Yeah, weird one that - last year, pre-marathon, a new classic Doctor Who story was a big event, but I just couldn't get into it. I think part of the reason is that it's a type of story that's difficult to get right - a studio-bound political parody, with neutered Ice Warriors and hardly any action. I noted it had a decent reputation, so come marathon time I approached it optimistically.
The Curse of Peladon is another story that seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from Star Trek. In the future, delegates of the Federation come to planet Peladon to make a decision over whether to admit the planet to the organisation. King Peladon is in favour, while his aide Hepesh is against it. The story revolves around the admission of of Peladon to the Federation and a possible plot to kill the delegates. The Doctor and Jo land in the middle of this and have to take on the roles of the Earth delegates, hoping to investigate and discover the truth behind the events. Outer space diplomacy, ugh. Is there is a worse thing to base a story around?
Brian Hayles is back to write - I guess he wouldn't have the Ice Warriors appearing otherwise, even though they're good guys this time - and he seems to agree, giving over plenty of time to character moments, away from the main action. King Peladon strikes up a friendship with Jo, who he believes to be a Princess, with their relationship effectively getting its own subplot (a rarity for Doctor Who), and a lot of thought has gone into making the delegates interesting characters, both visually and personally. Most of them should be terrible, but they somehow work; Alpha Centauri is a squealing one-eyed cactus, Arcturus is an alien head in a jar and then there's the Ice Warriors, who are just bizarre in a non-threatening context; their scaly look and hissy, heavy breathing sound are all indications of villainy, which helped them in The Ice Warriors but which is a bit out of place and even quite funny here.
As the TARDIS has fallen down a mountain, the Doctor and Jo seem stranded and have no choice but to enter Peladon's palace, as the outside is inhospitable. These scenes putting the location in context are excellent; if nothing else it explains why they stay indoors. After joining the action, a statue falls and nearly kills them. Hepesh warns them that it was a statue of their god Aggedor, and this is a sign that the diplomats are not wanted on Peladon. This encourages the Doctor to stay and settle the crisis.
I think the problem with The Curse of Peladon is that it takes a while to get going. This is one case where a first episode that mainly establishes the characters and setting before introducing peril at the cliffhanger doesn't work - the only groundwork laid by the first episode is bringing the Doctor into the action and arguing about diplomatic policy, and there isn't much drama in either. Further, the Doctor seems to take it for granted that he'll eventually get the TARDIS back, even though it fell quite a long way. Perhaps I just miss the days when getting back to the TARDIS was pivotal to the resolution of the story, it seemed truer to the Doctor's character somehow. Especially considering he's in a position where he might need to make a quick getaway (as indeed he does at the end).
The Doctor quickly finds himself accused of attacking Arcturus by removing a vital component, which Jo is found with after finding it in the Ice Warriors's quarters. The Doctor is locked up but released into some tunnels, where he ends up in Aggedor's shrine. Naturally, he is found there and his execution is immediately ordered for his sacriliege. A tense cliffhanger.
Fortunately, the resolution promises action - King Peladon gives the Doctor an alternative - a fight to the death with the King's Champion. Episode 3 is a strange one, apparently gearing towards the story's climax with both the story's major action scene (the Doctor's fight) and the disclosure of the villain (Hepesh). Hepesh offers the Doctor a way out, leading him instead into the path of the beast Aggedor, which is very real. He hypnotises it but Jo shows up and scares it away. Jo, you stupid girl. The fight itself is pretty good, though in my head I was comparing it to its counterpart in The Aztecs so thats not a great compliment (the enclosed, royal/political nature of the story meant The Aztecs was in my head throughout the story - perhaps that's why I'm hard on it).
After winning the fight and deciding to spare his opponent's life, Arcturus shoots the Doctor, but the lead Ice Warrior shoots him first. As Hepesh runs off, it's revealed that he and Arcturus were working together to stop Peladon joining the Federation, with Arcturus reaching a secret agreement with Hepesh to trade for Peladon's rare minerals. This apparent resolution at the beginning of the final episode seems to come at the wrong time - the only thing thats left to do is capture Hepesh, something that should only take a minute or two. The fact that it's dragged out until the end of the episode turns out not to be the disappointment that it could have been - in the intervening time the Doctor goes to find Aggedor again to confront Hepesh with it, and as a desperate Hepesh tries to control Aggedor, he is killed by the beast. How neat for the plot.
It's hard to come to a conclusion on The Curse of Peladon. I wasn't keen on Jo's subplot with Peladon - David Troughton was clearly trying very hard in the role but he comes across as quite an inexperienced actor, and Katy Manning oversells Jo's conflicted emotions. It's wrong, wrong, wrong, and a pity because Jo is great in the rest of the story. Jon Pertwee gets to flex his singing voice, and pulls off something I doubt many other Doctors could. Ultimately, out of all the studio-bound dialogue-driven stories, this isn't one of the best; the characters fail to come alive (although Alpha Centauri is hilarious) and thus the whole thing sort of flounders. At four parts however, it just about works.
Horror quotient - When the Ice Warriors are the good guys, you know where the story is leaning. It is quite atmospheric, though.
Comedy quotient - Pertwee gets a chance to be daft, even with the threat of execution looming.
Drama quotient - I didn't care much about the diplomacy plot, and was ambivalent about the conspiracy plot. It chugged along fine otherwise.
A solid story, if a tad boring, and certainly no better than average.