1. The Mysterious Planet
3. Terror of the Vervoids
4. The Ultimate Foe
The Trial of a Time Lord
The Story Arc of Season Twenty-Three
|Dates||Sept. 6, 1986 -
Dec. 6, 1986
With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Bonnie Langford.
Produced by John-Nathan Turner.
Synopsis: The Doctor is taken out of time in order to be tried for his continuing interference, only to discover that the trial itself has been rigged.
On Trial by Ari Lipsey 17/3/98
Season 23 comprised four stories linked together by a singular storyline of the Doctor being on trial for his life. It follows that Trial of a Timelord should be dissected story by story (since they were written by different authors) and as a whole.
The first episode, often referred to as The Mysterious Planet, opens up with the TARDIS being pulled into a space station. The effects are so good, this scene was the only clip from the original series used in the adverts for the TV movie.
It's a personal favorite of mine, an all-time classic from the JNT era. Robert Holmes once again puts forth an interesting script, virtually padding-free.
Colin Baker is great as usual, and Nicola Bryant is also wonderful, especially that speech about "candy bars and newspaper". The dialogue and humor are some of the best in Doctor Who history, with the only exception (concerning the dialogue) being the knackers yard speech. The plot is really fun, the idea of Earth being moved two light years from its original place in space. The Doctor discovering the Marble Arch sign beginning the intrigue. The trial scenes are a neat creative addition. All together, a stunning beginning.
The second episode, Mindwarp, is certainly less impressive than the first. Although I quite like it, Part five is embarrassingly boring. All it does is introduce the setting and characters, the plot only moving forward when the Doctor's head is put into the mindwarp machine in the cliffhanger. The pace picks up in part six when the Doctor seemingly betrays his friends, and joins forces with the Mentors. Colin Baker's persona of an evil persona is great for two reasons. It comes across as believable, but there is no sense of deja vu. His performance is different than that of The Twin Dilemma. Other performances are rangy. This episode benefits from two over the top performances, Sil and King Ycarnos. Both are a joy to watch. As for the rest, Kiv and Dorf are great, Tuza and Crozier are mediocre and Matrona is just plain awful. All the concern over the Raak seems a bit far fetched, but the viewer is probably more concerned with the Doctor. Which side is he on?
The scene where he is taken out of time very dramatic, and Peri's death shocking. There is a lot of working humor here, but the overall tone is dramatic, much like The Mysterious Planet. The main complaint is the confusion whether the Doctor is lying or is it the Matrix, but I thought that element added to the mystery. Pretty good, but episode five could have been more exciting.
The next episode, Terror of the Vervoids, starts off promising, with the Doctor coming to terms with Peri's death. However the rest is pretty weak. The episode does contain one interesting line, when one of the Mogarians describes the humans as race of "inter-galactic locusts", the way they are portrayed in many North American science fiction. The last scene when the Vervoids die is well done, and the plant-woman is quite scary. However, the plot is boring, the "who-dun-it" element fails to inspire, and the dialogue is nowhere near the caliber of the last two episodes. The Vervoids are interesting monsters, but they only appear in the last two episodes. Until then, we are introduced to one interesting character, Professor Lasky. Did anyone really care Doland was the murderer? Mel is like she says, "as boring as they come", and my TV flickers when she screams. Colin Baker's performance and the trial scenes are the only things that save the viewer. Very dry.
If you have to make it through Terror of the Vervoids, The Ultimate Foe is a fan's treat. It is difficult to fault episode thirteen. Colin Baker gets on of the best speeches in Doctor Who when he talks about the Timelords corruption. The mammoth revelation about the Valeyard's true identity takes place, an extremely creative move. Throw in the Master, Glitz, and the Matrix and you've got an exciting tension-filled episode. It seems to putter out near the end, with the "megabyte modem" and the Doctor's explanation for unraveling baffling even the most ardent Who fan. The collapse of the High Council is another good creative move though.
The verdict of The Trial of a Timelord as a whole? Great! There is neat interplay between the Valyard, Inquisitor and the Doctor. Like reviewers of The Monster of Peladon and The Sunmakers have pointed out, episodes like these are best viewed while knowing the events of the world around you at the time. Doctor Who itself was being put on trial, violence being the key issue. Katrina in The Mysterious Planet points out that the Doctor not carrying weapons makes him "unusual amongst star-travelers". The Valeyard is also condemned for using scenes of graphic violence, but he argues it is only to show the seriousness of the offences of the accused (or the seriousness of the issues tackled by Doctor Who).
Like all seasons of Doctor Who, the stories are rangy, but Season 23 stands up well because of two almost perfect stories, and one pretty good one. With all the creative limits imposed on it by Michael Grade, it's still triumphant in parts, leaving one wanting more Colin Baker.
The Trial that Never Transpired by Tom May 13/4/98
"The Valeyard, like all megalomaniacs, is consumed with his own vanity!"
Watching all 350 minutes of this epic, inconsistent Trial is sometimes an incredibly dull experience, and sometimes a richly enjoyable odyssey. This depends on whether I'm in the mood for melodrama, sometimes absurd dialogue and a trial\that never ignites. Firstly, a small examination of the leading figures in the courtroom is necessary. The Inquisitor is reasonable and steady, The Valeyard is superbly portrayed by Michael Jayston, and Colin Baker is a little OTT at times, but trying his best.
Many people have praised the expensive-looking opening of the season, and so do I, in no uncertain terms. As the Trial scenario is steadily revealed and the Valeyard gets to say "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum," (I needed The Discontinuity Guide to remember that quote!), The Mysterious Planet unfolds elegantly. It is yet another fine script from the great Robert Holmes, containing his usual sumptious blend of humour and drama-- for instance, the counterpointing of such scenes as Glitz and Dibber's first, marvellously tongue in cheek discussion, and Peri's anguish at the apparent destruction of her world. I'm sure Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker were delighted to at last be presented with an insightful, witty script that superbly redefined Peri and the Doctor's relationship.
No more the over-arrogant bully, the Doctor is becalmed, amusing, more compassionate yet noticeably alien in attitude, as the Sixth Doctor was meant to be from the start. Glitz is a superb character here, one to rival such Holmes creations as Irongron, Gatherer Hade, Litefoot and Jago. It was a shame he was badly written in Part 14 and in Dragonfire. It's an interesting, worthily plotted romp is The Mysterious Planet, and I love the concepts (the Ravalox conspiracy) and humour (the scene where the hapless Balazar meets the Doctor, and reveals the place to be called "UK Habitat," named after one of the three ancient texts of the civilisation-- "Sounds a rum sort of library to me!")
Unfortuneatly, the trial scenes intrude a little too much, and should've been restricted to one scene at the beginning and one at the climax of a four parter. Mindwarp is a failure though, due to a disappointing script from Phillip Martin-- especially in comparison with his Varos story, and the acting and production is disappointing. The story isn't terrible, but very dull and uninvolving-- especially episode 5. Many charcters are bland (Kiv, Crozier and many others), and many are OTT (Sil, Yrcanos, the Doctor), and there's no-one inbetween apart from Perpugillium Brown perhaps. Peri's romance with Yrcanos, while no way as bad as Leela's infamous union with Andred, is stretching credibility a little. Incidentally, Peri is not as good as in the previous tale.
The third segment, Terror of the Vervoids, is very much a traditionally traditional Doctor Who tale, similar in basic plot to Robots of Death. Where it fails in comparison with that classic is in it's blandly dull acting by virually all of the actors-- the Commodore and Janet being the only two worthy of praise, and the sheer weight of the dialogue's pomposity makes the story thoroughly unbelievable at times, in sharp contrast to the remarkably realised Robots of Death.
The Vervoids themselves are predictably uninspired creations that simply do not match the design quality of the Robots. Mel is, as always a huge hindrance to the story, although she's not at her worst here, and her scream at Part 1's conclusion has to heard to be believed (come to think of it, that's a similarity to Robots of Death, as early on, there's an absurd scream from one of the Sandminer's crew, on being strangled by a robot). Colin Baker is admirable as the Doctor throughout, again showing no reason to be sacked.
Part 13 is truly inspirational at times, and would be the season's best episode (which is episode 1) if not for some of the dialogue given to Mel- "That's it Doc, now we're getting at the dirt!", "Never mind the Sidney Carton heroics!", "How utterly evil!", and the rather tritely true: "I'm about as truthful, honest and as boring as they come!" Mel can't quite ruin it though, as the rest of the episode is immaculately written by Robert Holmes-- even the Master, boringly played by Anthony Ainley, is well-written. And as for the revelations about the identity of the Valeyard, and the Doctor's superb speech (you know the one), I'm simply lost for words.
The final part is a return to the style of Terror of the Vervoids from the much-maligned pens of Pip and Jane Baker, and it's good, but not good enough.
All in all, with extra care, and better realisation, this season could've been a classic (whereas Mysterious Planet is the only classic in the season really). The first two stories should've been largely free of trial Scenes, then a two parter, centering on the trial should've been written, with bitter, intelligent courtroom drama, and the Doctor doing more than simply abuse the Valeyard's integrity. A four part finale, questioning the Doctor's allegiences would've been great. i.e. bringing the Daleks in to invade Gallifrey-- the Doctor appears to side with the Daleks against his corrupt people-- evenually tricking the Daleks, and getting the Time Lords to restore Earth to it's rightful place. Such a scenario would've showed the Doctor in a far better light, and the Daleks would've created more media interest, and improved ratings. 6/10
A Review by Owen A. Stinger 9/12/98
Having first become a Doctor Who fan more than twenty years ago, I was weened on the eras of Pertwee and Tom Baker, with Pertwee remaining my favorite Doctor. These two eras defined in my mind what Doctor Who was, and ever since the end of Tom Baker's era the series seemed to be on a perpetual downhill slide with only momentary flashes of its former glory. Thus it was that I never really liked Colin Baker's Doctor that well, and admitted at least once to loathing Peri. I still watched the show, but Colin never seem convincing to me as the Doctor, as he never seemed to settle properly into the role. In retrospect it seems more like his unresolved relationship with Peri, characterized by their constant bickering, his awful costume and questionable judgement on the part of the production team did more injustice to the Colin Baker era of Who than did Colin Baker himself. So it was with eager anticipation that I awaiting my first viewing of Trial of a Time Lord. I had hoped for a fresh start to the show, a better relationship between the Doctor and Peri and a more three dimensional, stable Doctor. I remembering being utterly disapointed with the entire season and.... yes, bored!
Recently however I stumbled across this site and my interest in reviewing Trial of a Time Lord was rekindled, mostly by some suprisingly good reviews of the season. So it was that I dug out those (by now) ten year old video cassettes and watched the season again. With the memory of Trial now refreshed in my mind I have to admit that....I still don't like it.
Alright, yes Colin Baker's Doctor was miles better in this season than in the last. He at least seemed like the Doctor, and his relationship with Peri is at last what a Doctor-Companion relationship should be. The problem isn't in the characterization. It's with the stories themselves. They are utterly boring. I simply can't understand all the praise for The Mysterious Planet, much less for Mindwarp. I feel like both of these stories could have been trimmed down to one episode each (OK, maybe two) and we wouldn't have missed a thing. In both, there seems to be a disproportional amount of chase scenes and little, if any character development. Sabalom Glitz added some color, but his character didn't develop, in the true sense of the word until his reappearance in the Ultimate Foe.
The most disturbing aspect of all was that Peri ended her tenure in Doctor Who without resolving her conflict with the Doctor. She went to her death still thinking the Doctor had truly betrayed her. And didn't she seem a little too calm and in control considering her life was being threatened. Would she really have the mental peace of mind to crack jokes about her blood tests when her mind was about to be wiped out of existence? Her questionable romance with Ycarnos has been mentioned enough already, but what about Ycarnos himself? I found Brian Blessed's performance to be far too OTT to be even slightly believable, and all the quaking of his head as he shook with excitement eventually became annoying.
Against better judgement I must say that I preferred Terror of the Vervoids over the previous two installments of the season. At least here we had some straight forward entertainment that moved along at a relatively brisk pace and never seemed padded and didn't get too big for its britches by trying to make some grandiose statement. I must also admit that I don't share the general hate for Mel. I think she is as good a companion as any, and I found the manner of her introduction original.
The final installment of the Trial, The Ultimate Foe, was for me the only redeeming feature of the season, finally resolving the Doctor's conflict with Valeyard and finally introducing a story centered around the events at the trial, not on recordings of the Matrix, and of the course the suprise appearance of the Master was a delight.
As others have stated, the season would have worked much better with some real courtroom drama and suspense building up to the verdict, and more connection to the separate stories of the season, such as, as has been suggested, Earth being returned to its rightful place. And why not have had the Daleks show up? They certainly have been threatening to invade Gallifrey for long enough.
Although I was dissapointed with the stories in Season 23, there did appear to be, for the first time, hope for the Colin Baker Doctor/Peri team. It is a shame we couldn't have had one more season with them. With the same sort of suitable characterization as introduced in Trial, and good stories I think I and most other viewers would have had much fonder memories of the Colin Baker era.
Seasons 23 and 24: A Joint Review by Rob Matthews 29/6/00
Yes, the wilderness years. Two very different seasons of Doctor Who united by one apparent factor: panic. The show had been suspended for eighteen months (both times, I think) and the threat of cancellation was looming overhead. Change was needed, but how was it to be achieved? Season 23, The Trial of a Timelord, took entirely the wrong approach. One overall story lasting for over three months? It was dull and contrived when they did it with the Key to Time season and it's dull and contrived here. Added to which, we had to put up with an exceptionally long binge of Gallifreyan politics and personalities. Even I, watching the season over a mere four weeks on UK Gold, got absolutely fed up of looking at those Time Lord hats and hearing about the Matrix. No wonder we never heard from the Time Lords again during Doctor Who's remaining years!
