Time of Your Life
The Trial of a Time Lord
The Ultimate Foe
Trial of a Time-Lord Episodes 13-14
|Dates||Nov. 29, 1986 -
Dec. 9, 1986
With Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford.
Written by Robert Holmes, Pip and Jane Baker,
(with Eric Saward on episode 1).
Directed by Chris Clough. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: In the fourth and final part of Trial of a Time Lord, the Doctor faces sentence and an unexpected appearance by his greatest enemy...|
A Review by Dennis McDermott 13/6/97
Let's hold our noses and finish off this season. When we're informed halfway through this program that Peri not only survived but is living like a queen as the wife of King Ycarnos, it is hard to take this season seriously at all. I personally would find it as likely that she would marry Sil. That little tidbit demonstrates for me what a joke this season was.
As for the story, I'm too tired to care anymore. I don't understand what is meant by the Valyard being "a composite of the Doctor's dark side between his twelfth and final regeneration". Is the Valyard the Doctor's twelfth regeneration or did the Doctor somehow split his body and his personality into two? It isn't very clear. And I wonder how necessary it was. A correspondent correctly pointed out that the Doctor has always had a dark side. Not sure what to make of the Valyard, I don't know what to make of this story -- except to say it isn't very good.
A Review by DWRC 24/12/98
"In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil...."
This denouement of a very troubled but wonderful era explodes in a fast-paced two-parter that serves as both Colin Baker's final stand against evil and sadly Robert Holmes's last influence in the series before his unfortunate death. It was because of this story and The Mysterious Planet (also by Robert Holmes) that this season was made enjoyable.
It?s very difficult to say a lot about this story because it seems so short and yet so much happens. Enter Mel, Glitz, the Master, the Doctor being charged for genocide, the Valeyard revealed as being "a composite of the Doctor?s dark side," an excursion into the bizarre artificial world of the Matrix, and Gallifrey in chaos with the break-up of the High Council, and one wonders why it wasn't a six-parter. As Dennis McDermott rightly points out, it is a confusing story and not everything is explained in a neat package... but then why should it? This is Doctor Who after all. For all of Hartnell's era and most of Troughton's, we didn?t even know who the Doctor was. Mystery and uncertainty have always been healthy for the show, and so was a little confusion.
Now to the story...
Like most of Robert Holmes's stories, it is wonderfully plotted with unique and memorable dialogue (I'm sure the Doctor's verbal attack on the High Council for the extermination of most life on Earth was Holmes's doing). Actually, it?s quite amusing to compare the dramatic language of Robert Holmes with the more mat dialogue of Pip and Jane Baker. Overall, Colin gets some of his best lines here; the speech condemning the corruption of the Time Lords is one of the best in the series.
The acting is also excellent, with the Doctor and Michael Jayston as the Valeyard reaching an explosive epoch. The Valeyard's "humiliation" of the Doctor, i.e. the red tape preventing their confrontation, is cleverly amusing and blends in well with the unusual atmosphere of the Matrix. After the incensed verbal battle in the court, the final t?e-?t?e between the Doctor and the Valeyard is somewhat of a letdown since the Doctor destroys the particle disseminator so easily. Perhaps a Matrix scene of the Reichenbach Falls from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes might have been a better way for the Doctor to dispose of his Moriarty.
Speaking of which, since his rejuvenation in The Keeper of Traken, the Master has been overused ridiculously; a lot like Pertwee's second season, and his presence in this story seems very, very unnecessary. His attempts to control Glitz and the Doctor are somewhat pitiful although I do like Anthony Ainley's effort to bring more insanity to the character of the Master, something I thought future writers could have picked up on (such as at the end of Logopolis, where he kills the Doctor and then leaves chuckling to himself).
On a different note, this is the only story in which I approve of Mel (well, approve is perhaps too harsh a word... condone maybe). She tries in every way she can to help the Doctor and even though she ruins his plan to confront the Valeyard, Mel doesn't seem the blithering idiot she degenerates into during McCoy?s first season.
Overall, a beautiful, bizarre and fast-paced story that turned out to be Colin Baker's last. It's such a pity, he had so much to give...
There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality by Will Jones 30/6/99
And so it all came to an end in two unforgettable and yet so confusing episodes. What do I mean by 'it'? Well, just about everything really. The epic Trial, the Sixth Doctor's era, and indeed really the programme as a whole. There's no doubt that the series, though still wonderful - perhaps even better than before - was in its death throes from the cancellation crisis onwards, and Ultimate Foe is part of this process of decay.
For all that, though, it's utterly wonderful, and gets into my Top Ten easily. Although it's likely that had Robert Holmes written both parts Thirteen and Fourteen everything would have ended differently, it all feels so damn right.
This is the story where Colin Baker really gets to display his acting muscles. He makes a fairly standard, although admittedly brilliant Holmes speech (I hope you all know what I'm referring to) feel like a Shakespearean soliloquy. He is cold with the Valeyard and the Master, caring with Mel and always friendly to Sabalom Glitz no matter how many times he betrays him, always seeming ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is the Sixth Doctor we should always have seen.
Many fans have criticised Ultimate Foe for being confusing, having too many plot elements, gratuitous appearances by old friends and foes, silly cursory endings and runarounds and so on. I don't see this at all. As far as I'm concerned, the entire Trial of a Time Lord story was a celebration of twenty-odd years of the series without using old clips, archive footage or old Doctors, just as the series veered towards its ending. Although it's distinctly variable in quality, Ultimate Foe makes perfect sense as the wrap-up. We have Gallifrey, a corrupt Council, the matrix, the Master, a companion from a previous story (even if it is just the immediately previous story) and a big plan ? indeed, a series of big plans ? to destroy/conquer Gallifrey/the Doctor. All these are familiar details from other stories, but used imaginatively so that we don't get bored. This feels like a four-parter contained within two bulging episodes.
