Aired Jan. 29 - Feb. 19, 1972
Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Lennie Mayne
Dragging Jo from a date with Mike Yates, the Doctor is successful in getting the TARDIS to dematerialize and travel to the planet Peladon. There, they find themselves embroiled in palace politics when they are mistaken for Earth dignitaries on a committee
assessing Peladon's application to join the Galactic Federation.
The young King Peladon is eager to join the Federation, seeing it as a great benefit to his people. While his Chancellor, Torbis, supports the effort, his High Priest, Hepesh, is virulently opposed and fears the destruction of Peladon's culture and traditions. Things take a sinister turn following the death of Torbis, seemingly murdered by Pelandon's sacred mythical animal Aggedor.
The Doctor finds himself part of a tempestuous committee that also includes delegates Arcturus, Alpha Centauri, and Martian Lord Izlyr. The Martian, a member of the Ice Warrior race he has battled before, raises the Doctor's suspicions, a prejudice he finds difficult to overcome. After more suspicious accidents occur, the Doctor becomes convinced someone is deliberately attempting to sabotage the process. Jo, meanwhile, is becoming closer and closer to King Peladon, and attempts to bolster his resolve in the face of Hepesh's assertions that the Curse of Aggedor is responsible for everything.
In the end, the Doctor uncovers that Hepesh, working in conduction with delegate Arcturus, are responsible. Arcturus has played into Hepesh's fears, telling him the Federation will exploit Peladon's mineral resources. This, of course, is what Arcturus' planet plans to do itself. Hepesh has discovered the real Aggedor, or at least an example of the beast's kind, and has been using it to attack others. With the help of the Ice Warriors, the Doctor and Jo manage to expose the plot and Arcturus is killed. However, Hepesh manages to attempt a coup using loyal troops.
The Doctor has managed to befriend Aggedor, and convinces King Peladon to resist Hepesh, who is killed in the end by the beast he reveres. Jo sadly takes her leave of the King, and as she and the Doctor prepare to return to Earth, the Doctor realizes that his test flight was not of his own doing, he was sent on yet another mission by the Time Lords. His exile, for the time being, continues.
Sometimes when watching classic Doctor Who, one must acknowledge that audiences have changed, becoming either more sophisticated or less patient, depending on whom you ask. Some say that we can absorb salient plot details more quickly than we used to, as we have become more knowledgeable of the shorthand of storytelling. Or maybe we just need things to move quicker. Either way, it’s tempting to call this story dull, but I prefer to label it as thoughtful.
The Curse of Peladon is one of the archetypal stories of the Third Doctor era, as it contains so many of the hallmarks of the best qualities of the period. It has a supporting cast made up of relatable characters each with their own distinct motivations. It has a bit of allegorical content (though I'd argue it's more of a nod than a fully developed allegory) to a contemporary issue, namely Britain's entry into the Common Market. It has a social question at its heart about the importance of tradition and cultural identity and how that can prevent the growth of a civilization. It shows the close and tender and trusting bond the Third Doctor has with Jo. It even takes some time to examine prejudice in the form of the Doctor's assumptions about the Ice Warriors.
All of these aspects are well drawn in the scripts and brought to the fore in a solid turn by Lennie Mayne, who tries to give the story as much pace as it can have. The problem that some may have with the story is that frankly, not a lot of plot happens. There's intrigue, but the amount of incident is actual pretty minuscule. That's probably why there's that whacking big fight right smack dab in the middle, because otherwise, there's an awful lot of talking in rooms. This doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. In fact, I really love this story, but it does challenge a viewer used to a quicker pace, and I'd argue that it was probably a tad slow even for the 1970s. Still, if you can give yourself over to it, this remains a classic of the Third Doctor era.
And, yeah, Alpha Centauri looks like a dick in a shower curtain. What are you gonna do?