The UNIT era of Doctor Who died a slow, lingering death that lasted many years as the organisation increasingly faded into the background. It is my opinion that The Curse of Peladon was the very beginning of that demise, for one simple reason. For the first time in Doctor Who, we had a colour story which did not feature the Brigadier or any UNIT employee save Jo Grant. Unlike Colony in Space - which was also set on an alien world - the TARDIS is not shown leaving the earth in any capacity, and instead arrives on Peladon in much the same manner as it would in any non-UNIT tale.
The Curse of Peladon is many things at the same time. It is a political thriller, and a mystery story that blends science fiction with medieval tendencies. It is an analysis of the dangers of allowing religion too much power over government (even if that government is a monarchy), it is about the inevitable resistance to change that society must undergo if it is to improve. It is about xenophobia and prejudice. Quite honestly it handles all these topics, themes and genres quite well.
Peladon is, if I may be quite upfront about it, a rather backwards planet ruled largely by religion, superstition and their deeply rooted traditions. For example, it is an offence punishable by death should a woman that is not of royal blood step within the throne room. However, Peladon's young king - portrayed by David Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton - wishes to change all of that. He is portrayed as an enlightened king that wishes to drag his people out of the dark ages and into the light. He wishes to transform their society, make life better for his people. The first stage of which is to join a Galactic Federation. It cannot be of any surprise that there would be those deeply opposed to such a plan. For every person such as King Peladon, there will always be another that feels threatened by The Outsiders. They will see their society as it is as pure, and will cling to the old ways with the tenacity of a pitbull. This is the kind of person that views foreigners as exploitative, all to eager to sneak in and take over. The kind of person that would fear beyond even death itself the very notion of permitting a camel's nose to enter the tent. Though this kind of person sees themself as loyal to their people, they often believe that those willing to permit alliances with outsiders are naive or complicit in the wicked plans intended for their people and traditions. To that end, they shall fight their own neighbours and in this instance, the king to whom they have sworn fealty. In the mind of such a person, it is not treason. It is the protection of the king from himself.
Arriving on Peladon are a number of delegates from various worlds that make up the Galactic Federations. The Earth delegate is mysteriously delayed until the crisis is over, and so The Doctor and Jo slip in and take her place. Then there is Alpha Centauri, a rather unconvincing looking alien with the appearance of a cycloptic cucumber that grew limbs, a voice that is barely shy of doubling as a dog whistle and a personality that can be best described as a well intentioned beaurocratic coward. The next is Arcturus, a rather harsh but logical being that must live inside of a life support system outside of its native environment. The last is Ssorg, an Ice Warrior. The appearance of which makes The Doctor's suspicions about what is going on rise considerably.
This is another representation of the theme of prejudice. The Doctor has onscreen encountered the Ice Warriors twice now, neither under particularly pleasant circumstance. With no other evidence save his own past experiences with the race, he assumes that they are somehow responsible for what is transpiring - and the audience will almost certainly agree with him. Of course, explaining this aspect of the theme makes it rather obvious that the Ice Warriors are not responsible for the ongoing events, but it's simply too important from a thematic and character perspective to ignore. The Doctor is flat out wrong about the Ice Warriors, and that assumption prevents him from making a useful ally much earlier in the story. In this sense he falls into the same trap that the main antagonist falls into, though to a much lesser degree.
The Curse of Peladon gets a tentative recommendation. There are better stories from this season alone, but it moves along quickly enough with plenty of action and intrigue to keep anyone interested. What I've stated above is what I take from the story, but I also feel that anyone else watching might well take their own messages from it instead.
Tags: Relative Dimensions