Seasons 23 and 24 - possibly more so than any of the others - featured a slew of guest stars and well-known figures from British television; Joan Sims, Brian Blessed, Honor Blackman, Wanda Ventham, Richard Briers, Ken Dodd etc (I had a hell of a time getting used to gravy lady Lynda Bellingham as an important figure in Gallifreyan law, but to give her her dues, she was very good in the part). Then there was the introduction of Bonnie Langford as a companion; a cynical move that Eric Saward suggested had something to do with JNT trying to boost his pantomime company. Certainly she was the first companion I'd heard of beforehand.
Season 23 was stodgy and leaden. The Mysterious Planet was a little bit campy. Mindwarp was another season 22-type story, Terror of the Vervoids was an inferior Robots of Death with flowers and vegetables, and The Ultimate Foe was incoherent, and derivate of The Deadly Assassin.
Season 24 tried harder. They changed the Doctor, thus forcing a new look on the show. They made lighter, more comical stories, which - in relation to Trial of a Timelord - were like stretching your legs after a long car journey. Time and the Rani was a hangover from the Colin Baker era, but the remainder of the season occupied itself with skewed visions of Earthly concepts - the apartment complex gone to hell of Paradise Towers, the concept of galactic tourists in Delta and the Bannermen - and a sense of fun; "Let's go exploring under Iceworld!" The 'fun' factor was, in my opinion, pushed a little too far; Doctor Who rarely did comedy well (certain Tom baker episodes and Pat Troughton moments excepted), and several parts of the season were embarrassing.
The show almost certainly suffered over the course of these two series from being lumbered with a producer who didn't want to be there anymore. The sense of confusion and carelessness during this period wasn't helped by the worst regeneration scene ever, when Sylvester McCoy in a wig transformed into, er, Sylvester McCoy. Poor Colin Baker - one of the few actors to play the Doctor who actually wanted to stick around for more than a couple of series - got the boot, with just a short shot of his coat getting chucked into a chest as an epitaph. I maintain that they didn't need to change the actor; all they needed to do was give him some different clothes! Colin could easily have evolved into the 'chess master' figure of the latter series. But I digress.
Here my theory on what happened during these two years, and why the show finally regained its composure:
When the show was suspended, and then given a much shorter series than those before, it was obvious that the ultimate plan was either to kill it off or phase it out. The effect of this on the production team was akin to someone having a heart attack. Doctor Who didn't die, but forever afterwards it would have a heart condition, and a greater sense of its own mortality.
And so JNT and co responded to the imminent death of the show as one would respond to a real death - by going through the following psychological stages:
It's interesting, incidentally, that when John Nathan Turner finally relaxed, Doctor Who regained the Darwinian evolutionary theme that had been an important part of his very first season too, and even ended on that note. The fundamental problem of seasons 23 and 24 was that they tried too hard with material they weren't sure about, and ended up looking desperate. Which, indeed, they were.
Spaghetti Junction by Mike Morris 28/9/00
Right. Here it is. Here's what I think of The Trial of a Time Lord. I feel I owe it a review, to make up for all the snide comments I've made about it in my many inane contributions to this site. To put my cards on the table from the start, I don't like it. I've never liked it. When that counter-wave of Trial defenders appeared, the odd opinion that no, it wasn't as bad as all that, I tried very hard to agree. I re-watched the whole thing, all at once, from nine o'clock through to five in the morning. It changed nothing. I don't like The Trial of a Time Lord, I don't think I ever will. People can point out its merits to me, and I'll agree, but it's just not enough to compensate for a bad, bad story.
Trial actually holds a unique place in Doctor Who history as far as I'm concerned. It's one of the very few Doctor Who stories I remember seeing on the telly. My initial impression of it was that it was rubbish; I turned over after two weeks and returned to the loving arms of the A-Team, never to return to Doctor Who viewing again... until that fateful day when I found Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion buried with some of my old Beano comics, a mere week before moving to a new flat close to a video shop with Terror of the Autons in stock. But for a lucky(?) coincidence, Trial would have ended my connection with Doctor Who for good.
It has a lot of apologists, a lot of supporters. Maybe they're seeing something I can't, but I can't help feeling that they appreciate the show's ambition rather than its excellence, which is an easy trap for Doctor Who fans to fall into. And here's the rub; The Trial of a Time Lord is stupendously ambitious, probably the most ambitious serial the show ever produced. Quite apart from the length (Fourteen episodes! Fourteen!!), the basic themes are really, really well-founded.
What is Trial, thematically? It's a re-examination of the Doctor's character. It puts the Doctor through a torture that Kate Orman would be proud of, being responsible for the death of his friend. It's also a re-examination of the series' basics tenets, a final and lengthy look at the utter rottenness of Gallifreyan society, and an epic tale of hypocrisy and mass destruction.
High ambition, yes. But, in the event, horribly implemented. There's an all-pervading feel of chickening out, of the production team not having the courage to really go for the scenario they created. And so, good idea after good idea is wasted. The Valeyard is created, but rather than us finding out his true nature in a nail-biting dramatic scene, we're told by the Master (whose inclusion is another cop-out; given that both the Valeyard and The Master are evil Doctors, one or the other had to go). Earth's destroyed by the Time Lords, but then it isn't; the Doctor reverts to his Season Twenty-Two persona, but it's only because the Matrix has been tampered with; Peri dies, but she doesn't really; we never get to see the treacherous Time Lords, and instead we're supposed to be worried when we're told they're all going to die. This is before I even bother mentioning the famous change-of-ending, which deprived the finale of some much-needed punch.
It could have been good. It should have been good. And, lurking beneath the mish-mash of gaudy design, stilted courtroom scenes and illogical matrix-tampering plot, it's very well intentioned. But sorry folks, it's just not good enough.
The Trial of a Time Lord can be summed up in microcosm by examining The Mysterious Planet. In fact, the first minute of The Mysterious Planet does it very neatly; a gorgeous tracking shot of a space station, a marvellous build-up in atmosphere - and then the Doctor emerges into a rather tacky-looking corridor. The idea was right, but the final conclusion was lacking.
As is the case with The Mysterious Planet as a whole. Let's remind ourselves of the basics; Earth's been destroyed, society has segregated into two equally bloody-minded tribes, and basically the human race has been reduced to scraping for survival. This is grim, grim stuff. Even black humour would have to be rationed so as not to distract from the drama. But instead of the dark tale you might expect, we get geeks in yellow pyjamas arguing about syllogisms, and an(other) old Carry On star forcing Peri to have kids (oo-er). The Doctor's chased about by yellow bulldozers, there's some ludicrously undramatic underground sets, and laboured comedy about the books of knowledge. The Doctor makes some incredibly silly observations ("I always like to do the unexpected... it takes people by surprise!" Cor, never), and wisy-washy characters abound.
The execution just isn't there. The direction is completely the opposite to, say, The Caves of Androzani, where Graeme Harper is completely in tune with the intentions of Robert Holmes' script. Here, you get the feeling that Nick Mallett just didn't know what King Bob was going on about. The tunnels are too bright and shiny, when they should be broken-down and decaying. The misery of a society trapped underground by the lies of a particularly stubborn robot just isn't evoked. Meanwhile, the Tribe of the Free are too clean and well-fed, when they should be starving and thoroughly repulsive. And the music's rubbish.
Basically, trying to produce a story like this in a light, whimsical tone was a mistake. Okay, maybe it was forced on the production team by directives from on high, but it doesn't alter the finished product. It even finds its way through to Robert Homes scipt; some of the scenes are just ludicrous. How does the Doctor escape stoning by waving his umbrella?
What is done, to incredible effect, is a complete recasting of the Doctor's relationship with Peri. After all the bickering and fighting, they actually start getting on. The early shot of them walking in the forest, arm in arm, is effortless, and without a word being uttered establishes a proper bond of friendship between the two. It's a subtle and unshowy piece of brilliance by Doctor Who's greatest writer. And then there's the Doctor's alien nature. Remember the previous attempts to showcase this, which basically consisted of the Doctor being cruel or unfeeling? In The Mysterious Planet, it's done rather better. Peri finally discovers that Ravalox is the remains of Earth and is overcome with grief. The Doctor tries desperately to comfort her, ("nothing can remain eternal") but quite simply can't understand what she's going through. And we see that, although he's a compassionate figure, his perspective is different. And that's when he really does seem alien.
Oh yeah, and there's the Trial scenes. It's rapidly obvious that they don't work, they just interrupt the narrative, and basically they're a pain in the arse. They're supposed to be based on 'A Christmas Carol', but there's a crucial difference; in 'A Christmas Carol' Scrooge is present at those key times in his life, he's not watching them on telly. And he never asks The Ghost of Christmas Past to rewind that bit, he didn't hear what Glitz was saying. It also begs the question of why the Valeyard would include it in his evidence at all, given that it shows the Doctor being rather heroic, actually, and gives away the very affair that the Time Lords are trying to hush up. In short, A Bad Idea.
Then there's Mindwarp, where the First Bad Idea is joined by a second; the Matrix has been tampered with! I mean, come on JNT and Eric, I know you spent most of Season Twenty-Three fighting, but surely one of you must have noticed what an astronomically thick idea this was? We don't know whether what we're watching is actually true or not; it's kind of hard to get worked up about a situation if it might not really have happened. So the basic strength of the story is crippled, and we don't know whether the Doctor's acting odd as a clever ploy, or because his brain's been electrocuted, or it's all a Matrix lie. And that wonderful idea, that the Doctor should be directly responsible for Peri's death, is diluted to another "cor - a companion's dead" fanboy moment.
There's not a lot more to say about Mindwarp that hasn't already been said. In Vengeance on Varos, the obvious lack of plot was disguised by a strong and intelligent theme. Unfortunately Mindwarp doesn't have a theme (although the first five minutes or so are super) and suddenly the running down corridor scenes are amazingly obvious. I also read somewhere that Philip Martin is a highly respected playwright, so how he thought he could write a story that was simultaneously silly, grotesque, blackly comic, deadly serious, gritty, OTT and traditional Who fare is beyond me. The design is great, and it's nicely lit, but the bloody thing just doesn't know what it's about. Peri's death scene is great, of course, but it's not enough to save it.
By this time, Trial has lost all its impetus. It stumbles along to Terror of the Vervoids, and it all just goes down the Black Hole of Tartarus. Don't get me wrong, Terror of the Vervoids isn't the worst story in the world. In fact, it's pretty damn good (relatively speaking). Some great cliffhangers, a nice little whodunnit, and a likeable Doctor. The problem is that it's got nothing to do with the Trial at all. It tries, but the Matrix-tampering scenes assume ridiculous proportions (the Doctor with the axe! What was that about?), and the courtroom scenes are more annoying than ever - probably because they're now completely redundant.
Oh, and here's a question... why does the Doctor delve into his future? I mean, surely that breaks a Law of Time or twelve. The answer's there, all right; he's so distraught at Peri's death that he delves into his future to prove to himself that he improves. The Doctor effectively puts himself on trial... sadly, I'm only guessing, because we^Òre never told. Another good idea down the tubes. Ho hum.
Much ludicrous dialogue later ("a web of mayhem and intrigue"! That's as good as it gets...), the Doctor makes some rather obvious leaps of deduction, and all the aliens that look like a woman's naughty bits are killed off. There's some aliens in it which break the cardinal rule of Doctor Who by speaking in a foreign language, and hence turn out to be evil. It's all pretty entertaining, even if it's just a load of Pip 'n' Jane fluff. The Doctor's accused of genocide, which seems a tad harsh given that he hasn't actually committed the crime yet. It'd all be a great bit of inconsequential fun if it had a Script Editor, no Bonnie Langford, and wasn't in the Trial; but as it is it feels annoyingly like we're marking time.
Then there's The Ultimate Foe. Which is great. No, really, it is. I mean, obviously all that stuff about copying the Matrix key is daft, and the Master appearing on the Matrix screen (with a background straight out of a Vengaboys video) is just ridiculous. Maybe JNT felt a compulsion to give Tony Ainley a job every year or something. But it's still great. It's got a fast pace to it, there are some simply marvellous scenes in the matrix, and Part Thirteen's cliffhanger is magnificent. However, it's really only great if you watch it on its own, rather than as a conclusion to the Trial epic, as it pretty much fails to explain the thing at all. Instead we get a lot of suspect chat about Megabyte Modems, that big telly unleashes a stream of lethal radiation (which can fortunately be avoided by hiding behind a handy chair), and (all together now) The Catharsis Of Spurious Morality. The Master gets trapped in the Matrix, although how is anybody's guess. Pip 'n' Jane put in lots of howlingly childish dream-in-a-dream sequences, and Mel gets the worst lines ever. But although the last episode is a bit rubbish, really, I still enjoy it; it all comes down to that old axiom that Doctor Who can be bad as long as it isn't boring. The Ultimate Foe throttles between being good to being enjoyably bad, and - somehow - works.
As a story. But it doesn't work as a conclusion to The Trial of a Time Lord, and you're left wondering what the hell you watched all those episodes for. The same story again; the ideas are there, the set-up's nice, and the show ducks out of pursuing it all to its conclusion.
Whose fault is it? JNT's? Eric Saward's? Michael Grade's? Or just a run of atrocious luck that saw scripts fall by the wayside and Robert Holmes pass away? Frankly, I don't care. It happened. The grand design failed. And what we're left with is an overlong story that's high on ambition and low on the basic skills to bring that ambition to realisation. It's a bit like watching a cowboy builder trying to make the Taj Mahal; you've got to admire his guts, but it's just never going to work. Ever.
