THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Time of Your Life
Trial of a Time Lord
BBC
Terror of the Vervoids
Trial of a Time-Lord Episodes 9-12

Episodes 4 Killer plants
Story No# 146
Production Code 7C
Season 23
Dates Nov. 1, 1986 -
Nov. 22, 1986

With Colin Baker, Melanie Bush.
Written by Pip and Jane Baker. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Chris Clough. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: The Doctor presents his defense from his own future, as he and Mel (in her first appearance) encounter a hidden killer aboard a spaceliner.


Reviews

Where's Johnny Cochran When You Need Him? by Dennis McDermott 26/5/97

I don't know how the Trial of a Timelord season got its start, but I have a theory. A couple of stories, including this one, had already been written when Robert Holmes had an idea for the first and last stories. A decision was made to edit in some courtroom scenes in the previously written stories and, viola, you have your trial. The result, however, was a travesty.

The story itself isn't bad. It's competently written, competently acted, and reasonably enjoyable. Not the best story but not coming close to being the worst. If I have any complaint, it's that it's awfully derivative, stealing its best ideas from The Seeds of Doom and Nightmare of Eden, both of which were better stories.

My main beef has to do with the trial. The Doctor is given a chance to defend himself, and he rather puts the pistol to his head. He doesn't defend his interventions. He doesn't argue that he's personally saved billions of lives. That he has saved the universe time and again. That he's prevented timeline from being perverted countless times. His defense? Someone in authority asked him to intervene. This from single most anti-authoritarian Timelord ever to exist (unless you want to consider the Master). In this story, the Doctor abandons the principles he holds most dear. Whoever was responsible for this charade ought to be ashamed of themselves.


Oh Dear by Matt Michael 16/11/98

The Trial of A Time Lord never seemed to me to be a good idea, and this was borne out by the first two "epistopic interfaces". After Mindwarp, I didn't think it could get any worse.

How wrong I was.

Terror of the Vervoids is the worst, the most appalling, the most mind-numbingly awful Doctor Who story (including all of the New and Missing Adventures) that has ever been made. From beginning to end it is a travesty. A truly dreadful script, pedestrian direction, cringeworthy acting and a hopeless lack of talent on the part of everyone concerned combine to make this a story that is, in places, painful to watch.

The direction is lacklustre: there is not a single original shot in the entire four episodes. Even the Vervoids are shot so thoughtlessly that their limitations are highlighted.

The acting is even less impressive -- Colin Baker seems to wander through the story wondering what he's going to have for dinner; Bonnie Langford treats the whole things as a stage play, standing upstage centre to deliver her lines in a high-pitched moan, and Honor Blackman clearly can't be bothered to waste her time acting in such appalling rubbish.

Which brings us to the script. Terror of the Vervoids is not a good story spoiled by poor realisation (as Mindwarp was). Rather it is a truly awful story that nothing could ever save (bar a good script editor). One can forgive the cast and crew for their failings -- it's almost an insult to present a talented team with such woeful material as this. Derivative of old Doctor Who stories as The Robots of Death, Nightmare of Eden and Black Orchid (but without the thought that went into those); with dialogue that is so ridiculous that one is forced to wonder if the serial is a crude attempt at Goon-style humour ("the last time I met the Doctor I became involved in a web of mayhem and deceit"), and characters with less substance than a lightly whipped souffle, this is quite the worst of Pip and Jane's less than successful entries.

To top it all, Mel is introduced. To be fair, Bonnie Langford does her best considering the paucity of the material she is given. With no proper introduction, no backstory and no character, Mel became probably the Doctor's least successful, and most derided travelling companion.

It was a crying shame that Colin Baker was sacked, but considering this, the last story he made, it is hardly surprising. This is the nadir of eighties (and, indeed, any) Doctor Who, the cumulation of three years of thoughtless and ridiculous treatment of the show. After this, perhaps the only way forward was to sack wholesale those responsible for the perpetration of such gaudy rubbish and start again.

As Diana's death shocked the royals into change, so this forced the BBC into action and allowed the renaissance that followed. Perhaps that is the best thing that can be said of the Doctor's darkest hour.


A Review by Rob Matthews 20/5/00

Mayhem and Intrigue. Yeah, Right.

Doctor Who does Sherlock Holmes is the only way to describe it. Terror of the Vervoids is a predictable, cosy murder mystery, which I enjoyed in spite of myself - and in spite of a clumsy, rushed ending. But, like Mindwarp, it's another example of the blind panic that must have been going on behind the scenes, and it suffers from all that "The Matrix is buggered" stuff. I think what they were attempting with this one was to do something old-fashioned and unchallenging - "Good old Doctor Who". Hey, it doesn't even matter who the companion is, just so long as she asks questions and screams! But as you might expect, it all comes across as pedestrian and dated. What was needed in this season was something fresh and challenging. What we got showed that JNT was, as Watson might say of Holmes, 'fiddling while Rome burned'.


