State of Change
Trial of a Time Lord
The Mysterious Planet
Trial of a Time Lord Episodes 1-4
|Dates||Sept. 9, 1986 -
Sept. 27, 1986
With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Nick Mallett. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor is taken out of time to be tried for his crimes of interference, and evidence is used against him from his journey to the planet Ravalox.|
A New Style by Chris Maier 11/5/97
The Trial of A Time Lord is launched with The Mysterious Planet,the last whole story from Doctor Who's most popular writer, Robert Holmes. The story begins with an excellent special effects sequence as the TARDIS is dragged towards a Gallifreyan space station, and, after this glossy introduction, we jump into the Trial Room and watch the proceedings.
The Trial aspect of the story is handled pretty well,and is perhaps used to it's most light-hearted touch here. Colin is just as difficult as he was the previous season as he jests with the Valeyard, and less serious than in the next installments. He seems to crack a million insults per second at his mysterious alter-ego, the Valeyard, coming up with often hilarious alternatives for the "learned Court Prosecuter." It brings a whole new meaning to self-pity, doesn't it?
Speaking of the Valeyard, Micheal Jayston is incredibly effective, and brings back fond memories when the Time Lords were menacing and manipulative (The War Games to Genesis of the Daleks) a path, of course, the Doctor will soon take himself, perhaps creating the Valeyard doing so.
Sabalom Glitz is much more dark and villanous here than in later stories. One wonders why the Doctor was so friendly to him later, when he gets almost killed and tied up by him.
As for Colin, in the main story we see somewhat a kindler, gentler version than the previous season. He doesn't go nutty on Peri every time she makes a mistake or an error of judgement, and the two seem to get along much better. The Doctor in this is much more of a crusader than an arrogant adventurer, and there is no better evidence of this than in his final conversation with Drathro.
Wonderful concepts abound in this story, and one can not help laughing at some of the absurb situations of the underground dwellers, trapped with only a few books in mobe station for five hundred years!
The scenery is nice, and it was a wise decision to shoot at an Iron Age reconstruction. The whole production, and those after it, is shot entirely in video, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you are. But anyway, it works well in this story, and glosses it up quite well.
Guilty! by Dennis McDermott 26/5/97
So the Time Lords put the Doctor on trial for meddling, and it ought to be a slam dunk. It's sort of like putting Bob Dylan on trial for having a bad singing voice. Unfortunately, the whole season was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because it's been done before, and better.
The story here isn't half bad; the acting and characterization is the problem. Sabbalom Glitz, in particular, comes across more as a middle-aged accountant in the throes of a bad mid-life crisis than a thoroughly hardened criminal. That and the fact that he's dumber than a post. When he enters the village and announces that their "great totem" needed to be blown up, the story really lost me. Anyone with sense would have arrived, announced they wished to worship the great totem, gained their confidence, then blown the silly thing up when the "primitives" weren't looking. And this was only the worst performance. The only good performance in the whole show was the robot.
And while we did get treated to a kinder, gentler Doctor (this was perhaps Colin Baker's best performance), it was totally undermined in the trial. This was Colin Baker at his worst. Blustering, unorganized, insulting, disrespectful -- I think I would have voted to put him to death just to silence him. I didn't find his comments humorous at all, simply childish. I winced nearly everytime they switched to the courtroom.
And was anyone else annoyed by the sudden "conveniences": sorry, Doc, but you're no longer President, and, by the way, isn't that new technology that allows us to see third party action neat?
The whole season feels like it was hastily cobbled together in the hopes of coming up with something big. And it fell flat.
Robert Holmes is a God by Luke Gutzwiller 18/7/97
Despite the less than creative title, the first part of Trial of a Time Lord just goes to show why Robert Holmes is hailed as one of the series' greatest writers. His greatest strength has always been brilliant characters, and Mysterious Planet is jam-packed with them. The Doctor is compassionate, even likeable, a far cry from the previous season. His verbal sparring with the Valeyard, however, shows that he is still the same Doctor we came to know and love. His new arch-nemesis, the Valeyard, is delightfully cold in contrast to the Doctor's firey temper. As for the UK Habitat on Ravalox: one of the finest post-apocalyptic societies, and certainly the funniest, in the series' history. Once again, Holmes balances the serious (the impending destruction of everything) with the lighthearted (Drathro's twin assistants) as only he can manage. Mystery, suspense, secrets, robots....this one has it all.
Including some special effects that actually looked good!
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 3/11/99
Whilst not being the best script from the pen of Robert Holmes, the opening episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord are certainly nothing less than enjoyable. This is due in part to the characterisation; a trademark of Holmes. For once The Doctor and Peri are as they should be friends, instead of sparring partners complete with arguments every five minutes. The same can also be said of Sabalom Glitz and Dibber. Glitz in particular is a lot more effective here than in his later appearances. Joan Sims as Katryca is also effective if somewhat OTT at times. Similairly Drathro whilst being too ungainly to pose a great threat is still impressive through the voice of Roger Brierly.
The script itself is interesting, Earth being moved through space, its inhabitants living underground and relying on books for knowledge -- if unoriginal as is the premise of the trial itself. The trial scenes do become irritating and unnecessary however despite the presence of The Valeyard excellently portrayed by Michael Jayston. Coupled with great visual effects, plenty of location work and a new toned down theme, The Mysterious Planet is a winner but for all the wrong reasons.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 23/1/02
In 1986, after 18 months away, we were expecting more from Doctor Who than this. I was delighted when it was announced Robert Holmes was penning the first part of this season long story. I was really looking forward to seeing the 6th Doctor and Peri again. Colin Baker had been terrific in his 1st full season, and all the signs were that he wanted to continue to play the Doctor for years to come. Nicola Bryant was still there too, and we were promised a more amiable relationship between the 2 than the previous season. The show was also moving back to Saturday.
