Friday 23 January 2015

The Avengers - the Venus Smith episodes

The Avengers had originally been conceived as a vehicle for Ian Hendry. He would play Dr David Keel, a man who gets involved somewhat reluctantly in the counter-espionage business. The David Keel era lasted for one season of 26 episodes. His offsider would be the rather shadowy and cynical John Steed (Patrick Macnee). 

Production on the first season was curtailed due to an actors’ strike and by the time the cameras were ready to roll again Ian Hendry had departed. As a stop-gap Jon Rollason was brought into the show for three episodes as Dr Martin King, mainly to use up several scrips that had already been written for Ian Hendry. The intention was that Steed would become the central character in season two and he would have two glamorous female side-kicks who would appear in alternate episodes. Mrs Cathy Gale would be played by Honor Blackman while Venus Smith would be played by Julie Stevens.

Venus Smith was to be a night-club singer, and like Dr Keel she would be a somewhat unwitting accomplice for Steed. In fact both Mrs Gale and Venus Smith are to some extent manipulated by Steed who very rarely lets them know all of the facts of a case. In many cases he tells them virtually nothing at all. The personality of Steed was softened a little compared to the first season but he’s still a harder-edged and more cynical character than the more familiar Steed of the Emma Peel years.

The plan for alternating side-kicks did not quite work out. It quickly became clear that Mrs Gale was not only the more popular of the two, she was also a far more versatile character. That’s not to say that there was anything particularly wrong with Julie Stevens as an actress, but a leather-clad lady martial arts expert like Mrs Gale had more to offer the series than a very feminine jazz singer.

Venus Smith ended up featuring in just six episodes, of varying quality.

The Decapod, written by Eric Paice, marked Venus Smith’s debut. The president of a Balkan republic, Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino)  is in Britain to arrange a loan, in exchange for the use of naval bases in his country. Both his visit and the negotiations are causing concern for his own ambassador, Stepan (Philip Madoc), as well as for the British security services. No-one is quite sure how far they can trust Borb or whether he has his own agenda. Since Borb unquestionably has an eye for attractive young ladies Steed decides to use his friend, jazz singer Venus Smith, to keep an eye on the president. He doesn’t consider it necessary to tell her what’s going on. This early incarnation of Steed is rather an amoral character and he is quite happy to use people in order to achieve his objectives.

Yakob Borb is actually a bit of a charmer and Venus finds herself in danger of being swept off her feet. Meanwhile Borb’s bodyguards seem to be dying at an alarming rate. Steed (and his superiors) are not too concerned by the internal affairs of Borb’s country but they definitely do not want him to be assassinated while he is Britain. Keeping him alive may be quite a task, given that nobody knows what he is up to, or what his ambassador is up to.

Julie Stevens had almost no acting experience at this stage but she handles her role quite well. Since Venus is a singer she naturally has to sing, which she does competently enough. This episode’s biggest pluses are the performances of Paul Stassino and the always reliable Philip Madoc, both playing nicely ambiguous characters. The whole episode has a murky (and at times quite sleazy) feel which captures the world of international intrigue and espionage quite well. Everyone is prepared to double-cross everyone else, except for poor Venus who has no idea what is happening. This early version of Steed may be a good deal less likeable than the later versions but he is intriguingly duplicitous.

The biggest surprise is the opening nude scene, very daring for British television in 1962!

On the whole The Decapod is not vintage Avengers but it’s reasonably entertaining.

The second Venus Smith episode, The Removal Men (written by Roger Marshall and Jeremy Scott), starts with another nude scene! Producer Leonard White seems to have been determined to give the series a reputation for naughtiness. It’s an OK episode but Venus Smith really does not play an essential role. The episode is interesting in that Steed not only carries a gun but uses it, something he was to do rather less often in the later years of the series. This is not merely a rather amoral Steed but one who displays no hesitation whatsoever in resorting to violence when it’s necessary.

These 1962 episodes were also notable for the occasional presence of characters who act as Steed’s controllers, notably One-Ten (Douglas Muir). This idea of a controller would be revived (more successfully) in the person of Mother in the 1968 series. One-Ten does however add some humour to The Removal Men.

By the time Venus made her third appearance in Box of Tricks (written by Peter Ling and Edward Rhodes) the show had a new producer, John Bryce. He decided to give Venus a complete makeover - she now sports short hair, is noticeably more bubbly and definitely more in tune with the Swinging 60s. The original intention was that Box of Tricks would feature both Venus Smith and Cathy Gale.