A Review by Michael Hickerson 2/7/02

Pip and Jane Baker are two of the most maligned writers in the history of Doctor Who -- and with good reason. Of the three stories they offered the show, one border on being decent, while the other two are just absurd parodies of what Doctor Who should be. It would almost be easy to blame their failures -- both Time and the Rani and this installment of the Trial of A Time-Lord -- on a lack of script-editor and an overall lack of vision in the show. But that still doesn't excuse the scripts for being travesties to start with.

After spending the first two stories focusing on the prosecution's case, the Trial shifts to the Doctor's defense. After the devastating events concerning Peri's death, the Doctor is now forced to try and defend himself and to show that court that his meddling is justified.

With all the good the Doctor has done in the universe in the past (defeating the Daleks, saving the universe countless times over, doing the Time Lords bidding on numerous occasions), the Doctor instead chooses to draw upon the evidence of the Matrix and look forward into the future. And it's with this decision that the internal problems with the stories begin. Unlike the events played out in MindWarp or Mysterious Planet, the Doctor, as-of-yet, has no first-hand knowledge of the events. He cannot react and defend his actions as rigorously as he did in those two stories, simply because he has not yet been in the situation or gone through the thought processes that he will go through. Also, Terror of the Vervoids creates some paradoxes that, quite honestly, make my head hurt to think about them. The Doctor is on trial for his life. Assuming he loses, the events here don't unfold this way and the Vervoids probably win, thus destroying all human life on Earth. So, by seeing the future, we know the Doctor is acquitted... or is he? Is this one of those million and one parallel universes that we heard about in Inferno or is it just lazy script writing by the Bakers? (Personally, I'm going to go with the later)

All of these questions spiraling around making my head hurt, but not as much as the actual storyline we see unfolding on screen.

Even outside of the context of The Trial of a Timelord, Terror of the Vervoids is a fairly weak, derivative story. The Doctor and Mel (who gets no real introduction and suffers for it as a result) are called onto a ship bound for Earth from the planet Mogar. As usual, there are a series of deaths under mysterious circumstances (a pretty standard Who clich? and the Doctor is quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, mystery and mayhem. There's a murderer on board, but there's also a threat to humanity itself in the form of Vervoids, who are simply plants that walk, talk and kill. The Vervoids have been bred to be a slave race of cheap labor and they are none too happy about this idea -- to the point that they decide to kill all the animal kind on board and them move on to Earth. Along the way, there's a hijacking, an almost rendezvous with a black hole, a terrifying mutant and lots of jokes about the Doctor's waist size. All of these elements on paper sound like they might add up to an interesting -- or at the very least entertaining -- Doctor Who story.

But Terror of the Vervoids is a story that collapses under it's own weight. There's a whole cast of guest characters who are simply cannon fodder for the Vervoids killing rampage. There's a slight attempt to have this story refer back to a lost adventure and give it a sense of continuity that fails as well. It's not as bad as TimeLash was, where the entire story hinges on this missing adventure, mind you. The Vervoids themselves are pretty limited and seem to develop strange and unusual powers at a moment's notice -- need some way to take back the bridge -- well, let's have those wacky Vervoids blow a lethal gas out on the bridge and knock out the guy steering the ship into the black hole. Need them to kill a whole lot of people -- give them some type of spike that comes out of their hands and pretty much instantly kills anything they come in contact with. (A side note here -- if you're breeding a race as essentially slave labor, does it make good sense to give them the method to kill and/or overthrow you?)

But none of these are as bad as the sheer coincidence it takes for the story to, thankfully, come to an end. The way to defeat the Vervoids feels like a cheat and like it comes out of left field. We can't stop them, so let's pull some magic stuff out of the vault that will kill them. Yeah, that's the ticket! The ending seems to come as a bit of a cheat and makes the whole Vervoid storyline seem ridiculous in the final few moments.

All of that said, you must wonder if there's anything good about The Terror of the Vervoids. Actually, there are a few things that rank it higher than MindWarp.

One if that the scenes in the courtroom are kept to a minimum and done in a manner that reminds the viewer that the trial is still going and stops to make a few valid points. The Trial scenes are also a lot more enjoyable here.

The next is Colin Baker's performance gets a bit better. There are flashes of the moments we saw in The Mysterious Planet throughout here -- from the Doctor's subdued return to the courtroom to his talking to Mel about the pile of human bodies the Vervoids have stacked up. It's just a shame that there are way too many other silly scenes -- the Doctor on the exercise bike for example and the constant beating to death of the joke about Mel being like an elephant -- that overshadow these nicely done moments.

