THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
AND "TIME OF YOUR
THE TRIAL ITSELF
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE
EVENTS ON THOROS-BETA
EPISODES 5 TO 8 OF THIS
STORY, MANY YEARS
PRIOR TO THE VERVOID
INCIDENT ON THE
IN PARTS 9 TO 12 OF
THIS STORY AS A
GLIMPSE OF THE
BETWEEN THE END OF
THIS STORY AND THE
EVENTS OF THE NOVEL
"TIME OF YOUR LIFE,"
THE DOCTOR RETURNS
MEET AGAIN (FOR THE
7a, 7B & 7C
PARTS 1-4 WRITTEN BY
PARTS 5-8 WRITTEN BY
PARTS 9-12 WRITTEN BY
PIP BAKER &
PARTS 13 & 14
(WITH ERIC SAWARD,
PIP BAKER &
PARTS 1-4 DIRECTED BY
PARTS 5-8 DIRECTED BY
THE PLANET OF SIL,
MINDWARP, TERROR OF
THE VERVOIDS, TIME
INC. & THE ULTIMATE FOE
'THE TRIAL OF A TIME
LORD' DVD BOX SET
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 2008.
THE DOCTOR IS ON TRIAL
FOR HIS LIFE. PLUCKED
OUT OF TIME AND SPACE
BY THE TIME LORDS, HE
IS CHARGED WITH
FIRST LAW OF TIME. HE
MUST DEFEND HIMSELF
PROSECUTION LED BY
The Trial of
a Time Lord
6TH SEPTEMBER 1986 - 6TH DECEMBER 1986
I got goosebumps when I first saw the epic trailer for “The Trial of a Time Lord” DVD box
set. It did not matter how many times I had seen the serial already, or even how many reservations I had about it, the Restoration Team had me sold. However, with an RRP of £49.99, I sincerely doubt that a solitary trailer, no matter how flash, will be enough to entice a lot of fans into parting with their hard-earned cash. I shopped around extensively and managed to get my copy for just £34.93, but even at that price I felt a bit cheated
considering that there are less episodes included here than there have been on some previous DVD box sets that were a fair bit cheaper.
Nevertheless, now that I have spent the best part of the weekend sitting through all four
discs, I have to say that “The Trial of a Time Lord” box set is actually incredible value for money. The sheer amount and high standard of bonus material on offer is absolutely overwhelming. It is ironic that the only content I found to be lacking in any way was “The Trial of a Time Lord” itself.
I suppose that the glut of special features were to be expected, really. You talk about controversy, you talk about “The Trial of a Time Lord” and all the things that go hand in hand with it. The hiatus. The lost season. The sacking... And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Although the serial is the technically series' longest ever (beating the record formerly held by the epic 1965-66 twelve-parter “The Daleks' Master Plan”), “The Trial of a Time Lord” is actually comprised of four separate serials which for the DVD release have been spread
out across four discs and sub-titled with the names by which they are commonly known:
“The Mysterious Planet” (1-4); “Mindwarp” (5-8); “Terror of the Vervoids” (9-12); and “The Ultimate Foe” (13 & 14).
Above: The first disc's menu screen (NB the background is animated on the actual DVD; this is just a still)
Together with the relevant episodes, each disc also contains a substantial documentary (approximately 20 minutes each on average) charting the making of the relevant segment, together with that segment's deleted and extended scenes, trailers and continuities, commentaries, and production subtitles. The ‘making of’ documentaries are all informative and entertaining, and the quality of the deleted and extended material is staggeringly good too – there is not a timecode in sight. Even the continuities feel a little bit more special than usual as they have been expanded to include pages of interest from mid-eighties Ceefax!
The box set’s flagship documentary, “Trials and Tribulations”, is just shy of being an hour long and it is the definitive documentary on Colin Baker’s tenure. All the big players are on hand to share their thoughts and memories about the most tumultuous time in the series’ history, and the result is as shocking as it is comprehensive.
“The key to how you play it is you at parties.”
As much respect as I have for the late John Nathan-Turner, some of the things that he comes out with in this documentary (lifted from archive material) really make you wonder how the show survived as long as it did on his watch. He must have been joking about certain things; it is the only explanation. Casting an actor simply on the strength of how witty he is at a party is terrifying, quite frankly, but then again, if he made the right call, does it really matter how
he arrived at his decision? Eric Saward would argue that Nathan-Turner got it wrong, of course, not just with the casting of Colin Baker but also with the casting of Peter Davison! You would not believe some of the mud that gets hurled here.
That said, “Trials and Tribulations” focuses just as heavily on the good times as it does on the bad, and it is as uplifting to hear Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant talk about their happy memories of the 1985 season as it is painful to see Saward and Nathan-Turner’s feud endure beyond the grave.
“A lot of talent making a crap record.”
- Ian Levine on “Doctor In Distress”
The Restoration Team have really outdone themselves in how“Trials and Tribulations” is presented. Lovely little touches, such as the cloister bell being superimposed over the infamous ‘hiatus’ clip from the Six O’Clock News, really helps to set the tone. And as one would expect, the documentary does dwell on the hiatus considerably, focusing on the
reasoning behind Michael Grade’s decision to axe Doctor Who (or lack thereof) and Britain's intense reaction as its people demanded the programme's return. Saward’s “Slipback” radio serial and the charity single Doctor in Distress (which is included in full on disc four) are both explored too, as is the show’s profuse media coverage through shows
as diverse as Wogan; Blue Peter; and Points of View, including certain appearances by a bizarrely-bearded, but otherwise fully costumed, Colin Baker.
