Watching Doctor Who in chronological order is great fun! But when you come to The Curse of Peladon, you can't help but feel that this story felt a little old fashioned. I believe this is because it features the Doctor and his companion, Jo Grant, arriving on an alien world. This might not be seen as a problem for some but it feels oddly out of place given it is a story found right in the middle of the Doctor's exile to Earth. Every story around it takes place on Earth with the action happening in and around London. While this story is enjoyable, it does feel a little odd to give this TARDIS crew a story that wouldn't have been out of place in the Troughton era.
The reason that Doctor Who was confined to Earth for the majority of the 1970/74 era is because the show needed a major overhaul. In those days, television and the dramas put out on them were changing and the show had to change to compete with television events like The Avengers on ITV. For a necessary move, it worked well on two fronts, the show increased in popularity and the artistic front changed. The ratings shot up and the show was saved from cancelation. And those episode set on Earth are often considered some of the finest stories that the show has to offer.
But I suppose, at it's heart, the show didn't want to stay on Earth. This was something that the producers at the time knew, it would eventually drag the show down. Terrance Dicks was once credited saying that setting the show on Earth limited the baddies to be either mad scientists or alien invasion plots. I'm not saying that you can't create great science fiction around those two plots, but Doctor Who has always demanded more. It took away the uniqueness of the show, the TARDIS could take the Doctor to any time, any space, any planet and into any genre. But sticking the Doctor on Earth limited the Doctor to trying to get the TARDIS to work, often to disastrous consequences.
But by the time, The Curse of Peladon came about, the show had already started to shake off the bonds of exile. The Doctor and Jo had taken an involuntary trip to an alien world in Colony in Space, where they must fight the plans of the Master. Peladon is a little similar, once again, the Time Lords take control of the ship and make it travel to Peladon where the Doctor and Jo must pose as members of the Galactic Federation to help make the savage world a member of that alliance. The roles the Doctor and Jo play feel like roles that would be played by the First or Second Doctors and because of this, this episode feels like it is going to pull the series back into the past if they travel to alien planets again. But The Curse of Peladon feels like a test drive, it had the intention of seeing how these old Who tropes would fit into the modern Jon Pertwee era and iron out the wrinkles to make them suitable.
And The Curse of Peladon succeeds. It has the feel of a black and white story without the one dimensional villains that came with that era. We also get the return of the Ice Warriors, one of the most popular Troughton monsters. It shows this baddies in a whole new light, in particular demonstrating to us that they might not have been as evil as we first thought. Unlike the time of Troughton where we were on his side about killing them, here it is a lot harder to agree with the Doctor's opinions that they are evil. The idea that we are supposed to mistrust them and them alone is shadowed in the story's setting, a gloomy, gothic castle. The plot is basically a murder mystery, borrowing heavily from a number of Agatha Christie's novels and it feels a lot like the Star Trek adventure, Journey to Babel. There are different shadows everywhere you look in this story. And not all of them are due to the lighting from the BBC!
The Curse of Peladon is still relevant today because the political undertones that run through it, something that viewers at the time of its broadcast, 1972, would have picked up on immediately. The idea of people not knowing whether to join the Galactic Federation mirrors the uncertainty at the time where the British public where deciding whether or not to join the European Union. Of course, we have left now, so one wonders if Peladon stayed long or not. But there is those undertones throughout the story are the Germans, French and Italians being represented as Martians, one eyed hermaphrodite hexapods and a green tentacled skull in a glass jar on wheels? I guess that is up to the viewer. The 'No' factor in the EU debate are represented by the character of Hepish, Peladon's High Priest who wants the world to not even consider membership with the Federation. So adamant is he in his beliefs that he is even willing to kill his own brother. But his act of murder eventually leads to his own death at the hands of a horned beast he has kept trapped in a series of passages that run underneath the castle. An argument could be formed that Hepish now represents both sides of the EU referendum debate as both sides were capable of going to extreme measures to get across their beliefs. The younger generation from both debates, then and now, are shown through the character of King Peladon, who wants to ensure a good future for his planet but doesn't really know the consequences of his actions. The story does little to hide the fact that it's sympathies lie with him as both the Doctor and Jo take a liking to him. But like Britain leaving the EU, the future of Peladon remains uncertain so yes, I believe that Curse still has a lot of relevance for modern audiences.
This story serves Jo Grant very well. We can clearly see how much she has evolved from her first appearance in Terror of the Autons and the whole idea of her being an Emma Peel type character was dropped quickly. Here she is the Doctor's best friend and though actress Katy Manning was 22 at the time of filming the story, she feels like a daughter figure for the Doctor, someone who is growing up quickly but keeps that naivety and sweetness that she always had about her. The role of the companion is that they have to represent the younger members of the audience. They are someone for the children to look up to and aspire to be and in this respect, Jo Grant is the perfect companion, she isn't passive, stupid or dumb and is completely capable of doing things on her own. It is Jo who drives a lot of this story. She gets herself and the Doctor out of a sticky situation by pretending to be of royal blood. She escapes from the Ice Warriors all by herself. She sneaks away and finds the clues that help to bring the story to its conclusion. And it is she who uses the Kings infatuation with her to her advantage, while she urges him to be a better man and ruler, doing what feels right to him and not to Hepish while she resists her own urges to remain on Peladon with him.
It is the Doctor, who takes a bit of backseat role in this adventure since his initial prejudice against the Ice Warriors blinds him to what is going on around him. It isn't even him who solves the problem of which delegate it is who is behind everything. Instead, in a rather stupid move on the alien's part, Arcturus reveals himself when he tries to kill the Doctor during his hand to hand combat with the King's mute champion, Grun.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of this story is the murder mystery plot given that the entirety of the fourth episode is given to the story of Hepish's attempted coup. This is a shame as he is least interesting character in the story and the story doesn't do too a good job of dealing with the Ice Warriors. When Izler tells Jo he forced the other delegates to remain on the planet and help the Doctor, the Doctor doesn't even thank him, giving the impression that is too prejudiced. I believe that there should have been some sort of handshake to show that he can see past what the older Ice Warriors may have done and acknowledge that their race have changed. This is especially ironic given that the Doctor is pretending to be a diplomat...