I do have criticisms - the dialogue of Part Fourteen is silly, but who doesn't moan about that? Also, something nobody else has mentioned is that the man who invented the Matrix, Robert Holmes, has completely changed what it is - once it was only a mental domain, now it's very physical. This is a total break from continuity ? but if Holme can't do that, who can? There are times when this story feels like a remake of The Deadly Assassin. There are times when it feels like a remake of The War Games. There are times when it feels like a remake of Logopolis; The Mind Robber - so many other stories. But out of this unholy Frankenstein-like mix comes a monster that?s pulsing with brilliant and original life.
What a story, but what a mess. OK, you can't say it's the greatest tale ever, but it's up there with them. I'd have given it a higher mark if it was a coherent four-parter, but it isn't, so 8/10.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 28/7/99
Drawing heavily on The Deadly Assassin, The Ultimate Foe brings season twenty three's The Trial Of A Time Lord to a close. Unfortunately, not a very satisfactory one either. Basically it tries to tie up too many loose ends at once, but instead becomes something of a mess. Robert Holmes final script (part thirteen) is the better of the two, using as it does some fine imagery, and mysterious characters (Mr Popplewick). Then Pip and Jane Baker step in for the final part. True it was rushed, but this is no real excuse. There is too much jargon ("a megabyte modem"), the revelation that Peri is still alive and well; although somewhat unbelivably married to Yrcanos and countless other secrets hinted at. A bit more time on the script was needed I think.
Colin Baker strikes the right cord as The Doctor, here in what would be his final story, the return of Sabalom Glitz is welcome; even if Bonnie Langford is dodgy in parts. Michael Jayston by now was beginning to grate a little, and the inclusion of The Master seems unnecessary. Here were too many characters jockeying for centre stage. This doesn`t mean The Ultimate Foe isn`t enjoyable or entertaining, just that it shouldn`t have ended the all too brief tenure of The Sixth Doctor.
The "epic" concludes by Michael Hickerson 4/7/02
After 12 episodes of build-up, we come to what should be the epic conclusion to The Trial of A TimeLord with The Ultimate Foe. But instead of a sweeping story that actually concludes the epic storyline on a high note, we get a rather pedestrian and disappointing affair. The final two episodes of the Trial are disjointed and lack a sense of cohesiveness--which shouldn't really be surprising since they are written by two very different sets of writers.
One of the great "what ifs" of Doctor Who fandom is the wondering -- what if Robert Holmes had survived long enough to write the conclusion he envisioned for the Trial. Or better yet -- what if Eric Saward hadn't left the series in a huff and take not only his storyline for the conclusion of the Trial with him, but many of the notes and/or ideas that Holmes had created for the conclusion to the epic storyline. Instead, we get the Bakers, who do a decent enough job under the circumstances (the stories have it that they literally sat in a room with John Nathan-Turner and as they came up with ideas to finish were told they could or could not do certain things. Also, another telling story -- the Bakers had literally no idea where the Trial had been or where it was going -- to the point they asked Terrance Dicks, who was writing the novel of Mysterious Planet, for help, but he had no idea either). The bringing together of two separate writing styles is so jarring that it's almost easier to review the each episode individually. Episode 13, from the pen of Robert Holmes is full of dramatic revelations, eloquent speeches and a sense of continuity to the series past. It's interesting to see Holmes use the Master as part of the denouncement as to the real purpose of the Trial since he helped created the Doctor's nemesis so many years early with Terror of the Autons. As with Mysterious Planet, there's a sense of something greater at work here, just below the surface. Colin Baker's performance returns to the heights of greatness that we saw earlier in the season and Mel is kept to a minimum, which is a good thing. The scene with the revelation that the Valeyard is the Doctor's dark side is a superb and interesting revelation and one that makes the viewer sit up on the edge of their seat, wondering just how all this might turn out. Indeed, this could be the ultimate battle between good and evil as our hero wrestles literally with himself. (Indeed, the original storyline for episode 14 ended with the Doctor and the Valeyard locked in combat, being expelled from the TARDIS into the vortex).
Along the way, there are some brilliant Holmes creations -- we see the return of Sabalom Glitz, who is in fine form. We also meet Mr. Popplewick, who is a distillation of every bad beauracrat we've ever seen on Who. Holmes was no fan of the beauracracy, as seen time and again in his classic Who stories and that is shown here to the extreme -- the Mr. Popplewick who won't let anyone by even if they have an appointment is an especially clever and interesting use of the character.
Then we get to the cliffhanger, which like a lot of the cliffhangers from the season seems to come from out of left field. I understand that this is Doctor Who and we must have some type of cliffhanger to end each story. But even here, it seems a bit much.
And then, episode 14 begins and the entire tone shifts. No longer are there the sweeping sense of events that we got in part 13. The Valeyard is revealed that instead of merely seeking the Doctor's final lives, he instead wants to destroy all the TimeLords in the trial room. He has made a secret deal with the High Council, that once word of it leaks out sends TimeLord society into revolution (apparently a short lived one since by the end of the episode, you get the idea that the High Council is overthrown, but that elections for a new one will soon take place... huh? Why overthrow a ruling body only to just replace it with the exact same thing!) The Valeyard descends from an interesting threat to a cheap knock-off of the Master -- cackling with glee at the Doctor's attempts to defeat him, using disguises that the Doctor quickly sees through and appearing to die only to crop up yet again at the end. The change in tone from part 13 to 14 is quite dramatic and despite there being five minutes added to wrap things up, it never comes together in any meaningful way.
Indeed, because the Doctor saves Gallifrey yet again, he is exonerated of all charges. He is then allowed to continue his meddling ways. The dropping of all charges seems like it's hastily tacked on -- almost as if the Bakers suddenly remembered -- we've got to wrap up this whole trial thing and do it quickly.
The other unsatisfying ending is that we find out that instead of meeting her horrible death, Peri is somehow saved and living with King Yrcanos as his queen. As I've said before -- huh? Not only does this rob some of the dramatic power of the death of Peri and its impact on the Trial, but it makes no sense. Peri did not seem like she was attracted to Yrcanos in any way and the idea of her being a warrior queen is too unbelievable. (Philip Martin obviously knew this since he famously changed it in the novelization of the story to be Peri becoming Yracnos' wrestling manager...(yes, you read that right!)..an idea that makes even less sense!)
