Hailing from the middle of Jon Pertwee’s tenure, The Curse of Peladon was the first of his Doctor’s two visits to the feudal planet. In a plot running entirely contrary to Star Trek’s prime directive, alien delegates are visiting amounts to little more than an Iron Age society, assessing its suitability for membership to the Galactic Federation.
Meanwhile the Doctor has taken the TARDIS out for a test flight, with Jo Grant dolled up for a night on the town, and the pair end up stranded on the side of Peladon’s Mount Mageshra in the middle of a thunderstorm. Jumping from the ship before it plummets down the mountainside; they have no choice but to begin a perilous climb towards the citadel that tops the peak.
Thanks to some fortuitous mistaken identity, the time travellers find themselves taken for members of the delegation. To save a breach of political protocol, quick-witted Jo assumes the role of Princess Josephine and immediately catches the young King’s eye. All is not well in his court, with the chancellor recently killed in mysterious circumstances and High Priest Hepesh predicting doom and gloom. The fearsome royal beast Aggedor has apparently risen, fulfilling a prophetic curse.
Writer Brian Hayles was a Who regular, having written for both First and Second Doctors. He created the popular Ice Warriors and this was their third appearance. ‘Curse’ plays on our expectations of the Martian monsters and the tale was reportedly a satirical take on the subject of Great Britain’s entry to the European Common Market. There are wider themes too, with the heart of the story surrounding the tension between progress and the threat to traditional values. It is also the story of King Peladon’s coming of age as he combats the High Priest’s grab for power.
Making good use of the added room that the prose offers, Hales embellishes his story with plenty of background information about Peladon as a society. The alien delegates benefit from his attention too. Alpha Centuari becomes even more precious, if that were possible, its moods reflected by subtle changes in colour. This was an element reintroduced from the script after effects proved too much a stretch for television. Meanwhile the taciturn Arcturus comes across as a shrewd political operator too and is amusingly snarky with its hexapod counterpart on occasion.
With the delegates representing a supposedly peaceful Galactic Federation, its interesting to see their own fears and motivations exposed, especially when the suggestion of ‘Princess’ Jo marrying the King raises the spectre of a closer relationship between Earth and Peladon.
One major sequence that receives an enlargement of scale is the Doctor’s showdown with the mute King’s champion Grun. While little more than a fenced in sandpit on screen, it enjoys a mixture of surfaces and levels. These, combined with Hayles detailed descriptions of the action, paint some exciting pictures as the reader David Troughton beats his way through the fight.
Troughton recreates the role of King Peladon (of Peladon), his first major appearance in the series. Of course, he later went on to star in ‘Midnight’ against David Tennant and has made various contributions to the world of Doctor Who audio, not least in the recreation of his father’s role for Paul Magrs’ ‘Serpent Crest’ series. He clearly has tremendous fun with the voices, although one cannot help but hear the shades of family resemblance in his take on Pertwee, making for an interesting cocktail.
The delegate’s voices are performed with great enthusiasm; Arcturus is perhaps a touch Daleky at times, but acts as a great counterpoint to the hilariously high-pitched Alpha Centuari. The Ice Warriors are sufficiently breathy and intense too. It must have been exhausting! Some excellent sound design adds to the atmosphere of the reading with appropriately medieval music cues and some impressively fearsome roars for the Royal Beast.
This book was first published in 1975, a mere three years after transmission. The CD retains the original Chris Achilleos artwork that graced the paperback, but also includes the Alister Pearson version its 1992 reprint. In addition, the booklet reproduces six original black and white internal illustrations by Alan Willow.
‘The Curse of Peladon’ is a great slice of Pertwee era Who which breaks away from the familiar UNIT pattern. It is a compact story with a well-contained setup that plays out like a whodunit in space, albeit with us in on the secret while our heroes are not.
Released on Wednesday 1 May 2013 by AudioGO.
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