his pocket. Would the device work? As he trained the spinning mirror on the eyes of Aggedor, the terrible claws came closer and closer... What is the secret behind the killings on the Planet of Peladon? Is Aggedor seeking revenge because the King of Peladon wants his kingdom to become a member of the Galactic Federation? Will the Doctor escape the claws of Aggedor and discover the truth?


Reviews

No longer the best use of the medium... by Tim Roll-Pickering 11/12/03

The television story of The Curse of Peladon is one of the most successful attempts to create an alien environment, with a well developed backstory supporting a highly sophisticated tale in which every character stands out and is brought to life. Of special note is the way that the Ice Warriors are shown to have changed their ways, both confounding the viewer's preconceptions but also showing a strong degree of originality when many other creators reusing their own monsters would be content to merely churn out a rehash of the monsters doing what they always do. The design work is supportive, with only Aggedor letting the side down by being a cuddly teddy bear instead of a creature that can spawn fearsome legends, but otherwise it's hard to fault the story. Thus Brian Hayles producing the novelisation of his own scripts should be an automatic winner.

And yet reading the novelisation there is a strong sense that something is lacking. For the most part Hayles follows the order of events seen on television with a few divergances to detail the background, most obviously in relation to Peladon's mother. But there are other areas where more detail could help, such as why Peladon, Arcturus and Alpha Centauri all share their names with their home planets or briefly outlining the Doctor's previous encounters with the Ice Warriors to show just why he is so suspicious of them. The novelisation is the perfect medium to tackle such concepts and yet instead what's offered with feels like a straightforward retelling of the television story with a slightly higher budget that allows for effects such as Alpha Centauri's colour changing with his personality.

This is not to say that Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon is necessarily a bad novelisation. The story moves at the right pace and Hayles' prose does much to convey the various emotions felt by the different characters throughout the tale. It's a good book that makes the viewer want to see the televised story, but it clearly falls into the category of novelisations that serve as "written videos". In 1974 domesic video recorders were extremely rare and the prospect of the vast bulk of the series being available for everyone to have their own collections was not really foreseen and so a direct translation of the scripts into a novelisation served a clear purpose. But from a more contemporary perspective this approach to the novelisations does not stand up so well when the original television story is easily available (which may explain why sales on the early 1990s massive reprint run tailed off as the video releases came out ever more constantly). This is not a bad novelisation but the video release is clearly preferable today. 6/10


Brian Hayles' Best! by Andrew Feryok 9/11/12

"May I also present Her Royal Highness Josephine, Princess of... Princess of TARDIS!"
- The Doctor presenting Jo to the Council and the King, Chapter 3, Pages 42 + 43

The Curse of Peladon is one of those legendary stories that I had always heard about in reviews and from fans, but frustratingly never got to see on PBS or on VHS while growing up. For whatever reason, BBC DVD decided to hold off for almost ten years before finally making this story available on DVD and when I finally snatched it up I was able to see what all the fuss was about. It has now become amongst my very favorite Jon Pertwee stories and Doctor Who stories as a whole. You could actually argue that this is the first true gothic horror story in Doctor Who. You have the stormy castle on the mountain, the torch lit castle corridors, a cult-like religion that worships a mythical monster that can leap out of the shadows without mercy, maze-like secret catacombs underneath the castle's foundation. This could be the setting of any number of grim Fourth Doctor stories, yet here it is plop in the middle of the Third Doctor's exile. In many ways, it feels like it really doesn't belong in Season 9 at all. Just delete the reference by the Doctor at the very end that their coming here was deliberate by the Time Lords and you could easily slot this into the more appropriate Season 10. Jo's stronger character would fit far better in that season and the idea that the Doctor is taking the newly fixed TARDIS for a test spin would be really appropriate between The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters. But I'm just a fanboy dreaming here.

So anyway, how does Brian Hayles' adaptation of his original TV story hold up?

Just as on TV, this is a classic novelization from the early days of the novelizations. At a time when Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke were dominating the Target Book scene, Brian Hayles is a bit of fresh air. While he only got to adapt two of his five stories for Doctor Who, I'm glad he got to do this one, since I feel it is his greatest contribution to the Doctor Who series outside of his original Ice Warriors episode. After all, the planet Peladon and its galactic politics led to a sequel in Season 11 and many revisits in the book and audio series. Hayles does a marvelous job recreating his original story while also expanding upon it where he can to really flesh out the culture of Peladon and the politics of the Galactic Federation. His descriptive prose transports us back to the dark corridors and catacombs with style and had me turning the pages furiously to see what happened next even though I already knew.

The Curse of Peladon's other great strength, besides its wonderful atmosphere, is its characters. The most interesting of them all is Hepesh. It struck me as I was finishing the book how similar Hepesh is to Davros. Both are fanatical nationalists with a dislike for the unlike. Hepesh is driven by a desire to preserve the old ritualistic society and tradition of power, while Davros wants to end the war with the Thals and ensure the survival of his race once mutation sets in. Both in the end are driven by their fanaticism and their love for their people to ultimately destroy exactly what they love. Just as Davros ends up blowing up the Kaleds, the Thals and 9/10ths of his own science staff to ensure that his Daleks survive, Hepesh is willing to shatter the Galactic Federation, bring the wrath of the Federation upon his planet, rip his own people apart in Civil War, dethrone the King, and even comes close to taking the King's life, the very King he raised from an infant! He even in the end uses his own sacred shrine as an armory for his rebellion and in order to discredit the Doctor's final reveal of the monster Aggedor has to denounce his own deity as nothing more than a common animal that he alone can control as a personal assassin. And ironically, both end up being killed through poetic justice. Davros is killed by the very creations he fought to survive, and Hepesh is killed by the holy deity whose religion and culture he sought to preserve. But at least Hepesh gets to admit he is wrong before he finally dies while Davros goes to his grave with no regrets other than a desperate leap for the abort button.

