These negotiations are more on-and-off than the Brexit ones. While the previous episode focused on divisions in the royal court of Peladon, this turns to the squabbling delegates. Arcturus and Alpha Centauri appear panicked by the curse of Aggedor, and even the Ice Warriors are disconcerted. It’s all a pretext for the Doctor to show his unreconstructed views on monsters, telling Jo, ‘I know the Ice Warriors, Jo. They’re a savage and a warlike race.’ Fascinatingly, it’s his prejudice that drives the plot, with Jo refusing to accept their guilt without looking for evidence, and the Doctor overlooking the obvious suspect in all this because he’s too busy going toe to toe with Izlyr.
In the end, as Izlyr says, the moral is ‘You say you see this monster when there is no monster.’ We’ve been conditioned to accept the Doctor’s word when he warns of evil, and Day of the Daleks has shown us that 1960s monsters can come back. So it’s a clever trick to play with our preconceptions, and it’s almost a shame that Hepesh has already been revealed as the baddie. This one had legs as a mystery story. But it’s probably more interesting to show that even monsters have the capacity for redemption: ‘We reject violence.’ It’s especially nice that it happens with the very monsters the second Doctor merrily went round melting with his ray gun in The Seeds of Death (sadly not declaring, ‘Die, hideous creature… Die!’).
Fittingly it’s Jo who’s the first to admit that she may have misjudged the Ice Warriors, showing growing independent thought and agency. Katy Manning was marvellous in Season Eight, but Jo wasn’t always well served by the scripts, spending a lot of them doing very traditional girl companion things. This year, the writers have had chance to see Manning’s performance, and the scripts seem better suited to her range, actively giving her more to do. In this she dallies with the King (‘My mother was an Earthwoman so you see there is a bond between us’ reminds me of all those people post-Brexit claiming to be Irish). She has an intimate, almost flirtatious relationship with the Doctor, gently teasing him about how much he’s enjoying acting as Chairman Delegate. And she gets to play detective, looking for clues in the Ice Warriors’ apartment, and escaping through a window and across a vertiginous chasm. She even gets to wear more regal clothes than the King who, in his minidress and thigh boots, actually looks dressed for a date with Mike Yates.
I really enjoyed this episode, which made the ending, which is dependent on a really stupid religious law of Peladon unconvincingly executed by the otherwise progressive King, very disappointing indeed.
Next episode: The Curse of Peladon – Episode Three