And yet the Beeb commissioned another season. Yet another illogical ending to a long, fraught saga. Funny how art imitates life...
Trial Of A Television Programme by Adrian Loder 12/10/00
There has been quite a bit already said about Trial Of A Time Lord, so I will keep this relatively brief so as to avoid unnecessary redundancy. Overall, I can't say as I dislike TOATL, yet there is a sense of letdown whenever I watch it, the feeling that a lot of what I have just watched is not quite up to scratch. I'm a bit of an oddball in that I prefer to watch the entire 14 episodes right through in one sitting, and I suppose that bits like Terror of the Vervoids might benefit from being watched in pieces. Nevertheless, TOATL has its share of flaws, as well as more points of merit than it is usually given credit for.
The acting is fairly steady throughout, although the Queen of the Tribe of the Free is pretty lousy, as are Crozier and Yrcanos from the second storyline. The Mysterious Planet holds my attention the best, and Sabalom Glitz never fails to keep me watching, but even in this serial there's just something that seems to be missing. It isn't an awful story but it just doesn't click the way Castrovalva or Remembrance of the Daleks do. The court scenes are nice to break up the action at points, but they come off as feeling rather unnecessary, usually amounting to little more than 'Doctor shouts, Doctor is told to be quiet, Valeyard says something mean.' In fact that seems largely to be the courtroom sequences from most of TOATL.
The second serial is worse than the first, but not a total wash. The Doctor's scenes remain entertaining and engaging, but Sil is just annoying. That laugh, that speech, it drives me crazy. Most of the scenes involving Peri, Yrcanos and his pals are just plain boring, and they feature some truly crummy dialogue in spots. For once, though, the courtroom scenarios near the end are rewarding and depart from the outburst-reprimand strategy employed most of the time.
Terror of the Vervoids is, in general, better, but there's this one quality that makes it less than it could be...now what was that...ah yes,...MEL. People who think Adric is the worst companion ever always boggle me since Mel seems infinitely worse. I can't stand her utter lack of existence...you could have thrown anyone in there and it would have been the same...and that scream! *shiver* The story is nothing new, but that doesn't make it bad and, in fact, I think the plots are largely the strongest parts of TOATL, along with the 6th Doctor's non-courtroom scenes.
Which brings us to The Ultimate Foe. First off, something I have to say is that I've never understood the confusion over what the Valeyard is. The Master says it several times; he's a composite of the Doctor's dark sides which manifests itself sometime between the Doctor's 12th and final incarnations. In other words, at some point between the Doctor's second-to-last and last lives, an entity came into existence which was the amalgamation of the dark sides of all of the Doctor's previous incarnations. He isn't one of the Doctor's own regenerations; he is a seperate being who happens to be composed of part of The Doctor, but not all of him.
While we're talking about the Valeyard, I find Michael Jayston to be appropriately nasty, evil, ominous and villainous. As opposed to The Master, whose appearance was entirely unnecessary. I usually like Ainley's Master, but this was plot padding I didn't need. Overall, though, The Ultimate Foe is the best of the lot, even with Pip and Jane Baker's drifting conclusion to Robert Holmes' masterly setup. The scenes in the Matrix always make me shudder and intrigue me, especially the fun house.
I usually don't give concrete ratings, but for TOATL I feel it is warranted. 5.5/10
A really huge review of The Trial of a Time Lord by John Wilson 12/4/01
Your series is being threatened with cancellation, and your typical allotment of episodes per season is being cut in half. What do you do? You hit the panic button. The Trial of a Time Lord is a result of that panic button. It's successful in some areas, a failure in others.
The Doctor is put on trial by the Time Lords yet again for meddling. And the court is shown two recent adventures of the Doctor by the prosecution as evidence of his guilt. The Doctor can hardly defend himself because, as a result of being taken out of time by the Time Lords, he now has temporary amnesia. Even though there are, intrinsically, four separate stories, they are linked together and dependent upon each other. They require even the casual viewer to remember elements from one story two-and-a-half-months later. "Can't we just have the edited highlights?"
Why, oh why, did they change the theme music? Dominic Glyn would later compose some of the best incidental music of the series, but his rendition of Ron Grainer's theme is just awful! If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Despite this, I'm rather fond of the first segment. The opening shot is fantastic, and the trial is set up nicely, although the viewer is left just as confused as the Doctor is. Why the need to put the Doctor on trial again, especially now in his many lives (other than the irony that the series, itself, was on trial too). Glitz and Dibber are the last of the Robert Holmes double acts, although Joan Sims as Queen Katryca is annoying, and Drathro is a boring villain ("Oh look, it's another robot with delusions of grandeur who thinks humans are inferior. Yawn"). The Valeyard is a great creation and Michael Jayston's performance is a key to most of the trial sequences watchability.
Colin Baker's Doctor is now more accessible than he was last season, and you can see that he and Peri are now closer. It's a shame that it won't last. Several plot threads are left hanging at the end. Even the Doctor notes this as he and Peri head back to the TARDIS after saving the Universe. Which leads the viewer to think that these threads might be resolved fairly soon. Dream on…
Story two is a bit of a mess. We're presented with an adventure that probably happened, but the Doctor can't be too sure, as his memory is at odds with the story being shown on the Matrix screen. Was the Doctor affected by the shock treatments at the end of part five, or was he pretending to play along all the time? If the story being shown to us is wrong, why should we care? Well, for one thing it's got Brain Blessed as Voltan, er, King Yrcanos bellowing all his lines at the top of his lungs, and a magnificent turn by Patrick Ryecart as a mad scientist. Sil returns, but he's not a threat anymore, just comic relief. The music is wonderful, as is the design, especially the alien look of the exterior of Thoros Beta.
There's some truly bad acting from the actors playing Tuza and Matrona Kani, and there's an awful lot of padding, but the dramatic ending, the apparent shock death of Peri, and the devastated response of the Doctor in the courtroom redeem the story.
In his defense, the Doctor presents an adventure that will happen in his personal future. Huh? How can you do that? Doesn't that assume he's going to be found innocent and the trial will be dismissed? Isn't this breaking the Laws of Time or something? Ergh. And to top all that off, his own evidence is damning in the extreme, not counting all that "Someone's been tampering with the Matrix" crap. Here he commits genocide to save a passenger spaceship. The Time Lords then charge him retroactively. Temporal plausibility thrown out the window!
Had this story been shown as a stand-alone without all the baggage of the Trial storyline, it would've worked. It's a nice, traditional-like story with a campy mystery and some semi-believable monsters. My main gripe of the Vervoid story is Mel. She grates, and she just doesn't work as a Doctor Who companion. Go away, Mel. Just go away…
And so, in the last segment, is anything explained? No. Yes. Maybe. I don't know. Some things are explained. Some are glossed over. New questions are raised. And past motivations are retroactively changed. The revelation of the Valeyard's identity, that he's a quasi-future evil incarnation of the Doctor is dramatically done. The trip to the Matrix is surreal and a breath of fresh air after the now boring courtroom sets. But it's still all very chaotic.
I appreciated the return of the Master. He may be superfluous to the plot, and a hammy character to boot, but at least he's a familiar face. He and Sabalom Glitz make a great pair. Shame Mel had to return. The final fate of Peri is wasted, and amounts to nothing more than a throwaway comment along the lines of "Oh, by the way, Doctor - Peri really didn't die. She married that King Yrcanos fellow."
In the end, The Trial of a Time Lord crashes. And Colin Baker, undeniably the greatest thing about the whole season, was, ironically, it's greatest casualty. The Sixth Doctor era went out, not with a bang, but with the whimper of "Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice…"
A Terrible Disappointment by Mark Irvin 30/10/01
The Trial of a Timelord was a final frontier in Doctor Who for me, the final group of stories that I had yet not had the pleasure of viewing (obviously excluding the deleted adventures). That is until a couple of weeks ago, when I finally gave in to temptation and hired the complete series from my local video store.
Being a tremendous fan of Colin Baker, I had been looking forward to this series for a long time. To be honest I don't actually mind Season 22, in fact I'll go as far to say it may have even been a step in the right direction! True, the stories probably aren't the greatest but I definitely think that they're far from the worst. Baker gave quality performances - producing an interesting and decidedly alien portrayal of the Doctor. He made Timelash at least watchable and saved even the season 21 shocker The Twin Dilemma from the gutter with his efforts. With perhaps a few important alterations it had the potential to be one of my favourites seasons. For Example -
Dull, Unimaginative, Budget, Slow-moving and Boring.
The Mysterious Planet (What! Robert Homes wrote this?) and Mindwarp were both overly slow and both should have been trimmed by at least one episode. Terror of the Vervoids initially seemed slightly promising but eventually turned out to be almost as bad. The acting was woeful, the plot patchy and utterly unbelievable. Absolutely no tension or suspense was created whatsoever - which completely defeats Terror's entire point. The Vervoids were uninspiring and visually awful, further evidence that Trial as a whole suffered from a horrendously low budget. The Ultimate Foe was perhaps marginally the best. Unfortunately however, whilst the whole Valeyard/Doctor's future idea had potential the execution was poor. The constant plot twists were overdone, too convinient, unbelievable and left you feeling dizzy and confused. The Master was a worthwhile inclusion but he too was sadly wasted.
Possibly the only characters worth mentioning from the entire series was Sabalom Glitz and his sidekick Dibber. Amusing and interesting, Glitz interacted well with both the Doctor and the Master. Without decent, interesting characters a Doctor Who serial is pretty much doomed from the start.
In great contrast to season 22 I felt let down by Colin Baker's performance here. I had heard that his relationship with Peri was considerably more friendly which I thought would be a good thing (and should have been), but for some strange reason I don't think they work as well together in Trial! Perhaps it's because Baker's performance appears to be forcefully toned down, and to me the whole thing feels a little contrived. He's simply not as interesting as in Season 22 and his attempts at courtroom comedy wear a little thin after about the fifth time. Colin also looks to have put on about 15 kilos as well! (Maybe one too many pudding eating competitions with Tony Selby?) No wonder Mel whacks him on an exercise bike. (actually that was pretty amusing - the Doc cheating and all) Nicola Bryant as Peri also went downhill and was completly wasted. Peri's style of leaving was perhaps the worst the show had ever seen. As previously mentioned, a parting of company where the Doctor and Peri finally make their peace could have been wonderful.
Ultimately The Trial of a Timelord was a shocking disappointment and must surely be one of the more unremarkable strings of episodes in Who history. Perhaps my opinion might differ after some repeat viewings - but at the moment it isn't hard to see how Doctor Who's wheels became a little shaky after this. I suppose the result wasn't that surprising - considering the off screen problems that were plaguing the show at the time.
Potentially a decent idea, but let down by woeful stories, bland characters and poor execution. What a shame.
Long long trialer a winding by Mike Jenkins 5/2/02
As it is the longest story in the programme's history, one would expect a story of the epic proportion of The Dalek Masterplan or The War Games but the overall feeling is one of exceeding disappointment but most of this is not really Holmes' fault, although he could have executed the thing much better. First of all, the first section of the story is quite good and creates an atmosphere of suspense and makes you want to keep watching. The relationship with Peri evokes the comforting days of Davison and this has just about got to be Baker 2's best performance in the role. But the rot starts to set in during Mindwarp and it has really little to do with the main story but Holmes was not truly in charge of this section. Peri's exit is also not satifying. Fortunately, Holmes tries to make up for it when he takes back the helm later in The Ultimate Foe. Vervoids has some classic themes but they're not carried off very well and the acting is weak. One of the highlights of it are the themes of deception and the interplay between Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. That timelady with the pigeon feathers died white on her head is not helping matters. Even if she does defend the Doctor.
The Valeyard is one of the greatest things in the story and is the glue holding this thing together. The Ultimate Foe stars off well but everything kind of falls apart in the 2nd episode. It seems you can't stop the catharsis of spurious scripting either. A lot of these drawbacks in this seemingly good epic are due to the fact of not only novice but truly crappy writers being involved such as Pip and Jane Baker. They were clearly using too many drugs to try to stop their writers block. Glitz and the Master coming back are nice touches, though they can't quite compare with the Valeyard and the realisation that the Valeyard is the doctor in the future is quite interesting, opening up a new and different world for the missing adventure books. Worlds, which, in my expirience, have not been thoroughly explored either in the missing or new adventures. A follow up book should defenetly be written to this story instead of things like War of the Daleks and The Death of Art (Don't get me wrong they're are plenty of good Doctor Who books. Probably just as many as there are good shows) just to name a few.
Overall, it barely maintains a 7/10, just able to maintain itself at above average. But as I've said before, Holmes can do better and this isn't much of a story to go out on, for Baker or for Holmes. Fortunately, to keep the character of the sixth doctor alive and to help with continuity in the series pertaining to what happened between The Ultimate Foe and Time and the Rani and how Mel came to join the Doctor. Those are some of the better Doctor Who books. Books such as Killing Ground and Time of Your Life are ones people should check out.
Could have been so much more by Michael Hickerson 10/7/02
In a lot of ways, the stories surrounding the production of The Trial of a Time Lord are more interesting than the stories developing on screen.
Season 22 was a time of great turmoil for Doctor Who.
Michael Grade reluctantly brought the series back after the world-wide fan protest at its cancellation. John Nathan-Turner reluctantly returned as producer to shepherd Doctor Who through its growing pains and having its season reduced from essentially 26 half-hour episodes to 14. Script-editor Eric Saward returned, but (and this is according to which story you read) was either sacked halfway through the season or left out of a sense of frustration with the series. (Personally, I believe the truth is somewhere more in the middle).
About the only person who seemed enthusiastic about the return of Doctor Who was Colin Baker, who in season 22 finally got a chance to give us glimpses of just why he was chosen to be the Doctor. Again, my constant refrain for the Colin Baker years is much in evidence here -- good Doctor, a shame about the stories.