All the signs were good for a feast of new Doctor Who over the coming weeks. I was one of those many fans who stared at the screen with interest, but disbelief, at what we got for Season 23. The Mysterious Planet (a good a name as any for the first 4 parts) was one of those runaround stories. It was embarrassing to see Carry On actress Joan Sim playing a Warrior woman. The underground city was populated with bad actors, and the leader was a lumbering robot with limited movement. A poor man's Dalek was present too, to stalk the corridors.
I didn’t like it very much – but here comes the fascinating fact. I was 17. I had become a critical fan, looking too much into the show, comparing it too much to stories of the past – and not judging it on its own merits. Parts 1-4 was more Krotons than Pyramids, and I just couldn’t see past that.
Recently I watched the story again – and I really liked it! I watch DW for the sheer pleasure of being entertained these days. I see even the worst stories as possessing some good traits. But parts 1-4 really do have an awful lot of good points. The Doctor mysteriously arriving at the space station, accompanied by some wonderful model work and evocative music. The sinister judicial attack that the Valeyard wagers against the Doctor. Colin Baker verbally sparring majestically with Michael Jayston. The 6th Doctor turning between arrogance that his trial is going so well for him, and fear that things might conspire against him – where is Peri after all?
Ravolox benefits from some excellent location work. The simple dwellings of Katrycas’ tribe. The misty atmosphere of an English wood in Autumn. The Doctor and Peri getting on, they genuinely like one another in this story. The contrast between the shiny, futuristic underground bunker and the primitive state up above. Glitz and Dibber, another great Holmesian double act. The mystery of the first episode, where Marble Arch is found underground. Could this really be Earth? The marvelous scene in episode 3 where the robot smashes through the wall and wraps the Doctor in its’ wires, carrying him out into the wood.
Colin Baker, as the 6th Doctor, is superb in this story. He flies around the place at top speed trying valiantly to sort things out. His banter with the Valeyard has already been mentioned, but it is a real high point of the whole 14 episodes. There is so much to like about this story.
Even now though, in my more enlightened watching state, there are flaws. The story isn’t up to much, and that really is a disappointment from the master storyteller - Robert Holmes. Katryca still is quite embarrassing shouting “Forward” more times than I can remember. Humbug and Handbag, Drathos aides, are very silly – and present the worst kind of slapstick humour Doctor Who tries to do. Dratho may be a great robot, but he still has limited movement, and doesn’t really do that much. Dibber can’t act either, leaving Tony Selby to carry the scenes he is in – which he does very well actually.
I enjoyed Mysterious Planet very much. It will never be considered a classic, but as an opening story of the season it works pretty well. Now what will I make of Mindwarp and Brian Blessed’s shouting? 7/10
A Review by Michael Hickerson 20/6/02
Michael Grade never knew what hit him when he had the audacity to cancel Dr. Who. After 18 months of world-wide outrage and probably more hate-mail than he'd ever received, Grade allowed Dr. Who to return to our screens, but at a price--a shorter season and the episodes would go back to 25-minute each segments. Grade gave the series 14-episodes to win back new fans and prove that Dr. Who was still a viable show and worthy of production.
To start off a new era of Who, producer John Nathan Turner turned to the cream of the crop of Doctor Who writers, Robert Holmes. Holmes, Nathan-Turner and script-editor Eric Saward came up with a radical idea to bring back the show and win the fans--a season long story arc, featuring the Doctor on trail for his very life against the Time Lords. It would, in a lot of ways, reflect the behind the scenes drama that was going on for the series, as Doctor Who literally fought for its life and its continued survival.
Thankfully enough, Robert Holmes delivered a good story to start the season. It's not up to his usual standards of excellence and it's certainly nowhere near the instant classic status of Caves of Androzani or even Two Doctors. But it's still a solid offering--even if you get the feeling that Holmes' untimely death left the story not as polished or as re-written as it could have or should have been.
I can remember my initial excitement as the day neared when my PBS station was going to run the entire Trial over two Thursday nights. I remember tuning in with excitement at what I was sure would be an epic, entertaining and exciting Doctor Who adventure. It's hard to remember now, having seen every available Who story, how exciting the sheer prospect of new Doctor Who could be.
And it starts off well. The new opening theme is catchy and fun (I know a lot of fandom hates it, but I love it). The opening zoom into the space-station is spectacular. I remember thinking -- boy, a lot of time and money was spent on this. If they're going into this much detail for the visuals, I can only hope they put as much craftsmanship and love into the story.
And then, the Mysterious Planet starts.
The Doctor is on trial for the crime of meddling. I guess Gallifrey doesn't have the concept of double jeopardy down, since the Doctor has stood trial for this before and been found guilty of it. But this time, he must defend himself or lose all his remaining lives. His chief nemesis is the Valeyard (superbly played by Michael Jayston, who is the real stand-out of the whole Trial) and the trial is watched over the Inquisitor. The prosecution goes first, presenting us with the affairs of the Doctor on the planet Ravalox.
