Doctor Who Project: The Curse of Peladon

Doctor Who Project: The Curse of Peladon

Your legend seems violent and unpleasant, and rather too convenient.

The originators of Doctor Who‘s most iconic foes tend to be a bit protective of them (see: Nation, Terry, et al.), making Brian Hayles’ use of his Ice Warriors in “The Curse of Peladon” (Story Production Code MMM) quite refreshing. The Martian militarists’ prior two appearances (“The Ice Warriors” and “The Seeds of Death“) established them as honor-bound but utterly ruthless in their warlike tendencies. Here, in a story set in some vaguely defined far-future where Earth is part of a Galactic Federation, they retain their honorable mores but have committed themselves to…peace?

The Ice Warrior delegation to Peladon

Just so, and the tension between the audience’s expectations that the Ice Warriors will turn out to be the villains in this piece about court intrigues on a primitive planet and their actual motives drives much of the story’s interest. The Doctor himself sustains this uncertainty, darkly warning Jo that he’s dealt with them before, and he flatly accuses Delegate Izlyr of sabotaging the Federation’s efforts at bringing the planet Peladon into the alliance. It’s unlike the Doctor to be wrong like this, and to his credit Hayles never quite allows the Ice Warriors to escape beyond suspicion even after the real foes have been revealed, keeping this four episode story flowing.

Taming the Aggedor

And yet even at the end, the Doctor is never called to task for having mistrusted the Ice Warriors. It’s particularly interesting that the Doctor cannot see past his own admittedly well-earned prejudices where the Martians are concerned in the same story where he seeks to hypnotize and tame a giant beast that has haunted this planet for generations, one that slips out of his control and kills the High Priest of Peladon.

He has more faith in the inherent innocence of this vicious beast than in the possibility that the Ice Warriors could have changed over hundreds (or thousands) of years. Ever since the end of “The War Games,” the Doctor’s attitude towards his traditional foes has been stuck in a rut, where there’s no room for analysis or question; they’re just evil, an evil that must be removed from the universe. Slightly awkward, then, that here the Ice Warriors save the Doctor from disintegration at the hands (er, liquid-filled servo-arms) of a Dalek wannabe.

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Doctor Who Project: The Seeds of Death

Doctor Who Project: The Seeds of Death

Use the air conditioning!

Some wag must have put a classified ad into the Intergalactic Times, offering up one planet, sold as-is, slightly used and with annoying inhabitants who need to be exterminated, because Earth gets invaded quite often during Patrick Troughton’s tenure on Doctor Who. Season Six alone features three stories using the invasion of Earth as a plot device: “The Mind Robber,” “The Invasion,” and Brian Hayles’ sophomore effort with his Ice Warriors, “The Seeds of Death” (Story Production Code XX). To his credit, Brian Hayles creates, again, an interesting take on human culture and civilization, but he falls prey to the continued flattening of Doctor Who monster motives.

Meet Slaar

In our first encounter with the reptilian Martians, their leader, Varga, wants to get his ship, and his crew, back to Mars after centuries buried under a glacier. Though ruthless, Varga shows at least suggestions of character and cunning, with some hint of honor and duty in his otherwise sibilant menace. The leader of the Ice Warriors in “The Seeds of Death,” Slaar, comes across as nothing more than petulant and impulsive, killing a human key to his scheme and then throwing a hissy (sorry!) fit when, as is inevitable, the Doctor outwits his invasion plans.

Still, for a while, Slaar’s plans work quite well, as they hinge upon an isolated base (on the moon, of course) that contains the technological linchpin required for continued human survival. Rather than the Gravitron that the Cybermen sought as a prelude to invasion in “The Moonbase,” here the wonder technology is the Travelmat Relay, or T-Mat, for short. Using the moon as a relay station, T-Mat allows for near instant dematerialization and rematerialization between any two T-Mat cubicles on Earth. This transit technology has supplanted all other forms of travel, including space flight and ground vehicles, such that there’s (almost) no way to send help to the moon. With the lunar T-Mat relay knocked out of operation, human society begins to collapse, as all foodstuffs and medical supplies move via T-Mat. Eventually, a weakened Earth would be ripe for invasion.

But that’s not the plan. Instead, the Ice Warriors intend to send foam-filled fungal seeds to a few cold cities in the hopes that the foolish humans will open the T-Mat cubicles out of curiosity and let the fungal spores escape. Sadly, that actually works, too…

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Doctor Who Project: The Ice Warriors

It’s good to know things, even when they’re dead.

Somewhere, buried in the design specifications for every base ever constructed, a TARDIS attractor can be found penciled in next to the obligatory nuclear reactor and the customary too-powerful-for-humanity piece of technology. Or so the past two seasons of Doctor Who would have us believe. At least “The Ice Warriors” (Story Production Code OO), Brian Hayles’ take on the mini-genre of bases under attack, adds an extra layer of danger by placing the base in question on the edge of a glacier (ɡlæs.i.ər in proper British pronunciation) steadily advancing as the vanguard of the Second Ice Age.

The titular enemies, the Ice Warriors, make for a menacing foe, with the helmets, sibilant hissing threats, and barely prehensile claw hands, but since they can be defeated by turning up the thermostat and throwing stink bombs at them, it’s for the best that Hayles focuses the six episode story on the dangers of trusting computers to make decisions best left to people. Indeed, far from being the monster-of-the week, the real enemy in the “base in danger” stories of the Second Doctor’s tenure to date has been unthinking obedience to authority in all its guises. Only independent decisions by People of Action can save the day. Here, the mod squad of scientists and bureaucrats running an Ionizer base holding back the glaciers in what appears to be northern Great Britain take no action at all unless confirmed by the Great World Computer, a machine with a voice that can barely be understood thanks to its squeaky, squawking oscillations.

TARDIS slightly askew.

And the Doctor has no truck with computers, treating them with undisguised contempt. He’s also rather poor at landing the TARDIS, which winds up on its side next to the Ionizer base (shades of the botched landing in “The Romans“), forcing our time travellers to clamber out of the blue box with all the grace of a comedy routine. It’s very little fun and games thereafter, though, as the glaciers continue to menace the base and a curious scientist in the field digs up what he thinks is a Viking. It’s Varga, actually, commander of the Ice Warriors and an all-around disagreeable chap. Did we mention the claw hands?

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