In the end, The Ultimate Foe ends up being a microcosm of the Trial itself -- a story that is full of good ideas but ends up being so disjointed that it loses focus. It wants to be the thrilling conclusion to an epic story, but instead it ends up being a disjointed affair that raises a lot more questions than it answers.
Small scale contrast by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/7/02
The final two episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord make for a fast resolution of the season, wrapping up some mysteries whilst at the same time featuring a three-way conflict between the Doctor, the Valeyard and the Master played out within the confines of the Matrix. The scenes here are reminiscent of The Deadly Assassin, with the added twist that it is not always clear just who is generating an illusion or whether an individual is real or not. Aiding by some excellent night-time shooting for the Fantasy Factory and competent direction from Chris Clough, the Matrix scenes are a joy to follow. The cliffhanger to Part Thirteen is strong for both its fantastical nature and for the very real possibility that the Doctor might be entering his final battle. Of the three protagonists, the Master is the only weak link given his limited role in the proceedings, having already served his main purpose of intervening in the trial to expose the situation. The small scale nature of this mini-story, with only four additional cast members (two of whom are reprising existing roles anyway) makes for a good contrast to the grandscale events taking place in the courtroom and on Gallifrey.
The Trial of a Time Lord is best viewed in its entirety and of all the four individual segments this is the one that holds together the least well on its own but that's because of its part in the wider story. Definitely a gem of an ending though.
The Dying Days by Andrew Wixon 18/7/02
Surely we all know the deeply troubled history behind this story: the death of the writer before the completion of the climactic installment, the abandonment of the planned storyline, the scratched-together replacement causing the angry resignation of the script editor...
Well, it's a miracle the story turned out as well as it did is all I can say. This is mainly because, fortuitously, all the big stuff is dealt with by the Holmes-scripted episode thirteen rather than the Bakers' lashed-up conclusion. And what big stuff it is: all the things that should have made up the climaxes of Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp finally get used, together with the return of Glitz, the obligatory pop-up by the Master (not entirely superfluous), and - of course - the revelation of the Valeyard's true identity (appropriately, we get the who but not the how).
This is such impressively imaginative stuff that it tends to obscure the fact that once again Holmes is raiding his own back catalogue for most of the rest of the episode. The excursion into the fantasy world of the Matrix is obviously a steal from Deadly Assassin, while the gothic Victoriana could come from the same season's Talons of Weng Chiang.
Episode thirteen sets up the story so well, that episode fourteen isn't the impossible writing challenge it could have been. The Bakers do a pretty reasonable job, but the particle disseminator smacks too much of plot device and the civil war on Gallifrey is perhaps one twist too many. Even at half an hour things seem crowded. But the principle performances are all fine (the two Tonys spark well off one another). Certainly Colin Baker's performance didn't merit his unceremonious departure from the series.
I felt an odd sense of sadness watching this story again. Certainly the series had been losing its way for some years by this point, and was in dire need of a new direction, but the Saward/JNT years were not without their moments of achievement. The sixth Doctor's team deserved a less acrimonious end than to have one member scapegoated and sacked and another walking out.
Still, The Ultimate Foe just about saves the whole season. That it should do so in such trying circumstances is nothing short of remarkable. In the end, though, the ultimate credit must be given to Robert Holmes: it's entirely possible that (not for the first time) he saved the series. How utterly appropriate.
"There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!" by Joe Ford 27/9/02
"Just a minute! Did you call him... the Doctor?"
It's quite simply the most chilling scene in the entire Trial and certainly one of the highest spots of the entire series. The Doctor comes face to face with his 'ultimate foe' as the title suggests, himself. To have the Trial run twelve episodes before this twist is revealed, throwing the whole situation on it's head not only takes guts but bravery unrivalled in the series. It pays off handsomely, even when the Valeyard does become a moustache twirling villain (of sorts) it's still terrifying to think this is the Doctor.
The Ultimate Foe is fantastic Doctor Who in every way. It demonstrates everything the show does SO well. Robert Holmes provides the fantastic script for part thirteen, his last script before his tragic death. And by golly it's a corker. The revelations come thick and fast in the Trial room. The Time Lords, the hypocrital bastards, threw the earth of its course wiping out it's population just to protect their secrets from the Matrix! For all it's arrogance, Gallifrey has never been portatrayed so menacingly, the rulers of time are finally exposed for what we suspected for ages, dangerous and criminal. It's startling and so is Colin Baker's astonished, angry reaction. His speech at their decadence is one of the highpoints of his era and so wonderfully Holmes in its poke at the law!
With the Valeyard exposed we jump into the Matrix in a infectiously fun cat and mouse game with the two protagonists. Chris Clough's direction of these scenes is superb... I love the cobbled Victorian atmosphere evoked, hands bursting from barrells, harpoons jumping from buildings, the echo of childrens laughter in the background. It's so surreal and very creepy, it's another group of definative and striking images echoing The Deadly Assasin and Greatest Show for psychedelic menace. And who could forget the disturbing cliffhanger as the Doctor is dragged to his 'death' by hands bursting from a sandy beach. Scary stuff, one of my close friends wouldn't watch Doctor Who again after watching this at the age of fourteen she was so scared by it! Behind the sofa moments still work, all these years on.
Also of note is the bizarre silliness we experience with Mr Popplewick and his proceedures hampering the Doctor and Glitz. Another dig from Holmes at the system, I only mention it because the infuriating goobledegook and forms thrown at them reminds me hysterically of the tax office in my home town Crawley! Bloody bureaucracy!
People blame part fourteen for the failure of this two parter but again I just cannot agree! Things continue to rumble along nicely... the Master using the Doctor as bait, the fake Trial, the Inquisitor's fantastic scenes with the Master (proving not all women in Doctor Who are useless... I certainly wouldn't want to bump into her on dark night!)... it's all very watchable. More impressive direction helps smoothe any apalling dialouge from Pip'n'Jane, there is one great shot of the feather explosions lighting up the darkened courtyard that I really like but even the silliest of bits (the Doctor standing righteously, prepared for death) are memorable thanks to the spooky music and stylish direction.