The events on Ravalox are pretty much your standard Doctor Who storyline -- there's a tyrannical government that rules over the society, stifling growth and a wacky but loveable group of rebels who the Doctor will eventually side with to overthrow the government. In this case, the government is a megalomaniac robot named Drathro, who has kept his people enslaved and ignorant for hundreds of years. He gives them enough knowledge to serve him and keep his Black Light device that he uses to power himself running and not much else. In a lot of ways, the Drathro plot reminds me of Robert Holmes' The Krotons with Drathro living behind closed doors and misunderstood by his people, who think he eats his enemies.
But what really saves the entire affair from being a re-hash of The Krotons or even, to a lesser extend, The Sunmakers is a lot of really great Robert Holmes characters. We meet the scene-stealing Glitz and Dibber, the duo who serve Drathro (and come up with corollaries for everything) and we have such characters as Katrycka (who is like the female Brian Blessed) and Broken Tooth. Holmes gives each one a few minutes to shine and creates some great character moment for them -- the most memorable being Broken Tooth's worship of the lost texts and Katrycka's over the top hysterics at defeating the robot and, therefore, Drathro must be dead. Yes, Katrycka goes way over the top at times, but it's over the top in a funny way, though I will admit it's pretty cringe inducing at times.
Along the way, we have the not-so-subtle seeds sown that there is more going on here than meets the eye (the bleeping of Glitz's comments from the Matrix are a bit obvious). We are also left wondering -- just what happened to Peri? Why is she not with the Doctor? It's easy to see that Holmes had an idea of just where things would end up and that's why I say it's a shame he passed away and couldn't have written a follow-up and conclusion that is as strong as the seeds he's sown. (Again, the entire behind-the-scenes drama ruins the entire end of the Trial, but that is another review).
But the real strength of this one is Colin Baker, who has grown a bit and matured into the role of the Doctor. The scenes with the Doctor and Peri have a sense of wonder and magic... a calm friendship and respect that works a lot better than the sixth Doctor's constant yelling and carrying on from a season before. Colin seems far more suited to the role he plays here and it really does make me wish we'd seen more of this sixth Doctor than we saw in, say, TimeLash.
The trial sequences are handled well enough to be in the back of your mind, but not too obtrusive (one of my many complaints about MindWarp).
One thing that makes Mysterious Planet stand out so much in my mind is the use of video tape instead of film for location shooting. Visually, the entire story -- and really every story from here out -- looks so much better filmed on video. The scenes in the woods especially stand out. And it also seems as though the sets and designs are just as vibrant and alive as Colin's infamous jacket.
Overall, it's hard for me to separate how my feelings for Mysterious Planet from my overall disappointment at how less than spectacular the Trial as a whole turns out to be. Watching it this time around, I tried to make myself sit back and re-capture the wonder and excitement I felt when I first tuned in, not knowing how it would all play out. For the most part, I have to say it worked as I think my enjoyment of the story went up quite a few notches by not thinking about what was coming next.
Mysterious Planet is a good start. It's bitter-sweet since it is the last full Robert Holmes story we get in the Who canon. It's not great, but it's still fun and definitely worth another look.
Adequate but not spectacular by Tim Roll-Pickering 28/6/02
The opening instalment of The Trial of a Time Lord serves as both a mini story in its own right and as the establishing section for the wider epic. Robert Holmes' script has a lot going for it, most obviously the way that he shamelessly plunders themes from past stories such as his own The Krotons as well as The Sontaran Experiment to produce this tale. Although the dialogue isn't Holmes' best and lacks sparkle, there is nevertheless a certain charm. The story does suffer from some basic lapses of logic, most obviously the fact that if Ravolox is Earth moved two light years out of its orbit then where is the rest of the Solar System and how is it that the Doctor hasn't noticed the existence of Ravolox before or before or the absence of Earth now. Nevertheless the story does work so long as the viewer doesn't stop to think about it.
The acting in the Ravolox sequence is reasonable, with Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz) and Joan Simms (Katryca) giving the strongest performances, whilst the direction is competent and the sets adequate, though Marble Arch doesn't look like the specific London Underground station. Unfortunately this segment does not stand out in its own right, if it were ever intended to do so, and is best considered as part of The Trial of a Time Lord as a whole.
Great Expectations... by Andrew Wixon 12/7/02
Doctor Who is a stealth TV show. By this I mean that it doesn't bombastically announce itself as being fantastically great, it doesn't necessarily scream quality like a show like Band of Brothers tries to - it's at its best when you switch it on just hoping to be entertained, and then as you watch you slowly realise what a witty, clever, weird and powerful little show it is. It doesn't handle expectations well at the best of times.
So it's really a shame that The Mysterious Planet must have been one of the top-five most eagerly anticipated DW stories ever: the first show back after the suspension, the big relaunch, the very existence of the series possibly riding on its success or failure. Because the story just isn't up to it. It's an extremely lightweight runaround with an extremely duff monster/villain costume, loads of deadwood characters, terrible performances from actors who should know better, and some very crass attempts at humour (gunge in the face, anyone?). Robert Holmes, aghast at being refused permission to push the boat out on the horror angle, seems to have opted for a greatest hits megamix: Drathro and his selected brains trust go right back to The Krotons, Glitz and Dibber are a faintly retooled copy of Garron and Unstoffe from Ribos Operation, and so on.