The trouble with Box of Tricks is that it runs out of plot twists very quickly and after that it’s too obvious what is going on. Steed does get some witty lines however and his performance as a hypochondriac millionaire is great fun. Generally I enjoy stories involving stage magic but this script needed a bit more thought. It's still a pretty good episode.

School for Traitors involves a spy ring recruiting undergraduates at Oxford. Given that the great British universities produced more Russian spies than the KGB it’s a very believable story, which is what you’d expect from a script by James Mitchell who went on to create CallanAlthough he throws in a good twist at the end Mitchell is more interested in the atmosphere of betrayal in the world of espionage than in clever plot twists. This story benefits from some interesting supporting characters, and some fine performances from the supporting cast. Anthony Nicholls as the dean and John Standing as the rather carefree but charming undergraduate East are very impressive while Melissa Stribling is a wonderful evil spider woman. Venus Smith gets to make a real contribution to the plot development. Venus and Steed seemed to be settling into a fairly affectionate relationship by this time. He still doesn’t see fit to tell her too much but in both this episode and Box of Tricks he is starting to trust her to play her part in his plans, and he is genuinely distressed when she finds herself in real danger. Overall School for Traitors works extremely well.

The Man in the Mirror by Geoffrey Orme and Anthony Terpiloff has its moments but it’s let down by sluggish pacing, and by a script that offers few surprises. This is an episode that nicely illustrates both the drawbacks and the advantages of shooting entirely in the studio. The sets are cheap and makeshift and everything is dull and grimy, but then the setting is a very rundown and very tawdry amusement hall. It all looks terrible, and yet in a way it works. The world of spies and traitors is a world as tawdry and seedy as the amusement hall, where everything is fake and shonky. It becomes very claustrophobic and even has hints of the surreal quality that ultra-cheap sets could occasionally produce in 1960s television (an example being the memorable Doctor Who episode The Mind Robber which would have failed entirely had the BBC given the producers the money for lavish sets and location shooting). We get the impression that Steed and Venus are trapped in a very cheap and very limited television set desperately trying to pretend it’s a real amusement hall and in a strange way it produces just the right atmosphere.

While Venus’s tendency to do silly things and get herself into unnecessary tight spots might exasperate modern viewers used to super-capable kickass action heroines it has to be remembered that she is very young (one remark of Steed’s suggests that the character is supposed to be only twenty) and a complete amateur. The mistakes she makes are exactly the mistakes that such a person really would make. So why does Steed use her on his cases? The obvious answer is that she is useful because she is the last person anyone would suspect of working (albeit unofficially) for the security services. And why does Venus allow herself to be used in this way? The obvious answer to that is that she’s young and it’s all terribly exciting and it’s flattering to have an older man who is obviously some kind of secret government agent wanting her help. The relationship between Steed and Venus, which seems to puzzle some fans, makes perfect sense to me. Of course it is rather cynical of Steed to use her like this but the 1962 version of Steed is arrogant enough to assume that he’ll always be able to get her out of the dangers he places her in.

The Man in the Mirror could have worked quite well with a bit more energy and if the surreal element had been pushed a little further.

We know move on to Venus’s final story, A Chorus of Frogs, almost universally regarded as being not only the best Venus Smith episode but also one of the best episodes of the entire season. And it is. It has a pretty reasonable plot and it has some of the gadgetry that would become a feature of the series in later years - a kind of mad scientist’s laboratory on board a yacht, secret experiments and a midget submarine. It has superb sets, courtesy of designer James Goddard. Martin Woodhouse’s script provides some fine dialogue. It has great performances by the guest stars, with Eric Pohlmann being especially good. It has a sinister villainess. There’s not just one but two competing diabolical criminal masterminds. Julie Stevens as starting to flesh out Venus’s character a bit more and there’s some amusing banter between her and Steed. It’s well-paced and it has more action than usual for this period. Everything comes together perfectly.

One thing you have to remember is that in 1962 British television programs such as this were done more or less live in the studio, using multiple cameras, on videotape. And in 1962 editing of videotape was too expensive and too time-consuming even to be considered. So retakes were unheard of and an entire one-hour episode was shot in an hour in one go. If an actor fluffed a line or a boom mike appeared in a shot or if any of the other countless things that could go wrong did go wrong there was nothing anyone could do about it. Those mistakes ended up on the tape and that’s how it got transmitted. Making television in that way required immense professionalism and nerve. Everything was rehearsed but once the cameras started rolling that was it - you had one chance to get it right.