Finally, there is the upping the ante of the Trial. For all its faults, the Trial takes on a new and deadly turn here as the charges are upped from meddling to genocide, creating a good deal of tension for the final two installments of the Trial that are to come. (It does raise the good question of if the Doctor hasn't committed the crime yet, can he be put on Trial for it. Also, the idea that if the Doctor knows the events that are going to happen, can he prevent them from unfolding in this way. Is it any wonder that the Faction Paradox was created for the novels... they could have a field day with Terror of the Vervoids).

All in all, Terror of the Vervoids isn't as bad as MindWarp. It's not great Who. Heck, it's barely good Who. It's just more evidence that Pip and Jane Baker were some of the lesser writers to ever churn out a Who story and that a good script-editor can make all the difference.


Competent, not exciting by Tim Roll-Pickering 9/7/02

This sub-story makes little attempt to hide its roots as an Agatha Christie inspired adventure with the setting shifted from a luxury ocean liner to a space liner. Otherwise many of the elements of a good murder mystery are present, though the resolution is a little illogical since the Doctor's deduction that Doland is the murderer and not Lasky hinges on the fact that when the Mogarians are killed she is a hostage - overlooking the reasonable possibility that anyone could have killed the hijackers. Otherwise the mystery is resolved satisfactorily amidst the wider chaos of the Vervoids coming to life and setting about slaughtering everyone on board.

This tale is set in the Doctor's future from the main trial and so could have been chronologically the Doctor's last ever adventure. There's an interesting line in Part Eleven when Lasky confronts Doland and argues that when humanity first discovered fire there were probably those who feared it and wished to destroy it - a nice link to 100,000 BC that could have brought the series full circle. This is meant to be a typical adventure for the Doctor and as such it doesn't need to stand out. Few of the cast give noteworthy roles, though there are no disasters, whilst the production is competent although there are a few shots of the Vervoids dying that expose the rubber suits at the base of their costumes.

This is the first appearance of Mel and despite the many predictions made at the time that Bonnie Langford would be a disaster, her debut is confidant, showing a strong sense of independence and determination, even when it gets her into severe difficulties. Her relationship with the Doctor is shown to be difficult, but this is clearly a difference over tactics and her attempts to get the Doctor to slim, rather than a disagreement over aims. This tale holds its own but viewed in isolation it does not stand out particularly well.


Vegetable Patch by Andrew Wixon 15/7/02

Terror of the Vervoids is beset by illogicalities at its most basic level. Given that it's set in the future, the very existence of the story indicates the Doctor must survive the trial. And how can someone stand trial for an offence he has yet to commit (the article seven stuff at the end)? Furthermore, viewing this story as evidence must give the Doctor unusual precognesis of the events when he goes through them 'for real' - so why he doesn't just finger Doland as a murderer, the pods as dangerous, and Rudge as a traitor the moment he arrives I don't understand. Paradoxes lie in wait at every turn and I've gone all cross-eyed again.

But get past this and you will discover a fairly classic DW scenario (not executed up to classic standards, of course): a diverse group of people isolated in a remote environment well-appointed with lengthy corridors and spacious ventilation shafts, threatened by an alien menace. There's Robots of Death kinda vibe as events unfold, and the plot is pacy and inventive with the odd neat twist scattered about.

Even the trial sequences don't seem too intrusive, fitting into the flow of events rather well. The only real problem they create is that of Mel's introduction. Devoid of the background and depth most companions derive solely from their debut stories, she comes across as two-dimensional and generic (Langford's over-eager projecting-to-the-gallery performance doesn't really help).

And, well... the Vervoids are a silly idea, aren't they? (As is the way they're disposed of, but still...) Why do vegetable servitors come with lethal stings and the ability to emit poison gas? The usual Byzantine dialogue from Pip and Jane isn't terribly helpful, either. And this is before we get to trivial but irritating questions such as how Lasky knows her luggage isn't in a cabin she doesn't have the key for, and why the used towels from the gym are pulverised and blasted into space - do they not have laundries in 2986?

So in the end this is a step in the right direction, with impressive sets, music, and performances (pity Yolande Palfrey wasn't the new companion), but not much more than that. Mildly diverting stuff.


Terrible Vervoids by Jason Thompson 6/8/02

And so the Doctor prepares his defence. Now something really is wrong about this Trial, both in narrative terms, and in production.

