"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but a marriage has not been arranged. To coin a phrase - we're just good friends!"
IN THIS ONE... Arcturus is dealt with, but Hepesh starts a civil war. The Doctor turns Aggador into a pet. And Jo thinks of staying on Peladon.
REVIEW: It's almost a botched ending. In the opening minute, the staging is cleared up and you see, in too quick an edit, an Ice Warrior zap and kill Arcturus before it can fire off a shot. And then the Doctor's explaining the whole plot of the evil delegate and high priest Hepesh in an alliance to keep the Federation away from Peladon, each for their own reasons. It's a massive info-dump that isn't earned because it makes the Doctor make statements about things he couldn't possibly know for sure. And it seems like the story ends with 23 minutes to spare. But then you realize there's a story after the story, and that's rather well handled! Hepesh is still at large and massing troops to force Peladon to take his isolationist stance, the delegates' communicators have been sabotaged so they can't call for help or instructions, and there's still the chance a galactic incident could break out because Martians just killed the delegate from another world with whom they've had tensions (an amusing game is to see if you can blame the whole story on some Ice Warrior ploy to take out one of their enemies and conduct a back door invasion of "Federation peacekeepers", but that's certainly not the script's intent). The battle in the throne room is very well choreographed, dynamic, exciting and threatening, which leaves only Hepesh super-humanly knocking Grun upside the head with a boulder as the only sour note beyond those opening minutes.
Arcturus was the only irredeemable villain of the story, and probably because he never got a chance to explain his side of it. Writer Brian Hayles otherwise gives everybody else a shot. Grun, possibly driven by guilt for having followed Hepesh, allies with the Doctor. Aggador, the monster, is turned into a lovable dog that likewise turns on Hepesh, with deadlier results, so the Doctor's smart to later prevent him from putting his paws on him, even affectionately. (The way he turns on Hepesh also makes me wonder if the poor beast was being abused. Hepesh uses a flaming torch to control him and it triggers his rage.) The Ice Warriors, former Doctor Who monsters, prove to be reliable goodies. And even Hepesh gracefully concedes he might have been wrong even as he breathes his last. So it makes perfect sense that King Peladon should show mercy to Hepesh's men, just as the writer makes us forgive his characters their trespasses. His grief at losing his second father figure in as many days is actually rather touching (or am I still reeling from watching The Angels Take Manhattan?).
Forced to play the political game to its natural end, Jo finds that she's in over her head, her power as a princess only working locally, but Peladon offers to turn the lie into truth. She's torn and leaves with the Doctor, but for once, I'd accept a companion leaving for love. The chemistry and emotionally honest relationship between her and the King is set up from the beginning, and I believe it. Other stories where companions suddenly decide to leave because they've met a boy they fancy in the last episode don't even compare. In any case, it perhaps wouldn't have been possible for her to stay without fear of retaliation for posing as Earth royalty, not with the real Earth delegate finally showing up and pulling the old "Doctor who?" joke.
THEORIES: At the very end, the Doctor finally acknowledges that the Time Lords must have been steering the TARDIS to this historical crisis point, but we're never told WHY? Theories on this point are many. Does Peladon have some crucial role to play within the Federation in the future? Are the Time Lords worried that Arcturus could cause problems down the line if they get what they want? Could events left to unfold normally have caused some devastating war they want to prevent? Does Peladon have some rare mineral used in TARDIS construction (as Varos does) that needs to be mined? Is the Galaxy Five mentioned in The Monster of Peladon related to the Fifth Galaxy that allies with the Daleks in The Daleks' Master Plan? And if so, could this be a preemptive strike in the Time War to make sure Dalek forces don't get an early foothold in Muter's Spiral (i.e. the Milky Way - Gallifrey and Earth are in the same galaxy)? Or how about a timey-wimey explanation in which the Doctor's later visit was chronicled, so the Time Lords ensure he gets a warm welcome?
VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, Alpha Centauri changes color with its moods. The illustrations show Aggador to be twice the size it is on television.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - After a gauche opening, the story manages some satisfying intrigue, action, character development and humor.
STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I dreaded watching a Peladon story again, but I was remembering the longueurs in The Monster of Peladon which comes later. The Curse of Peladon mixes political intrigue with a fair murder mystery and some surprisingly effective action, with a varied cast of characters and a huge role for Jo Grant. Which wasn't license to return to the planet, but that's a story for another day.