Things go wrong when it comes to rounding off the adventure plausibly. As soon as the 'particle disemenator' is uncovered (basically a box with flashing lights!) it's terrible technospeak ahoy (which may be accurate but its not exactly dramatic... "You are elevating futility to a high art!" exclaims the Valeyard.... why don't you just say "Stop panicking!"). The thing explodes and the day is saved. Huh? What? That's it? A stupid box goes boom, that was the Valeyard's master plan? It's a grossly unsatisfying wrap up to an otherwise plausible runaround. One thing the end does get right though is that it is EXCITING! Everyone running about, assasination lists prepared, blue sparkly things bursting through the Matrix screen... it's all terribly exciting even if it doesn't make sense.
Colin Baker's last screen performance is probably his best. His courtroom scenes just sparkle with intensity and his heroic leap into the Matrix just as great. Bonnie isn't half as impressive though. Her 'How utterly evil!" is laughably bad (although the Master's "Thankyou" is great and shows another step in his return to form, followed up in Survival) and she is similarly melodramatic dozens of times. However, as soon as she joins Colin in the Matrix she starts showing some of that chemistry from Terror of the Vervoids again, like flicking on a switch. Against him I find her curiously watchable but otherwise just an embarassment. Strange...
Lynda Bellingham, Michael Jayston, Tony Selby and Geoff Hughes all give great performances. There is clearly a lot of talent involved.
It is a shame to leave the sixth Doctor here (not just because the next year was pretty dire) because he had so much more to offer and one of the defining factors of the Trial itself is Colin Baker's outstanding performances (well except parts of Mindwarp!). He hadn't explored one tenth of his potential. But that's Big Finish's luck, isn't it...
The Trial does hang together very well in the end. It has a lot of surprises in there. Lots of lovely moments and two great stories that would have been winners in any season (Mysterious Planet and Vervoids). Okay so the dialouge could be crunchy in places, the switch in moods for the stories were a little jarring (from gentle to unsubtle to claustrophobic to action adventure) and there were some moments that made you want to curl up and die. But these are problems that crop up in nearly every season.
I say the Trial was a success. Not a glistening, gleaming flawless success but a success all the same. There is so much that is good in here. I may be the only person to see it of course but that makes my vote count even more. JNT coped with uncontrollable problems and produced another good season of Doctor Who. And that's all I have to say on the matter.
So much to do, so little time by Jason Thompson 25/2/03
And so Robert Holmes returns to complete what he started, to wrap up the Trial and explain all those pointers he put in in the first segment: Ravalox = Earth? The secrets? The bleeped dialogue?
And good grief does it start out well! OK, the shock genocide charge from the previous episode is glossed over very quickly as an inconvenience (Holmes was probably not expecting the Bakers to alter the whole charge the Trial was based on!), but the rest is wonderful. The debate about the matrix being tampered with is done well, and the appearance of the Master is possibly the best shock return he ever made, not being encumbered with whipping off his disguise in a Scooby Doo type revelation.
Colin Baker puts in a truly amazing performance here, as he shows his outrage at the callous way the Time Lords destroyed a whole civilisation just to protect their own secrets. Much is made of his "in all my travels" speech, but I prefer his: "they put an ancient culture like the Earth's to the sword for the sake of a few miserable, filthy scientific advances?" His building rage as he realises what the Time lords have done is portrayed perfectly. Then the great revelation: the Valeyard is a composite of the Doctor's dark side. Wondefully done, as the Doctor points out that the same person cannot represent both side of a Trial, only to be told that this is for the moment irrelevant!
Unfortunately there is one area where Mr Holmes fails us, and that is in Mel. Her dialogue is truly awful, proclaiming herself: "about as truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come." The lines are bad to start with, but Langford's delivery really doesn't help them at all. The line: "That's it Doc, now we're getting at the dirt," just makes me want to pick up the TV and hurl it through the nearest window.
The Matrix scenes are excellent, and Mr Popplewick is a great Dickensian type character; the personification of beaurocracy, designed solely to frustrate the Doctor. Glitz is equally frustrated and confused, and the Doctor effectively bullying him into helping is a nice touch. Then the beach, and the cliffhanger (which really scared me when I first saw Trial back in 1986 as a seven year old).
And then everything went wrong.
Robert Holmes's death was a crushing blow to the production, since the team now lost their planned ending. It is reported that Holmes acted as a pacifier, preventing the rift between Eric Saward and John Nathan-Turner getting too wide, and subsequent events seem to uphold this idea. With Holmes gone, Eric Saward finally jacked it in and left, taking his proposed ending with him and refusing permission for anyone to use any part of it. Now there was real trouble, and JN-T turned to two writers who were apparently legendary for their ability to write to very short deadlines. Pip and Jane Baker had an amost impossible task on their hands, and they knew it, but rather than let the whole thing be scuttled, they took on the task and wrote an ending.
And it was so nearly excellent. Given the magnitude of their task, they very nearly pulled it off, but still some parts failed.
The Valeyard's plan alters for no reason. Mel gets even worse. The treasure chest the Master pulls out to persuade Glitz is straight out of the writer's book of cliches (why anyone would ever put all their gold and jewels in one huge chest where someone can have the whole lot away in one go has never been explored in fiction, and here it's just daft), although his unsuccessful hypnotism before is amusing. The excellent cliffhanger to part thirteen is undone in a hideous cop-out (Part 13: it's an illusion. No it's not. Oh dear... Part 14: It's OK, it /was/ an illusion after all!). Does the matrix screen really not have an off switch? Evacuating the courtroom is necessary to avoid mass murder, but apprently all they need to do is crouch down whent the screen explodes. And the end is awful, since we saw the Valeyard die in the matrix, and what happened to the real Keeper? And finally, the whole trial is dropped, making the preceding thirteen episodes seem like a shocking waste of time. The Doctor is not acquitted, nor told off and sent on his way, or anything. The whole matter is just dropped because he did the Time Lords a favour, when it was the Time Lords who wanted him out of the way anyway! And suggesting the Doctor stand for Lord President again, a post he clearly has no wish to fulfill and has been deposed from once, is a little over the top.
Having said that, some gratitude is due to the Bakers for finishing off the season in the face of nearly insurmountable odds.