Sadly for Julie Stevens the immense popularity of Cathy Gale spelt the end of the line for Venus Smith. In strictly commercial terms the producers made the right decision to drop her and the series went from strength to strength during the Cathy Gale era

The six Venus Smith episode are included in the Region season two boxed set and they are also available in the old A&E Region 1 sets. The six episodes might be a mixed bag but overall they’re not at all bad. A Chorus of Frogs and School for Traitors are excellent, The Decapod is very good and the other three all have their moments. All are worth a look. 

Thursday 15 January 2015

Adventures of Dr Fu Manchu (1956 TV series)

The Adventures of Dr Fu Manchu was a short-lived 1956 US TV series based on Sax Rohmer’s famous diabolical criminal mastermind. 

I picked up a bargain DVD from Payless Video containing three episodes of this series for a couple of bucks, and it’s actually not bad and the transfers are acceptable if not great. Yes, it’s very politically incorrect (which is really a feature rather than a bug) and it’s very campy, but it’s kind of fun. Being quite a fan of both the Fu Manchu books and the various movie adaptations made over the years I ended up buying the Volume 2 disc from Alpha Video which has another four episodes. Sadly this one is standard Alpha Video quality - in other words the transfers are stupendously atrocious.

Although this is an American series it retains the character of Sir Denis Nayland Smith as Dr Fu Manchu’s staunchest opponent and even has him played by an English actor. The highlight is Laurette Luez’s performance as Fu Manchu’s beautiful but deadly female assistant. She really should have been given a lot more to do.

Glen Gordon is very cartoonish as Fu Manchu, although that’s hardly a problem given the source material. He’s definitely not in the same league as Christopher Lee (who played the role in four films beginning with The Face of Fu Manchu and was the definitive screen Fu Manchu) or Henry Brandon (who played the role exceptionally well in the 1940 Republic serial The Drums of Fu Manchu), or even Boris Karloff (who gave a deliciously over-ripe interpretation of the part in MGM’s 1932 The Mask of Fu Manchu). Gordon’s performance is the show’s weak point, being more suited to an out-and-out spoof and lacking the necessary malevolence. This particular incarnation of Fu Manchu also lacks the sense of honour that is such a crucial part of the makeup of Rohmer’s creation. That sense of honour, and the fact that Fu Manchu really does have a vision of a world which to his way of thinking would be a better world, is what makes Rohmer’s character more than just a stock villain. Unfortunately those nuances (which Christopher Lee was able to bring out) are completely lost here.

Lester Matthews is adequate but they really needed a much more colourful actor to play Sir Denis Nayland Smith. For a Fu Manchu story to work properly Nayland Smith should be as much of a larger-than-life character as Fu Manchu himself. Dr Petrie is transformed into a rather dull American scientist.

The series apparently came to a premature end after only 13 episodes due to legal wrangles. This is a pity since it did have at least some potential. The series had the considerable advantage of having William Witney directing six of the thirteen episodes. Witney had been one of the best (some would say the absolute best) directors of movie serials and had helmed the excellent The Drums of Fu Manchu mentioned earlier. It’s impossible to imagine anyone better qualified to direct a Fu Manchu television series.

The series kicks off with The Prisoner of Dr Fu Manchu and this episode really does capture the spirit of Rohmer’s stories surprisingly well. 

The Master Plan of Dr Fu Manchu is great goofy fun, with Fu Manchu joining forces with Hitler! The Death Ships of Fu Manchu sees Fu Manchu dabbling in germ warfare.

Not surprisingly the series has a definite 1950s Cold War feel to it, especially in episodes like Dr. Fu Manchu's Raid (in which the evil Doctor threatens the air defence system of the United States) and The Satellites of Dr Fu Manchu (in which Fu Manchu plans to establish a space station which will allow him to threaten the free world with nuclear annihilation).

The Assassins of Dr Fu Manchu is not so good. The idea of Fu Manchu having an adopted son who is both a clean-cut all-American boy and a deadly killing machine stretches credibility a little too far.

In general the Cold War angle does not really detract from the fun and most importantly the plots have Fu Manchu doing the sorts of things you’d expect him to be getting up to in the 1950s. There’s still enough of an authentically Fu Manchu flavour to the stories.