Yet it has its moments, often when you'd least expect them: the two space pirates get some genuinely amusing banter (I particularly like Dibber's line about how they have so much black light they have trouble seeing), and there's real emotion and feeling, too - between the Doctor and Peri in the ruins near the start, and - bizarrely - following Grell's death. They make up for a lot.
But the final burden on this story is the presence of the trial element. Every time it seems on the verge of generating some pace or energy we're jerked out of the main narrative for another pointless squabble between the Doctor, the Valeyard and the Inquisitor. This gets very tedious very quickly. Added to this, the story's big idea - that Earth has somehow been devastated and pulled across space - isn't even explored, let alone explained, just to give the end of the season more wallop. (And couldn't the Time Lords have found a piece of evidence that incriminated them less?)
All the best potential bits in Mysterious Planet have been filleted out of it for the end of the season to use instead. The end result is amusing, but hardly gripping, and hardly the sparkling return to form the team must have intended it to be.
"Your evidence [is] weak, verging on the irrelevant..." by Jason Thompson 14/7/02
The Trial of a Time Lord. One of the most debated stories in the whole history of Doctor Who. It's overlong, it makes no sense, it's a terrible ending for Colin Baker's Doctor.
I love it.
Most of this love, I must admit, is nostalgic. Trial is the first story I recall watching on its original run. I was six years old at the time. I suppose I ought to find my love for the story lessened by age and wisdom, but no matter what's wrong with Trial (and there's a lot wrong with it), I can't stop enjoying it.
So, let's start at the beginning, with The Mysterious Planet.
What a great story. Earth has been shifted across space. The occupants are surviving underground under the control of Drathro, another megalomaniacal robot. Glitz and Dibber are after 'the secrets.' All in all, this story gives the impression that it is the set up for something bigger. Parts of the plot owe a lot to Holmes's first serial, The Krotons, and the two cleverest youths being selected to go into the Immortal's castle is lifted wholesale from that story, as is the idea that going outside the settlement means certain death, although actually it is perfectly safe. The idea of Earth having been shifted across space is an excellent one (although I grimace every time I hear the distance referred to as 2 light years. The nearest star to us is 4.4 light years away, so shifting the solar system two light years shouldn't be enough to confuse any space faring civilisation, as in galactic terms it's hardly shifted an inch), and the survivors living in the remains of the underground system is a stroke of genius, although it seems odd that the underground (and in particular the entrance to Marble Arch station) would still be intact two million years into the future.
On the character side, no review of this story could go by without a mention of two in particular, so: Glitz and Dibber are a classic Holmes Double act, with Glitz being perhaps one of the most loveable rogues ever. Turning a criminal into a character the audience actually likes is no mean feat, but Holmes pulls it off with considerable ease, just as he did with Garron in The Ribos Operation. Unfortunately, these are virtually the only really memorable (for good reasons, that is) characters in the serial. Merdeen starts off well, but for some reason at the end of episode four he becomes flat and dull, and it seems that Tom Chadbon was no longer interested in the role. Having said that, the scene at the beginning of part four where he kills Grell is quite lovely, with the music, which can make or break a scene like this, serving it very well. Talking of the music, in this part it is rather good, and I especially like the score that accompanies the run through the forest in part 2. The other characters fare less well. Katryca has a promising first scene with Glitz ("and on each and every occasion they have all had a different reason!"), but soon degenerates into an OTT woman with a loud voice. Balazar is dull, and the less said about Tandrell and Humker the better! Drathro comes across quite well, and his argument with the Doctor at the end is a masterpiece. A minor triumph of direction is included here, as the faceless machine actually appears expressive: his delivery of the word: "hu-bris?" whilst looking back over his shoulder at the Doctor is perfect.
And now we come to the one character we were all expecting to be changed after the hiatus. The Doctor has clearly mellowed a little since last we saw him, and the sight of him and Peri walking arm in arm shows that their relationship must be a little less volatile these days than it used to be. His face when he realises how upset Peri is in the tunnel is also indicative of this. One gets the feeling that had Peri had this outburst about the fate of her world in season 22, the Doctor would have said: "Oh, pull yourself together. Nothing lasts forever you know," and wandered off. And this time it is her who objects to going back into the tunnels when they could explode any minute, to be greeted with the Doctor's: "Peri, I can't let people die if there's a chance of saving them!"
So, all in all, this seems like a good start to a season. Unfortunately, there is one major problem which makes absolutely no sense: it's inclusion in the Trial. To have this story selected as a piece of prosecution evidence beggars belief. In the first place, and just taking the story as it stands, without the knowledge of what is to come, it doesn't stand up as evidence. The Doctor is charged with interfering, so to prosecute they show a situation in which his 'interference' resulted in the freedom of a group of slaves, and the prevention of an explosion that may have threatened the entire Universe. Since Glitz was on Ravalox before the Doctor, it is likely that he may have succeeded in blowing up the light converter, and had the Doctor not been around then a disaster would have occurred. The Valeyard (beautifully portrayed by Michael Jayston) tries to condemn the Doctor's refusal to free himself of the situation, and cites the death toll as proof of the Doctor's guilt. As the Doctor points out, he was trying to help, and it's just as well he did; and as for the deaths, well maybe I miscounted, but I only saw Katryca and Broken Tooth actually killed. Not exactly a horrifying death toll in comparison to some of his other escapades. If the Doctor can reasonably say at the end of the prosecution evidence: "well, that's one up to me," before even presenting his defence then it's a useless prosecution attempt!
