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: Nine through Eleven
It’s been an eventful last few days in Doctor Who fandom, what with the death of John Hurt, the announcement of Peter Capaldi leaving the show after this next season (pause while I run into the other room and let out a Charlie Brown-sized scream of anguish), and the current U.S. political situation resembling the cliffhanger to Part Three of The Keeper of Traken. But, this blog being what it is, we’re going to talk about a 42-year-old book instead.
Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon is Brian Hayles’ first novelization. His writing style takes a little bit of getting used to, especially coming off of a run of books dominated almost solely by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. Curse of Peladon is good – it’s an adaptation of a strong TV story, and it’s very atmospheric. However, Hayles makes the thing, perhaps, too atmospheric. Just about every word needs a modifier, perhaps more than one modifier. Chapters One and Two both begin with long, adjective-choked descriptive pans of the royal castle:
The electric storm clawed and tore its way across the night sky like a wild animal, flaring suddenly into ripples of lightning more eerie and majestic than the three moons of Peladon. The harsh wind, drowned only by fitful claps of ragged thunder, howled and keened through the crags and passes of Mount Megeshra while, far below, deep-shadowed valleys and canyons echoed and re-echoed to the almost continuous shudder of sound. Yet another blaze of light flowed across the torn sky, silhouetting the mountain peak.
A mighty granite-stoned castle became starkly visible before slipping back into the darkness, its pointed turrets challenging the night. It was the Citadel of Peladon.
Chapter 2 opens in similar fashion:
The fury of the storm was increasing. The ceaseless flow of lightning across the sky threw the rocks and crags of Mount Megeshra into savage relief against the wind-hounded shadows. Into that maelstrom of noise was pitched another – grinding, mechanical, unnatural… and a shape unlike anything that had ever been seen on the planet Peladon. Suddenly, solidifying out of thin air, a chunky, dignified blue box fell victim to the wind’s claws.
The TARDIS, if you need it. Not just a blue box, but a dignified blue box. And not just a dignified blue box, but also a chunky, dignified blue box. Later on, that same blue box is called “bizarre”. Looks like Brian Hayles was gifted a new thesaurus for Earth Day. He even has trouble conveying a simple “no”:
“Don’t expect me to believe you, your … majesty,” [Jo] replied sarcastically, shaking her head in a firm negative when the young king indicated that she should be seated beside the throne.
All that said, there’s some good quiet prose tucked in away among the operatic excess (not least of which when Jo likens Alpha Centauri to an “operatic octopus”). Of Hepesh, Peladon’s sinister and conniving High Priest, we learn that his “dark eyes scarcely hid his quiet hatred”. Torbis, the progressive but doomed Chancellor whose death is engineered by Hepesh in the opening scene, moved “with the deliberate dignity of his ancient rank”.
I also like Hayles’ introduction to the Doctor, a slightly jazzed-up version of the familiar Terrance Dicks riff:
[T]he hands that operated the controls belonged to a tall, slightly theatrical figure, his exuberant shock of white hair topping a lean but humorous face, which smiled with boyish pleasure.
Oh, and the Doctor gets to rub his chin, too. Hayles also adds some depth to the Third Doctor’s storehouse of “Venusian karate” moves:
But when a huge fist gripped him by the shoulder and turned him from his path, he was instantly alert, hand raised to defend himself with the famous Venusian “loxka” – the straight-fingered jab at the carotid throat artery that could, if necessary, prove fatal.
Jo’s portrayal, however, is a bit mixed. She causes a stir as she enters the castle throne room, because she looks exactly like King Peladon’s Earthling mother. Peladon (played on TV by David Troughton, Patrick’s son) instantly falls in love with her, and soon proposes. That’s not creepy at all, right? During Peladon’s proposal, the book dialogue (which, as we talked about last time, is way longer than the final TV cut) expressly has him tell Jo that he needs “someone at my side with those same qualities that she had …”. Yeah. Thanks. I prefer the old Borscht Belt joke repeated in the movie Dirty Dancing: (“I finally met a girl exactly like my mother. Dresses like her, acts like her. So I brought her home. My father doesn’t like her! Go figure.”)