The idea of Fu Manchu (a descendent of Chinese emperors) working hand-in-glove with the Chinese Communists might perhaps stretch credibility a little. I’d have thought that he would regard them with contempt but I guess if you’re aiming at world domination you sometimes have to work with unlikely allies.

The series was made by the television arm of Republic Pictures. The budgets were obviously minimal and production values are low. The series was made cheaply and unfortunately it looks cheap.

On the whole The Adventures of Dr Fu Manchu can be enjoyed to a certain extent for its silliness. This is probably one for Fu Manchu completists only, although The Master Plan of Dr Fu Manchu is definitely worth a look. If you can pick up one of the discs for a dollar or so in a bargain bin then by all means grab it but I’d hesitate to pay any more. I certainly would not pay more than a dollar for the Alpha Video disc. Even at that price it's a dubious buy.

Friday 9 January 2015

Out of the Unknown, season 1 (1965)

In the early 1960s Irene Shubik had been story editor on a British ABC science fiction TV series called Out of This World. This was when Sydney Newman was head of drama at Britain’s ABC Television. A few years later both Newman and Shubik had moved to the BBC and Shubik suggested doing a similar anthology series but with stories based on the works of well-known science fiction writers. The result was Out of the Unknown, with Shubik producing. The series was successful enough to last for four seasons although that didn’t stop the BBC from junking most of the series a few years later. Twenty episodes survived the holocaust and have now been released on DVD by the BFI.

The episodes were originally to have 75-minute running times. Shubik (fortunately) persuaded the BBC to cut that back to 60 minutes. In fact 60 minutes is still just a little too long for most of the stories - in retrospect 50 minutes might have been preferable.

As you would expect in an anthology series it’s a bit hit and miss. Some of the hits are very impressive while some of the misses are spectacularly bad.

The idea of basing the series on published novels and short stories had some merit although it caused problems. The episode based on a Ray Bradbury story was never able to be repeated because Bradbury had demanded colossal sums of money for each screening. The concept did give the series a veneer of respectability though, which may be why the BBC bought the idea.

The first episode that went to air was No Place Like Earth. It was based on two John Wyndham short stories and normally it’s difficult to go wrong when adapting Wyndham. Unfortunately the result in this case is catastrophically bad and after such a dismal start it’s surprising the series survived. This episode illustrates rather nicely just about every mistake you can make in a television production. It’s excessively talky, there are agonisingly long stretches of incredibly tedious expository dialogue, the pacing is glacial, it’s heavy-handed and inept in its attempts to make political points and in general it’s simply pitifully dull. It’s also very badly acted. The costumes are silly and the special effects are crude. It’s one of the most truly awful pieces of television that it’s ever been my misfortune to encounter.

The plot involves the survivors of the destruction of Earth and the choice between the tyranny of Venus and the apathy of Mars. The attempts to add an anti-colonial message are crude and obvious and irritating. It has one redeeming feature - the opening shot is quite effective in evoking an atmosphere of strangeness and stillness. My advice is to watch the first minute for that one shot and then hit the stop button.

If you’re tempted to give up on this series after this dismal start you’d be making a big mistake. The second episode, Counterfeit Man, is quite superb. A space mission to one of the moons of Jupiter seems to have picked up an extra passenger. At least the ship’s doctor is convinced that one of the crewmen has been replaced by an alien. An alien who is an exact duplicate of the crewman. In fact he’s such a perfect counterfeit that it seems to be impossible ever to prove the doctor’s suspicions. Counterfeit Man benefits from some fine acting by Charles Tingwell and Alex Davion and especially by David Hemmings. The set design is austere but effective. 

Costumes seem to be a real problem in this series - as in the first episode they’re a mixture of the silly and the dull. On the other hand the special effects and the makeup effects are very well done. Philip Broadley’s script (from a story by Alan Nourse) is intelligent and has some nice twists. Director George Spenton-Foster builds the suspense very effectively. A good story well told. If No Place Like Earth is the BBC approach to science fiction at its worst then Counterfeit Man is the same approach at its best.

Stranger in the Family, written by David Campton, is another strong episode. Charles (Richard O’Callaghan) is a young man who is different. He has no fingernails. He also has special powers. He can persuade people to do things. He can persuade people to do absolutely anything. His parents have tried to isolate him from the world but there are people who know about him and they want him. But for what purpose? It’s a creepy little tale but oddly moving as well. O’Callaghan gives a mesmerising performance and gets good support from Justine Lord as an actress with whom he becomes obsessed and Peter Copley as his devoted but increasingly desperate father. This is one of those stories, which enjoyed quite a vogue at the time, about the possible next step in human evolution. There is a bit of 60s silliness about using these powers to stop powers but on the whole it’s a well thought-out and powerful story.