Pip and Jane Baker have written a reasonable script. It's roots in Agatha Christie style murder mysteries are obvious, but this should not detract from the story. After all, classics such as The Brain of Morbius and The Talons of Weng Chiang display their roots proudly. No, what detracts from the enjoyment of this segment of the Trial is shoddy scripting, in that one gets the sense that with a redraft we could have had a better, tighter, and more sensible tale. Inconsistencies abound, and the more one thinks about it, the more one finds. In many cases this is to be expected, but here they are so fundamental that one cannot help coming across them.

A few examples: How does Lasky get in to cabin 6 to find her luggage is missing when she has the key to cabin 9? How does Hallet breathe having disguised himself in a Mogarian suit, which must be designed to keep oxygen out, since the gas is toxic to Mogarians? Why does the Commodore say the bridge is designed to be hijack-proof immediately after it has been hijacked? How can the bridge be hijack proof when the door is left wide open all the time, and Bruchner apparently just walks in with a phaser without meeting any resistence on the way? Why are used towels from the gym destroyed rather than washed? How does plunging the ship into darkness drive the Vervoids back to their equally dark lair?

These are minor niggles, and could have been avoided with a redraft. However, some other problems are really just examples of bad scripting. The Vervoids are engineered to be a labour force, so why do they possess at least two ways of killing humans? The ending is drivel as well, not to mention relying on a previously unmentioned plot device. Expose a plant to intense light and carbon dioxide and it will thrive, not age and die in seconds. Additionally, if the vionesium is producing incredibly intense light and carbon dioxide, why are the humans not blinded and asphyxiated? Mel in particular stares straight at her vionesium 'bomb' when it goes off, and no-one shows the slightest sign of difficulty breathing.

The single biggest offense committed by this script is a very short segment that should never have been included. It is the sequence in which the Doctor is seen in the smashed communications room with an axe, apparently satisfied by the damage he has caused. This is dreadful, and should never have passed the first draft. OK, the evidence is being distorted, but this just takes it way too far. For one thing why would anyone be so stupid as to believe that the Doctor would include it voluntarily in his defence? Aren't the suspicions of the court even slightly raised? Secondly, if the evidence is to be distorted then surely it would be done in a more subtle fashion than inventing a scene for the defence which contradicts it so obviously, for the reasons I mentioned above? The fact that this made it in to the transmitted version is a testament to just how badly the production crew were stumbling with this story by now.

And I'm not even going to mention the paradox involved in the Doctor choosing an adventure from his own future for his defence.

The performances are quite impressive, given the material. Michael Craig (a successful example of JNT's celebrity casting) is perfect as the Commodore, aware that the Doctor can help him, but none too keen on having him around. Bonnie Langford gives Mel a reasonably good start, although the fact that she is screaming hysterically within twenty-five minutes of arriving in the show is a bad sign. Additionally, the absence of a proper introduction doesn't do the character any favours, and we are forced to resort to lines such as: "a far cry from the carefree life of Pease Pottage, eh Mel?" to get any idea of her background. Rudge is a strange character. As the Commodore says, as a security officer he's "an unmitigated disaster," which tends to make one wonder how he ever got the job in the first place.

In short, this section of the Trial feels like a first draft for a script, rather than a finished product. With a little more care and attention it could have been turned into something very moody and atmospheric, with a real sense of danger. Unfortunately, the Trial was floundering severely by this point, relying on caption cards before the episodes to remind the viewers of what had gone before, and by this time having dragged on quite badly, with no sign of a resolution. Each segment is isolated in a way that it shouldn't be, with only a brief mention of what has happened before coming in the first part. As the Valeyard says, to gloss over Peri's death we are presented immediately with a new comapnion, and Peri is hardly mentioned again. The death of a companion should have been given far more emphasis under the circumstances, because the Doctor hasn't moved on to new adventures, although the narrative has. The whole Trial is turning into a big pile of missed opportunities and is falling apart.

Unfortunately, in the final section, the production crew would face the biggest upheaval of all, and nearly have the whole story scuppered at the last minute...


Mayhem and intruige! by Joe Ford 25/9/02

Okay here are my top ten reasons for giving this story nine out of ten...

10) Bonnie Langford
Oh for god's sakes you lot, shut up! Yes she screams (so did every sixites companion and you don't hate all them!) and is a little energetic in her delivery (but so was Zoe, Jo Grant, Sarah and Tegan and you don't hate all them!) but she shows a lot of promise in this, her first story. Mel is truly involved in the investigation she and the Doctor are dragged into, following up clues, standing up to authority and generally using her intelligence. No companion (not even little Nyssa) has seemed this resourceful since Romana II. I think the scene where she forces the Doctor to excercise is great, her near death in the waste bin was gripping and her reaction to the 'compost heap' was very realistic. Hell her screams even melt seamlessley into the opening music! So I say YAY Mel! Her chemistry with Colin Baker is good and (very similar to Adric's transition from the fourth Doctor to the Fifth) it was only when she started to appear against McCoy that she really suffered.