Jo does get some emotional depth:
It wasn’t difficult for Jo to feel sympathy for the young king. In the past, she too had known what it was to be alone and friendless, and she could understand the hope in his face as he moved towards her and took her hand.
However, when she’s momentarily imprisoned by the Ice Warriors, she decides she must be in the middle of a bad dream, and forcibly tries to wake herself up. “She pinched herself. It hurt.” Well, duh. This is also the same story where Jo is accidentally hypnotized by a spinning mirror … oh, and a scene that appears solely in the book, she loses a map that could have spared the Doctor from being sentenced to death. This is not Jo at her most competent …
Hayles also expands the non-Martian Federation delegates. Alpha Centauri, one of the more… memorable aspects of the TV production, is described by Hepesh as a “wriggling squid”. Centauri has six legs and hops about on one foot, which makes it not quite a hexapod at all (or a hermpahrodite — in the book, Hayles consistently uses the gender pronoun “he”). On TV, Centauri was played by stuntman Stuart Fell wearing a huge, veined, green phallus, cloaked in a shower curtain to disguise its anatomical origins, and voiced by Ysanne Churchman in a near-dog-whistle pitched squeak. In the book, Centauri changes color depending on his mood; Hayles was rooting around deep in his Crayola box while typing up this manuscript, so many colors does he mention.
Uncharitably, Hayles describes Alpha’s voice as trying to sound “majestic and determined” but instead sounding “more like a squeezy doll”. Alpha was cute and cuddly on TV, and became a fan favorite — returning to the screen two years later in The Monster of Peladon, and then, 20 years later, in the Seventh Doctor New Adventure novel Legacy (the book which predicted Brexit). But in the book, Alpha is more a hindrance than a help:
Alpha Centauri immediately raised several tentacles in protest. This was normal procedure on intergalactic civil service committee. A decision too quickly arrived at aroused suspicion. A certain degree of niggling was needed to give respectability to the motion under discussion.
Where the Ice Warriors were decoy bad guys, Arcturus was a decoy good guy, who turns out have sided with Hepesh against the Federation, and who tries to kill the Doctor at the Episode Three cliffhanger. In the book, we also learn that he’s a bit … well, Dalek-y.
“The gravitation forces involved were in excess of humanoid resistance,” he computed flatly. “Serious damage would have resulted on impact.”
“Your objective reaction is admirable,” observed the Doctor drily, “but you might’ve been killed too, Arcturus.”
“My sensor readings are not concerned with emotional response,” commented the mechanical voice, “ – only deduction.”
Similarly, when Arcturus is seen eavesdropping on a private conversation, Hayles tells us that the information was”fed into the micro-computerised decision-making center of the neuroplasm [and] was processed instantaneously and a plan formed …”. These details didn’t have time to emerge in the TV version.
One advantage to the book’s length is that Hayles can add in a lot of scripted scenes that there just weren’t time for on TV. In the Episode One material, we see how Hepesh tricks the King’s champion, the hulking and mute bodyguard Grun, into doing his dirty work, and we also get a scene in which Alpha Centauri and Arcturus argue about the niceties of Peladon’s primitive culture. In the book, the Doctor explicitly tells us that Peladon is still a medieval society slowly emerging into an industrial age. When he’s under a death sentence, the Doctor reflects: “If the Pels were anything like Earthlings of the fifteenth century, they’d be certain to think up something clever – and unpleasant!”
Towards the end of the Episode Three material, Hayles adds three scenes that were presumably cut before taping. King Peladon starts to pray at a shrine to Aggedor, but suddenly grows a spine and threatens to abolish all worship of the beast if the Doctor dies. Jo attempts to persuade Grun to not kill the Doctor in combat, by using her UNIT military experience:
Grun stood up, his mighty form rigidly at the attention.