The second problem is only apparent after viewing the rest of the Trial, but is even more glaring. Why was this incident presented to a tribunal? The shifting and renaming of Earth was exactly the conspiracy the High Council was trying to cover up! Showing the Doctor's involvement on that planet, and his discovery that it is Earth, and the Secrets, won't exactly help them to keep a lid on it! Additionally, the bleeping of Glitz's dialogue in two sections makes no sense to the events. It provides a dramatic hook for the viewer, but it also serves to arouse the suspicions of the court, and that won't help in the impartiality stakes, will it? The Valeyard could simply have deleted the scene, and no-one would have been any the wiser. That this would have deprived the audience of a tantalising idea that something was going on is no excuse. If the events don't make sense in the narrative framework of the story, then the execution is very poor.
So, all in all, this story starts the season reasonably well, but is a poor start for the Trial. Had the Ravalox tale been presented without the Trial framework, it would have worked so much better as the set-up for an overall story. As it is, it tries to fit the framework, but it just can't manage to work its way in in a way that makes any sense, and this lets it down badly.
In defence...! by Joe Ford 16/9/02
Okay, okay, maybe I am completely insane. Maybe I finally had to agree with The Discontinuity Guide. Maybe I just love Colin Baker too much but I really like Trial of a Time Lord. I think people place too much emphasis on the fact that the show itself was on trial at that point and it wasn't the SPECTACULAR comeback it needed to be but if you're paitent with it and view the stories as induvidual, archetypal Doctor Who you will start to see it in a different light. Like every season of Doctor Who it made major mistakes... Mindwarp was a pointless runaround for a start and the incomprehensible ending and some horrible production mistakes were made but I don't mind telling you I would rather watch this fourteen part epic than most of the next next season and two thirds of the Davison era. Because as many mistakes TOATL made, it did five things as good.
Changes were demanded of the show after the somewhat grotesque season we left behind a year and a half ago and a lighter touch was needed. And who else but Robert Holmes, the master of sparkling dialogue to provide it. Yes there are some horay old sci-fi cliches involved including a post holocaust earth, a demented robot, a tribe of savages, intergalatic conmen but the joy of this story is that these things are not apologised for but flaunted. Leave it to Mr Holmes to put a fresh spin on these things, adding some poignancy, drama and intelligence to the situation. The mysteries that pollute the story... why is earth a light year away from its original point in space?, what are conmen Glitz and Dibber really after?, what is the real reason behind the Trial are maintained and built upon. I for one was eager for the answers.
On a character level, Holmes' forte, things are rather splendid indeed. Who would have guessed The Doctor and Peri could get on so well? It is such a refreshing change to see his arm around her, treating her as an equal, comforting her and letting her help when things gets dangerous. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are as excellent as ever and we get a rare glimpse into their actor/ress relationship, close personal friends instead of bickering kids (as entertaining as that can be!). The moment where The Doctor tries to comfort Peri as she discovers her planet is all but destroyed is supremely touching, the dialogue is great ("Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter coaleses, reforms, into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal") but the performances are better.
What makes this such a charming piece however is the secondary characters. Glitz and Dibber are really funny, sadistic criminals (but with a heart). Tony Selby lights up the screen with his giant personality and seems to relish his OTT dialouge. Drathro is one of the better looking robots the show has offered up being both tall and imposing (I love his swively hands!) with a really cool voice. Katryca is a little overdone but I love Joan Sims so much I can forgive her (the "I have read it in the flames many times... we go forward!" however is just brilliant!). I love Balazar, so very fey and rude, his bits with The Doctor ("Where are you from old one?") are priceless. Colin Baker plays so well against youths (like Herbert in Timelash) and they send these scenes up for all they're worth (love his reaction to 'by HM Staitonary Office'). Some characters don't work... Broken Tooth and the two wallys Humpker and Tandrell do nothing for me. Too much low brow comedy from that bunch.
Also good are the very memorable moments that crop up out of the blue. Merdeen, underplayed somewhat by Tom Chadbon gets a really sweet moment as he has to kill Grell in episode four. The scenes between Drathro and The Doctor in episode four where he tries desperately to make him understand the wonders of life are actually very moving and an excellent example of the sixth Doctor's more compassionate side. The atmospheric woodland shooting at the end of episode as the tribe chase Peri, Glitz and Dibber is truly excellent direction, Nick Mallet underated as ever. After a relatively light tale he gives the gripping last episode some real gravity.
As for the Trial itself... well we have Michael Jayston, Lynda Bellingham and Colin Baker. Three impressive actors and at this stage their work together is flawless. This highlights the Doctor at his mischivous best, childish, loud, brash and totally against the regime! His rant in episode three is one of my favourite Colin Baker moments ever... "I was on Ravalox trying to prevent a disaster... the deaths of several hundred INNOCENT people! Surely not even in the eyes of Time Lords can that be either immature or a crime!" It so passionate, so Holmes... so The Doctor! The set for the Trial is not all that impressive but who cares with all the fireworks going on inside. The modelwork however is astonishing and truly sets the scene with style.
Yes it is a little too light in places and it doesn't have the wallop the series needed to get back on its feet but I find it a thoughtful, charming little four parter topped up with some marvellous dialouge and lovely characters. Trust me when I say the show has done far, FAR worse. Turn off your 'I hate Colin' button and your 'I must compare everything to Caves of Androzani now' button and enjoy Doctor Who with a rare light touch to it. It doesn't have to be all death and corridors, you know. Sometimes it can just be good fun.