9) The guest actors
People say Honor Blackman only appears to be going through the motions, maybe true but she seems more suited to this story than Beryl Reid did to Earthshock or Brian Blessed to Mindwarp. Her 'think of Gallelio' scene is great and although she seems to wander the story in a bad mood it is great to see her on board. Janet and The Commodore both come across as believable characters and they are likable which is essential in a murder mystery, to actually care about the people in danger. Even bit part characters like Hallett and Kimber come across well, being well cast for their small roles.

8) The Vervoids.
C'mon didn't they scare you? I know they do look a bit rude (and no I won't say what I think they look like!) but when they surround characters in their numbers in the claustrophobic corridors, hands twitching, driving poison spikes into their victims' hands... brrr. I really like the bit where one starts coughing out marsh gas. And the fact that they leave all their victims on one big compost heap, just as we do with plants is enough to give me the shivers. The fact that their death is actually quite poignant is the result of a strong director who manages to make them scary one minute and smypathetic the next.

7) Cliffhangers.
The best bunch of the season by far. The end of episode one is celebrated and rightly so as it does make a nice change from close-ups on Colin Bakers face. Explosions! Someone electrified by a fence! Screams! A hand punching from a veggie shell! Wow! And episode two is just as good... what an image, a woman, tied down with a half human, half plant face and a big bulging vein... her eyes opening suddenly! Cool! This is real return to the 'see you next week' cliffhangers of old.

6) The ending
It makes sense! It bloody makes sense! The Vervoids, plant monsters, are age accelerated to death, wilting away. By the very source of metal we have been told about through the whole story! I'm sorry I need to go and lie down, an eighties ending that makes sense... But that's not the end of the goodies as The Valeyard snatches an easy victory from the Doctor as he quite chillingly cries out the word 'genocide...'

5) A return to BUS stories.
Or base under siege as they're otherwise known. It is a simple and effective formula, trap a group of characters in a confined space and pick them off one by one as the tension rises... it's a formula that worked wonders in the Troughton years and it works just as well here. Communications down, trapped with a killer, monsters and a desperate security officer... just who will make it to the end credits?

4) The direction.
Welcome to the show Chris Clough, who works wonders with his limited space. This story is full of memorable images... I love the way the vervoid pod glows menacingly when the beam of light hits it, Janet using the chair to hold back the brutal Vervoids, Mel bleached in red light surrounded by Vervoids, the glorious cliffhangers, the race to save Mel from the pulverisor... he generates some real suspense and terror, essential for this type of story.

3) The Trial scenes.
Admittedly scarce but a huge step up from Mindwarp. I love the Doctor's passionate defence about not letting Mel go into danger (and for some reason in the same scene I have always loved how The Valeyard shouts "But you did not!" after The Doctor says he would have prevented her going to the Hydroponics centre. Sorry, we all have these quirks and this is mine.) and his quiet comment about never accepting Peri's death. Of course the aforementioned genocide scenes at the end cap of the story perfectly.

2) The plot.
Oh come on it's a bloody great plot but it's all told at a lesuirely pace with the mysteries piling on and on. No death is without a great motive. No scene is left without throwing the twisty turny plot in another intruiging direction. Who is the killer? Why create the Vervoids? Who tried to kill Mel? Why the hijack? Who beamed the message at the TARDIS? Why is Mel such a fitness freak? It's full of such questions and I just love the way everything is wrapped in episode four without sounding false or preachy. I love the scene where the murderer is revealed and all the pieces suddenly fall into place.

1) Colin Baker
His last television performance as the Doctor and further proof of what a great actor he is. How can this be the same ruthless, arrogant guy who blasted in front of our eyes in The Twin Dilemma? Watch his fear as he walks out of the TARDIS and senses terrible danger. Watch his palpable reaction to Hallett's death. Watch as he outwits the killer in episode four. Watch as he stands ashamed as he wipes out the Vervoid race. This is the Doctor. How he should always be, heroic, intelligent, humane and not above making mistakes. It is a crime that this was the last performance he ever gave, I can only imagine what treats we would have been given if he had stayed on a year or two.

So you still think i'm talking utter bollocks do you? Suit yourself. I will agree that the dialogue sucks in places and the music isn't exactly perfect but this is how I like my Doctor Who. Confident, clever, exciting, enjoyable and scary. You can take it or leave it.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 7/4/03

Pre-impressions of this story were not promising. The events leading up to this segment of the trial (in the TV show, and in the media relating to the show) didn't bode well. The Trial had hardly dazzled us with its brilliance, and the media gave us Bonnie Langford (I'll scream and scream and scream, until I'm sick!!!!). But when the story actually began first-impressions were actually quite good.