And it's the stories that really let down The Trial of a Time Lord.
The storyline was originally conceived as one epic, 14-part story that would bring back the long time Who faithful and, hopefully, win over a new generation of fans. But when two of the middle stories for the Trial fell through, Saward and company were forced to come up with stories on the fly. Add to this the tragic death of Robert Holmes, who apparently was to book end the storyline and had ideas of just how the Trial should start and end and you end up with a rather disjointed and at times painful (Mindwarp, anyone?) affair.
And that's a huge shame really. Because in isolated moments, the Trial has some really good stuff to offer.
The opening (and often reused) fly-by sequence is simply superb to view. Seeing the elaborate station model and then having the TARDIS come into it nicely done.
The idea that the Valeyard is the distillation of the Doctor's evil half is an intriguing idea.
The idea that the Gallifreyeans are just as corrupt as every other major power in the universe is intriguing -- to the point that they destroy Earth to protect their secrets. This theme of the Time Lords being secretive to the extreme is something that comes right out of Holmes's previous story, The Two Doctors, where we see the Time Lords will go to extreme measures to keep a monopoly on the technology to time travel.
There are also some great performances. Lynda Bellingham brings quite a bit of dignity and no nonsense sensibility to the role of the Inquisitor. And Michael Jayston does some good work as the Valeyard -- at least until episode 14 when the character becomes a cackling almost "The Master-lite" character. And when the Trial scenes are kept to a necessary minimum, they work fairly well. Colin Baker does some good work as well -- especially in the Robert Holmes penned stories and his quiet acceptance of Peri's fate to start Terror of the Vervoids.
All that said, there was a whole lot more that went wrong with the Trial than went right.
MindWarp is, without a doubt, one of the worst stories in Who history. There's an attempt to explain it later in the Trial, but it's too little, too late. Vervoids is similarly silly and so full of plot holes that you could drive a Mack truck through them. Mysterious Planet works well, though you get the feeling this is almost a rough draft and if only Holmes had lived longer, we might have seen how brilliant it could and would have been. And Ultimate Foe... what can we say that hasn't already been said. It tries hard but fails to give us the dramatic and emotional punch this epic storyline so desperately needs.
A lot of the reason the storyline lacks in epic quality is that the central mystery -- why the Doctor is on trial -- is brought up early and quickly forgotten. Indeed, the entire storyline hinges on an isolated and (at least on first viewing) relatively minor moment. To find out the Time Lords have put the Doctor on trial to cover their own unscrupulous actions is one that is intersting... but in parts 5-12, it's lost in a shuffle off shouting that the Matrix is being manipulated and the Doctor must now be accused of genocide.
Speaking of which, while the idea of upgrading the charges seems good on a dramatic level, it doesn't work when you actually sit back and think about it. What prosecutor would suddenly change tactics mid-way through a trial and bring up new charges. Yes, the Doctor does give himself the rope to hang himself, but the Valeyard's insistence that the charges change is a bit illogical. Especially since he seems to have done a fairly decent job of proving that the Doctor does, indeed meddle.
Also, the Trial suffers a lot of identity crisises in terms of tone. A lot of this could be the internal turmoil at script editor. But I think a lot of this is that some of the writers had no idea of what the Trial was or where it was going. Indeed, Pip and Jane Baker -- who wrote the conclusion, mind you -- had no idea what was going on or where the Trial was going. So, the fact that that Vervoids is as poor as it is is almost forgivable. Indeed, you get the idea that Phillip Martin's MindWarp was forced into the structure late in the game -- and the audience be damned. If you figure it out, so be it. If not, oh well. And since this is supposedly one of the major plot points of the Trial, that's a huge mistake.
What you end up with is a rather disjointed affair.
The entire point of the Trial is quickly lost in the final slap-dash conclusion episode. Indeed, even the dismissal of charges seems like an added on feature late in the game.
I want to like The Trial of a Time Lord. But in the end, it tries too hard to be loved and to please too many... and it ends up pleasing no one. In short, one of Doctor Who's bigger wasted opportunities.
"Can't We Just Have The Edited Highlights?" by Matthew Harris 3/8/02
Please note: the above statment applies not only to the Trial but to this review. This is going to be epic. I'm Captain Tangent at the best of times, and this is a whole season. Sorry.
Wow, what is it about the Trial at the moment? Every other new review right now is about season 23, or some aspect of it. It seems to be having some sort of revival. Of evil.
Well, it's not actually evil. It's just the series at its lowest ebb, is all. Really. Season 24 was better than this, for my money. I mean, while Time and the Rani must die, and for some reason I hate Delta with a fierce passion, both Dragonfire and Paradise Towers were pretty good. But I can't bring myself to recommend any of these four to anyone. At all.
Why? I hear you bleat (assuming you haven't heard anything about it from anyone before me, including the 50 or so people whose opinions are posted above). Because it's that most infuriating of things: a good idea, badly executed. The Doctor being put on trial? Peri being brutally slain, and the blame laid at the scary-coated one's feet? Lynda Bellingham? Sounds fandabbydozy on paper, eh? Unfortunately, what sounds fandabbydozy on paper can very easily turn out to be at best forgettable and at worst, incredibly embarrassing for all concerned (like using the word "fandabbydozy" twice in one paragraph).
There are a few factors I blame for this, and they're all inter-related: a dearth of writing talent in the mid-eighties (Phillip Martin? Glen McCoy? PIP 'N' JANE? Nooooooooooooo); a breakdown in communications between JNT and Eric; and the death of Robert Holmes before he could complete The Ultimate Foe.
This is the period that sealed Eric Saward's (somewhat unfair) reputation as the Man Who Killed Doctor Who. And it's true that by this point, industrial relations had crumbled between him and his producer to the extent that Eric Didn't Care Anymore. For example (reiterates oft-told story about CB asking him what the Sam Hell was going on in Mindwarp and Eric running away saying he didn't know either). After the death of his friend Bob Holmes, who had provided a buffer zone between him and JNT, he'd gone by the middle of the season, and Vervoids was apparently script-edited by JNT. Which didn't help the beleaguered production at all - as with all but the first Pip 'N' Jane story, it was a short-notice substitute for a different one entirely (in fact, it was written in three days. Pip 'N' Jane were experts at deadline-beating. Why the hell do you think they were asked back?) and everyone was very depressed by now. It's this despair that pervades the series - not in the tone of the stories of themselves, but in an odd undertone to the season. Everyone seems aware that this was the last roll of the dice, and that it seemed like snakeyes.
Thank god that Michael Grade was too chicken to axe the thing, knowing that if he did, millions of people the world over would come at him with pliers and industrial-sized Brillo pads (in fact, it never was axed, was it? They never actually said they'd stop making it, at least until it was patently obvious. They just did).
To examine the Trial in greater depth, I intend to adumbrate four typical instances from the same epistopic interface of the time\ space spectrum. Roughly translated: I'm going to go all "systematic" on you. Coo.
The Mysterious Planet: Vengeance On Ravalox
It's Robert Holmes. Hooray! Right then, on to Mindwarp.
I'm only joking, of course. The Mysterious Planet isn't Bob's finest hour. You could argue that he was ill at the time, but by all accounts he was healthy when he wrote Power Of Kroll. No, it's just... it's... well, it's what I'm about to say it is. I like the idea behind Mysterious Planet. Earth's been moved across the galaxy for no apparent reason and given a ridiculous name, the spelling of which no-one can agree on. Ravalox? Ravolox? Even Ravelox? Forget it. And there's this robot, which can probably see but I don't know how. And Sabalom Glitz. And Tom Chadbon.
I like it. But I don't love it. Part of the problem, as Mike Morris pointed out, is that it's not nearly dark enough. The world's been torn asunder, half of us are primitives, the other half ponces, there's a big robot controlling the underground. This should be Vengeance On Varos level of light.
But it isn't. Nick "Timmy" Mallett doesn't seem in tune with the script. He had a similar problem with Paradise Towers in the next season. It's not that he's a bad director, just that he thrives on simplicity. Planet needs an Alan Wareing or a Chris Clough on a good day (on a bad day he buggered up the end of Dragonfire episode 1). But it doesn't.
It could be, in fact, that JNT was aware of the bleak atmosphere pervading Season 22, and wanted to lighten things up. But then, he should have told King Bob in advance and told him to come up with a lighter scenario. And Bob would probably have ignored him, come to think of it.
Still, I think it's the best of this season (which is not unlike standing in a morturary trying to choose the week-old corpse with most attractive smell) because a) it's Robert Holmes, and Robert Holmes could do no wrong, b) because of 50% of the characters - Balazar is devoid of a personality, Murdeen isn't but loses it quickly, and Humker and Tandrell, funny though they often are, aren't the best of the RH double acts - but Glitz is just completely great, and (the late) Joan Sims is often cruelly slagged for her performance as Katryca, but I think it's nicely understated. Mind you, I missed her death scene due to a power cut, so I know nothing. NOTHING. Oh, I was doing a list, wasn't I? Er, c) the opening scenes (of the actual Mysterious Planet bit) in the forest, between the Doctor and Peri. It's been mentioned before. So I'm not going to say much about it, except that they are truly completely charming. There.
So. Not the best start, but it could have been worse. Actually, that's a lie. It's quite a good start. The opening model shot is a thing of grace and beauty, and the very very opening scene (of the actual Trial bit) is very neat. And Michael Jayston's fab. And so's Lynda.
So. Solid, unspectacular, not great, watchable. The glorious Season 14 started with something similar with Masque Of Madragora. Bodes well for the Trial, eh?
Mindwarp: I Can't Be Bothered With A Heading For This, To Tell The Truth
CB didn't know what was going on. Eric didn't know what was going on. Phillip Bloody Martin didn't know what was going on. What chance a moron like me?
Again, though, a good first episode, except that in the first five minutes of the matrix-evidence doobrie the Valeyard interrupts about 782 times. But. There's an interesting, and subtly better, new look for Sil and his great mates, Frax is actually quite good, and Christopher "I'm Canadian you know" Ryan is excellent. And the makeup for Dorph, or Dorf (don't bother looking for him in the credits, he's only listed as "the Lukoser" despite only being referred to as such once) is pretty damn neat. And scary. Oh, and I quite like Crozier.
But then it falls apart when you realise that
a) no-one's actually told you why Kiv wants to have his Mind Warped, or what the Doctor thinks he's doing, or... well, anything at all about the plot;
b) Ron Jones is obviously getting very old. Apart from the fabulous Peri-death scene, and the bit where Kiv wakes up to see Sil staring him in the face, the direction's a little ragged;
c) the characters are, with very few exceptions, completely and utterly devoid of any charisma, personality, or distinguishing features whatsoever. The exceptions that there are include Sil, but in his case it's not a good thing. He's turned from an insane, scary maggot who speaks pidgin English, into a whiny, sycophantic, comic-relief ponce. Who speaks perfect English. Example: the scene where Kiv has become Peri, and Crozier lowers his\her head back to rest, whispering "Welcome to your new body" could and should have been creepy. But then Sil makes a pointless quip and destroys the mood. Yes, it's funny. But that's not the point.
d) the horrific ramifications of Crozier's research that the Time Lords think is such a big thing isn't really elaborated on properly.
So, not good then. Not at all. No. Weakest of the season, for me. One of the weakest ever, indeed. The plot isn't there, the characters simply exist, and nothing else. The rebels, for example. Plotwise, they fail because they suddenly pop up out of nowhere to further the plot. Characterwise they fail because... because of everything I've said already. God, I hate this episode. Sorry, I just really...
Oh, almost didn't mention Brian Blessed. Now, BB's great as Yrcanos (surely a contender for worst name in the history of everything). And admit it: no-one else could ever have played him. Mind you, maybe that's the problem. Maybe Martin should have done away with Yrcanos altogether.
But the final scene almost offers redemption. Almost. Yrcanos goes mad with hairdryer in small room, screen goes white, "You... killed Peri..." (only they didn't, Crozier did twenty minutes earlier), Doctor goes all determined, bird calls. Very affecting. But not enough. Mindwarp is still rubbish.
Oh well. Season Fourteen had a poor second episode (though even Hand Of Fear was better than Mindwarp). Take heart. So, who's writing the next one......?
Oh, Jesus god, no.
Terror Of The Vervoids: The Day The World Stood Stupid
Some people see it as a CB classic, but I hated Mark of the Rani. The Master is not only superfluous, he's nothing like dead enough (though to be fair, that was Eric's fault. Pip 'n' Jane didn't know, so they said something else happened entirely. Eric got rid of that, but forgot to come up with an explanation). The linguistic pirouettes are just irritating, and how the hell did they think that landmines that turn people into trees would be credible even in a children's SF show?
But I like this. I do. Sorry, and that, but I think the first two parts are very tense. The cliffhangers are fandabbydozy (sorry), the performances aren't half bad, and for a script written in three days (true) it's not bad. This isn't Doctor Who at its nadir at all. That' s Mindwarp, is that. Or Time And The Rani.
Of course, it's not Curse of Fenric or anything; you have to switch your brain off from the outset. But it would have been a nice, forgettable little story on its own (see Four To Doomsday, Meglos, Dragonfire). Which it practically is: there's precious little Trial in this bit of the Trial, probably because Pip 'n' Jane hadn't been paying attention to the trial (JNT and Eric, recognising their conspicuous lack of science-fiction talent, didn't ask them back). It's certainly refreshing.
The characters are fairly bland, truth be told, but really, they're about fifty times better than those from Mindwarp. Yer bloke from the Seeds Of Death (I think) is back, only he recognises the Doctor from somewhere else entirely, for no apparent reason. I think it was a plot device that went wrong or something. Oh, and "Tonker Travers"? Tonker Travers? Thank god he's only ever called Commodore for the rest of the episode.
