Hard to imagine now of course, but us midling-youngsters of the early eighties were well and truly Pertwee-starved, relying on dim and distant memories of the elegant Third Doctor, and of course the ever-increasing chronicles recorded by Target. Then JNT became a hero by bringing three full adventures to our screens! After the previous Five Faces outings for The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters, over the summer of 1982 we were then treated to a monster cornucopia in the form of The Curse of Peladon.
In the Black Scrolls of Fandom this story is categorised as "an Ice Warrior story", which - though of course being true - does do an injustice to the other memorable alien races we meet on Peladon. We have the Peladonians themselves with their distinctive hair styles (maybe the Golgafrinchans stopped off here at some point!), the big shaggy beastie Aggedor, the shrill-voiced, green-skinned, semi-phallic hermaphrodite hexapod delegate from Alpha Centauri, and the downright disturbing delegate from Arcturus. Having no memory of the story on original broadcast I had only my battered Target version of events to go by, and whilst Aggedor was perhaps a little more cuddly than intended (he worked well in the shadows), and Centauri overly 'feminine', Arcturus was just as creepy as his literary counterpart - the production team had a field day on that creation! Perhaps the only let-down was his laser weapon, which suffered from its seventies effects legacy (oh no, the red blob of doom again!).
It was my first remembered experience with the Martians, too, and they perhaps didn't come across as huge and looming as I had been led to believe. Having seen The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death now I can fully appreciate this image of them, but unfortunately the rather taller cast here kind of dilluted their presence a bit. Plus of course there's the twist in which they turn out to be goodies rather than baddies this time around, though the Doctor was still able to instill a sense of threat about them when relating his previous experiences, and Izlyr or Ssorg can still be intimidating in spite of their relative heights!
(An an aside - these days we have the likes of Dan Starkey and Neve McIntosh creating a consistent look to a race, but back in the classic series this seldom happened - we're introduced to Sontarans being a clone race, but with the Martians we're actually treated to creatures that seem to fit the bill more admirably, thanks to the Alan Bennion cornering the market in Ice Lords.)
"The ancient Curse of Peladon will be fulfilled"
The story itself could almost be a Shakespearian play in its opening moment, with the array of characters paraded in front of us and their roles ascertained, through it soon settles down into the more traditional sci-fi trappings of a Doctor Who story. Torbis and Hepesh sound it off in front of their young King, and then the former apparently falls foul of the "curse" as a sign of displeasure of the mythical beast of Peladon over the decision to join the Federation. Here the "mistaken identity" strategy is used to introduce the Doctor and Jo to events, and it doesn't take long to see how the pretty Earth 'princess' has caught the eye of the King (who seems to quickly forget that she was meant to be on a date with Mike Yates - as Katy says on the commentary, "there's something about a prince that is irresistable!"). Then the Martian delegates turn and up the next couple of episodes are spent trying to convince us (and the Doctor) that they are the good guys, only to turn out that they actually are, hoorah! The real villains turn out to be Arcturus in league with Hepesh, and the ensuing revolution looks set to be victorious until the Doctor turns up proving the mythical Aggedor beasts are real, and its representative in the Citadel promptly shows its displeasure on its 'master' Hepesh. Hmm, actually it could have been written by Shakespeare after all!
"Holy flaming cow!"
Lennie Mayne's directorial debut for the series provides us with a competent traversal through the script, ably maintaining the journey through the layers of intrigue and no dud casting to be seen (or under costume!). David Troughton handles his first leading role well, and Gordon Stothard continues to excel in his non-speaking roles, this time visible on-screen as the mute champion Grun (strangely with a name-change as if the actor didn't want people to realise it was him!); plus with barely a minute on-screen Wendy Danvers makes her formidable presence known as the real Earth delegate Amazonia, who had she arrived when she was supposed to might well have been able to take on Izlyr, Hepesh and Aggedor on her own with the fierceness on display!
The sets are well-designed, too, with the mountainous slopes of Peladon superbly realised at Ealing, seamlessly integrating with the excellent modelwork as the TARDIS seemingly plummets to its destruction early on. Stunt-work is also excellent, but you can still play the "see Terry Walsh as the Doctor" drinking game and have a good chance to get sloshed [and of course the Uncle Terry commentary drinking rules might well send you into a stupor at around 22:55 into episode one :)].
The story has some notable firsts and lasts: it's the first time we're told the TARDIS is indestructible (though that had been suggested in stories like The Chase - but then why would we need the HADS in The Krotons?); it's the first story to be shown out of production order, having swapped with The Sea Devils to make the season flow better (though I've always felt that The Claws of Axos/Colony in Space make better continuity when reversed); it's the first story since The Space Pirates to have no location filming (indeed it and Monster are the only Pertwee stories like that) - Barry Letts said on the commentary that this helped finanically with the location-heavier stories in the season; and it's the last time the TARDIS console room appears in this configuration (perhaps the drop down the mountain did more damage than initially thought!).
Probably the best 'fluff' to watch out for is Pertwee muffling his lines under the TARDIS console as a picture of a naked lady comes into his eyeline (*not* Katy Manning!).
In conclusion, a fun story with lots of intrigue, good acting and great sets, plenty of monsters (the biggest gathering of races since The Daleks' Master Plan!); being a four-parter, there's also little of the sluggishness that can occur in the longer stories of this era).
I'll leave you with this thought: how must poor Peladon have felt, having lost both of his father-figures in the space of a couple of days - one initiated by the other and both by his mythical Royal beast - and then having a beautiful woman first turn down his marriage proposal and then turn out to be an imposter!