The Doctor and new companion Mel arrive aboard an intergalactic starliner - Hyperion 3. Some of the passengers are introduced to us, as is a strange Hydroponics lab in the hold - complete with pods. The close confines of the liner promise isolation - the sort Robots of Death excelled at 10 years previous. The Hydroponics lab, we just knew, had to contain something nasty. The fears about Bonnie Langford were ungrounded too - she was likeable and provided a nice friendship with the Doctor. It was a good opening episode which promised much.

Colin Baker's poor performance in the previous segment of the trial is quite forgotten too. He charges through the ship, investigating the mysterious murders. He is totally and completely the Doctor, which proves how much a shame it was that this was near the end of the TV reign. As an enthusiastic, if hardly exceptional, Snooker player I just loved that waistcoat he wore throughout this story too!

The music is ever present in this story. It is often quite tacky in its nature, but improves dramatically with the tension building final 2 episodes. The electronic 80s was all the rage, but it doesn't date too well (better than most of Pertwee's music scores though!).

When the Vervoids do appear in Episode 3 (they remain hidden in the shadows in Episode 2) the story takes on a more sinister tone. The passengers also get more interesting as a result. The manic Bruckner doing all he can to kill the beasts. Laskey remains quite impassive throughout though, and Rudges/Mogarian takeover bid fails to inspire. The Vervoids look pretty good, but their whispering tones are often difficult to hear. Their systematic culling of the ship's residents is better portrayed. The kill or be killed scenario is played out well. It does provide the trial with another twist too, but the genocide accusation proves pretty shallow, and only really useful as a cliffhanger.

I like this story quite a lot. So many participants have their own agenda in it, even the naturally instinctive Vervoids. The Doctor is a great beacon of light amongst it all, and Colin Baker has never been better on screen than here. There is a good script surrounding it all too, and from set design to Costumes it is all nicely put together. Pretty good and the best segment of the trial. 7/10


A Review by Jason A. Miller 15/1/04

If you strip away the Trial of a Time Lord scenes, Terror of the Vervoids would run about 15 minutes under length. If it hadn't been authored specifically for the Trial season, would it have been a good story? Rather than come up with an intelligent take on this run-of-the-mill adventure (which I haven't been able to do in almost a week), let's just break it down into a capsule summary of all the wrong reasons for which Vervoids is remembered.

MY BONNIE LIES OVER THE LANGFORD: I'm not sure, just from watching Vervoids, why Bonnie Langford got such a bad rap. Maybe it was because of Season 24 -- she and Sylvester McCoy had such a palpable lack of chemistry that it was a relief they were never together on screen. Or, maybe it was because Mel was dumped on the audience without an explanation, and then never given a backstory. Still, if you accept her appearance as a clever narrative twist -- let's just open the story with a new companion on board, and fill in all the exposition solely through witty banter with Colin stretched across the first three episodes -- Mel works pretty well. In terms of being one-dimensional, she's, well... not. She investigates the Vervoid menace in lieu of the Doctor, comes to her own logical deductions, and gives the appearance of competence most of the time. Even her screams (in this story) are well-placed: they're seamlessly matched with the electronic scream of the first two cliffhangers.

LOVE, HONOR, BLACKMAN: The John Nathan-Turner years had the rap of casting big-name guest stars into roles unsuited for them, adding publicity at the expense of credibility. Well, maybe JN-T was ahead of his time. That trick worked pretty well for "The Simpsons" years later, after all. And, let's be honest, Honor Blackman isn't much of a mad scientist in this story. Even though she looks about 60, her sole purpose is to strut about in gym suits, and do a very impressive set of sit-ups in the gym in Part Two. Other than that, she's no Hilda Winters. She doesn't even get a memorable death scene.

MAYHEM AND INTRIGUE: I got a sense that Commodore Travers was supposed to light the screen on fire. For one thing, the Doctor introduces him with a singularly baffling nickname: "Tonker". What does it mean? We never find out. Travers is assigned a lot of bombastic dialogue. Unfortunately, it's delivered with all the soulful, lip-smacking relish of a balding actor in a hemorrhoids commercial. What's supposed to be a fully-rounded character winds up less interesting than Bonnie's banana-yellow pants suit.