By the end, it's gone quite horribly wrong, of course: why can the Vervoids speak? What's all this bollocks about "obeying instinct" (more stupid science)? Why does Lasky (Honor Blackman being pretty good, when she gets the chance) suddenly say "I must have been blinded by professional vanity" in a sudden not-even-deathbed conversion? Weren't the Vervoids the murderers, then? And Chris Clough does not have a good day. Not by any stretch.
Still. Not bad at all, but not great either. Would have been decent mid-season stuff in any other situation, but here it's a little like throwing out swimming-pool floats on the bridge of the Titanic.
Ah. But lookee: King Bob is back. Isn't he?
The Ultimate Foe: The Catharsis Of Spurious Morality
So it's come to this. A two-parter, started off by Bob and polished by his friend Eric when he tragically died, and then scraped together again by (sharp intake of breath) Pip 'n' Jane, with JNT over their shoulders. Apparently, as DWRC pondered, it was going to end up being a sort of Sherlock Holmes-being-killed-off deal called Time Inc, whereby the Doctor and the Master (later the Valeyard) end up fighting to the death and falling into a "Time Nodule" or similar at the end (personally, I think that would have been a brilliant way to end this debacle). That JNT wasn't happy with such a downbeat ending was a moot point, not least when Holmes became to ill to finish it, and it had to go to Mr and Mrs Short-Notice (again). They weren't allowed to use any of Time Inc, because of those pesky copyright laws (and because Eric wouldn't play anymore). So they came up with something fairly ludicrous (the Valeyard has a "Maser" pointed at the High Council for no apparent reason... the Master getting the secrets... insurrection, apparently... James Bree, etc etc...) but considering they had minutes to write it in it could have been worse. He could have tried to turn the Doctor into a TREE.... for example.
Not that Holmes (or at least the episode for which he was credited) was entirely blameless. The seventh door? What happened to the other six? Isn't it a mite more complicated than bursting through a door anyway? A copy of the great key? I thought it was officially a facsimile carbon rod deal, and the real one was in the possession of the Chancellor at all times (hark at Gary Bloody Russell)? I've a feeling that these were the gaps Holmes left and Eric filled in.
There are only four irregulars: Popplewick (both played with great aplomb by Geoffery Jones), the Co-Ordinator-sorry-Keeper (played with great frustration that his part was suddenly completely superfluous by James Bree), Glitz (played with a gigantic sense of fun by Tony Selby) and someone called the Master (played with a sudden renewed love for the part by a now rather ill-looking Tony Ainley). Chris Clough has a good day again (the cliffhanger's one of the very best, and the bit where he shouts about the Valeyard being consumed by his own vanity is very nicely shot), it's fairly gripping, if completely illogical, and it contains some of the last Holmes gems in the script. The very last is one of the very best. "This is a very odd waiting room. I mean, where are the hopelessly out-of-date magazines?"
Is it a satisfactory way to end the season? No. It's a story in pieces, the intriguing Holmes\Saward idea destroyed by tragedy and cobbled together out of desparation. Is it any good? Well... yes, but not very.
Is the season any good?
No. No. Let's run through it. One decent episode. One quite good episode. One middling-to-piddling episode. Mindwarp. Three average episodes and Mindwarp (and I'm being kind) does not a very good season make. Shame, because it was such a good idea. Insanely ambitious, yes. But if only, if only JNT and Eric didn't actively hate each other by this point. I can't help thinking that the Trial would have rocked bells had it come in the middle of the Cartmel era, what with his huge vision for the series and all.
The series got better, but it would have had to have been perfection and some more to recover from this in the eyes of the powers that were. They shoved it into competition with Cori-Bloody-Nation Street, then used the inevitable low ratings as an excuse to quietly axe it. But really, after the Trial, and after falling apart even more spectacularly afterwards, Who was on borrowed time. Snakeyes, indeed.
Oh, one other thing. The new music. What is that all about? It does grow on you, I'll admit, but then so do piles. And could the cliffhanger noise have been any less dramatic? The tcheeeeeeeeoooowwwww was TERRIFYING when done properly. This sounds like someone attempting bird calls on a Bontempi. It's sick and wrong. Ron Grainer would have a fit. He really would.
Matthew Harris would like to apologise for the length of this review.
In a nutshell... by Joe Ford 8/4/03
This will be a very simple review, a nice way to weigh up the pros and cons of Doctor Who's most controversial year (and yes there were pro's!). The general opinion on this site is that it is utter crap (I don't think that of course but then I like to be irritatingly different and hey Rob Matthews put in a good word for Mysterious Planet, Tim Roll-Pickering was (sort of) nice about Terror of the Vervoids and opinion of The Ultimate Foe seemed quite favourable...).
Things to hate about Trial of a Time Lord:
Let's sum it up with one word: entertaining, occasionally brilliant (oops that's three). Touches of magic in an unpredictable year.
It's the music that does it for me by Tim Roll-Pickering 21603
The single longest story in the entire history of Doctor Who, there is a huge amount to be said for The Trial of a Time Lord. It contains so much that it is a surprise that the production team managed to fit it all into one story.
First of all Dominic Glynn's arrangement of the theme music is, in my humble opinion, simply the best rendition ever heard (I could listen to it endlessly and never get tired) and it is a pity that it did not survive into the McCoy years (but understandable that the desire to make a clean break swept the music aside). The music encapsulates a sense of danger but also a sense of reassurance about the Doctor, which is entirely in fitting with a key element of the story.
All critics of Colin Baker's Doctor (who seem to be an ever dwindling number these days I'm glad to say) should watch this story in full to see how strong a performance he gives and how the character has developed beyond the excesses of the previous season. The actor has to face many challenges throughout the story, and is the subject of no less than twelve cliffhangers (all but one of which end with a close-up of the Doctor's reaction) as well as being given many strong scenes. In this story the Doctor delivers some good speeches, such as his attempt to reason with Drathro in Part Four or his often-quoted outrage about the actions of the Time Lords in Part Thirteen. He also has to face situations that variously threaten the life of his companion, the lives of everyone on Earth and even the very existence of the entire universe.
Throughout the story the Doctor copes admirably well and it is a tragedy that there was not at least one further season for Colin Baker as this would almost certainly have won over his critics over a decade before Big Finish did so. Of particular interest is the way that the Doctor now arrives in the heart of a story a lot faster now - there are no interior TARDIS scenes at all in the first eight parts, whilst in Part Nine the TARDIS scenes serve to quickly introduce Mel and allow the Doctor to receive the distress call, but otherwise the action starts sooner. Indeed in Part Five the Doctor and Inquisitor both object to the Valeyard offering 'inconsequential silliness' showing the Doctor and Peri arriving on Thoros Beta and making their way out of the TARDIS as evidence. Throughout the story and the mini-stories the Doctor is rarely far from central stage, staying on the sidelines only when this is to his advantage such as when investigating events aboard the Hyperion III.
One notable feature of the story is the way that it encapsulates a lot of Doctor Who traditions, yet is thin on the ground when it comes to direct returning characters. The only past mythology directly used are the Time Lords (but the story isn't even set on Gallifrey and no characters from previous Gallifrey stories appear), Sil (the return of a character from only the previous season, clearly brought back by his creator) and the Master (effectively a regular in the series). And that's it. But at the same time the story encapsulates many of the settings and situations from the series. We get to see a society that is a satire on contemporary life, a chilling glimpse of the future of humanity, a story heavily rooted in technobabble science, a mystery, a space adventure, a historical(ish) setting, surface and underground dwellings, robots, tyrants, primitives, scientists, businessmen, noble warriors, mutants, representatives of an alien culture, rampaging monsters in rubber suits and individual villainy. If Doctor Who had never returned after this season, there would at least have been a retrospective of style as important as The Evil of the Daleks some two decades earlier.
The plot has been criticised for being convoluted yet it does make perfect sense if one accepts that, as becomes clear throughout the story, since the coup on Gallifrey rights have been diminished and justice has become increasingly arbitrary. The logic of trying the Doctor for an action he will commit in his future - and thereby judging whether or not to allow that event to take place - does make sense when one thinks about it. As for Mel departing with the Doctor before they have even met, this could possibly be a sign that the Doctor is trying to change his future or merely that he is taking her back to his future self. As for the Valeyard this is best left ambiguous and thus creates greater scope. All that's necessary is that he is a representation of the Doctor's darker side. The one thing that's really missing is a proper sense of what's happening on Gallifrey, since the verbal reports are minimal. But even then this allows the Doctor to suggest the Inquisitor to stand for Lord President as she is clearly untainted by events back home.
There are a huge number of notable performances in the story, but there are strong performances from Lynda Bellingham (the Inquisitor), Michael Jayston (the Valeyard) and Tony Selby (Glitz), each bringing their own distinctive touches to make the regular characters stand out. Discussing the many other members of the cast would take forever but Brian Blessed gives an excellent performance as Ycarnos, fully imbuing the warrior with passion.
Each segment of evidence is interesting in its own right and shows a worrying situation in which the Doctor can save the planet Earth and even the entire universe but when it comes to saving his companion he is less successful (regardless of whether or not Ycarnos was able to save Peri). The Doctor's own evidence is an extremely traditional story in which he is dragged into the events and eventually given a direct appeal by the Commodore thus showing how his interference is justified as being the only thing that can prevent certain danger, and that this is acknowledged as so by those in authority. The Valeyard's first segment of evidence establishes the Ravolox scenario and this works as part of the evidence rather than as a story in its own right because it keeps the audience guessing. Unfortunately the second segment has far too many courtroom scenes, some of which just pad out events whilst others serve to cut out sequences through narration. The result is a good piece of evidence but not as effective a piece of drama.
Dramatic moments are strong throughout the series nevertheless, with some highly memorable cliffhangers - Part Three (the crossbow is actually fired), Part Five (what will happen to the Doctor's mind?), Part Eight (Peri's DEAD!!!), Part Nine (Mel screaming as she gets caught in a death trap), Part Ten (the Mutant in the isolation room revealed), Part Twelve (the Valeyard raises the charge of genocide), Part Thirteen (the Doctor is pulled into quicksand) and Part Fourteen (the Valeyard has survived). Equally there are many magic moments, like the one in Part One where Peri faces the fact that her world as she knows it has been destroyed and she is walking through its ruins. Both Peri and Mel have a good relationship with the Doctor that is free from the ongoing bickering of earlier seasons and shows how the series has grown up beyond such adolescent roots.
With several writers, directors and musicians there are some notable variances of style throughout the story but these are not significant enough to render it disjointed, though the practice of many fans of treating it as four stories does give rise to this in some ways. Viewed individually each of the segments falls short, but when the entire story is viewed together there is the reward of watching a wonderful epic that summarises the series and presents at its end a free and matured Doctor to once more go out and save the universe. If only Colin Baker hadn't been sacked... This story is ambitious but it works well. Definitely worth viewing. 10/10
I do like Trial Of A Timelord! by Andrew Lines 10/1/04
Unable to sleep the other night, I was thinking if there is a season of Who that doesn’t feature an adventure based on Earth, and this Season (23) is the closest! It features "Ravalox" which is technically Earth, but in a way not... having been moved, renamed, and partially destroyed (the Fireballs). (Yes I know it's useless knowledge but it's a nice way to start a mini-review of the story/season thing!)
Mysterious Planet - The set-up in Episode One is fantastic, and the trial scenes throughout the story give a taster of what is to come. The model shot is nothing but awe-inspiring, and the courtroom set is good, if a little underused in the angles used. The Inquisitor seems actually seems more like a stern headmistress, probably due to the bickering between the Doctor and Valeyard (what is a valeyard anyway?). Also the Valeyard, while a typical bad guy, totally against the Doctor, is a great contrast to Colin's mellowed performance. The Ravalox story is a goodun (Bob Holmes people), and while the settings aren't as good as Mindwarp, it is the actual story and characters, which is remembered. Glitz, the secrets of the sleepers, Katryca, and the weird shaped Drathro stand out! I like the relationship between Peri and The Doctor, being friendly and warm towards each other...even if it is being set up for a fall! The bad cliffhanger trend starts here... Part Two and Three are absolutely tensionless and awful!
Mindwarp - This is opposite to Mysterious Planet in that it's the sets and acting which stand out, far above the actual story, which is quite the pile of tosh. I don't think there's even enough material in the story to cover three parts, with all the Trial scenes within it. I think it's the only one of the four parters in the Season which couldn't stand by itself, it's too coincidental in the Trial... also the Doctor turning bad (which is left in the dark) plot-line doesn't gel, and seems pointlessly mean (maybe this is due to having seen it in Twin Dilemma) towards poor Peri. IMO I think this is the worst adventure to befall any companion and the shocking ending just adds to it.
Episode 8 is the main thing which is given praise in this story, and too right, as it does include the best bits of the story. Sil and the other bad characters gathering as Peri is operated on is good, as is the following slaughter scene (such a shame it didn't really happen like that)... also Nicola Bryant's acting in her last story does stand out! Yet again the cliffhangers are crap (apart form Ep 8), with the part 6 cliffhanger being silly enough to focus on a threat to the Doctor's life, when he's being evil. (I'm surprised Peri didn't shoot the bugger!)
Terror Of the Vervoids - An Agatha Christie inspired murder mystery,a broad a space ship. It has the atmosphere to fit nicely into the late Graham Williams era (Season 17), but helps lighten up the Trial after Ep 8.