Overall, the season was made at a time of great upheaval for the show, and it shows through in abundance, which is unfortunate. JN-T's uncertainty about where to take the show after his instructions to tone down the violence and up the humour (the exact opposite of his stated intention when he took on the role in 1980) is reflected in the cop out over the death of Peri, and Eric Saward's Trial idea constrains the writers a bit too much (Holmes's Mysterious Planet could have been great as a stand-alone story, but is hampered by the need to include elements of the trial). All in all, it's a bit of a mess, but it will always hold a special attraction for me in sheer nostalgia value (my family were about 1 millionth of the viewing figures at the time!).
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/4/03
I was thinking the other day about why I like Doctor Who as much as I do. Why do I prefer to watch the show, even the worst episodes, over most TV? There are many reasons, but these are the few I came up with: I'm comfortable with the universe it inhabits. The central character is the best fictional creation ever. I like the broad canvas the show is painted onto - the way it can switch from sci-fi, fantasy and historical. It can create an atmosphere second to none.
You notice I don't mention the story, the plot. I do get involved in them, but I see the story only as a means of developing the characters. Doctor Who has produced its fair share of great stories/plots, but it is rarely this that I remember when going over aspects about a particular story. You know, for example, that the Doctor is going to live to fight another day. Doctor Who is a showcase for the imagination, and it is these pictures that I recall.
And so onto the final bit of Trial of a Time Lord, which plays out my point. The Trial had been a mess. In plot terms it had given us 3 separate stories that go nowhere. There is a lack of cohesion that should have been evident in the whole. Maybe Robert Holmes was planning to bring it all together, and we were robbed of a stunning conclusion. But I doubt it. Pip and Jane Baker (the writers of the best segment from the Trial) do their best to pull things together - but it was virtually an impossible task.
The highlights in my mind, therefore, that I have of parts 13 and 14 are not about plot. It is about the sets, the atmosphere created. Cobbled streets, imposing factories, wonderful sound effects harking to a bygone age. The Matrix is brought to life in a marvelously fantastical way - and fantasy Doctor Who is often my favourite kind of Doctor Who. The story intrudes onto this, the trial sequences are a nuisance - we want to go back to the Matrix and sample that atmosphere. We are past caring about the previous 12 parts - and just glory in the warped reality of Dickensian offices behind Neon Lights.
The characters are extremely good for the most part. The Valeyard is the single best character to be introduced during this season. He is the dark personae of the Doctor. I didn't understand how he came to be, but I think he's a great creation. I never was a great one for explanations anyway. Colin Baker gives a final great performance as the 6th Doctor on TV, and leaves us longing for more (which thankfully thanks to Big Finish we have - the balance of Doctors is now really being addressed). The Master oozes charisma and mischeviousness. He should have been in it more. Glitz is likeable and an effective companion for the Doctor in the Matrix. Only Mel fails - her likeability in parts 9-12 seemingly lost, as she utters one stupid comment after another.
The final 2 parts of The Trial are not so much a story in their own right, as the 3 segments before it clearly are. They are a voyage into the imagination that is burdened by the mess before it. The story, the plot, gets in the way of giving us a brilliant piece of television. As it stands it is only a good piece of TV, and in another season it could have been a real classic. 7/10
Trial of a Time Lord was ultimately a failed season. It was too self-referential, the stories did not join the dots well at all. But seen as 4 separate entities they are not unlike most DW seasons - the good, the bad, the average. As a whole story 6/10.
A Review by Tony DeJesus 10/3/08
It's simply amazing to see what some of the reviews of this particular serial have to say about an otherwise well-constructed tale of the sixth Doctor with regards to his adventures and where it all ended up culminating. The Valeyard, for one, being a amalgam of the Doctor's darker sides was done brilliantly.
When I first watched the serial I enjoyedit as being simply Doctor Who. But then I asked myself the question, "who is exactly is the Valeyard and how could he have survived a direct hit from the TCE?" To date, no one had survived a direct hit from the Masters TCE when he aimed to kill. So this brought up the question. How was it possible for this to happen? Was it bad writing or continuty errors that were missed? It struck me as odd because of Robert Holmes' inlvovment: usually creating deeper characters with masterminded plans that apear obvious until you decide to dissect them to see what they are really.
To begin with, it turns out that the Valeyard was actually the keeper of the matrix; in the last scene we see him smiling and laughing. This event is important because it sums up everything in one explanation. The Valeyard was indeed the Keeper the entire time. He never entered the Matrix and manipulated it using his knowledge of him being a possible incarnation of the Doctor from wherever it is he came from. NO ONE touches the Valeyard outside the matrix. If you keep a good eye on the Keeper, his actions are suspicious from the get go. He also mentioned early in the serial that it was impossible for anyone to control the Matrix because he had the key. He being the Valeyard.
Whenever the Valeyard is confronted about being the Doctor by the Master, he flees into a corridor that leads to the Matrix and vanishes with the Doctor right on his tail. Wouldn't the Doctor have seen the Valeyard open a door, especially when there was a glaring light that led directly into the Matrix? What really sold it for me, though, was when the Doctor and Glitz hesitate to enter the Matrix and are guided in by the Keeper, who opens the door for them and bascially leads them directly into a world of his creation. This was wonderfully done and when you look at the whole as the plot element then it makes great sense.
Bonnie Langford was actually pretty good in comparison to her later adventures with the seventh Doctor. She doesn't use her ridiculously high-pitched shriek that she is usually known for and that was a bonus. Glitz was well-played and the Master was more toned down than he had been previously, which gave a nice insight into how much he really knew. I was impressed that the Master was the one to point out to the court room who the Valeyard really was. It was also nice to have a major villain go against another villain within the Doctor Who universe, which is rarely seen or done without destroying certain elements.
All in all, I like the story and hope that, although unlikely, they bring back the Valeyard for the new series. How cool would it be to have the Valeyard manipulating the tenth Doctor's life and the dialouge that would be created between them? All I have to say is that if they're going to use the Valeyard they should use him soon. Michael Jayston still looks the same, albeit a little older, but he could really pull it off and it would be simply a great tale to tell.