I DON'T THINK YOU'LL FIND ENJOYMENT'S ON THE AGENDA: As with the Commodore, the rest of Pip 'n Jane Baker's dialogue is meant -- is demanding -- to be delivered over the top. Their writing would later have disastrous consequences for time and yer auntie (if you know what I mean, and I think you do), but the Vervoids novelization worked pretty well. However, not only is Tonker not up to the task of reading his words, but the rest of the guest cast is simply going through the motions until they're all killed off. The most interesting actor is the crazy old coot from State of Decay, and he's killed off before the end of Part Two. Which one is Bruchner? Which one is Doland? I saw in the credits that Doland was played by Malcolm Tierney, which baffled me -- he did so much more scenery-cheweing as the Co-Pilot in The Horns of Nimon. Why was he so boring here? Was he auditioning for the same hemorrhoids commercial as Tonker? But then I realized... the Co-Pilot was Malcolm Terris.

IF WE FIGHT LIKE PLANTS, WE DIE LIKE PLANTS: Picture this scenario: at first, there is one leaf, on the floor of the hydroponics center shortly after Edwardes is killed. Then, later on, there are two leaves, on the floor of Kimber's cabin. When the Doctor and Mel break into the Isolation Room, they don't find Ruth Baxter wearing a green styrofoam collar, but they do find a lot more leaves. Finally, we get to see a Vervoid, in the shadows, at the very end of Part Three, all autumnal menace. Instead, we just got a bunch of stuntmen in Day-Glo jumpsuits running around under studio lights so bright, you wonder why it took Vionesium to kill them off. The only neat effect is the leafstorm representing their demise, but by then, they've already been consigned to the bin of unmemorable goofballs.

THE TRIAL OF A TIME LARD, UH, LORD: The rap on the Trial interludes in Vervoids is that they were "intrusive" ((C) The Discontinuity Guide). Clearly the Guide are wrong, right? Actually, they got it, hole in one. Well, it was nice when Colin Baker and Michael Jayston squared off in Part One about the origins of Mel, and it was a rare standout moment for the Sixth Doctor in Part Two when he got to explain to the unpaid jury of non-speaking extras just how he recognized which Mogarian was an impostor. However, by Part Three... yeah, now they're just showing off. Meanwhile, the final blow -- the Valeyard's charge of genocide -- is so spurious that you wonder why viewers even bothered tuning in to the next story.

It's a shame that Vervoids amounted to unenthusiastic camp. Turn down the lights and make it scary like The Seeds of Doom, or ramp up the acting and make like The Horns of Nimon on NyQuil. But, whatever you do, don't play it straight! Instead of Nimon, what we really got was the next Revenge of the Cybermen, and that isn't the mayhem and intrigue that Tonker signed up for.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 5/8/04

Terror Of The Vervoids is the most successful and enjoyable segment of The Trial Of A Time Lord largely because it remains very much a story in its own right and is for the most part free of scenes set inside the courtroom which are best intrusive and disturb the flow of the tale. Notable mostly for the introduction of Bonnie Langford`s Melanie Bush, this story has a largely traditional feel to it, inspired no doubt in part by Agatha Christie. Bonnie Langford is actually refreshing, less whiny than Peri,with a keeness and enthusiasm for TARDIS travel. Similarly, Colin Baker`s Sixth Doctor is far less arrogant and certainly more whimsical here than usual. Of the guest cast Honor Blackman is perfectly cast as the grumpy Professor Lasky, and David Allister similairly does a fine turn as the highly strung Bruchner. The Vervoids themselves are horrific enough,although not visually striking to be memorable. However as the only real attempt at a sixth Doctor monster story, they succeed in their own right. Similairly with the Mogarians,it is refreshing to see an alien race that doesn`t speak English.

If anything lets the story down, it is the special effects (the Black Hole of Tartarus being the worst offender) and some of the dialogue (although this is hardly surprising given that the script comes from Pip and Jane Baker). The Doctor`s resolution to the story - genocide - is also a scripting error (why would he choose to show such evidence as his defence?) Despite this plot hole, the story is still the best from the entire season and a joy in its own right.


Green Fingers by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 21/11/09

Terror of the Vervoids is my favourite part of The Trial of a Time Lord. Despite seriously dodgy monster costumes, questionable acting and a script which isn't always scintillating, I find it an entertaining story. It's much more of a standard monster story than any of the other Trial stories. The downside of such a story in an otherwise experimental season is that unless the production team get it right, it runs a very real risk of standing out like s sore thumb. The end result is far from perfect but it's certainly a lot better than Mindwarp and it's at least as good if not better than The Mysterious Planet even though it's a very different story from either of those two.

The story begins quite well with the Doctor still brooding over Peri's apparent death in Mindwarp. The scenes that follow introduce the Hyperion III along with the passengers and crew. The special effects have improved as well. The establishing shots of the Hyperion aren't brilliant but they aren't bad either. The sets for the Hyperion work quite well especially the ones for the passenger cabins section. They create a nice sense of claustrophobia which is what this story really needs. The crew costumes look a bit daft however. In fact, a lot of the costumes look a bit daft.

