Sep. 12th, 2018

purplecat: The Third Doctor (Who:Three)
The revelation of Terror of the Autons, at least as far as Tame Layman was concerned, was that Jo Grant was a trainee spy. When we started watching The Curse of Peladon therefore, I was subjected to quite a discourse on what a good thing it was to have a trainee spy in the Tardis. Certainly Jo's ability to rise to the occasion and assume a persona is well-used. It is also nice that the audience are trusted to follow what is going on without the Doctor needing to explain to his companion that it is important that she pretend to be of royal blood. It is also nice that, later on in the story, she gets to do a fair amount of investigation, making her own alliances and generally behaving like a competent adult (something Jo does not have much of a reputation for, though to be honest, I think she is very underrated in this regard).

Both the Peladon stories have a strong sense of place and benefit from their attempts to reflect real world events through the lens of politics on a far flung planet. Curse of Peladon is the stronger of the two, though I sometimes wonder how much of that is simply because it isn't trying to stretch its story out over six episodes. Monser of Peladon also suffers from lifting the character dynamics of King Peladon and Hepesh more or less wholesale for Queen Thalira and Ortron. This is interesting, in a way, since fandom has had a tendency to treat King Peladon seriously as a love interest for Jo, while Queen Thalira's character is defined almost entirely by Sarah Jane's "there's nothing only about being a woman" speech. In reality both are often indecisive and tend to rely on others to tell them what to do. Of the two, in fact, I would say Queen Thalira comes off better since she is constrained by expectations of what a woman can do, and can be seen on occasion to be quietly working around those expectations whereas King Peladon is just a bit useless. You can see why he wants to marry Jo and then presumably have her tell him what to do, but you can also see why Jo all but rolls her eyes when the Doctor suggests she might be seriously considering staying with him.

The surprise "twist" in Curse of Peladon is the reveal that the Ice Warriors are not the villain, though the moment this is revealed, it is fairly obvious who the villain must be (or at least Tame Layman by a rapid process of elimination worked it out), unless, that is, you suspect Alpha Centauri of deep and sinister motivations (which to be honest would have been amusing, if nothing else and is more plausible if you don't already know the character will reappear). The surprise "twist" of Monster of Peladon is the rather less surprising reveal that the Ice Warriors are the villains after all. I find both twists oddly underwhelming, but that may be because I know they are coming.

The Peladon stories are oddities in Doctor Who. It is something that I would like to see more of - an attempt to create an interesting world and revisit it over time. They benefit from antagonists with understandable motivations, enough politics to be believable without getting so bogged down in details as to make it boring and a generally reasonable balance of whodunnit style story with political shenanigans. They do suffer a bit from questionable costuming choices (in which I include King Peladon's shorts) and a certain amount of running around to relatively little purpose (far more noticeable in Monster).

Curse of Peladon is a decent Doctor Who story: a little marred by costuming and padding and perhaps a bit too stolid to rise above its weaknesses, but where it loses out in being a little over-earnest it gains in imagination.

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