Title: Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon
Televised as: The Curse of Peladon
Written by: Brian Hayles
Teleplay by: Brian Hayles
Televised in: January/February 1972
Published in: January 1975
Chapters: One through Eight
Just in time for the new year, 1975 — Target’s second calendar year of publishing original novelizations — the Ice Warriors join the Daleks as Doctor Who‘s most memorable foes to enter the book line. Note how the Ice Warriors received this honor before the Cybermen, whose first novelization would not come out until the month after this one. In retrospect, this is a curious choice — to the extent that it was ever a conscious choice by people within Target, rather than an accidental byproduct of a random-ish production schedule. At the time, though, it made perfect sense. Jon Pertwee was said to have hated the Cybermen, whereas he faced off against the scaly green Martians twice during his five years on the role. So, for a book written at the end of Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, and which came out only days after the premiere of his replacement’s first episode, it makes sense to send goodbye to Pertwee as the reigning Doctor by introducing, to the books, a monster that he actually enjoyed battling.
Something else interesting about the release of this novelization: By the time Doctor Who and the The Curse of Peladon was published, all four Ice Warrior stories had already been broadcast on TV, and they wouldn’t appear in another one for nearly 40 more years (discounting their appearance in the non-canonical Mission to Magnus, which we’ll get to eventually here). What makes Curse of Peladon an unlikely bet as the first of those adventures to be novelized, is that it’s the only story where the Ice Warriors are the good guys. They’re not introduced to the Target range by way of their inaugural (and eponymous) adventure (which is not too far behind this one in the Target release schedule, admittedly), but rather in the one book where they are not marauding villains.
That’s not to say that this is a dull adventure, featuring 140 pages of the Doctor and the Martians being terribly polite to one another, sipping on the porch sipping lemonade, like in that one Itchy & Scratchy episode which was written by that cartoon’s censors.
Instead, the Ice Warriors serve as decoy villains for most of the story, not being outed as true good guys until the resolution of the Episode Three cliffhanger. This gives Brian Hayles, the episode’s writer, and here a first-time novelization author, the chance to shroud his creations in pleasing ambiguity. They’re introduced to the Target line in media res as well-known bad guys, and Hayles, as he did in the TV scripts, is able to milk tension by having you waiting for that eventual moment when they really will try to conquer and destroy everything in sight.
For example, Ssorg, the first of two Ice Warriors whom we meet on screen in the story, is introduced as follows:
It was a biped, but totally unlike any other walking creature Jo had seen before. Its massive feet shuffled along as though dragged down by heavy weights. Its huge hands were like crude, stub-fingered claps. It was entirely covered with an armored skin that was ridged and plated like an alligator or prehistoric reptile. Its helmet-like head showed a lipless, scaly-skinned lower jaw that seemed to struggle desperately to draw in air from the atmosphere about it. Set in the terrifying head were two blankly menacing eyes, screened as if by perspex. Moving relentlessly as a battle tank, it strode past them down the corridor and out of sight.
Two things of note about this paragraph. One, it burdens every single noun with an adjective, and every single verb with an adverb. This gets to be a bit much, which we’ll talk about in the following post. But, two, as you read this, you think, there’s no possible way that anything good is ever coming to come out of this creature. Not if it’s crude and armored and terrifying and relentless and, even worse, striding.
Soon afterward, Izlyr, the Ice Lord, and Ssorg’s superior officer, is introduced, and we’re shown that he’s quite a different breed of Martian, albeit no less menacing:
Where Ssorg was massive and brutal, Izlyr was sharply elegant. His helmet head revealed his rank; his speech and physical presence spoke without doubt of the martial tradition which had formed him. Although documented as officially representing the Galactic Federation as an agent for peace, every inch of him before the hallmark of the warrior class. He spoke with icy precision.
