Curse of Peladon / The Monster of Peladon
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he bulk of Jon Pertwee’s first three seasons as the Doctor saw him exiled to Earth, but occasionally he’d find himself with a working TARDIS that whisked him away to another planet for the duration of a story. Such was the case in “The Curse of Peladon,” a sort of sci-fi Shakespearean mystery, which sounds like a pretty oddball collection of genres to cram together, and as a result the story is indeed fairly bizarre – sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not.
The backwards planet Peladon is attempting to join the Galactic Federation. David Troughton (son of Doctor #2 Patrick, as well as a guest star on the new series episode “Midnight”) plays King Peladon, who’s all for Peladon spreading its wings and becoming a galactic player. But others, such as the stodgy High Priest Hepesh (Geoffrey Toone) object, and feel Peladon should hang on to the old ways. Hepesh warns that if the plan moves forward, a curse will befall the planet, and the sacred creature Aggedor will return to wreak havoc and kill, kill, kill. The Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) arrive in the midst of all this, and are mistaken for the delegates from Earth, a confusion which they use to their advantage. Also present are delegates from Arcturus, Alpha Centauri, and Mars – the latter represented by the Ice Warriors, who previously had a villainous two-tale stint during Patrick Troughton’s era. Soon enough people start dying, and Aggedor returns. Are the Ice Warriors behind it, or is somebody else plotting behind the scenes?
Unfortunately, “The Curse of Peladon” is mired in a great deal of silliness, particularly in the area of the story’s many aliens which feature prominently. Arcturus is a shriveled head in a plastic bubble, while Alpha Centauri looks like a giant green penis, with six more flaccid penises for arms. If somebody did a Sid & Marty Krofft porn spoof, some character named Sir Dicksalot would look exactly like Alpha Centauri. It’s true – even script editor Terrance Dicks says it “looks like a big dick,” and when a man who’s surely been on the receiving end of every dick joke imaginable says something looks like a big dick, then you can be sure that it does. To add insult to injury, the character is also described by the Doctor as the “hermaphroditic hexapod,” so it’s neither male nor female, but its ridiculous, campy shrill voice (supplied by Ysanne Churchman) takes the entire creation up and over the top. There are Alpha Centauri apologists out there, but I’m not one of them, and for me the hermaphroditic hexapod is a big reason I’ve never been entirely able to get onboard this tale.
But it doesn’t end with Centauri. No, the Peladonians themselves are covered in purple velvets and silks – the King in particular is a victim of fashion suicide what with his girly kilt and knee high boots. While human in appearance, they’ve also all got red hair, with a big gray skunk stripe down the middle. It’s quite simply one of the most garish displays of royalty ever presented on this show, and Peladon should have been denied a place in the Federation based on their clothing choices alone. And I’d be remiss in not mentioning Aggedor, who looks far more cuddly than dangerous. Well, cuddly in a “man dressed in a bear suit” sort of way. In most any other “Doctor Who” story, I’d let the appearance of Aggedor slide, but here it’s just part of an already mounting collection of visual ridiculousness.
Aside from all these negatives, “The Curse of Peladon” is actually a fairly cracking story, with a decent mystery at its core. It’s nice to see Pertwee’s Doctor get away from the U.K. at this point in the series and mingle with alien races that aren’t simply out to take over Earth. Jo Grant (Katy Manning) is also in good form, playing the part of a princess from Earth whom the King eventually falls for, and she for him as well. As mentioned before, the whole thing reeks of Shakespeare – a little “Hamlet,” a dose of “Richard III,” and maybe a smidgen of “Othello.” Imagine old Will had written a play set in the “Star Wars” creature cantina, and you can kind of get the idea. Resting at the top of the positive heap are the Ice Warriors, who really are a great alien race for this series, and here they’re presented in a much different light compared to their previous appearances. For the first time in the series they’re seen in color, and their green armor really catches the eye. They’re true characters here, not just stock villains like the Daleks and Cybermen are all too often reduced to.
Two years after “The Curse,” the production team decided to take the Doctor back to Peladon for a sequel, and sadly the old rule about sequels pretty much applies here. “The Monster of Peladon” takes place 50 years after the previous tale, and by this time in his life, Jo Grant had long since left him to marry Professor Clifford Jones, and he was travelling with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). He decides to take her to Peladon to see how things have turned out since his last visit, and lo and behold, what does he find? Miners on strike, which was quite a hot button issue in the England of 1974. Since we’re on an alien world, it doesn’t really matter that this issue is decades old, but what does matter is that the first three episodes of this six-parter are painfully boring. The latter three episodes, which feature the reemergence of the Ice Warriors, are decent enough, but it takes too damn long to get there. And the bad hair is back (with all new striped miner afros!), and the purple clothes, and most gaudily, Alpha Centauri is inexplicably still hanging out (ahem…) on Peladon, and this time with loads more screen time. “The Monster of Peladon” is not a terrible story, but the whole thing feels so bloody unnecessary. It’s as if the production team was rooting around the warehouse, and came across all the costumes, props and sets that were left over from the previous story, and decided an easy way to save a buck would be to mount a sequel using all this crap that would never be used again for anything else within the BBC.
And so they did, and by the time I was done watching these two tales, I was thoroughly Peladoned out. Best advice? Maybe check out “Curse,” and if you really dig it, then come back and give “Monster” a chance. But I cannot in good conscience recommend purchasing both sight unseen, especially as “Monster” is a two-disc set that costs $10 more.
Special Features: These two stories were released as a box set in the U.K., but over here they’ve been split up. Apparently, for the time being anyway, unless the stories contained within are consecutive within the “Who” timeline, such themed box sets will not be making their way to the U.S. In this case, that’s probably not a bad thing, as you are under no obligation to buy an expensive set just to get one story. Anyway, the main reason this was brought up is because the special features for each of these somewhat complement one another.
“The Curse of Peladon” sports a commentary track with Katy Manning, Terrance Dicks, producer Barry Letts and production assistant Chris D’Oyly-John, which is moderated by Toby Hadoke. “The Peladon Saga: Part One” is a making-of doc. “Warriors of Mars” is a history of the Ice Warriors. “Jon and Katy” is a look back at one of the great Doctor/companion teams. There’s also a series of storyboard comparisons, a photo gallery, production notes option, and the usual PDF materials for DVD-Rom.
The commentary track for “The Monster of Peladon” again features Dicks and Letts, as well as actors Nina Thomas, Donald Gee, Ralph Watson, and Stuart Fell, and is again moderated by Hadoke. The participants go away for the duration of episode four, which allows for a fan commentary led by Rob Shearman (who wrote “Dalek” for the new series). This track is a great deal of fun, and I’d love to hear more of these on future DVDs, as fans can bring a fun, fresh perspective that 65-year-old actors and producers are unable to. “The Peladon Saga: Part Two” is a continuation of the making-of from the “Curse” disc. There’s also a deleted scene which is recreated from surviving audio and still pictures, an interview with Ysanne Churchman (the voice of the hexapod), and another installment of “On Target,” this time focusing on Dicks’ contribution to the “Who” novelization range. Great piece – wish it was 15 minutes longer. Of course there’s also the usual photo gallery, production notes option, and DVD-Rom stuff.