As Mel's first story, Bonnie Langford makes a good start in the setting, and delves right in within the story. As it is based in the future, the Doctor and Mel's relationship sees one of clear friendship, with the Doctor seemed even more mellow then the preceding stories. The rest of the acting is good, but not great! Honor Blackman makes Lasky a cold, but rather misjudged character, unknowing what her actions will lead too. The rest of the guest cast make a decent job, some slightly wooden though (just like an Agatha Christie film).
The Vervoids are decent semi-villains, but it is their natural instincts which leads them, rather then a some convulted plan (unlike Rudge). The costumes are good, if you forget about the zips of course. Also the human compost heap is a nice touch.
This is the story with the strongest cliffhangers... Part 9 is a corker, and the first "screamer" cliffhanger in a while... but Parts 10, 11 and 12 are also very strong!
The Ultimate Foe - As a conclusion to the Trial storyline it stands up very well. The acting, the settings, and the plot all add up to a quite exciting and semi-shocking climax. The "info-dumps" are done with more ease, then in many shorter stories. This may be because the Master appears to tell all, or the fact the information in them (Gallifrey moving Earth, the Valeyard being the "dark side of the Doctor" etc), is full of surprise, and adds a new dimension to the Timelords. This, as well as the use of the Matrix, coincides with The Deadly Assassin in the darker side to Time Lord society, and how corrupt they are.
I am a fan of The Doctor's "corrupt" speech, and think it really highlights the major plot-points, and the Doctor's beliefs in what he does (interfere). Baker's acting is at it's pinnacle here, and it is clearly his best performance, in his short time. Just a shame Mel is sidelined, and given the worst lines in the script after her strong debut.
Lots of images stick out from the story, the Master popping up on the Matrix, the pods arriving at the trial, the first view of the fun factory in all it's Victorian-esque glory, and the great gothic cliffhanger image of the Doctor pulled beneath sand by bodiless hands.
A good ending, even if the Doctor and Mel leaving together leaves a bad taste in the mouth (isn't she from the future, and they haven't met yet? lol)!
Ratings: Mysterious Planet - 3.5/5
MindWarp - 2.5/5
Terror Of The Vervoids - 3.5/5
The Ultimate Foe - 4/5
The Trial Of A Timelord - 4/5 (rounding up)
The Travails of Trial of a Time Lord by Steve Scott 6/4/04
One of these days I'll make a concerted effort to post regularly to this site; reviewing Who is a splendid way to amuse myself even during the wettest of weekends. At present, however, I'll have to make do with slotting the occasional stream-of-consciousness rant in between other pressing concerns such as ironing, trying to finish a Psychology degree and getting all worked up over Christopher Eccleston.
This expediency, dear reader, dictates to an extent my approach to reviewing Trial. Should I go for four bite-sized chunks of incisive criticism, or simply go for the whole hog?? I've already had a stab at Mindwarp - a piece that, I hasten to add, was written in an imbibed frenzy after a lengthy bar session that even the Great Tom would consider a touch too much. Given my previous comments, and the crushing truth that I can't review the four separate segments of Trial sober, it's the whole hog I'm afraid. Or a pig-out, if you will. You won't? Ah.
So what of Trial? Well, I will state my case right now and say that I love it. No, scratch that - adore it would be a more appropriate phrase. But before I start eulogising, there are little niggles that I must get off my manly, Sean Connery-esque chest (oo-er).
We all know the political background behind this story. It baffles me as to why the production team should concoct a full-season story about the Doctor standing trial for well - being the Doctor. It's as if both JN-T and Saward are actually playing into the hands of their harshest critics. It's Doctor Who's greatest "I'll get me coat" moment. Imagine a Trial of a Time Lord after a long run of successful stories; say perhaps after Season 14. Wouldn't that pack more of an emotional wallop? With the benefit of hindsight - which is a curse, not a blessing - it seems obvious now that Season 23 should have gone back to basics; instead of merely trying to ape past glories, why not analyse the ethos behind those previous successes and try to emulate it? This, by the way, is exactly what happened when Andrew Cartmel was force-fed Season 14 the following year.
Although Who's position was hardly enviable in 1986, it could be viewed as a golden opportunity to revitalise what was perceived to be an ailing series. But sadly that challenge wasn't taken up. It's odd that if so many within and without the BBC were quick to dismiss the show and its production team, that team wasn't replaced. So ultimately it's all just bloody tinkering really, and there's plenty of evidence for this on screen.
The first signs are appropriately with the theme music. Dominic Glynn's eleventh hour arrangement, though a commendable attempt to recapture the eeriness of the Hartnell version, sounds rather tinny and thin, and that's because it sounds like what it is - a demo. Listen to the commercially released version; Glynn's had the luxury of time to fatten the sound and replace the rather tinny bass part we heard on TV with a fantastic, percussive drumbeat. The alien FX also sound great. But the biggest problem is the re-use of the previous title sequence; this means Glynn is forced to match his effects up with all the whooshes and bangs, and it all ends up sounding like a bargain basement version of the Howell arrangement.
They also fumble the ball over the Sixth Doctor's costume. A revamp would seem to dictate a redesign of his garb (being perceived as one of the negative aspects of the show at the time). But again, it's all tinkering: a change of waistcoat here, a different cravat there. No radical overhaul, just a half-hearted alteration. Now, I realise that that money probably wasn't there in the budget. If that were the case, surely it would have been better to simply leave it, thus depriving fickle sods like me of further ammunition?
Beyond tonal changes, the central tenet behind Season 23 offered by Michael Grade ("Less violence, more humour" - talk about pithy!!) makes a very muddled transcription to the screen. There does appear to be a concerted effort to introduce more humour, but it's of the less sophisticated variety reminiscent of the excess of Season 17: Balazar getting covered in green gloop on Ravolox, or the extreme close up on Sil when Kiv wakes in his first body. All this considered, there's still a fair amount of violence too, much of which is actually on a par with, if not stronger than, Season 22 - Katryca's blood-soaked demise, Edwardes' electrocution on Hyperion III - which still made Doctor Who the most terrifying programme for seven year olds.
So an air of "chickening-out" predominates this season, which culminates in the refusal to use Saward's Reichenbach Falls ending which left the Doctor and the Valeyard spinning through the vortex. Another bloody cop out, I'm afra--
Hold on!! I seem to recall stating earlier that I love Trial. Hmm - there seems to be precious little evidence here. But there's a good reason why I take these diametrically opposed positions on everyone's favourite season-spanning story.
I was a fresh-faced boy of seven when Trial first hit the screens - the perfect age to be intoxicated by Who. I had no idea the show had been absent for 18 months, that the Controller of BBC1 (and most of the fans!) hated it, that Eric Saward was quietly fuming in the corner of the production office... Who was simply a programme we watched and enjoyed after beans on toast (that particular cliché is true). Prior to Trial, my earliest memories of the show had been vivid if a little hazy; I remember the crystal ball exploding in Snakedance, and the Androzani regeneration, but it was all a bit patchy. The Trial of a Time Lord was first story from which I have a consistent set of memories. I remember being terrified by Drathro and the aforementioned deaths of Katryca and Edwardes (the latter being seen before going to a fancy dress party on Halloween!!). The sight of the Doctor convulsing on Crozier's operating table really upset me. And as for Bonnie Langford well, terrifying is the word.
You see, what many older fans missed in their never-ending assault on mid-80s Who was the fact that the show still retained its hold over children. You say Daleks, I say Drathro. You say Mummies, I say Mentors.
It was here, during the transmission of this fraught, confused and much-criticised production, that I took Doctor Who into both my hearts.
Fast-forward to today, and can a cynical 24 year old find anything to enjoy in ? My fellow Varosians, the answer is "Yes!" (Well, "Colin Baker!" to be precise). Trial offers Baker the opportunity to exhibit a phenomenal acting range unseen in any other Doctor aside from Troughton. Baker transcends a host of moods and temperaments (tender, impassioned, farcical, avuncular, subtle, villainous) with consummate ease. It's fan ignorance of this ability that allows the likes of Mark Gatiss to make rather petty swipes and Baker during Doctor Who Night in 1999.
Forget the coat. Watch the actor.
There, that's got that of my chest. I'll now slink off back to my cave and carry on with the ironing. Thank you for listening, and I only hope that reading this review hasn't proved to be a Trial in itself.
A Review by John Anderson 27/8/04
Having read through the reviews for Trial, I'm struck by the number of people who refer to the behind the scenes troubles and BBC politicking that was going on at the time. Yes this is obviously going to have some affect on what was eventually on screen, but feuding members of the production team and the death of Robert Holmes didn't make an impact on Nick Mallet's direction, or Brian Blessed's performance for instance. When all of the dust settled, they still had to make a television programme. Did they make a good one?
No, they didn't.
If you can imagine a series of right and left turns in front of you, where ideas are a clear-cut 'good' or 'bad,' season 23 is the culmination of five years worth of 'bad' turns. Trial represents the nadir of the '80s output, indicative of a programme that has spent five years gorging itself on its own myth and now doesn't know which way to go.
The concept itself is not without merit, but its execution falls at virtually every level. Reviewers champion the space station fly-by and I will concede that's it is the most impressive effects sequence in the 26 year run. It's so impressive it's used half a dozen times over the fourteen week run, but you have to question whether the budgetry outlay was worth such a small amount of screen time. The expense hurts the rest of the season and nowhere is this more apparent that the courtroom set itself. The courtroom set is the most important single construction in the whole of Trial and it is the cheapest, most ill conceived and badly designed of them all. It's clearly a three-wall studio, which leads to the utterly ludicrous conceit of having the Time Lord audience turn and crane their necks every time they wish to see the matrix screen. This is where the money should have been spent, not on the tokenism of the fancy blink and you'll miss it opening shot. Why the trial itself should take place on a Space Station and not Gallifrey is never adequately explained, although that's par for the course for season 23.
I'm going to put a tin hat on and say that Mindwarp is the best bit of Trial. Primarily because it's the only bit that has anything at all to do with the Trial arc but also because it has more memorable moments than the rest of the season added together. From the moment that Colin thinks Peri's been killed at the end of episode 7 there is a genuine feeling that events are building towards a dramatic climax. By the end of episode 8 Colin is first rate and for the first time this season the Doctor takes the trial scenario seriously; people are dying and he is the cause. Remember as well that at this point the matrix tampering sub-plot has yet to properly kick in and the Doctor's memory is still suspect.
Thematically, it would make sense to take the Doctor out of time in this most unpredictable incarnation if his actions were no longer seen to be altruistic. It would allow the Doctor to access his own actions, to ask of himself the questions that the audience were no doubt asking throughout season 22: had he finally gone too far? But of course the idea is fudged like so much of this season's output; what does the Doctor have to reassess if his actions didn't result in the death of his friend? Dear oh dear.
For all of that though, Colin is excellent as the Doctor gone bad, whilst Brain Blessed is absolutely fabulous. He has too many great lines to reproduce here, but the pick of the bunch has to be "Today prudence shall be our watch word, tomorrow we shall soak the land in blood!"
As for Mysterious Planet and Vervoids, their inclusion in the Trial format remains a mystery. Outside of the intrusive courtroom scenes, they are both average additions to the canon. They are two traditional examples of Doctor Who playing it safe; neither seems willing or able to punch above their weight and both are instantly forgettable. At the exact point at which Doctor Who needed to be at its most daring and bold, it instead played very much within itself. These parts of Trial are as close as fans can come to seeing the programme the way the general public perceive it, full of dodgy acting, slack scripting and ropy effects.
And in Ultimate Foe, instead of answering the questions raised over the last three months, the decision is taken to introduce half a dozen more and leave only 45 minutes of screen time to sort out the mess.
The Valeyard is the Doctor, now here's a concept we can pick up and run with. The Doctor has seen his friend die because of his own actions, and now he can see the consequences of those actions in front of him. When Tom learnt the nature of the Watcher he accepted his fate; is Colin going to do the same? Of course not, he's going to kick against it, isn't he? Who knows? By the time Colin leaves in the TARDIS I defy anybody to explain the motives behind the Valeyard, the Master, and the Trial itself? What should have become a re-affirmation of our hero's ethos is lost in plot, counter plot and technobabble. The worst thing of all though is that the character development that would have saved Colin's incarnation is not here; he'd been the Doctor for over two years yet we still hadn't got to know this complex incarnation.
This is bad Doctor Who, bad science fiction and bad television.
A Review by Lance Bayliss 9/12/04
Season 23 remains one of the most polarising and debated seasons in the entire original run of Doctor Who. Go on any Internet based forum and you'll see rapidly differing opinions about it. It seems almost as though nobody can find any common ground about whether what its relative merits and faults were. And this, of course, is very good. Read the many reviews above (and those to come below) this one. No doubt, all give very persuasive points. I can only hope mine stacks up against those.
The thing to recall about Season 23 is that, prior to its troubled production, there was a very clear statement given to the production team by BBC controller Michael Grade: Reduced the violence, increase the humour. Return it, somewhat, to the more innocent roots that governed such seasons as the 3rd and the 17th seasons. Then, cutting it down to half the lengths of its predecessors, he told them to get on with it.
So shall I. On with the mass review!
bPARTS ONE TO FOUR (or "A Doctor in the Dock")
Robert Holmes provides a fine start, doing exactly what is required: Explaining the basic idea of the umbrella plot while planting the seeds of his final two scripts for the season. It also manages to begin the major plot holes that would come to engulf the set. Why does the Valeyard use the Ravalox segment as evidence if the High Council is later revealed as having come up with the Trial in order to keep it a secret? A plain point.
So much here is, however, best described as "Robert Holmes Generic". The Doctor and Peri discover a mystery involving a group of savages and an persecuted underground society (The Sunmakers, arguably). Meanwhile, two rogues trade witcisms with all around them (The Ribos Operation). Part Three's cliffhanger is a straight play to the first cliffhanger of The Caves of Androzani. The Doctor even offers somebody jelly babies, for the first and only time during a John Nathan-Turner produced story.