The Third Doctor’s instinctive distrust of the Ice Warriors, which he came by honestly through the events of their two earlier villainous appearances during the Troughton years, is given an extended look in print. As always, the novelization is based on Hayles’ draft scripts, not the televised version; those original scripts were quite a bit longer, and had a lot more dialogue, than could have reasonably fit in four 25-minute TV installments. We’ll talk a lot more about this bonus material in the next post, too, but, for now, here’s what Hayles has the Doctor say in print, that Pertwee didn’t have time to get to on TV.
“I know them, remember. I’ve seen what they’re capable of doing. Not only are they technically highly advanced, but they’re also a ruthless and warlike race. I’m afraid I don’t trust them.”
“And you’re always telling me to look for the good qualities in alien life forms!”
“The Ice Warriors are the exception to that rule, Jo. For me, at any rate. I’m telling you, I’ve met them twice so far, and they only have one aim – conquest!”
But, of course, as decoy villains, that means that Hayles gets to have lots of fun, over the course of the the first three-quarters of the story, heightening the seeming moral ambiguity of the Ice Warriors for as long as he can. The basic drive of the story: will
fading empire England the medieval planet Peladon, be accepted for membership in the European Union the Galactic Federation? The Federation sends envoys from four highly developed planets (including Earth and Mars) to evaluate Peladon’s request. And one of those delegates resembles a throbbing phallus draped in a shower curtain. You can imagine how well that’s going to work out.
So, when the Doctor saves the lives of the Ice Warriors (and all the other Federation delegates) from a toppling statue at the Episode One cliffhanger, he’s not quite sure if Izlyr’s gratitude at being rescued, is geniune:
The Doctor, helping Jo to her feet, turned to find Izlyr standing over him, hand extended.
“You saved our lives, Doctor.” His harsh, hissing voice sounded genuinely grateful, but the Doctor could read nothing from his mask-like face.
Later on, as you do, you’ll find that the Doctor is sentenced to death, this time by a regressive Peladonian theocrat. Jo is not quite sure if Izlyr actually wants to prevent the Doctor’s planned execution:
Izlyr stood forward proudly. Jo held her breath. What would he say? With one word, he could eliminate the Doctor as an enemy of his race, and yet remain outside the event as a guiltless bystander.
Izlyr also at one point gives “a dry staccato cough, a sound that [Jo] later came to understand as the Martian equivalent of a laugh”. But he’s not quite as droll when discussing the Doctor’s sentence of death with the other Federation delegates in chambers:
Izlyr turned his mask-like face to her. It betrayed no emotion, but for some reason Jo felt that the Ice Warrior was undeniably pleased with himself.
Interestingly, even after the delegate from Arcturus is outed as the real Federation villain, and after the full nature of the Ice Warriors’ heroism is made clear in the final chapters, Hayles continues to write them as somewhat ambiguous figures, who could still turn on our heroes at any given moment:
Izlyr rose to his feet. The impassiveness of his warrior mask, although showing no feelings, made him appear coldly threatening.
To wrap this up, let’s say that the Ice Warriors are basically monsters from Doctor Who‘s second tier of memorable monsters. They’re honor-bound warriors who fall on the side of evil more than on the side of good. You’d think that, as an alien race, they’d have unlimited dramatic possibility, and, indeed, the New Adventures novels of the early- to mid-1990s featured them several times (including once, as good guys, in a sequel to the Peladon saga released in 1994). But, the New Series has been on the air for over a decade, and has only featured the Ice Warriors only once, even when the Daleks and Cybermen get to come back almost annually, and with increasingly bizarre and illogical schemes. However, even when we don’t get to see them very much, the Ice Warriors are monsters that work, dramatically and intellectually and visually. They’re a lot of fun — and never more so than in this, their debut novelization.
Next Time: There’s a lot more going on in the Curse of Peladon novelization than just the Ice Warriors. There are more monsters than just the Ice Warriors. More scenes than you recall from the TV serial. More dialogue that didn’t survive Terrance Dicks script editing. And descriptive words. Lots and lots and lots of descriptive words…