A Review by Yeaton Clifton 23/4/13
This was the ultimate story for many. A great writer died working on this story. This marks the last appearance of Colin Baker as the Doctor. Script editor Eric Saward quit trying to finish this story, and the second episode is the only episode where John Nathan Turner is listed as the script editor. Further it is the Ultimate story of the Trial of a Time Lord story arc. It is also noteworthy that this is the only two-episode story with three writers. The story is very good visually because the surreal events in the Matrix are very exciting, but it also has many plot holes, and each hole is the size of Belgium. Given the chaos involved in the writing, it can be understood why nothing coherent was produced, but it still disappoints.
One problem is that Mel is brought into the story from the future where she knew the Doctor for a long time, but leaves to travel with the Doctor before he meets her. There should be a simpler way to work Mel into the plot.
The second problem is that when trying to explain why the Doctor is on trial, the story makes a trial sound like a bad idea. The High Council of the Time Lords wanted to kill the Doctor and replace him with the Valeyard so they could cover up their own crimes. If they assassinated the Doctor and put the Valeyard in his place, then they could claim that the Doctor had simply regenerated and no one had killed him. Further, the quiet assassination would create no show trial that might expose their crimes. If the trial had been successful, then it would be hard to explain why the Valeyard had the Doctor's remaining regenerations when the Doctor is supposed to be dead. Conclusion: the Council should be deposed for idiocy.
The idea that the Valeyard is really the Doctor's evil future self is under explained. If they had isolated some evil aspect of the Doctor, showing that this aspect was magnified in the Valeyard, then the story could make sense. For example, suppose the Valeyard were a version of the Doctor whose desire to meddle and change history was unrestricted by compassion for individuals. Suppose the Valeyard was motivated by unregulated greed for knowledge (c.f . Planet of the Spiders) or, like the Dream Master, motivated by unregulated desire to kill his enemies like the Master (which would explain why the Master uncovered his plot). Alternately, the Valeyard could have been portrayed as the Doctor at the end of his regeneration cycles who has decided that he does not want to die, making him the very image of the Master in The Deadly Assassin. Robert Holmes, along with Pip and Jane Baker, failed to think of such a twist, leaving us with no sense of what the Valeyard is.
Aside from the logic, it is a good story. Given that Trial of a Time Lord was the work of four writers who did not coordinate with each other, it is expected that when the story is supposed to come together something will not work. Colin Baker's final performance as the Doctor is very good. Anthony Ainley playing the Master is at the top of his form. He exposes the High Council's plot against the Doctor in a plot to gain control of Gallery. Ainley gives a good performance showing the Master' snakeyness.
The story does borrow a lot from The Deadly Assassin (a real classic) and this does not make it a better story. Basically, watch it because of Colin Baker's final performance. He was unfairly fired, and did not get much a farewell. Nor did he get much chance to be the Doctor, and he was stuck with some bad scripts like Timelash and The Twin Dilemma. So, this is one of the few good sixth Doctor stories. I wish the last story Robert Holmes had worked on was The Two Doctors, and I could say Holmes ended his career with brilliance. Neither The Mysterious Planet nor The Ultimate Foe are badly written, but neither story seems the product of a great writer, which I feel Robert Holmes was.
"Blushing to their very toenails" by Thomas Cookson 29/3/14
It's taken time but I feel I finally fully appreciate the tragedy of Colin Baker's Doctor, and how this story marked the double whammy of the show losing two great white hopes at once.
In Licence Denied, John Binns raised compelling questions of how Trial managed to impress a disillusioned BBC management enough to gain the show a renewal. I'd say Trial was, production-wise, a solid, impressively cast piece of light entertainment. But to us fans, yearning for the kind of grit we'd gotten when Graeme Harper was behind the camera, it was a sanitized toothless abomination. I once bashed Trial for the same reasons.
Now I feel differently. There's some strong moody, existential undertones to the Trial season. Moments where normality goes sour, which remind you what a unique show Doctor Who is. Yet it's inescapable that, for all its ambitions, the resolution is so limp and sloppy that ultimately the entire season feels like only half a story. A one-trick viewing at best (perhaps that's all the BBC wanted). It's also frustratingly clear that Robert Holmes was so close, and a year or two ago he could have pulled it off, and back then the show would have dared let him take the Time Lords' corruption angle as far as he wanted.
Ultimately though, Eric is right. JNT, through Pip and Jane Baker, completely bastardized Holmes' vision.
I think I knew that even when first watching this at age 11, when the story's tonal shifts and sense of temporal vertigo and of course Peri's death, made it downright scary. But sometimes you unconsciously pick up on a change of authorial pen whilst watching. Like how when Manhunter sticks to the page of the novel it's an intelligent thriller, but when dumb action cliches dominate the climax you can tell it's strayed from the source material and briefly become a dumber film, particularly in how the previously sharp, shrewd hero suddenly loses his wits and refuses to take a head shot on the killer in his sights, because if he had then there'd be no action sequence.
The most telling differences between Holmes' and the Bakers' half of this story are that Holmes, not being too familiar with Mel, elects quite sensibly to make his own creation Glitz the story companion. Holmes' court scene is about the Ravalox atrocity, and the Bakers practically jettison it in favour of the Vervoids' genocide business. This is a question of writers writing what they know. But it's also clear that the Bakers' half is breathtakingly packed. It's as edgy, slick and witty as the Bakers ever get, but it's still packed, often in the wrong places. Hell, theirs comes off almost like a proto-Dimensions in Time.
In Robert Holmes' vision, the Time Lords committed this atrocity for the sake of information control, which suggests Holmes hated the idea of higher elites withholding knowledge and information from those below the pecking order, and possibly believed that information should be free to all. You can tell Pip and Jane aren't so like-minded by how Glitz and the Master are presented as black-hat thieves getting their comeuppance for their information theft.
But what I found most morally troubling as a kid, and something I couldn't imagine Holmes writing, was the Doctor's alliance with the Master, knowing that the Master intends to kill his future self. Surely the Doctor would never agree to abet murder, particularly of someone who represents his future and not when he has so many unanswered questions of why the Valeyard's doing this. Although one problem is it's never made lucid just how culpable the Valeyard was in the Time Lords' atrocity and, ergo, how evil he is. But Pip and Jane assume he's evil enough to let the story ignore and forget about the other corrupt Time Lords completely.
