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11 November 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 315: The Curse of Peladon, Episode One

Dear diary,

Ah, Peladon. This is another one of those stories that I’ve never seen, and I’m in two minds about. On the one hand, I’ve always liked the idea of the Third Doctor making two trips to the planet during his era (for the same reason I enjoy the Tenth Doctor returning to New New York a season after his previous visit). There’s a moment in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor in which Jo and Sarah both reminisce about trips to Peladon and get very excited by the very fact that they both visited the same place at different times. That whole scene paints the place as very romantic, and a lovely memory for the pair.

On the other hand, I can distinctly remember my friend Huw reaching the mid-Pertwee era in a marathon of his own last year and suddenly losing the will to continue. When I told him this week that I’m about to start on this story, he rolled his eyes and groaned. It’s hardly the most encouraging of signs, is it?

I don’t think things got off to the best of starts with today’s episode, either. I’m visiting family this week, which means I’ve seen today’s episode on a screen several times larger than I’m used to. The only other episode of the marathon I’ve watched on a screen this size was The Underwater Menace Episode Two. In that instance, I was thrilled to be seeing it on a larger space! The print was in a shocking condition in places, but that just added to the charm of the whole thing! Today, I spent the first five minutes wondering if the restoration work on this story had just gone terribly wrong somewhere. It was all terribly over-exposed, and I could barely make out what was happening in some places. Thankfully, after a while the screen seemed to figure out what was wrong and corrected itself, giving me a far better image than the one I had been watching. A quick check online tells me that The Curse of Peladon is one of the worse-off prints in the archives, so I’m guessing that didn’t help.

Once I was past all of that, though… I was just a bit bored. A lot of this episode seems to just be people standing around talking at each other. To some extent, I don’t mind this. It’s exposition, and it’s necessary to get us up-to-speed with events. Since Jon Pertwee took over the TARDIS, we’ve only had a single story set away from Earth, and even that had a tag scene at the start and the end to give us some context to the adventure. Here, we get a name-check for Mike Yates to explain why Jo is all dressed up, but other than that we’re almost entirely removed from the setting we’ve come to expect from the programme. It needs some exposition to save us from being completely lost at sea.

But then it doesn’t stop. We get long conversations about the legend of the planet (which seems to be coming to the fore in some kind of Scooby Doo-like plot), about ‘protocol’, about the Galactic Federation, about the Ice Warriors, about King Peladon’s ascent to the throne… it just goes on and on. I’m hoping that now we’ve got all of this out of the way, the next three episodes can be all about action and adventure to make up for it.

It sounds like I’m being unfairly harsh on the episode, and in some ways I am. I decided that I just couldn’t forgive it after the entrance of the Ice Warriors was somewhat badly handled. I’m a Doctor Who fan. I know that the Ice Warriors are a part of the Peladon stories (they’re so intertwined with the stories that - along with Alpha Centuri - they’ve been a part of every Peladon story, on telly, in books, and on audio). Despite all this, as today’s episode played out, I completely forgot that the lizard men from Mars would be putting in an appearance.

Therefore, when they do show up for the first time, about three-quarters of the way through the episode, I should have been really excited! A great surprise-that-I-knew-was-coming-but-forgot-about, if you know what I mean. Sadly, they first appear as bumbling down a corridor as the Doctor and Jo first emerge into the castle. An Ice Warrior is shot from behind as it waddles along, and it just left me thinking ‘oh yeah, they’re in this…’

The whole situation worsened as I recalled how well their appearance in The Seeds of Death was handled - teasing the viewer of their presence because you knew they were there, but they just wouldn’t show you! A real shame. It’s odd, and I’ve never noticed it before, that after Pertwee’s first two seasons featured no returning monsters from the 1960s, we now get two in as many stories! The Ice Warriors weren’t shouted about quite as much in the pre-publicity, but they’re very much in the same boat as the Daleks - they’ve both fought the Doctor on multiple occasions in the black-and-white era before vanishing from the screen for a few years. Here’s hoping that my interest will perk up as the story goes on, and that they’re not wasted here in the same way the Daleks were during the last story.

I can’t just complain, though. The scenes between the Doctor and Jo are lovely, and just like various Doctor/companion teams of the past, they’re quickly becoming able to salvage any situation for me. Jo’s been given plenty of opportunities today to prove her worth, and we’re a million miles away from the character who was introduced at the start of last season. It’s Jo who finds the tunnel into the castle, and it’s her intervention that helps out when they’re put under pressure from the members of the Federation. I’m hoping that - with her posing as a princess in a story featuring a king - this can become her story and really let her shine throughout.

The sequence of them climbing the mountain up to the castle looks fab, and it’s one of the best-looking bits of the episode. The Restoration Team website tells me that it’s a film-clip donated by John Ainsworth, reinserted into the rest of the footage, which likely helps with the quality - so thank you, John! The downside is that it doesn’t help the rest of the story - when we cut from the Doctor and Jo on the rain-lashed cliff face directly to a (rather drab looking) BBC studio set it doesn’t half lose some atmosphere…

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