The Dead Past is based on an Isaac Asimov story. It’s a time travel story with a difference. Time travel is impossible but a scientist develops a technology for viewing the past, rather like viewing a movie. His invention is the Chronoscope. The government seems to have developed in the direction of a soft totalitarianism. The government controls all scientific research, in fact all academic research, and access to the Chronoscope is strictly limited. This causes immense frustration to a historian who is determined to prove that the Carthaginians weren’t so terrible after all. He enlists the help of a physicist and they indulge in what is known as intellectual anarchy - unauthorised scientific research. They discover some very curious things about the Chronoscope.

The audio commentary for this episode features two of the original crew including director John Gorrie. Gorrie makes some scathing but very pertinent criticisms of the modern BBC culture.

Time in Advance is based on a story by William Tenn with Edward Judd tuning in a compelling performance. This episode has an intriguing central idea - Edward Judd and Mike Pratt play two pre-criminals. In this future society you can confess to a crime before you commit it, and also serve your sentence before you commit the crime. In this case both these men have served seven years on a penal planet for murder. Now they have been released and have been given a special licence to commit one murder each. Having already served their time they will face no further punishment. Both men have spent seven years being totally obsessed with the murders they plan to carry out. But a lot can change in seven years. It’s a clever idea and the script uses it to examine issues of friendship and betrayal.

The audio commentary for Time in Advance is particularly good with director Peter Sasdy explaining in detail the enormous differences between doing a television program in 1965 and doing television today. In 1965 there was no such thing as post-production on television. Editing on videotape was virtually impossible and was almost never done. A program such as this was done very much in the way live television had been done. The points that Sasdy makes really do put this series in perspective. It’s rather talky and slow-paced by today’s standards but given the way that multi-camera shooting in the studio was done at the time these faults were simply unavoidable. And of course the special effects seem primitive by today’s standards. One of the strengths of this series is that such limitations were taken into account and the stories were chosen because they were the kinds of science fiction stories that required very little in the way of special effects. The focus was on ideas rather than gadgets and on emotions rather than action.

Sasdy also points out, quite correctly, just how effective black-and-white can be for science fiction. In fact in my own view futuristic societies often seem more convincing and more futuristic-looking in black-and-white.

Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come...? by Mike Watts suffers from its inability to surmount the basic silliness of the story. Carnivorous killer plants are probably best left on the printed page. When attempts are made to visualise them onscreen it’s very difficult to avoid an Addams Family feel.

Sucker Bait was adapted by Meade Roberts from an Isaac Asimov short story. A spacecraft has been sent to investigate the possibilities of colonising a planet. An attempt had been made a century earlier to colonise the planet. After apparently thriving for three years the colonists all died under circumstance that were never explained. This new mission includes the expected collection of scientist but also includes a mnemonic. At this point in the distant future humanity has become very dependent on computers but experience has shown that computers rather fatally lack the ability to make unexpected intellectual connections and they lack the faculty of imagination. To compensate for this children with odd mental abilities are selected at a very young age and trained to supply those qualities that computers lack. On this mission the mnemonic is Mark Annuncio (Clive  Endersby) and he’s typical of the breed - he is capable of startling and profound insights but he is very difficult to get along with. He’s the type of young man who would today be labelled as having Asperger’s Syndrome.

The story is mainly concerned with the nature and the importance of memory and it succeeds quite well. The beautifully understated performance of noted Australian character actor John Meillon is a major highlight. As is the case with most of these episodes the set design looks a little clunky today but is still quite imaginative.

Some Lapse of Time is unfortunately extremely poor. That’s probably inevitable given that it was based on a short story by John Brunner, a writer noted for his dreary political sermonising. This episode bludgeons the viewer with its anti-nuclear message while the science fictional elements are embarrassingly silly. It’s also let down by a ludicrously histrionic performance by Ronald Lewis. 

Thirteen to Centaurus, based on a J. G. Ballard story, is by contrast a superb story with challenging ideas and extremely well-handled.

Season one closes with The Midas Plague, directed by Peter Sasdy from a Frederik Pohl story. It comes as something of a surprise, being not only a comedy episode but a very good one that combines intelligence with plenty of genuine laughs.

