“Unfortunately, in order to preserve peace it is necessary to survive.” – Izlyr
In past Doctor Who stories, I have often found the political drama in the context of an alien world to be rather engaging, but this story set on Peladon just tries too hard. They attempted to cram way too much drama in the one story—royal court intrigue, intergalactic relations, political conspiracies, religious superstition, underhanded trade deals, and a coup d’etat! The overabundance leads to some uneven writing—they talk of the barbaric ways of Peladon yet the dialogue of its people is polished and Shakespearean. (They would have done better to make Peladon more rough like a tribe of ancient Guals or Vikings rather than an English kingdom.) The delegates stress the primacy of rules and protocol again and again but then don’t seem to follow any in their actual interactions. (This might have been intended to be an ironic take on the hypocrisy of such unions, but it comes across more like inconsistency in the writing.) There are a lot of flip flops with Hepesh as to whether his betrayal should be looked at as noble adherence to tradition or self-serving and with Grun as to whether he’s a fierce warrior or an idiot servant.
Other ideas just fall short. I know the writers were trying to build some interesting surprise by making a previously villainous race like the Ice Warriors turn out to be good guys, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. And the other delegates are so unlikeable that it’s not much of a revelation when one of them turns out to be the actual bad guy. The climactic end to the fight in the pit is very badly edited so all that transpires is not very clear. And what’s with the names—King Peladon of the planet Peladon? Delegate Alpha Centauri of the Alpha Centauri system?
I do actually like how King Peladon interacts with Jo; having never had an equal friend, much less a woman he could potentially marry, I think it’s true to character that he would be totally clueless how not to be offensive. It’s also amazing how quickly Jo cottons on to the fact that she has to play a haughty princess to survive and how well she does at it. The starting scene in episode four brings ties the plot together a little better, showing the blueprint the story was trying to follow at least.
Best unsettling moment:
There’s not much real fright in this story but, knowing Hadesh is like a father to Peladon, it’s rather sad to see him stride in and callously announce: “Return to the ancient ways of our people, and you will live on, our beloved king. If not, the royal line of Peladon must meet an ignoble end.”
- Alpha Centauri (when I was a child the appearance of Alpha Centauri was embarrassing—I knew that any friends who saw me watching my beloved show with that silly thing on it would make fun of me; who knew so many years later that the “hermaphrodite hexapod” would be such a beloved character that it would make a guest reappearance in the new series!)
There’s far too much camp for this to be the serious story it wants to be. The Doctor singing as to what looks like a fuzzy bear, all aspects of Alpha Centauri, the silly tone of the ending.