Saturday, 21 April 2012

DW50 Countdown: The Third Doctor (Part Two)

Welcome to the newly-re branded 'The Scribble Emporium!' It's the same blog just with a different name! Now, don't get hysterical, everyone, things are renamed all the time to help boost their popularity like when whatever-the-old-name-for-Snickers-was changed its name to Snickers or when the toilet tissue Charmin' became Cushelle. Ok, probably not a good idea to compare my blog with toilet roll. Hmm, moving swiftly on...

As you may well know, I've set myself the task of watching a Doctor Who story featuring a different Doctor every month that is not traditionally seen as one of the programme's best examples and still show how it's excellent TV nonetheless! This month it was the Third Doctor's turn. Any old-school Who fans among you may know I've cheated a little here as Curse is actually quite highly-regarded but I had seen it recently for the first time so thought I should review it here. What drew me to watch it was that it's a rare example of a 'classic' Who story that comments on a contemporary (for the time) issue in its mirroring of the UK's joining of the European Union in the 70s. Yeah, I know the idea of watching a science fiction serial based on a forty-year old political event doesn't get me jumping for joy either but The Curse of Peladon takes that as its central idea and runs with it, turning it into a showcase of memorable alien creatures, a great-example of world-building and a gripping whodunit to boot! Only in Doctor Who!

The other stories I have chosen to watch for this countdown so far have all had excellent opening scenes - and Curse is no exception. The first shot is a rather impressive model version of the Peladon Citadel, all medieval Gothic, sitting top a great mountain under a thundering sky, we're then taken inside where the put-upon King Peladon is being shouted at by his pushy High Priest Hepesh for inviting a meeting of the Galactic Federation to be held on Peladon, something which betrays the planet's traditions apparently. Hepesh warns that welcoming the Federation delegates to Peladon will incur the wrath of Aggedor, the fabled royal beast. It's a great example of how to start a Doctor Who story, giving us the situation, a bit of exposition about the world we're on and a monster. And it does all this without resorting to that awful exchange that features at the beginning of several Who stories, that goes something like: 'As you know, Prigtact, our planet has been ruled over by the Marmidons for a hundred years now...'. What we also get from this opening is the knowledge that Hepesh will be talking in portentous caveats for the next four episodes; a particular zinger being 'the ancient curse of Peladon will be FUL-FILLED!'
The story begins proper when the Doctor and Jo arrive - the TARDIS taking a holiday down a cliff face when it topples over - and are mistaken as the Federation agents from Earth, and get to cosy up with the delegates. Ah, the delegates! The leading diplomatic aliens who have been sent as ambassadors to a new world. This is obviously a tender situation and needs careful negotiation. So who do the Galactic Federation send? A nervy cardigan-wearing rather naughty-looking octopus thing, a withered head in a jar who sounds like a Dalek and a pair of asthmatic, shifty-looking Ice Warriors. No wonder Hepesh is a bit distrusting.
Seriously though, the idea of putting a bunch of disparate aliens together is a great one and works well here, most probably thanks to the 'hemaphrodite hexapod' Alpha Centauri her/himself for being so endearing. She/he's a brilliant creation, proving to any doubters that Doctor Who was camp long before Russell T Davies took over. Talking of which, for new series lovers, Davies was obviously a fan of this serial as his episode The End of the World is clearly based on thi,s even having it's own high-pitched jumpy alien in the Moxx of Balhoon. The Ice Warriors, Lord Izlyr and Ssorg, are NOT the villains this week although the Doctor spends about two episodes holding their race's belligerent history against them. Although Arcturus is a bit squawking, Izlyr is actually quite well-drawn; you actually feel something for him while watching which is hard seeing as he takes an age to utter a sentence due to incessant hissing. A highlight, is his offering to help Jo save the Doctor because the Doctor did the same for him earlier on. . It shows the Warrior's most interesting trait; their nobility, which sets them apart from most other Who monsters. I think they're long overdue a comeback.

And it's not just the aliens who are well-developed here. Son of Patrick, David Troughton is excellent as King Peladon, well-playing the youth and vulnerability of the character. However, our leading man and lady steal the show here, which is quite hard to do, playing opposite Alpha Centauri. Pertwee is on top form through the whole serial; a proper leading man doing everything one should do; investigating a mystery, overcoming a monster, engaging in sword fights etcetera. My favourite moment of his, here, is the Doctor's singing of a 'Venusian lullaby' to calm Aggedor; 'klendu klatch naroon naroon naroon.' Pertwee's delivery is quite inspired, putting a sort of Hindi twang to the 'words.' Katy Manning, needless to say, is exceptional. Having not seen any of her original stories for a while, I was impressed that she went a whole story without screaming once, the norm for companions back then (even Amy screams quite a bit now). She's such a strong character and plays off the others brilliantly throughour the development of her half-romance with Peladon, her acceptance of the Ice Warriors and, best of all, her relationship with the Doctor. There's a real bond between them; when he thinks Jo might stay behind he's visibly sad. One of my favourite TARDIS pairs.

Overall, Curse of Peladon works as a really well-done story. At four episodes, it's the perfect length, the plot never sags or is needlessly padded out and flows nicely. Any longer and it would have been ruined. However, the cliffhangers are all fairly pedestrian, involving the Doctor having a gun pointed at him or some such, except for Episode Three's which could have been a great reveal but is botched and over in seconds before you know what's happened. Also, Hepesh is not going to go down into the Hall of Fame for Doctor Who villains. His melodrama itches after a while and even when he's dead, if you look carefully, he continues to breath. I'd like to be there when the TARDIS disappears and the haughty High Priest gets back up again to make some havoc.

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