Day 158 — June 7th 2021

The Curse of Peladon Episodes Three and Four

I’m always surprised by just how well the Narrated Soundtracks manage to cover action-heavy sequences. A fair chunk of this episode is taken up by Doctor Who’s fight against Grun, which is characterised almost entirely by a series of grunts interspersed with the occasional ‘Hi-ya’. You’d expect something like that to translate really poorly to audio, but somehow they manage to get it just right, balancing just the right amount of narration with snippets of the original soundtrack.

I will say that I’m not a big fan of these types of fights in the series — they simply don’t appeal to me — so this episode suffers a little in my estimations, but not because of the delivery.

Something else that surprises me is that we never got a Brexit-themed Peladon story during the Capaldi era. This one is fairly on-the-nose when it comes to the fears Britain faced when debating their entry to the European Communities, and it seems like such an obvious set up to have had Capaldi — the most Pertwee Doctor Who outside Pertwee himself — to return to the citadel just in time to find them debating their position within the Federation.

On top of that Wales is filled with castles they could have shot it in — we’ve got more castles per square mile than any other country in the world, and Doctor Who has made good use of several since 2005. In digging up screenshots to use in yesterday’s blog entry I can say that the castle sets in this story looked good enough, but just imagine how great Peladon would look shot in real regal settings?

Plus I’d love to see Matt Lucas come face-to-face with Alpha Centurai. Just imagine!

Anyway, yes. We get some lovely dialogue in this one as Hepesh voices his fears about the Federation;

Doctor Who: ‘You slap the Federation in the face by sabotaging the commission. Why?’
Hepesh: ‘Because I’m afraid.’
Doctor Who: ‘Afraid? Afraid of what? The Federation is your safeguard.’
Hepesh: ‘That is not true! I know the Federation’s real intent.’
Doctor Who: ‘The Federation’s real intent is to help you.’
Hepesh: ‘No! They’ll exploit us for our minerals, enslave us with their machines, corrupt us with their technology. The face of Peladon will be changed, the past swept away, and everything that I know and value will have gone.’

As so often happens with Brian Hayles’ scripts for the programme, the villains here have clearly defined motives, so even if you don’t agree with what they’re doing, you can at least understand them. I can’t remember the last time a villain admitted that they were doing bad things out of fear — in fact I’m not sure we’ve ever really had that in the show so far.

I’m also loving King Peladon, and his desire to marry Jo. I feel like they don’t get to spend much time with each other outside of having their few key conversations, but there’s something rather sweet about watching a companion receive a proposal like this. It’s not something we’ve seen since the Hartnell era, but it somehow feels right for Jo.

A slight step down from yesterday — largely because I’ve very little interest in fights — and a 6/10.

I think my favourite character in this story has been Alpha Centauri, and if I’ve any criticism to make it’s that they don’t get enough to do. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that gets rectified when we reach The Monster of Peladon. I really enjoyed the idea of Jo not being able to get her head around the character in Episode Two, and it’s a shame that they haven’t spent much time together since;

Jo: ‘No, I think he’s rather sweet. Or is he a she?’
Doctor Who: ‘Neither. She is an it. It’s a hermaphrodite hexapod.’
Jo: ‘Oh.’

I especially like the scene in today’s episode while the characters all work together to formulate a plan, and underscoring the scene in the background is an ongoing stream of babble from Centauri worrying about what might happen. Couple that with a blind adherence to the operating systems of the Federation and you’ve got the recipe for a fun character.

It’s also a shame that Doctor Who never really gets a big moment of discovering he’s been wrong and unfair about the Ice Warriors — all their key moments of being revealed as the good guys come in scenes with Jo, but I really wanted there to be a moment where she could stand up to him and put him in his place. Indeed, it feels slightly strange that we don’t get that moment.

There’s a chance that I’ve simply missed something (and I’ve noted down lots of nice bits of dialogue today, so there’s every possibility of that fact!) but I don’t think Doctor Who ever really discovers that Ssorg has been working to save him as payment for having his own life saved early on in the story. I’m wondering if that’s something which ended up cut between drafts because it feels like an important story beat that’s entirely missed out.

As part of that, I’m surprised by how irrelevant, on the whole, the Ice Warriors were to the overall story. You could take them out and substitute them with a brand new alien and it wouldn’t change the narrative at all. It feels like you need the moment of Doctor Who realising that he’s been wrong to judge them. That said I think I recall them actually turning out to be the bad guys in the next Peladon story, so maybe we won’t ever get to see an admission of bad faith…!

I think my favourite part of this episode is the final few minutes — and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. There’s plenty of good humour in our heroes’ departure, and it feels like the relationship we should have had between Doctor Who and Jo all along. This is probably the first time they’ve ever felt like genuine friends having fun, rather than a rather put-upon assistant who’d probably have good cause to take Doctor Who to a tribunal.

Jo: ‘At least we get to see a real coronation before we go, eh?’
Doctor Who: ‘Yeah, that’s true. You know, I haven’t seen a coronation since Elizabeth the first’s. Or was it Queen Victoria?’
Jo: ‘Name dropper.’

It’s also brilliant when the real Earth Delegate arrives, and it’s the one moment I’m a little sorry to have not seen on screen, as I rather like the idea of our regulars having to do an about-turn and scarper into the TARDIS. That said, the scene as it played out in my head included a huge courtyard filled with revellers, and the TARDIS parked in a cloister just away from the action, while screen captures show that scene actually took place in an incredibly drab peach room.

On the plus side, we get an important milestone in the history of the TARDIS here — this is the first definitive occasion (there’s a few suspected, but hard to say for certain, instances before this) where the departure of the ship is achieved via the method of ‘roll back and mix’. It’s a phrase that gets trotted out quite often in behind the scenes stories about the series, so it’s surprising that it only starts happening this late in the run, when technology has started to catch up with ambition.

On the whole I’m really glad to have done this story via the soundtrack, and I think it has helped me to appreciate it more than I might have just watching the episodes as broadcast. The same collection of Narrated Soundtracks also includes The Monster of Peladon, so I’ll weigh up a month or so from now whether I’ll be returning to the planet on audio, or if I’ll watch it ‘properly’.

Rounding this one out with a 7/10.

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Will Brooks

English Boy in Wales. Freelance Writer and Designer. Doctor Who Art for Big Finish, Titan Comics, Cubicle 7. TARDIS Fan. Pinstripe Counter.