A Review by Rob Matthews 18/9/02
If there's one thing that slightly irritates me about fan reaction to Colin Baker, it's the praise he's been getting for his Big Finish audios...
No, I haven't turned against the loveable bombast in the test pattern. Let me explain.
See, the thing that truly, genuinely annoys me about fan reaction to Colin Baker is the way he was abominised (is that a word?) by fandom in the first place. Received wisdom says that Baker was a bit of a failure - albeit an occasionally impressive one - during his time on screen, and that he's improved markedly in his post-TV series audio dramas. I honestly think that's a load of arse. It's nice that he's getting the praise he deserves now, but I can't help but think, well, where were all you people when you were needed? Colin was always magnificent, even when his stories weren't. There's been no qualitative change in his performance, he just gets generally better scripts now.
Michael Grade fired him vindictively and arbitrarily, just like he tried to axe the show vindictively and arbitrarily (the BBC approved those 'too violent' scripts, and Grade still shows a virulent and disproportionate hatred for the show some fifteen years later, so don't tell me he made that decision objectively) - and fandom, for reasons which baffle me to this day, colluded in the notion that Baker was somehow responsible for the sorry state of the show. This despite his performance being clearly by far the best thing about it at that time.
In fact, with Holmes dead, Saward having long ceased to give a shit, John Nathan Turner suffering some serious ennui, and Bonnie Langford on board the TARDIS, Baker was surely the show's only apparent ray of hope? Yet everyone except me and Joe Ford seems to have accepted Grade's decision to sack Baker as proof that he was bad (I was particularly disgusted by the way Paul Cornell completely omitted him from Timewyrm: Revelation and dismissed him as 'the colourful jester; in Love and War). Well, Grade also dismisses our little show as posessing absolutely 'no redeeming features', so I wouldn't take his decisons as gospel, folks. I can only assume that everyone was just so glad to be rid of the coat that the loss of the actor inside it seemed a small price to pay.
Baker did not cause the cancellation crisis. Grade did. Know thine enemy and all that. Baker's Big Finish audios have picked up right where he left off, performance-wise.
Why all this preamble in a review of a segment of that unholy fuck-up The Trial of a Timelord? Simply because I think that, tied with Revelation of the Daleks, The Mysterious Planet showcases Baker at his very best.
The story itself, like each segment of this season, is sadly smothered by the logical problems raised by the Trial framework (why would the High Council choose such a self-incriminating piece of evidence? etc), but it remains stronger than Mindwarp and Vervoids. Though the larger story is deeply unsatisfactory, this itself is a fun Robert Holmes piece which arms Baker with some delightfully Doctorly dialogue and moments.
Put simply, I love every single damn moment of Colin's performance in this one. His indignant reaction to the prospect of the trial at the beginning, his absolute refusal to take such nonsense seriously (wise man...), his deflation when he's informed that he's not President anymore, his attempts to understand and comfort Peri, "Old one?!", "On pain of being turned into a pillar of salt, I imagine?", peering bemusedly into Katryca's little fire, impersonating Pertwee so much more accurately than Davison managed ("Oh, my head hurts abominably, Sarah Jane"), sparring with Glitz, and simultaneously with the superb Michael Jayston in the trial interludes (like Joe Ford, I love that Robert Holmesy "Surely not even in the eyes of Time Lords..." bit, to the point of coming over all goosebumpy, rewinding it and watching it again). He even makes that hoariest of cliches, the out-of-control-robot-that-can't-see-why-humanity-is-worthwhile-scene, feel fresh and vital. Hell, even the way he turns to look at the Matrix screen at the beginning is funny. Only David Banks as the Cyberleader has matched this kind of head-acting.
If Baker had stayed into the Cartmel era, this and Revelation would surely have been eclipsed by far greater stories. As things stand, this is a so-so adventure that Holmes and Baker make deliciously watchable. And for me it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that (to adopt Mike Morris' rhetoric) Colin. Baker. Was. Absolutely. Fantastic.
I Think I Like You by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 9/2/09
The Trial of a Time Lord finally comes to DVD. I saw Terror of the Vervoids when I was thirteen and I think I actually quite enjoyed it. But that was over ten years ago so I'm not sure how I'll find it now. The rest of the fourteen-part epic is completely new to me so it was with a sense of excitement that I put the first disc into the DVD player. And do you know what? I was rather pleasantly surprised. Although I've seen many good reviews of The Trial of a Time Lord, I've also seen an equal number give it a critical mauling so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The Mysterious Planet makes for an enjoyable beginning to the whole story barring some rather ridiculous little points. Dominic Glynn's arrangement of the theme music is really quite appealing, keeping in the style of the Peter Howell version while at the same time being new and stylish.
As for that opening sequence... WOW! A superb piece of model work underpinned by the sound of a tolling bell and then as the TARDIS is drawn in, a church organ (or a synthesised one anyway!). Obviously I was familiar with that sequence anyway. What Doctor Who fan isn't? But actually seeing it in the context of the story made me appreciate it much more. While I'm still on the subject of music, I think Dominic Glynn's incidental score is pretty good all round. The music in this part of the show's history can be a mite repetitive and dreary although to be fair, I think it's because of the synths they were using rather than the composers themselves but Glynn's score seems to have an appealing darkness to it. And synthesised bells... I love the sound of bells tolling. I'm also fairly certain that I can hear snippets of music from Attack of the Cybermen in the score, though I'm not sure why as that one was composed by Malcolm Clarke. Perhaps I'm just hearing things.