The transfers are, considering the program’s age, remarkably good. More than half the episode come with audio commentaries and they’re almost invariably stimulating and informative.

Despite the unevenness that you expect in an anthology series the first season of Out of the Unknown is fairly impressive. There are a couple of real clunkers but there are quite a few absolute gems and the hits outnumber the misses. The better episodes can stand comparison with any science fiction television from any era. There’s an emphasis on ideas rather than action but happily the ideas are more often than not truly interesting and developed intelligently. In general the scripts are literate and the acting is exceptionally good.

Out of the Unknown is an example of 1960s British television at its best. Highly recommended.

Friday 2 January 2015

Doctor Who - The Curse of Peladon (1972)

The Curse of Peladon went to air in early 1972 as the second story of season nine of Doctor Who. By this time the Doctor is no longer confined to Earth and he’s just taken the Tardis for a test spin. And gets caught up in some delicate diplomatic negotiations on the planet Peladon.

This somewhat backward planet has applied for membership of a galactic federation. The Doctor rather unexpectedly finds himself acting as the delegate from Earth. With Jo Grant being passed off as a royal observer, Princess Josephine of Tardis.

Among the other delegates are some old foes of the Doctor, the Ice Warriors. But the Ice Warriors have a major surprise in store for the Doctor.

The young and inexperienced king of Peladon (played by David Troughton) is anxious that his planet’s application for membership should be accepted but he faces fierce opposition from his High Priest Hepesh (Geoffrey Toone). Another major obstacle is the past - Peladon is still a society ruled by ritual and superstition. One of the chief superstitions is the belief in the Curse of Peladon, a belief that the legendary Aggedor (a kind of monstrous god) will return to take vengeance on anyone who defies the planet’s traditions.

It soon becomes obvious that there’s dirty work afoot and that someone intends that the meeting of the representatives of the members of the galactic federation should end in failure.

An unusual feature of this serial is that the Doctor gets a fight scene. And not just a fight scene, but a fight to the death with some rather nasty-looking edged weapons. It’s odd to see the Doctor, so often the champion of non-violence, indulging in some pretty enthusiastic violence but then the Third Doctor was never quite so wedded to the non-violence doctrine as some of the other incarnations of the Doctor.

The opening episode shows Jo Grant being quite quick-witted, handling her audience in the throne room rather adroitly. Jo in fact is given plenty to do and she also gets the opportunity to demonstrate considerable physical courage in confronting a monster single-handedly. 

This story features several alien races and a monster. The monster is not quite scary enough. The aliens are more successful. One thing Doctor who has to be given credit for is tying to create genuinely non-human aliens. The delegate from Alpha Centauri, a hermaphrodite hexapod, is a brave attempt that doesn’t quite come off. The delegate from Acturus on the other hand is something of a triumph - a very alien alien indeed. 

The costumes are generally fairly impressive. An interesting point made on the commentary track is that at this stage the Doctor, although he has a very definite fashion look, does not wear exactly the same outfit all the time. In later years the Doctor’s clothes would become a sort of uniform, remaining identical from story to story, which makes it slightly more difficult to take the Doctor seriously as a real person rather than a comic book-type hero.

In general the approach of producer Barry Letts and story editor Terrance Dicks was fairly serious. The tried to make the show the way you would make any ordinary drama series, rather than in the style of a children’s science fiction series. This was a very deliberate decision and it was a correct one. And a very successful one - the early 70s would see Doctor Who’s popularity skyrocketing. 

There are some impressive sets and some very fine model work - the shots of the Tardis plunging off the cliff face are exceptionally well done. This serial is also notable for the subdued lighting, in pleasing contrast to the flat overlit look so common in television of its era.

The performances of the guest stars are effective with David Troughton being very good as the young king of Peladon. Geoffrey Toone makes Hepesh a rather compelling character and certainly far more than just a conventional villain.

As always with the BBC’s Doctor Who DVDs the audio commentaries are a highlight, with producer Barry Letts, story editor Terrance Dicks and star Katy Manning all contributing a good mix of information and amusing anecdotes.

Attempts have been made to see this episode as a commentary on political events of the time such as the UK’s decision to join the Common Market. Some over-enthusiastic fans have even seen the Time Lords as representing the CIA! On the audio commentary both Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks pour scorn on such interpretations, pointing out the dangerous tendency of critics and fans to over-interpret and to find meanings that were never intended.

The Curse of Peladon is on the whole a successful story and thoroughly enjoyable Doctor Who adventure. Recommended.