The first scene of the Doctor and Mel is just horrible. There are some things I don't ever want to see in Doctor Who and the Doctor on an exercise bike is one of them. The exercise room on the Hyperion also gets a lot of screen time. Bizarre. This is quickly followed by another scene which is just as bad but also hilarious. When Janet the stewardess takes a cup of coffee to the communications officer he delivers the line "you make delicious coffee Janet". This is quite possibly the cheesiest line in the history of everything and his delivery of it is excruciating.

The guest cast are mostly ok, apart from Doland who just isn't convincing. Honor Blackman is excellent as Professor Lasky. It's a nice touch on the part of Pip & Jane Baker that we are led to believe that she is the main human villain when all along it is in fact Doland who is the crackpot. Lasky is simply misguided, deluded by her scientific vision. Her death is an anticlimax, however. She should have been given a better send off. I like the little in-joke where she's reading Murder on the Orient Express.

Colin Baker is his usual excellent self but Bonnie Langford is terrible. She does get better over time but unfortunately she's never going to be less than excruciating and she is truly dire here. She and Baker clearly have very good chemistry but unfortunately she's just awful to watch. The first two cliffhangers also involve her screaming into the theme music. I'm not quite sure what to make of this.

Why is the Commodore willingly flying so close to a black hole? Have I missed something?

Anyway, the Vervoids aren't the best realised monsters in the show's history. It's been said a million times that they look extremely rude but it's true. The do look rude. I'm not quite sure how anyone on the production team failed to see this at the time. I suppose they were more innocent times but even so. Maybe the costume designers were having a laugh. Their seed pods look very impressive in the cargo hold. The Vervoids aren't too bad on the whole. The rude appearance I can live with but I think it was completely unnecessary to have them speak. It just makes them seem ridiculous. Their ultimate demise is quite nicely done as they turn into a pile of autumn leaves.

The courtoom scenes are beginning to get a bit tiresome by this point in the proceedings. The interplay between the Doctor, the Valeyard and the Inquisitor is still fun to watch but after eight previous episodes it feels like theses scenes have been going on forever.

It's not perfect by any means but it's very enjoyable. Coming after the less-than-enthralling Mindwarp, it's a breath of fresh air.


A Review by Yeaton Clifton 13/4/13

The part of season 23 that I like the least is Terror of the Vervoids. The evil killer plants look like people in cheap costumes. The story is so convolved and difficult to follow - as if season 23 were not confusing enough. Some fans do put this story on their top lists, and it might be because there is something comfortable about it. It is like a basic generic Doctor story. The Doctor and a generic companion land on a spaceship, which is infested with hijackers, murderers and evil plant monsters. The Doctor then saves the earth from near-certain doom. The Doctor gives a speech about how if he were not around to battle evil plants, humanity would have been destroyed so we should all be thankful for his meddling. The end. I am going to make the case that being a standard generic story is not ideal, or even very good.

Creating a generic companion is creating an underdeveloped character. The story is that the Doctor is on trial for his life and needs to prove his continued existence is good for the universe, so he conjures a story from his future where he will save the earth from evil plants if he lives. Since the story is from his future, he has a companion presumed to have been traveling with him for a long time, so there is no need to give her an introductory story. She is just a person given to travelling with the Doctor, screaming too much and "about as boring as they come." Boring is a bad character trait for companions.

If you have evil killer plants, do you really need hijackers and other murderers? The story is hard to follow, and given that it is part of the Trial of a Time Lord story arc, confusion is not needed. It is hard enough to keep track of the machinations of the trial without figuring out why there are hijackers, and who is breading evil plants.

If you are breading evil plants so you can take them to earth and make them slaves of humanity, it would be really stupid to give them a poison sting. Not only does it seem unsafe, but also it gives the impression that your story is a rip off of The Day of Triffids. I know we are supposed to accept that plant breeders were ignorant of the danger of what they created, and the plants are supposed to be very scary. The fear factor is undermined because they look like people in cheap plastic suites, indicating that they should have been dropped from the story. The other special effects in season 23 are very good, and if they could not afford decent-looking killer plants, the story is better off without monsters. The story is complicated enough to do without monsters.

There is a sense that all Doctor Who stories have monsters and have a companion who screams; making the story generic would seem to make for a very simple story. Yet the story is convolved by too many plot elements, and because it is told in the future through the Matrix and the Matrix lies. Doctor Who needs no generic stories. Consider Midnight, The Aztecs, The Curse of Fenric and Spearhead from Space. Those stories have little in common, but are all great stories. Doctor Who is best when breaks new ground. The best that can said about Terror of the Vervoids is that it keeps the Trial storyline moving at a decent pace.