All this serves two functions. One the one hand, one might argue that it returns to the more overtly amusing Holmesian qualities that were absent from The Two Doctors. On the other, one could equally argue that it merely smacks of unoriginality. You can certainly see why the season creates such fevour amongst fandom!
The things that strike me the most are the "dumbing down", in accordance with what Michael Grade had asked. For example, Merdeen refering the the Imomrtal's doors as "the big doors". Not the great doors, or even the castle doors. "Big" seems somewhat basic, for Holmes. Or the scenes in the forest at the start: Great direction, but the friendliness between the Doctor and his companion seems forced, somehow.
Speaking of the direction, it seems at times to be disjointed. The initial shot where the camera backs away from Drathro seems to reveal him too early, when it might have been better to keep him as a disembodied voice on the other end of a screen. It all seems like it's trying to play with all its cards firmly placed on the table in full view.
(Fun fact: The "Marb Station" corridors from these first four episodes are redressed and lit differently to become the cavern sets in parts five to eight. One can't easily argue that it's they're any better the second time around).
PARTS FIVE TO EIGHT (or "What's love got to do with it?")
This one starts out a lot better than the first four parts, in my opinion. The director is clearly following the script, with the scenes on the beaches providing a genuinely interesting planetscape for which to have an adventure. The Doctor and Peri are still being friendly, but it doesn't seem quite so forced as in Bob Holmes scripts. I would say that the unseen adventure with the Warlords of Thorden would have made a better story, but hey-ho. That's not up to me.
It all falls apart when we enter the caverns. They make an uninteresting set, contrasting with the fantastic exterior shots and reminding one of the cramped interiors of Philip Martin's previous story, Vengeance on Varos. After only two episodes on these dark, dank corridors, you might feel a sense of claustrophobia. Or perhaps you might merely get bored with them.
A confession: My copy of Part Six features no incidental music. It came that way in the TARDIS tin, and I presume it to be an authoring error. But I've not yet replaced it. So all these scenes with the Doctor acting out-of-sorts have an added poignancy. With no overbearing music, or sound effects, it is left to the performances. And my god, I think it's made better by the lack of music you know! Far from not liking this somewhat bewildered Sixth Doctor, I think his wanderings in this single episode are all the more amusing. The overt campness of his turning over to Sil. Or the scene on the beach where he interogates Peri. Without the music to drown out the voices, the voices become more distinct and therefore the performances more enjoyable.
Things fail again in parts seven and eight. The story seems almost as though its running on the spot, uncertain where to turn next. There's no drama in the cliffhanger, there's no tension in the threat to the leader of the Mentors. The Doctor and Ycranos run from one scene to the next with little correlation. Yet it's all salvaged in the last two minutes. The scenes where the Doctor realises Peri's fate are almost certainly Colin Baker's greatest performance in the role, delivered with such passion that you can almost see his eyes welling with tears. I was shocked into silence when first I seen it, and it passed the ultimate test by my rewinding it to watch the sequence a second time.
The second segment of the season almost seems like a sketch comedy, where the same characters run left and right between different set pieces, looking for a motivation that only arrives in the last few minutes of the story. "Wacky" Colin amuses me in the same way "wacky" Tom does, inciting grins from situations that don't warrant them, but otherwise it's very much a rollercoaster ride. You can't pretend there aren't bits there that show promise. But nor can you say it manages to pick up any one particular thread.
(Fun Fact: The creature that the Doctor is looking at in the jar in Crozier's lab in part five is the alien "Chestburster" prop from the first, Ridley Scott directed Alien movie. Ridley Scott, as a BBC production designer, had originally been written down to design the first Dalek serial in 1964. One can't help but imagine if his version of the Dalek machine would have been quite different to the one that we're all familiar with.)
PARTS NINE TO TWELVE (or "Attack of the Pod People")
The first full storyline not to be script edited by Eric Saward in five years, and rushed into production after upwards of four other scripts fell through for one reason or another, it's also arguably a Season 17 story transplanted six years later. Considering John Nathan-Turner's claims at the time that Season 23 had a "rich vein of humour, without being too Douglas Adamsy", this Pip and Jane Baker story certainly could have sat alongside Nightmare of Eden and not been noticed, right down to the sometimes dodgy CSO spaceships and gradual takeover by aliens who aren't all that they seem ...
Unlike the previous segment, every character has a clear motivation. Almost transparently so. But that doesn't matter so much, as I think the season finds its feet here. Perhaps it's merely because I think Doctor Who works better when sending itself up. But throughout, it seems as though every character knows that they're all being watched on a Matrix screen, and everybody seems larger than life as a result. Colin Baker's performance here, his last commited to tape, always brings a smile to my face. In a recent interview, he said that tempers were flared on the set due to the publication of Eric Saward's revealing expose on JNT in a magazine at the time. But looking at the final product, everybody seems more relaxed than ever.
Finally, no discussion of this segment would be complete without a comment on Mel. So I guess my discussion will therefore remain unfinished. (grins)
(Fun fact: This was the last segment to be taped for this season, after the final two episodes of the Trial arc were already in the can. It is therefore the real final peformance of Colin Baker in the role of the Doctor. In contrast with the infamous final lines that actually ended his tenure, the final lines spoken by him on set were even less likely, somewhere within one of the many corridor scenes onboard the Hyperion III.)
PARTS THIRTEEN AND FOURTEEN (or "The terror of the Reichenbach falls")
And so the death of Robert Holmes sees the final two episodes fall by the wayside. Part Thirteen is on par with Logopolis for pure dread. From the Doctor's realisation of the Valeyard's true indentity, to the brilliantly moody scenes inside the Matrix. How many times does the bell chime in the background as the Doctor wanders the Victorian veneer of the Fantasy Factory? I believe it is thirteen, the full number of his regenerations, although I admit I may be mistaken in this.
Everything about this final script from the great writer makes up for the mistakes of the first four episodes of the season. The director seems to be working in complete conjunction with the script, creating a world that is like a complete return to form, on its own an equal to the best that were produced in the other 26 seasons, yet somehow out of place seven eighths of the way through Season 23. Part Thirteen could have been a story within itself.
Although to be fair, like the first four episodes, it does seem like Bob Holmes by numbers: The diatribe against the Time Lords, the quotable lines, the cliffhanger (a direct rehash of the drowning finale in The Deadly Assassin). The difference is, it all comes together perfectly. If this director had been in charge of the first four episodes, I feel they might have been much better than they ultimately turned out.
The quality drops instantly the cliffhanger is over. Pip and Jane's script is played on a completely different level. Contradictions are rampant. Whereas in Part Thirteen the Doctor convinces Sabalom Glitz that he needs his help to defeat the Valeyard, in Part Fourteen he seems just as quick to be rid of him ("if you want to stay here and build sandcastles, perhaps you can conjure up a bucket and spade"). The Master is reduced to simple villainy, put down again and again by the Valeyard as being a mere simpleton (when the Valeyard himself has suddenly lost something vital). Where there had once been a brilliantly realised Victorian world, there are now false technobable "bombs".
One can't help but to pine for the original, Bob Holmes script, everytime I watch it. Holmes, a large fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had always said that he wrote the Doctor (which ever incarnation) as a kind of Sherlock Holmes in space. The faux recreation of seminal story "The Final Problem", in which the master sleth in shown to fall down a waterfall in the arms of his mortal foe in what was originally supposed to be Sherlock's final tale.
Alas, the finale of the Doctor and the Valeyard frozen on screen as they fall into a time vortex thingy was not to be. Not a viewing goes by when it occurs that this fascinating ending would have been great compared to the watered down ending we got. If nothing else, it would have explained the change of actor in the following season, and perhaps created an extra tension to the Seventh Doctor's first few stories: Leaving us wondering if he isn't really the Valeyard afterall.
Rewatching these stories (all 14 in a row) especially for this review remains a very disjointed experience. I can hardly imagine how hard it must have been to wait over 14 entire weeks for a conclusion and still make sense of it all when it is a hard sell when watched all at once. One feels that something closer to the "open structure" policy of Season 16 might have been wiser, a story arc into which basically any story could be slotted.
Considering the limited brief, perhaps the first story and the Vervoid one might have been stories that weren't linked into the arc, or at least not right away. After this first story, a six part "Trial of a Time Lord" incorporates the Sil bit and the final two episodes, including the introduction of Mel as an inderterminate "future companion" of the Doctor. Then, the Vervoid story (or another, completely standlone one) might serve to cap out the season on the high, open note that was searched for by JNT.
But I stray into the waters of (to quote the Doctor at one point) "sheer conjecture". It remains that what we did get is one part aggrivating, one part enjoyable and one part 'here we go again'. It's just such a shame that fans can't all agree on which part is which. It doesn't entirely satisfy. Nor, I would argue, is it all a complete loss. But wading through the undoubtably bad parts in order to find the unpolish gems is more of a chore than it should be. It almost seems, in a way, that it needs further post-production that wasn't actually completed back in 1986. Something for a DVD release, maybe?
A Review by Benjamin Bland 5/2/06
The Trial Of A Time Lord is one of those stories so unfairly maligned by Doctor Who fans. At fourteen parts long it maybe is a bit overdone and slightly tedious at times, but if you look at the sum of the parts you still get a pretty impressive Doctor Who story. Colin Baker helps enormously by, in my view, by continuing to impress with his acting as the sixth Doctor.
The Trial Of A Time Lord is often divided up into four stories: The Mysterious Planet (parts 1-4), Mindwarp (parts 5-8), Terror of the Vervoids (parts 9-12) and The Ultimate Foe (parts 13-14). The second of these is by far the best as it moves along at a fantastic pace and Colin Baker gets to play the Doctor as something totally evil and cowardly, along the same lines as his brilliant performance in The Twin Dilemma. The return of Sil in these four parts is also memorable.
The Mysterious Planet introduces the character of Glitz who later reappears in The Ultimate Foe and the Sylvester McCoy story Dragonfire. Nicola Bryant performs wonderfully well in the first eight parts as well. In Mindwarp you really feel she is scared and in The Mysterious Planet you feel she really is upset.
It's a shame then that in Episode 9 Bonnie Langford is introduced as a replacement for Peri, Melanie Bush, the worst companion ever seen on Doctor Who, with her squeaky voice and terrible acting. I'm surprised Colin Baker's Doctor didn't strangle him like he did with Peri, might have sorted out her vocal chords. But to be honest the character of Mel is the only real weak point in all fourteen parts of The Trial Of A Time Lord. It's just a tad long I'll admit but even at fourteen parts it still keeps you interested and curious all the way through. The return of the Master is maybe a little unnecessary in Part 13 but it doesn't really harm the story too much.
If it were the end, the moment was far from prepared for... by Thomas Cookson 19/8/07
Trial of a Time Lord unfortunately reflects the show at its most incompetent. It's a mess but it is nontheless an interesting one.
I should point out that I first watched Trial back in Christmas 1993 when I was only eleven, and there are many aspects to it that I found truly mind expanding. In taking us to various worlds in its epic length, Trial conveys a sense of galactic scope matched by few other stories. Furthermore in projecting us to an Earth of the far future, to the outer fringes of the timeline in fact, the feeling of temporal vertigo is quite a sensation, particularly at the age of eleven.
There is that lovely scene where the Doctor is trying to console his distraught companion Peri about the devastation of her home planet. He tells her about the natural course of planets and solar systems coming and going into existence, and how the debris from dead constellations comes to form new worlds and new life, and declares that "nothing can be eternal". It really encapsulates the tragedy of the Whoniverse where unimaginable atrocities can happen to millions of planets due to the Dalek empire's campaigns of extermination and the Doctor sometimes has to let it happen in order to preserve the natural order of things.
And it's something that actually really resonates through the story, this sense of coming to an end. This atmosphere of a funeral or even something haunted, with a bell-tolling score occasionally playing in the background. It's so foreboding and haunting. It sets the scene for a story that's about destiny and fate and about important decisions for the future being made here. On one level at least, there is a sense that this is possibly the Doctor reaching the end of the road as we become aware that he is as mortal and linear as the rest of us. Even if the Valeyard's bland threats don't support that kind of menace.
Sadly, many of Trial's ambitions are undone by the impact of BBC Exec Michael Grade's restrictive guidelines on the show. Michael Grade put Who on hiatus for a rethinking of the show to tone down the violence and inject more humour.
What amazes me actually is that even given an eighteen month hiatus of rethinking the program, the makers still couldn't realise that that bloody coat should go.
But the point is that a rethink did nothing to curb the show's worst excesses, and given a remit of giving the show more humour they went pretty overboard.
When I first watched The Mysterious Planet segment, I didn't mind the comical overtones of the underground settlement or the intrusive trial scenes. For me at that age, they added to the surrealism, the strange wall between past and present, between the frivolities of the day and the implied horrors of recent history on Earth. I was young enough to be happy with eloquent speeches holding up what is basically a lightweight story and not feel short-changed by that.
I still really enjoy Glitz' anecdote about the prison psychiatrist "I mean, I must have seen dozens of them and I still hate competition." Oh and there's the odd bit of good banter between the Doctor and Peri as they explore the barren planet. Peri: "Any intelligent life?" Doctor: "Other than me, you mean?"
Unfortunately, there's far more daft comical scenes involving tribespeople forgetting which way they're meant to go or characters getting slimed by green goo from the underground complex's food dispensers, like something from a Saturday morning kid's show. The effect is pretty diluting, not enough to take away from the staying power but enough to ruin the immediate drama and tension.
