"To the unbeliever, all signs are as dust in the wind."
IN THIS ONE... A few more attempts on delegates' lives draws suspicion on the Doctor, the Ice Warriors and Hepesh, but whodunit?
REVIEW: While the Doctor still gets to tool about and get himself into trouble, this is really Jo's story. She sneaks off and finds clues while the Doctor plays the part of an ambassador. When in trouble, she uses a bit of that escapology we so often hear about to climb out of a window and inch herself along a most inhospitable cliff to another. And when she's romanced by King Peladon currying favor with Earth, she sees through him and refuses to compromise the neutrality that in effect, keeps her safe from interfering with the unknown politics of the era. She perhaps judges him too harshly, but it's the right thing to do, and she's rather more perceptive than usual in seeing it that way.
Those politics ARE making themselves known, however. Whatever this Federation is like, some members may benefit more than others and gain political clout and power over weaker worlds. Though starting from a false premise (that the Doctor and Jo are actually Earth delegates), the Ice Warriors correctly intuit they might have a plan to marry Josephine to Peladon, insuring a privileged alliance between their worlds at others' detriment. So might the Earthers not be the assassins everyone's looking for? It's interesting that the Ice Warriors are casting suspicion on the Doctor because he's doing the same thing to them! Like the Doctor, the audience may have that bias. After all, Martians are monsters and surely up to no good. Look how naturally menacing they are with their sibilant voices, imposing frames and face-shrouding helmets. But it seems Brian Hayles has beaten Gene Roddenberry to his TNG punch of putting a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise (I'm sorry, but this story just brings out the old Trekkie in me), and reformed his creations over whatever centuries stand between The Seeds of Death and this story. As it turns out, the Ice Warriors are being framed, and that frame-up then ricochets to the Doctor and Jo! And amidst all this, high priest Hepesh is also running his own game, but he may or may not be responsible for ALL the crimes committed. Or is he being "framed" by the script as well? The mystery isn't so straightforward so is all the more satisfying. Except as someone who knows the solution, without spoiling it for those of you watching along for the first time, there's something in this episode that's hard to swallow once you're in the know.
And while Hayles does a good job of defining the cultures involved, his grasp on what a diplomat should be is more tenuous. Not only are half of them armed, but the things that come out of their mouths (or however it is Alpha Centauri squeaks) would be major diplomatic screw-ups in the real world. In open Court, for example, Alpha says the delegation only wants to help, to raise the planet out of "barbarism". That's really condescending even if it does turn out Peladon has the automatic death penalty for walking into Aggador's shrine by accident. And the King's noble graces also need a bit of a brushing up, as his back-handed compliment to Jo about never being around anyone beautiful, which infers that his standards are really quite low, attest to. These are minor hiccups in an otherwise intelligently designed political thriller.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - This isn't a bog standard Who mystery in which the culprit is immediately apparent, and it even treats its monsters with humanity and dignity.