"One minute you're condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you're proposing to me!"
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor sings a lullaby to Aggador, then faces his trial by combat. Peladon proposes to Jo.
REVIEW: This story really is dark and dingy, a side-effect of taking place on a planet where it seems to always be night (or rather, stormy, so there's no sun and usually no windows). But while the murk is getting to me (perhaps because it's raining as I type these words), I still admire the story, even if it isn't exactly flawless. I question, for example, how much the lead characters have become ciphers in it. The Doctor and Jo have taken on roles that have, in places, overwhelmed their true selves. Consider the Doctor making threats that his death will cause a galactic scandal (but he's not the real Earth delegate). Or the heights of melodrama Jo reaches in her scenes with King Peladon (would she really consider marrying him if he hadn't ordered the Doctor's execution?). They've become the people they're only pretending to be, while thankfully keeping to the essence of who their really are.
Where the episode shines, as with the rest of the Peladon storyline to date, is in the back room machinations of the characters. Cementing the fact that the Ice Warriors are good guys now, they're the only ones who jump to the Doctor's defense. Arcturus preys on Alpha Centauri's instinctual cowardice to seed doubt, fear and panic into the poor hexapod, but the Martian Warriors hold the deciding vote that keeps the delegates from leaving the planet. (If Federation Law demands unanimous decisions, it's a wonder they get anything done.) Hepesh wants the Doctor killed no matter what he says, but only in the right circumstances, using an ally's game plan so as to create the most outrageous interstellar incident. He's likely being manipulated himself by someone who doesn't want the Federation involved so they can reap Peladon's resources themselves, and if you're paying attention, there aren't many suspects left (unless you think Alpha Centauri really has it in him/her/it). Close-ups in fact link Hepesh and Arcturus, just before the latter sticks out its gun and fires at... well, the staging is a little musty. As for King Peladon, he's still an ineffectual boy-king, trapped by tradition and lied to by his closest adviser. The key, as Jo puts hopefully makes him realize, is to rule BOTH as a King and as a man (with the humanity that entails), which he sees as separate things. Duty AND conscience.
There are two less vocal members of this cast, of course. The first is Aggador, finally seen here in its full plush glory, and for once, an adorable monster really is supposed to be adorable. The Doctor's makeshift hypnosis gadget mesmerizes it, and a catchy tune soothes it (it sounds Celtic, but I hear it's actually just nonsense), and it's actually quite pettable when it's calm. Who knows what Hepesh uses to enrage the creature and cause it to kill. Jo screws everything up because she's gotten used to being the action heroine and attacks the beast with a torch. Her getting so quickly mesmerized in the aftermath (and the Doctor's "good grief") is quite funny and makes it all worth it. And then there's Grun, the mute and imposing King's Champion, and his fight to the death with the Doctor. Quite an exciting one too, with handheld cameras, shots from above )(this is a REAL pit you have to climb down into with ropes) and lots of cool gags. It's probably the best fight Doctor Who's ever had up to that point (perhaps ever, I've still a ways to go), and it ends rather violently with Grun getting choked out in some netting. It could have been another case of shouting "Hai!" a lot and opponents tripping over themselves. Instead, it's a real highlight of the season.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Some excellent action in what is otherwise still a potable political thriller.