Oh look it's Michael Jayston before he went to live in Emmerdale and then died. He's practically radiating evil from his very first scene. Unfortunately he doesn't really do anything of note in this first segment, he just acts a bit evil and tries his damnedest to have the Doctor convicted. The Valeyard clearly doesn't like hence all those silly plays on his title: boatyard, graveyard, scrapyard, knackers yard etc etc etc. I certainly hope he'll get better as the Trial progresses although to be fair the Doctor and the Valeyard do have quite a good rapport going on. And then there's Lynda Bellingham in a silly hat/collar thing. Still, she plays the part well and she has a nice sense of authority. The Valeyard may be practically frothing at the mouth but she's clearly out to bring some sensibility to the proceedings. The dynamic between the Doctor and Peri has changed considerably between the previous season and this one. Whereas in Season 22 they interacted mainly by bickering - which, in the Doctor's case took the form of shouting and, in Peri's case, whining - here they seem much more relaxed and happy to be in one another's presence. Just look at that first scene; they just come across as a totally different Doctor/companion team. I believe the idea was to establish a sense of some time having passed between Seasons, during which they've been having more adventures and thus becoming closer. It certainly works. Peri is much better here than she was in Season 22. Whingeing and screaming are thankfully kept to a minimum. She also has a nice new hairdo, although I'm afraid her fashion sense is still out to lunch.
I'd also like to make it clear at this point that Colin Baker should never have been sacked. He was a good Doctor. Period. If anyone should have been sacked/shot, it should have been the script editor and story writers. Oh and Michael Grade, how could I forget him? He tried to have this show cancelled. OUR show, my fellow Whovians. And for that he should be exiled to the to a cave in Siberia. Forever. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that poor Colin Baker was doing the best he could with what at times was very shaky material. Don't blame him. Blame the people behind the camera.
Is it just me or is Glitz slightly reminiscent of Sir Alan Sugar? If Sir Alan became an opportunistic, intergalactic rogue that is.
You can tell that this is Robert Holmes script by the way that language is used. Just listen to the way that Drathro says "physiognomy". Priceless! I find Drathro to be quite a comical character. I don't know if that was the intention but to me, he's just a bit too stroppy to be taken seriously. He's almost on a par with the Kandyman. They both remind me of nagging housewives. Stroppy droids eh... I'm not quite sure what to make of Katryca the "warrior queen". Joan Simms seems to be playing her straight. Hmmm. I haven't quite made my mind up on this one. The rest of the characters are serviceable but nobody particularly stood out for me. Well, apart from Tom Chadbon, but that's just because he was in City of Death. I did enjoy the way that yet another religion/belief system is debunked and ridiculed. As an atheist, it's very rewarding to see the show constantly holding up science as the be all and end all, and casually dismissing religion as idiotic, narrow minded and dangerous. Everything has a rational, scientific explanation in the Doctor Who universe; there is no time for mystical claptrap.
On reflection I liked this story and I certainly look forward to watching it again.
A Review by Yeaton Clifton 8/3/13
This story has interesting points. It is the last story by the great writer Robert Holmes (although not a great story like his previous two stories). The story begins with the Doctor being tractor beamed into the Time Lord's space station, and the visual effects in this sequence are wonderful, as are the images of robots and computers later in the story. Unfortunately, the story is the beginning of Trial of a Time Lord and it introduces many of the plot holes and problems that would plague season 23.
The Doctor is taken to the Time Lord space station where he is again to be put on trial for interfering in the affairs of various and diverse planets. In Nightmare in Eden, when asked whether he would interfere, he said, "Always do what you are good at," and a prosecutor with access to all information in the Matrix should have been able to produce that confession to court. The villainous Valeyard, however, instead produces a story in which the Doctor is on Earth in the far future at a time when it has been moved several light years from its correct location and two villains are trying to find secrets that would be of great value to any number of governments. The secrets are controlled by an evil robot who controls the lives of certain people who are forced to live underground because of disaster. The Doctor's meddling saves the lives of many of the humans and prevents the criminals from getting the information.
The basic story is good, but the connection to Trial of a Time Lord story arc interferes with the story. One problem with the story is that it is told in flashbacks on the Matrix, and filled with comments by the Doctor and the Valeyard, which slow the story down. The dialog in the courtroom is too sarcastic to be credible. A large problem is that the story not only is not very good for the Valeyard's case, but gives out the exact information that the Valeyard wants to hide. The Earth was moved to hide a mistake made the high council of the Time Lords. Since the Valeyard is trying to cover up the fact the Earth was moved, this would be the last story the Valeyard would bring to the forefront. Further, the secrets that two criminals want to steal are information from the Time Lords, and this is something else the Valeyard is trying to hide. These small clues about what the trial is really all about make the story hard to follow, and make the Valeyard appear a fool.
Otherwise, it is a good story.
Holmes by the Numbers by Jason A. Miller 22/6/19
Boy, was I a happy camper when Season 23 first started airing in the US in about 1987 or so. My immediate reaction to The Mysterious Planet (the Target novelization name for Parts One through Four of The Trial of a Time Lord, and still my personal head-canon name for that story) was one of unmitigated relief. I was a teenager when the episodes first filtered into America on PBS, and I was just delighted to have a non-violent Sixth Doctor story, in which the Doctor and Peri actually got along. It wasn't until later viewings that I found the story to be somewhat subpar. Even to this day, over 30 years later, whenever I grab my DVD of The Mysterious Planet, I still expect to be blown away, as I was the first time... it's just that I no longer am.