The main problem with Trial is that the story action never stops getting interrupted by scenes of the Doctor and the Valeyard squabbling over what is being shown. The effect is very intrusive and keeps breaking the momentum, making the story drag. Like I said, at a young age I accepted those scenes as being part of the story's surreal symbiosis, but in repeated viewings I have quickly grown less tolerant of them. There's just too many of the damn moments.
Some of those courtroom scenes work wonderfully and really convey a sense of conspiracy, political paranoia and corrupt justice. The character of the Valeyard was a good one, and he made a good foil for the Doctor. His approach of dissecting and passing critical comment on the events we see made him feel really odious and cunning. The way he relentlessly twisted the facts and manipulated opinion against the Doctor, and drawing on the protagonists very own ethics and politics was very effective. Michael Jayston really gives it his all in a tremendous performance, making his words piercing and giving the character of the Valeyard plenty of venom underneath his mask of etiquette.
Colin Baker is unfortunately pretty out of control in these scenes and underfoots the menace badly, but even then there are the odd moments where the Doctor seems to have been broken by the Valeyard's poisonous testimony and Colin actually plays those scenes very well for all their raw delicacy. Unfortunately, this dissipates too soon and we're not really given the penetrating battle of wills that we could have got.
Occasionally the pissing contest between the Doctor and Valeyard becomes entertaining, usually when it sticks to the business side of things, such as one scene where he manages to get one up on the Valeyard and lambasts one of his pointless presentations, winning the Inquisitor's approval. The beaming look of smugness on the Doctor's face is priceless with the kind of unsubtle pomposity that only Colin Baker can do. But it's followed up by dozens of "Brickyard", "Backyard", "Knacker's yard" gags that were only mildly funny the first time, and moments where the Doctor's tantrums seem like a hollow substitute for urgency.
Unfortunately, I can only think back onto the Doctor Who Handbook's overview which referred to it as the most suspense-less courtroom drama ever shown. The momentum and gravitas is frequently interrupted and treated with flippancy. Then again maybe that was the point; by spoiling the suspense and dramatic impact of the violence through intrusive courtroom cutaways, it was like they were expressing bitterness at how toothless the show had to be under Grade's draconian guidelines for toning down the violence and putting in more humour. But you know, bitter writing often just makes bad writing.
There is the on running joke in which Doctor remarks on the events shown on the Matrix, that echo criticisms aimed at the series itself. But instead of coming across as ironic, it gets out of hand, going from self-parody into self-loathing. The worst offender of the Doctor's lines is "Wake me when it's finished", which brings home the lethargy of the whole thing. There is a sense of the show's own self-loathing or even an apathetic refusal to aspire to anything better, as though it is being lethargic quite willfully. It feels in places like the story has grown hostile towards the viewers, and saying to the audience "you're either with us or you're against us".
But that's unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.
Entering into the second segment of the story, Mindwarp and the bitterness really shows. Poor Peri was the Doctor's most long suffering companion who unfortunately as a character bore the brunt of the show's most bitter and misogynistic period. When the Doctor betrays Peri to the sleazy Sil and subjects her to an ordeal of persecution and torture, it just seems like the show has reverted to the most crass kind of shock tactics. The show has been no stranger to violence, but this feels like something far more exploitative. The way the story seems to delight in relentlessly tormenting Peri and reducing her to the point of hysterics and tears right to the very end. It's just sadistic and demoralising, showing a complete lack of respect for both the lead characters.
In some ways it seemed right to make The Mysterious Planet so comical and lightened and then follow it up with something as dark as Mindwarp. A good way to make the trial into a spiralling descent. But I still think it crosses the line. When I was 11 years old I was horrified and outraged at seeing my hero, the Doctor, being presented in such a vile way, and it was something that forever tainted the show for me and there was just no need for it. It was the show's most nasty and manipulative moment, as though the show was seeking to outrage the viewer purely for the sake of outrage.
And yet... manipulative is the key word. Every now and then its manipulativeness really suckers me. Nicola Bryant was actually really good in the role of Peri, and unfortunately her talents were overlooked in favour of her cleavage (mind you, she did have great cleavage). She plays the hysterics and torment of Peri really well and pulls the audience's sympathy immediately. Likewise, whilst Colin Baker may ham it up as the Doctor gone bad, he plays a far more sympathetic Doctor in the trial scenes as he watches himself with horror and disbelief, wringing everything from his lines and really pulls us behind him when he declares that this can't possibly be true. You can just sense that his confidence and nobility have been undermined and he just seems so upset and vulnerable.
And it may be hypocritical of me, having bemoaned the sadism of this story but I quite like the moment where Sil oversees the torture of Peri with glee and remarks "Just like in the old days, there's nothing more enjoyable than watching people suffer!"
By virtue of the acting it almost becomes artful. It threatens to become cohesive in its presentation. The opening outdoor scenes on the planet have this kind of surreal and eerie fluorescence of purple skies, pink oceans and turquoise caves. It really conveys a nightmarish setting and a visual sting from the first scenes. Add to that the theme of genetic experiments in mind control and body swapping and it almost comes together to give it a theme of how the lead characters are now corruptible and can have their bodies and actions perverted. And it's just so darn subversive and I have to keep slapping myself to remind myself that it's trashy and crass, but it very nearly has me.
It blurs the lines of trust, in terms of the Doctor, just to manipulate the viewer's outrage without having the competence to really reaffirm that trust: there are strong suggestions that the Doctor's collusion with the enemy is just a double bluff, there are other suggestions that the Matrix has been tampered with to incriminate the Doctor falsely but neither becomes completely clear at the end, and that's what leaves a rather sour taste. As if the show has so run out of ideas that they've decided to take the central concept of its leading hero and pervert it without good reason or a good idea. Basically, they were doing something controversial and shocking but they didn't actually have a clue how to make it go somewhere or be worthwhile. Incompetence really was the bugbear of this story, at a time when the show's left hand didn't know what its right hand was doing.
When Colin Baker presented his personal retrospective clip show in the fan video The Colin Baker Years (a video I affectionately refer to as 'the edited highlights') he actually talked about how the writer, producer and script editor were completely clueless too. Overall the Mindwarp segment is watchable, but as with any piece of exploitation cinema, there is a strong urge to shower after viewing.
Sadly the same can't really be said for the third segment, Terror of the Vervoids. It should be fun and engaging. I mean, it's got killer plants let loose on a starliner, offing the passengers one by one, which was fun enough when The Seeds of Doom and Nightmare of Eden did it. Plus you've got a cutback on the trial scenes which should mean that the story stands alone without that many intrusions. Actually, when I was 11, I quite enjoyed it, but I really struggle with it on repeated viewings. The fact is, when you're 11 years old, you don't notice how repellent the dialogue is (courtesy of writers Pip and Jane Baker), any more than you notice the triteness of Westlife songs.
The stories so far have played a part thematically in the trial of the Doctor. The Mysterious Planet conveyed a sense of the Doctor's mortality through an aged, decaying universe, Mindwarp portrayed a sense of bodily perversion and corruption of the Doctor's soul, but what Terror of the Vervoids does is use its themes of genetic engineering and bio-ethics to say something about personal responsibility. But it does it all so pretentiously with the subtlety and eloquence of a jackhammer to the skull. And it really clogs up the story badly and makes it feel like it's moving at a snail's pace. Apart from the profound "It's a matter of perspective" moment which briefly give me the feeling that I'm watching something thoughtful about expanding your awareness, the dialogue is a real turn-off.
By taking us on an intergalactic cruiser, the story also brings a bit more of a feeling of scope to Trial, as does the culture dose of the various alien races onboard. But alas it also seems to introduce the most excess tacky elements. The Doctor on the exercise bike is going far beyond merely jumping the shark and the new companion, Mel, is at her most shrill and abrasive, as is her aerobics fitness video moments. A shame really, because the story's special effects as a whole are actually very good, so it's a shame to be presented with such eyesores.
Although if there's one thing that makes me remember this story fondly, its Yolande Palfrey as the sexy stewardess, who was actually my very first TV crush. My God she was beautiful.
Apart from that, though, it does come as something of a relief when we get to the final segment, The Ultimate Foe. This really is, as many fans have noted, the most fun part of the long-winded trial. Mainly because it gets us out of the thin-wearing trial room and has us engaging in a chase in the Matrix itself. There's quite an irony in how the story so far has been debating how reliable the factual presentation of the Matrix is, and then when we step into the Matrix, we find it to be a deceitful surrealist labyrinth of fantasy and nightmares. The horror movie atmosphere is what makes it work, and it's appropriate that most of the action should take place in a Dickensian nightmare of haunted Victorian London by night.
Oh I nearly forgot; the evil Master is back....
He really does liven the thing up with his classy lines "Moments like this should be... savoured.", "Perhaps this will appeal to your crass soul" and his little impudentness with the grand Inquisitor.
Inquisitor: "You have no part in these proceedings."
Master: "Corporially perhaps, but I'm present"
Just when I was thinking how short sighted it was to resurrect the Master after Planet of Fire, little moments like that make me glad that they did. In fact, the Master is quite a threatening presence here. I really did get the sense that both Glitz and the Doctor were playing with fire by allying themselves with the Master in their battle against their mutual enemy in the Valeyard.
But, overall, it makes a poor conclusion to Trial as the incompetence of the thing rears its ugly head once more. And yet I quite admire the manoeuvre that the story pulls. With this concept of past, present and future intersecting, it felt right that they should then take the story sideways into the Matrix. Just as the story goes really far out and incomprehensible, outstretching its scope completely beyond the plausible, it exonerates itself in a quite classy way by then taking us into a landscape where there are no rules or logic, so it just about wins on its own terms.
There are also some touching moments of eloquence such as the Doctor's angry condemnation of the corrupt Time Lords "Ten million years of absolute power. That's what it takes to be really corrupt!" and his more quietly noble "evil and anarchy will spread like the plague" and nearly forgetting "There's always a choice Mel." These eloquent moments do go some way to redeeming the earlier mean spiritedness of Trial.
But, ultimately, as we get to the last episode of it, Trial makes an almighty cop-out that makes the whole taxing venture seem completely pointless. Where it was once daring, it has now completely chickened out. Where it was once ambitious, it has become incoherent and inconsequential. It's a shame because I've read the Eric Saward script for the original ending online and it was terrific, and would have been so much better as a conclusion.
Overall, I have a hard time giving my own verdict (if you'll pardon the pun) on the overall story. That's the problem with Trial of a Time Lord, it can be so eloquent and yet so lowbrow at once. It's a tragic waste of potential though, a schizophrenic blend of awe and ambition alongside incompetence and tackiness. There are times I've said 'I wish the damn thing had never been made', and yet every so often I feel a desperate need to reappraise it.
Trial of a Time Lord may be many things, but one thing it isn't is forgettable. By its very design, it has an epicness and scope that you could really immerse and lose yourself in.
A Review by John Reid 24/6/08
Colin and Peter were always my Doctors as a child. I rememeber great chunks of Tom but I wasn't a fan marking me out from the other lids. I always looked at my show for enjoyment and it was a bonus if every story of a season stood up. As Peter became Colin, I considered season 21 the best of his three, but, when Season 22 arrived, I could only watch with disapointment as Attack of the Cybermen consisted of gimmicks and no plot, and with relief as Vengeance on Varos restored some dignity to my show.
At the time of the postponement, I knew nothing of Mr Saward, Mr Holmes JNT or the hiatus being due to concerns over violence, or the fact that Vengeance on Varos and parts of the plot for The Two Doctors were ideas left over from previous years. And then, in 1986, Trial of a Time Lord arrived and again I didn't know the troubles behind the secne.
Let's set the stage. Toatl obviously owes a lot to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with having a past, present and future. The Doctor is on trial by his own people, being taken from time and not remebering were he left Peri. The idea that the Time Lords tried him before is mentioned; I have vague memories of it being mentioned on Blue Peter that the second Doctor had faced trial.
It always spoilt it for me when celebrities appeared in the show. I wasn't bothered about Blake's 7 stars, as I never took Timelash seriously, but William Gaunt, in Revelation of the Daleks, was too recognisable for me as a child. And, although I knew of Joan Simms and Christopher Ryan, they were so entwined in their parts I didn't feel disapointed with them in Toatl.
I had no knowledge of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, with its Underground train station and two races on a future, barren Earth. In that case, the Apes and the Mutant people both being controlled by lies and a false philosiphy. So it was with great enjoyment as a 12 year old that I watched in excitement the opening episode, even if it wavered as usual in part three. Then came epsiode five and enjoyment as Sil was back in Philip Martin's Mindwarp. A lot has been written about the lack of clarity over the script and the confusion over extending the cliffhanger at the end of episode seven to drag out the fact that the Doctor doesn't resolve the story at the end of episode eight. However, as noted before, the end of episode eight is fantastic.
Then came Terror of the Vervoids. A story set in the Doctor's future, owing to Agatha Christie and John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. I remember thinking Bonnie Langford would be terrible and was surprised how good she was. I hate to go with the flow but this story really has nothing to do with the Trial.
Then we got The Ultimate Foe, episodes Thirteen and Fourteen. I can't stress how good the first episode is, as first the Master appears then casually says of the Valeyard, "...or, as I've all ways known him, the Doctor" - a throwaway line that just blows the story sky-high. As the Valeyard enters the Matrix, obviously I didn't know that Eric Saward had rewritten this episode and that Robert Holmes had died and that Pip 'n' Jane Baker had come in to write the last part after Sward had withdrawn his final script. But Pip 'n' Jane rose to the occasion. The phoney trial where he rushes in is great. It was just such a shame that the Mel from the future left with a Doctor who is going off to have an adventure with Mel that she's already had. But, twenty years later, I can handle the time paradox and, in my final praise of this story, I'll leave you with the line that always creases me up, Mel saying to the Master "how utterly evil".