Like I said, the things that made no sense didn't quite bother me on first viewing, because I somehow accepted the story's use of the Matrix setting as an escape route for logical questions, sidestepping into a realm without any logic. But nowadays it seems frustrating that such a potentially radical reimagining of the mythos, ended up as ultimately so disposable. Doctor Who will play very safe from hereon, to the point where even amidst mass Cyberman armies, vampires, fondant surprise executions, Special Weapons Daleks and exploding planets, there isn't a single McCoy story where you could conceive or even fear for a moment that the Doctor might actually die or regenerate.
Yes I think the Doctor lost his dramatic edge when Colin was forced out. Certainly I can believe in Colin shouting down a whole decadent courtroom or intimidating Paul Darrow far more than I can believe the relentless artificiality of McCoy turning the tables on his interrogators in Paradise Towers.
But we lost more than that. A new Doctor is a point of interest in himself. That's partly why the dwindling ratings of Logopolis dramatically shot up for Castrovalva. And likewise, even though the Davison era completely botched the show's prior cool, there was a great chance at a new lease of life and renewed popularity with Colin, not least from the burst of publicity of his casting, which JNT wisely milked. And, even in spite of a terrible debut, poisonous inception and a rocky first season, I feel Colin could have certainly overcome that, and gone far, and that he was so close to nailing the Doctor for a new decade, as a self-assured shrewd hero with bite, before Grade's sabotage did its work. All combined to completely kill Colin's every chance on all sides.
So why was JNT kept on by the BBC?
There was a damning rumour that when JNT and his reportedly quite poisonous partner Gary Downie were meant to be doing location scouting in Singapore for a planned Season 23 story, they spent the whole holiday getting trashed in the country's club scene, and then on the last day they had to ferry a taxi around town and film locations from out the window. Apparently the BBC found out, and the story generated much notoriety above board.
If true, it would illuminate how the separation of JNT's work and social life was non-existent by now, and how he had a drink problem and was a rather chemically run producer, which would explain how the show had quickly fallen to a wino's vision under him. And how JNT played the part of a commanding, reigning authority figure, but was actually more recklessly obstinate than anything.
But if so, then why was JNT kept on? He'd gotten the job on his budgeting skills, but such irresponsible indulgences probably would have made him seem more a liability than anything.
But apparently, despite this, and despite their dramatic turn of sympathy away from the show in 1985, it didn't change how the BBC still saw JNT as one of their own, in spite of his failings. Apparently the BBC even took JNT's side against Eric's published attack on him, even if they might have agreed with some of Eric's criticisms. So when it came to the question of what to do with JNT, maybe they decided they didn't feel right about just firing him, so maybe they just wanted to keep him where he was until they could find something for him. But perhaps simultaneously they felt he was still a liability and they didn't trust him with a new show that they wanted to be a success, but since they didn't care about Doctor Who anymore, or saw no hope in it, and since they felt the show had already had its success heyday, then it didn't matter if JNT further botched it. So they kept him on, and figured capping the budget would curb his spending excesses and prevent any other holiday shoot fiascos. Maybe the BBC only kept the show alive to keep JNT's career alive. And I can't really begrudge them that.
But alas, maddeningly, the BBC action against the show taught him nothing. He remained a liability. Even during the biggest crisis in the show's history, JNT was still making Eric Saward's job of putting together scripts impossible. Eric had found writer PJ Hammond and negotiated a slot for his story Paradise 5, which would have been shown in Terror of the Vervoids' place. He was a contributing, willing writer and JNT took one suspicious look at him and had Eric reject him out of sheer petty paranoia. This is no doubt why Eric finally jumped ship, and why the Trial season only got finished at all because of the intervention of the Bakers, twice.
This does frustrate me, because it illuminates the way the show came close to discovering a few potential spiritual successors to Robert Holmes only to squander or outright shun them, and PJ Hammond likely was one of them. And this is why JNT's staying on was a problem. And yet we'd already had the spiritual successor to Holmes on the show, under JNT's watch. If you look closely, you can see echoes of Enlightenment in The Ultimate Foe, just as there are echoes of Carnival of Monsters in Enlightenment. So really there seemed no better candidate for Robert Holmes' successor than Barbara Clegg. But frustratingly, of her many story submissions; Enlightenment was the only one they ever accepted and made. If Big Finish's audio adaptations of The Elite and Point of Entry are anything to go by, we lost a goldmine. In fact, really Barbara Clegg should have been the show's script editor, not Eric.
But instead, when Robert Holmes died, we really did lose the great white hope, and, regardless of how you feel about the McCoy era, it can't be denied that there was a hole and a void after this that later had to be filled retroactively with the dark Doctor, secrets of ancient Gallifrey business. Your mileage may vary over how well they succeeded.
Sadly, whilst much of the Trial venture was a clear mission statement of the show and its hero, with Colin's Doctor outright defending the heart and purpose of the show on screen, and with no one understanding the Doctor's mission statement as 'an underdog's snob' better than Holmes (or at least no one was better suited to articulating it), the ending we get pretty much botches it. The Doctor is horrified by the atrocities of the Time Lords but does nothing about it, forgets that it happened, and just leaves cheerfully. The Valeyard is reduced to a lesser pantomime villain whose motivation for doing evil deeds is simply because the current 'good' Doctor doesn't, making the Doctor's triumph over this berk far less affirming than it should be.
Which is typical really. If Saward is to be believed, then Holmes had created a villain that the Doctor wasn't supposed to be able to beat at all, so JNT's walkdown ending has to take the Valeyard to the other extreme. It's also somewhat typical of JNT that when he calls the shots on the ending, all justification of the Doctor's moral purpose disappears under a producer who honestly can't see what was actually wrong with the show.