Jo tried to remember what the Brigadier, or Mike would say to a lower rank. “At ease,” she said crisply, and Grun relaxed.
When Jo looked at him again, she almost burst out laughing. His face expressed wonderment that such a slip of a girl should have the stuff of generals in her.
Best of all, the Martian lieutenant Ssorg helps the Doctor arm himself for combat, a nice one-on-one moment for the Doctor and one of his former enemies. There’s even a shocking pop culture reference, to the man who would be the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion by the time the book got released.
“Grun will kill you,” replied the Martian fatefully.
“He’s got to catch me, first,” retorted the Doctor. “Float like the butterfly, sting like the bee,” he quoted, with a wry smile and his own variation of the Ali shuffle, “so let’s see what Grun will make of that.”
The Doctor’s combat with Grun is a much more vivid affair, free from budget restraints:
The entrance was covered by a heavily spiked portcullis. The floor was of highly polished granite so smooth that it reflected like a lake of still water. There were only three small areas in which direct combat could easily take place. All the rest of the ground space was filled with steps, mounds, steep slops and a jumbled medley of pillars and short columns of stone. On the walls, on the pillars, and scattered here and there about the Pit, were a variety of weapons: a four-edged axe, a sword with a broad blade that became a vicious prong, a lance with a barbed, three-forked head, and a triple ball and chain, hideously spiked.
The Doctor’s taming of Aggedor, alas, is less vivid than on TV; here, the Doctor merely croons a non-specific melody. The business of Pertwee singing a Venusian lullaby to the tune of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” was developed later, in rehearsal.
Two other characters find depth in the book: King Peladon, and his champion warrior Grun. Peladon recalls what it was like growing up as a boy king, and the time his Earth mother urged him to show compassion in the face of the planet’s harsh laws of justice:
It had been a trivial incident, a moment’s misuse of power by a boy not yet able to understand that his words held life and death for his people. A word of command and the servant would have been slain; but at this mother’s quick intercession, he had held his hand, and decreed a far lesser punishment.
Years later, that same servant had died, valiantly defending his royal master against a ravening wolf; a life given up willingly to a purpose – not waste by a moment’s thoughtless anger.
Hayles is sure to tell us several times that Peladon grows up and earns the inherited mantle of “king” towards the end of the book, especially in the way that he rebukes Hepesh moments before the Doctor and Grun’s combat (in another moment lost for TV). And, at the end of the story, Hayles says: “A youth had become a man”. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but it’s far from the book’s least subtle moment. There’s also a really strong bit at the end where the Doctor wins over Grun’s loyalty, and teaches him that there’s a better way than live Hepesh’s bloody march to the ancient past.
The Episode Four material in the book adds a lot of context and explanation for what was mostly an anti-climactic episode on TV, but Hayles over-eggs the pudding by describing in gruesome detail what would happen if the Federation declared war on Peladon: the people of Peladonwcould be “swept away utterly by the sickness of the bone, or a plague to end all plagues… The planet would become first sterile, then a living tomb, then as cold and barren as the three moons that circle Peladon. In the end, Hepesh would have won nothing but death”. You can see why Lenny Mayne didn’t attempt to dramatize this on TV…
The final chapter to the book is a bit shorter than on TV. As written by Hayles, Peladon and Jo have no final scene together, and Jo never gets to confess that she’s not really a princess; the corresponding TV scene must have been added by Terrance Dicks, and its absence is felt here. Also missing is the Doctor’s suspicion of Time Lord involvement in sending him to Peladon to begin with; that must have also been a Dicks add.
Which raises the question; just what is the Time Lords’ interest in seeing Peladon join a Star Trek-style federation with Earth? And, more importantly, if the story is an analogy for Britain joining the Common Market… how do you equate Britain, so recently the ruler of the biggest empire on Earth, with a tiny backwoods planet that has yet to discover electricity?
Next Time: Right on the heels of the introduction to the Ice Warriors, we get our very first Cyberman novel. Which, as with this one, is not a novelization of their first TV adventure …