Having (seemingly) repaired his Tardis, the Doctor takes Jo along for their first “test flight”, and lands on a planet called Peladon. Thus begins another good old fashioned adventure on an alien world, complete with silly costumes, silly voices and silly rituals, as the Doctor pretends to be a delegate from Earth who, along with an assortment of little green men, must decide whether Peladon can be accepted into the Galactic Federation.
Although the aliens look silly, this is to be expected from a 1970s TV show on a tight budget, and actually they’re all quite unique and imaginative. Sensibly, Peladon’s people are humanoid, and so they are able to properly emote and empathise with. The young King Peladon is a tragic character, trying to bring his world into a new age, but held back by the traditional views of his elder advisor and mentor, who ends up betraying his king and trying to sabotage negotiations.
This is probably one of those stories that works better as a novel, with your imagination able to fill in the gaps (see also: The Web Planet). Nonetheless, despite some silliness, it worked well enough on screen for its purposes. It also tries to develop Jo’s character for the first time… but does so by having her pretend to be a princess and fall in love with the king. An unfortunate cliché, but at least it’s something! I did genuinely think she was going to stay behind at one point, but nope.
Elsewhere, the Ice Warriors are fleshed out, having put their warlike ways behind them and become a peaceful member state of the Galactic Federation. It was weird to see them behaving honourably, even saving the Doctor’s life, but I liked it because they had previously been written as one-dimensional aggressors, and that just gets old. I’ll be interested to see how they are handled when they are revived in the new series.
Before leaving, the Doctor muses that the Tardis is probably still under Time Lord control, because their arrival was so perfectly timed to provide assistance. I found this amusing, because the Tardis’s arrival is ALWAYS perfectly timed to provide assistance! There’s no difference! Still, it does seem like the Doctor hasn’t fully broken free of his shackles. The series was probably testing the waters, I suppose, seeing what it could do on its budget with these little getaways. I can’t say I truly cared that much about the fate of Peladon or its politics, but at its heart is a story about setting aside superstitious beliefs and accepting a broader society, so I’ll give it a little credit. This wasn’t a bad effort, and at only four parts, it didn’t outstay its welcome either.