I'm unsure how I feel about Peri's happy ending. I was always horrified by Mindwarp's ending, and there's still an inescapeable overwhelming nastiness and misogyny about it. But I've wondered if it had been allowed to stand, whether it would have been as defining a moment for the Sixth Doctor as Genesis was for the Fourth. The moment where something happens that changes his whole outlook and view of himself and the dangerous universe he inhabits. Of course, since Colin was unknowingly on the way out, and such a character arc of guilt and redemption wasn't going to happen, maybe it's just as well it was undone.
But John Binns is right. Changing Mindwarp's ending off-screen leads to the whole season feeling so vague and lacking in lucidity that it all might as well have not happened.
The Age of Steam by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 14/3/15
So the trial finally comes to an end. Arguably it ran of out steam in Mindwarp, judging by how tedious that story was. As entertaining as Terror of the Vervoids is (and it really is, despite its faults), it almost feels as if the writers knew that the experimental nature of The Trial of a Time Lord is unsustainable over an entire season and so decided to insert a traditional style runaround on a spaceship with some aggressive vegetation, the end result being fairly awful. Neither of these stories live up to the standard set by The Mysterious Planet. Unfortunately, The Trial of a Time Lord peaks with its opening volley, a situation with leaves it with nowhere left to go but down. I also fear that it was a bad idea leaving the resolution of this epic to a little two-parter. The result is not so much finishing with a bang but very much a whimper, even with the crowbarring in of the Master to evidently liven things up.
So back to the courtroom... The Valeyard is still being evil, the Doctor is still making tiresome puns on his name and the Inquisitor is still acting as referee between their handbag slapping. This has now been going on for twelve episodes and it's one of the reasons why, if The Trial of a Time Lord is watched all in one go, the sense of the interminable is inescapable, even with these scenes being broken up by excursions to Ravalox, Thoros Beta, the Hyperion III and a pottery museum in Stoke-on-Trent. One could argue that it is, after all, the correct dynamic for a courtroom but even so... Twelve episodes of it is enough for anyone to tire of.
This story was also penned by two different writing parties; Robert Holmes for the first episode and Pip & Jane Baker for episode two. Robert Holmes has a subtly delicious way with language. Pip & Jane don't. They've been responsible for some of the more unwieldy pronouncements in the show's dialogue, so, with this in mind, a slight trepidation is to be expected. I haven't seen The Ultimate Foe that many times and, rewatching it again, I expected the linguistic shift between the first and second episodes to be a somewhat jarring leap from the sublime to the ridiculous. This was not the case, however, with most of the dialogue being fairly inoffensive, even if the inability to "stop the catharsis of spurious morality" has since passed on into infamy.
Visually, it is perhaps less glaring than anything else this season, due in large part to the non-courtroom scenes being filmed in a darkened pottery museum and on a beach, both of these locales being relatively benign. The Keeper of the Matrix however is sporting the most ridiculous collar seen in the show since the days of Colony in Space when the Master tried to carry off a similar look. It didn't work there and it doesn't work here. But look...! There's that lovely space station shot again, something I never tire of.
One thing that is rather difficult to deal with, insurmountably so perhaps, is the arrival of Bonnie Langford a few minutes into the first episode. Matthew Waterhouse is frequently lambasted for his lack of acting ability, whereas Langford goes to the other extreme and overacts and I personally find her to be the more trying of the two. Actually the word 'overacting' doesn't even begin to cover it. I'm not sure if her background was mainly in theatre but it would explain as lot as she constantly seems to be projecting to the back of the room the way that stage actors seem to. I simply find her painful to watch. I can't fault her for effort, she's giving it 500% but maybe that's the problem. Perhaps if she had reigned herself in a bit more and given some sense of subtlety and nuance to her performance then maybe things would have been very different. Her introduction into the series also has to be one of the most convoluted of any companion. I never really did understand where she came from to be honest but then again I'd be lying if I said I cared all that much...
Her arrival is quickly followed by the sudden appearance of the Master, rather jarring in its immediacy. His part in the proceedings is rather welcome amidst so much legal wrangling. This incarnation of the Master may be practically frothing at the mouth but his particular brand of quasi-pantomime megalomania pricks the pomposity of the courtroom scenes and provides some sense of relief. Coming as it does, thirteen episodes in, it may be regarded as being a case of too little, too late, but I appreciated it nonetheless. The downside of bringing in the Master so late in the proceedings is that it gives a sense of the writers /production team clutching at straws to liven things up for the finale and also to bring some sense of safety to such an experimental season. After all, one knows what one is getting with the Master: dastardly plots, evil laughter and numerous threats to enslave and destroy. He's what you call a safe bet.
Anyway, once out of the courtroom we're off to the aforementioned pottery museum. At night as well, no less. This is also a safe bet. It's a Dickensian world, inhabited by Mr Chambers and Mr Popplewick, something that the BBC has absolutely no problem conjuring up, given their expertise in period drama. Perhaps this is another example of playing safe at the end of the season. This is all fine in itself but as the season finale, I'm not sure it was the right thing to do. It almost gives the impression of completely altering the approach for the final two episodes after twelve prior episodes of distinctly out-of-the-ordinary Doctor Who. Perhaps the money was running out by this point, a impression reinforced by the fact that the only other location used in this story is a beach in Sussex.
The main problem with The Ultimate Foe is that it just feels rather lifeless. The Mysterious Planet was imbued with a sense of the unknown and Terror of the Vervoids had an urgency about it that helped carry it through but unfortunately The Ultimate Foe limps rather tiredly to its conclusion. Perhaps because of this we should be grateful that it is only two episodes long. The inclusion of the Master no doubt helped a little, but otherwise it's very patchy, the culmination and conclusion being a case in point; the Valeyard is revealed to be the Doctor, makes a few threats, has a bit of a lie down for some reason, the screen explodes and then the Doctor and Mel go off for a nice glass of carrot juice. Oh look, the Valeyard is still alive. It ends. Whatever. It seems confused and lacking in drive and is, quite frankly, a bit rubbish. The sudden news of a revolt on Gallifrey and the High Council being deposed, much to the Master's convenience, is also totally unconvincing. Including elements just for the sake of plot convenience is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but they have to be believable in order to work.
And so a mighty (if flawed) fourteen-part epic dribbles to an incoherent ending. A shame.