Brian Hayles captures this marvelously three-dimensional villain well in the book. It is his searing hatred for aliens and his willingness to kill even his closest friends to get what he wants that makes him a compelling and dangerous enemy for the Doctor and Jo to fight. And you have to admit that if the Doctor hadn't been fortunate enough to form a bond with Aggedor, Hepesh was within a hair's width of actually succeeding in his plot!

Alpha Centuari is another interesting character. He actually comes off as a more annoying character and a craven, cowardly politician of the worst order. He is quick to take the coward's way out and make sure that his hands are clean of any blame or responsibility whenever he can. I love how now the hexapod can change color depending on his mood, something that would have just been too complex for the low budget of the show at the time. King Peladon shows a bit more backbone in the book. He is marvelously played by David Troughton on TV and comes equally alive in the book. He is a mixture of young inexperience and a strong King. There is a cool new sequence just before the Doctor is to appear in the arena where the King visits the temple to ask Aggedor for advice. But just as he is about to ask the holy idol for advice, it suddenly hits him that by coming here for advice he is placing the very superstition he is trying to get rid of above his own power. He then instead rises before the statue and talks to it as an equal, threatening to wipe all memory of Aggedor and his religion from the planet if the Doctor dies in the arena, but also promising to restore him as a symbol of peace and justice instead of fear and terror should the Doctor live. It is at that moment that Hepesh realizes that the King is no longer in his power and growing into his own authority, and thus precipitates the need for a revolution. There is also another new sequence where, while Jo is pleading for mercy for the Doctor, he recalls his mother begging him for mercy on a clumsy servant in his childhood. The King spared the servant and he later saved the King's life by giving up his own. He learned a valuable lesson from this about mercy and how actions can also have unforseen consequences.

The Doctor and Jo comes across extremely well, although the Third Doctor seems to be in "old chap" overload as he seems to say it every other sentence. Nevertheless, the Doctor gets to show off all facets of his Doctor in this story. On the one hand, he is the commanding but calm chairman of the Federation Council fulfilling the leadership role that Peladon is failing to fill and thus inviting the full wrath of Hepesh upon him. We also get to see the detective as he attempts to ferret out the traitor in their midst and investigates the attack on Arcturus. And finally, we get to see the action hero as the Doctor takes to the arena to fight for his life against the King's champion in a medieval form of a trial. Jo also comes into her own in this story. She fits into the role of "Princess Josephine" quite well; by the story's end, despite what she says, I could easily see her being Queen of Peladon. She handles the Federation Council extremely well in the Doctor's absence and is the most passionate and consistent voice of opposition to Hepesh from the start. It's little wonder that, in a new sequence when Jo attempts to win over Grun by admitting the King's proposal of marriage to her, Grun falls to his knees and is overjoyed at the prospect even though up to that point they seem to have been enemies. She may not be queen, but already Grun has taken to her as if she was. What is most striking is how much the Doctor and Jo act as a team of equals in this story. Gone is the ditzy blonde who is just there to ask questions for the audience and tell the Doctor how wonderful and smart he is. Jo is an active participant in the story and the two work together to help save the planet Peladon. When the Doctor's not around, you never feel as if she is helpless or out of her depth. She is going to fight just as hard and just as passionately as the Doctor.

This being an early novelization, it also sports illustrations inside. It looks like the same illustrator who did Doctor Who and The Abominable Snowman, since they are the same number and same style. My favorites include Aggedor attacking Torbis, the Doctor hypnotizing Aggedor, and Hepesh and his men storming the throne room. Oddly, though, the illustrator seems to have been at odds with the writer since they don't always match up. For instance, the illustrations of Torbis and the Doctor with Aggedor seem to show them in a futuristic space station corridor instead of a torch-lit castle corridor. And the illustration showing the fight in the arena completely contradicts the text. Hayles explicitly states that Jo was expecting something akin to a Roman Colosseum, but found something much different. And yet what we get in the illustration is a cliche Roman Colosseum!

Brian Hayles' only real mistake was the rushed ending. I don't know why the book seems to come to such a sudden end as the Hepesh is dealt with, the Doctor and Jo are reunited with the TARDIS, and then have to immediately flee as the real Earth delegate suddenly shows up for the coronation. Hayles completely cuts out the references by the Doctor about this being a mission for the Time Lords, and inexplicably cuts the final scene between the King and Jo. This puzzles me, especially since it was this scene where Jo finally admits to him who she and the Doctor really are and the King not only still doesn't care, but still wants to marry her anyway and Jo has to tearfully turn him down even though she clearly wants to say yes and knows it wouldn't work in the end. Instead, Hayles has Jo wishing she could admit the truth to the King but being glad she didn't because she was too chicken to do it.

I also have to admit that I was disappointed that we didn't learn anything new about the Ice Warriors. Given that this book was by the Martians' original creator and how much he went into detail expanding the culture of Peladon and the Federation, you would think that we would learn more about the complexities of the Ice Warriors, their philosophies and culture. Nope, they appear exactly as they do on the TV screen with nothing really new added. While this is great in itself, I do kind of feel as if there was a lost opportunity at exploring the Martians in more detail.

In the end, this not only a classic episode of the Third Doctor's era, but also one of the very best Third Doctor novelizations. It has a marvelous atmosphere, great prose, great characters, lots of intrigue and action, and some imaginative illustrations. In a way, I'm glad that Hayles left out the reference to this adventure being a mission for the Time Lords because I can fulfill my fan fantasy and put it in between my novelizations of The Three Doctors and Doctor Who and The Carnival of Monsters where it really should belong. Topping good stuff! 10/10