The Curse of PeladonBookmark and Share

Sunday, 12 December 2004 - Reviewed by Michael Stead

Whilst I still rate tom Baker as my favourite Doctor, I think Jon Pertwee was the one that influenced me most. I came to Curse of Peladon as a nine year old and this was just the time that I was getting into the series. I had vague memories from the year before of the spitting daffodils and the gingerbread-man killer doll, but not much else - I have a feeling that Mum felt it was all to scary and stopped me watching for a while. But somehow I got back into things with Day of the Daleks and was hooked by the time of Curse, although I did have to keep asking my Dad what the name of the telephone box was.

To this day, curse remains for me one of the very best stories. There was the mixture of the highly advanced TARDIS (only barely glimpsed, but it could survive falls down mountains as well as travelling to distant planets) and the gothic citadel of Peladon. I found Peladon utterly convincing as a distant planet. The great use of shadows probably helped, and I loved the idea of the pivoted flambeaux which opened secret doors, leading into even more shadowy caves. By the second or third week as a viewer, I was privy to secrets about Peladon that many of the inhabitants didn't possess. 

The monsters were great. Arcturus in particular achieved a completely alien look. To my adult eyes, he still seems well realised, but as a nine year old I was utterly convinced by the notion of this wicked weed-like alien with his huge collar and tropical palm house container. His evil disposition was very effectively shown by the destruction of a plant pot in episode one. It's not actually an impressive moment for an adult, but at the time the fact that he could destroy every last trace of the object was quite chilling. Alpha Centuri was a great favourite, and was fairly well rounded as a character: basically good, but prone to let the Doctor down from fussy-minded obedience to rules, or from sheer cowardice. The combination of the Doctor calling it a 'chap' and it's high squeaky voice added to its alien's and charm. At 9, the phallic symbolism simply didn't register with me, although the notion of a being with just one huge eye captivated my imagination and appeared in most of my artwork at school for months afterwards.

The Ice Warriors were marvellous. I was young enough to be terrified of them, because they had the essential ingredient of most Doctor Who monsters, they were like something out of a nightmare. They might not be agile or very well armed, but what impressed me was their relentlessness, as they lumbered along, breathing heavily, just about to find Jo hiding in their room. They were that nameless something that comes after you in a dark dream. That they turned out to be friends, added to the roundness of the story.

Aggedor was another wonderful addition to the tale. Half hairy foe; half cuddly friend, again as a viewer was privy to inside information about him and generally he was rather well filmed and came over successfully to my child's eyes. It was the rounded storytelling that helped to imprint the character of the Doctor into my mind. Here was a hero who could befriend a roaring beast and tame him, just by singing him a song. He could also take the Ice Warriors on as allies, despite their past history, as a story telling device this was useful in pointing out how King Peladon could help his world; but also it was a useful lesson for a viewer, especially of school-age when friendships and enmities can run so deep.

The political overtones of the story resonated with me, because I was aware of the news stories about our status within the Common Market. I didn't understand all the nuances, but Hepesh was quite clearly carved out of the same wood as Mr Heath and Mr Wilson, who were always on the telly - either in person, or as Mike Yarwood - arguing about the future of the country.

Some people look back and regard the Pertwee Doctor as patronising and establishment. At the time, I found him reassuring and challenging. He was never prepared to put up with boorish behaviour, from friend or foe, but he knew all the social niceties, and could make his point forcibly and diplomatically. Unlike Centuri, he would never be afraid to step outside the proscribed limits - such as exploring the caves beneath the citadel; then when things went wrong and he was in terrible danger, his authority and courage gave me reassurance as a viewer that things would work out well. I like the Pertwee Doctor's moral and generally liberal stance on many issues. Looking back I can see that he was a mixture of Lett's compassion, Dicks gung-ho courage, and Pertwee's natural authority.

Jo was a marvellous companion, used very well here. The notion we are always fed that the latest Doctor Who girl will be braver than the last, would suggest that way back in 1972, the girls were terrified of everything. Jo wasn't like this at all, she spoke her mind, even to the doctor and would generally take it upon herself to have a go, even if it meant edging along a castle wall in high heels during a gale. And in the end she had the sense not to take up with the drippy Peladon. 

I have always regarded Curse as one of the best Who stories. It had just about the right amount of continuity in it, with a brief TARDIS scene, and even briefer reference to the Time Lords. It had an array of imaginative monsters, very atmospheric design, and a mysterious, heroic Doctor. I wonder if I would remain a fan if Curse hadn't caught my attention all those years ago.