The overall effect of The Mysterious Planet has a "greatest hits" feel, an author near the end of his career (not that Holmes would have been aware of this at the time, of course), recycling elements of his past hits into what would prove to be his final completed script.
The opening sequence in the Time Lord space station is rich with Holmes' typical meta-humor. The story and season opens, after the 18-month hiatus, with the Valeyard saying "At last, Doctor." The Doctor soon replies that even he would find it hard to lose himself in a corridor, as if half of every Doctor Who story ever produced before this one didn't feature the Doctor and his companions getting lost in corridors which all looked alike. "You seem to have a great talent for straying from the straight and narrow," the Valeyard smirks at the Doctor during this first scene, and, of course, that's pretty much the key to the whole character, because we'll later learn (SPOILERS from 1986, hi) that the Valeyard actually is the Doctor, one who has in fact strayed quite a bit from the straight and narrow. Later on, the Doctor seems about to reveal his real name to Peri, until he's interrupted. The first ten minutes or so hold great promise, as Holmes sets up the pieces.
But then the second half of Part One hurls a ton of subplots on us, all from the Ravolox part of the story. Katryca and Broken Tooth with their Bronze Age settlement. Drathro the robot and his underground lair. Balazar, the simple human and Reader of the Books. None of these are really original characters. In Katryca and Broken Tooth are echoes of Irongron and Bloodaxe from The Time Warrior -- although Katryca is much more savvy with her instellar visitor. Balazar and Drathro are redolent of the set-up from The Krotons. There are tons of characters all running about, replaying several stories at once -- and that's not even getting at the Trial sequences, which feature the Doctor occasionally commenting sardonically on the action, which one imagines is a stand-in for how Holmes himself would watch television at home.
"I tire of this empty banter." -- The Inquisitor, Part FourAnd then there's Glitz and Dibber. Or, as we previously met them during The Ribos Operation, Garron and Unstoffe, but now with really big guns. Now, of course, Glitz and Dibber are not simply Garron and Unstoffe renamed. Glitz is avowedly more sociopathic than the charming Unstoffe, and Dibber, who has a neck tattoo (which I do not recommend), never gets the moments of charm that Unstoffe got in the earlier story as Garron's younger inside-man and apprentice. Most of Glitz and Dibber's scenes are exposition as to what the eventual plot will be. They spend much of the story apart from the action, serving as an increasingly annoying Greek chorus... until the end, when Glitz actually saves the day after the Doctor fails -- by running a con-man pitch on a logic-bent robot that the Doctor has not been able to outwit.
There's also a minor character named Grell. This is never a good sign. If you're giving your character a silly name like Grell -- especially a marginal character like Grell -- what you're saying is "This is an unlikely name for an unimportant character, and I just can't be bothered to make him sound dignified". Which reminds me of Holmes' previous subpar script, The Power of Kroll, in which a character is named Harg, presumably someone that Holmes had little use for and merely named after his eventual death scream ("Haaaargg!" screamed Harg, as Kroll's limp tentacle dragged him into the pipes).
A better callback to a Holmes script is Drathro's use of the term "work units" to refer to his underground human slave force; that comes from The Sun Makers, it was Cordo's way of describing himself and his fellow underground human slaves.
Why does none of this work on me anymore? Well, missing from the affair is Holmes' usual sparkling way with dialogue and world-building. We get very few hints of the outside universe here. The whole Ravolox/sleepers-from-Andromeda subplot is buried deep in the text and never gets resolved. Most of the characters are insular natives, but even warriors like Katryca and Broken Tooth don't charm us by talking about their past battles. Katryca and Broken Tooth also get discarded early and unsentimentally in Part Four, only outlasting the hapless Grell by about a scene or two.
The trial bits become a bit annoying as the story unfolds, because the Valeyard's insinuations about the Doctor's behavior in this story are never matched by what happens on screen. The Valeyard accuses the Doctor of worsening the situation by his mere presence, but that's patently untrue. Drathro's "cullings" don't stop if the Doctor doesn't show up. Dibber still blows up the blacklight aerial and causes the inadvertent destruction of the [planet/galaxy/Universe] without the Doctor's arrival. But, on the other hand, if you delete the trial segments and just watch the Ravolox sequences on their own, the story is ten to fifteen minutes shorter... and is already lightweight enough that extra padding (as you can find in the deleted scenes on the DVD) wouldn't substantially help matters.
Nitpicking aside, The Mysterious Planet is a light-hearted romp, and it's still nice to see Peri and the Sixth Doctor actually get along. Besides that, the producers finally drop the pretense that Peri is American, and let her act as if London was her home city.
One thing you can't blame Holmes for is the loose ending. The Trial of a Time Lord should have been an air-tight courtroom drama framing four different flashback stories, with a coherent and cohesive ending. The fact that Trial didn't get that ending is not the fault of Holmes, who died unexpectedly before getting to write the final episode, Part Fourteen, by himself. But, even if you strip away the disaster that was the making of Season 23, and Eric Saward's resignation, and the limp conclusion of The Ultimate Foe... what remains of The Mysterious Planet is far from Holmes' best, and is a faintly dissatisfying swan song to his Doctor Who resume. It's a good enough story... but it's just not Holmes at his peak.