Above: An example of Rob Hammond's fine artwork for The Lost Season featurette
The box set also contains a couple more featurettes worthy of note. Through Colin Baker’s narration and some stunning artwork from Rob Hammond, “The Lost Season” explores the season that never was in much the same way that the “End-game” documentary on the “Survival” DVD explored the aborted season twenty-seven. And although I have no love lost for some of the stories examined here – the novelisation of “The Ultimate Evil” is absolutely diabolical – it still is fascinating to see what they may have looked like had they made it to the small screen.
Better still is the thirty-minute “Now, Get Out of That!” documentary which, as you may
gather, examines Doctor Who’s renowned cliffhangers. Something of an ironic choice for inclusion on a DVD for a serial practically devoid of proper cliffhangers (save for that incredibly over-egged one in “Terror of the Vervoids”, that is), this programme is an absolute delight. It was a real pleasure to hear three of my favourite Doctor Who writers discuss the best and worst in the series' history, new series included. I particularly appreciated Shearman’s take on the “metatextual” cliffhanger in “Dragonfire”! Brilliant.
Above: The hiatus took its toll on Colin Baker...
And the bonus material just keeps on coming. Clean titles and music videos; a super-bumper edition of “Now and Then”; all the relevant Wogan, Open Air, Blue Peter, and Points of View clips in full – this box set really is a completist’s dream... and a completist's wife's worst nightmare.
And as for the fourteen episodes? Well, as “The Trial of a Time Lord” represents the cumulative work of numerous writers and directors, as one complete serial my feelings
about it are unsurprisingly mixed. Essentially, I love the concept of the trial. Credit has to be given to Saward and Nathan-Turner for actually having the cocones to put an under-fire
show on trial on screen as well as behind closed doors, but more than that I actually think
that – in theory at least – the trial idea really makes for some compelling drama. As much as I enjoyed “The War Games”, the first time that I saw the serial I remember being profoundly disappointed when the second Doctor’s trial on Gallifrey lasted all of ten minutes.
I also like the rather witty parallel between Colin Baker’s Doctor and Scrooge. The writers made a conscious decision to borrow heavily from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, particularly in how they have evidence presented from the Doctor’s relative past, present
and future. More importantly though, just like the post-Christmas Ebenezer, the sixth Doctor that we all know and love post-trial is certainly a changed a man, whichever way you choose to look at it...
It is just a shame that the ‘evidence’ presented in the trial is, for the most part, pretty uninspiring. Do not get me wrong, there is plenty to like about much of it; it is just that the
bad stuff is really horrendous and, worse still, the larger narrative does not hold together
very well at all, particularly under close scrutiny. I think that it is a case of 'too many cooks', and all that.
My biggest gripe though has to be with the absurdities in the Gallifreyan legal system - at times they are so manifest and so preposterous that I find it really difficult to take the trial seriously. There is no indictment for one thing, though I suppose even if there were it would be wholly irrelevant as the Valeyard apparently has the power to throw in fresh charges (“genocide!”) whenever the fancy takes him!
“...and when I have finished, this Court will demand your life!”
What’s more, it beggars belief to say the least that the learned court prosecutor is able to speak for the Judge on sentencing matters (good cliffhanger though, mind). And do not even get me started on the conflicts of interest to be found here… Had the Doctor availed himself of a Court Defender as the Inquisitor suggested, he could have had the whole case disposed of within about five minutes on the strength of Article 6 ECHR or some other 'human' right being breached. And there of course is the rub - the Doctor is not human and it is not an English (or European) court but a Gallifreyan one. Even so, had the Court been utterly alien, I would not have had a problem. But as it is so clearly modelled after our own, it is difficult not to draw the aforementioned parallels… and cringe. At its worst, it is almost as bad as some of the 'Speedo' sketches from That Mitchell And Webb Look!
Thankfully though, the captivating performances of Colin Baker, Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham just about manage to obscure the farcical fluidity and procedural injustices of Gallifreyan law. Just about…
'The Mysterious Planet'
There is no two ways about it - "The Trial of a Time Lord" opens spectacularly. I think I am right in saying that the inaugural shot of the TARDIS being brought aboard Space Station Zenobia was, at eight grand, the single most expensive shot in the show’s history at that point. It was certainly money well spent, though. Dominic Glynn's new, darker arrangement
of the theme music (which was cobbled together in a week, apparently) leads beautifully into a shot that is reminiscent of the first Star Wars movie in how it boldly proclaims, we mean business.
Alone, the Doctor emerges into the courtroom and is informed that he is being charged (for starters, at least!) with “conduct unbecoming a Time Lord”, and that video evidence will be presented from within the Matrix itself (apparently all events within the ‘collection range’ of a TARDIS are recorded). This quickly establishes itself as the norm for the season – 'video' evidence is presented, and occasionally commented upon by the Doctor; the sagacious Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham); and the Doctor of Law, the contemptible Valeyard (Michael Jayston).
It is rather amusing that as the evidence is presented, it is the Doctor who interjects with far more regularity than the prosecution - more often than not to complain about the violent content of the images! Satire at its best.
As a stand-alone story “The Mysterious Planet” is distinctly average. The Underground Civilisation is quite interesting - stuff like the ‘HM Stationary Office’ gags reek of Douglas Adams’ influence, and “City of Death” veteran Tom Chadbon is mildly entertaining as Merdeen. Drathro, however, is another kettle of fish entirely, and the Savages led by Joan Sims’ character are about as dull as you can possibly get. And the L1 robot is perhaps the most utterly feeble creation that I have ever seen in Doctor Who - it is totally unmanoeuvrable and completely unthreatening in almost every conceivable way!
More positively though, the Doctor and Peri – both sporting much more hair then when last we saw them on television – seem much more comfortable around each other. Squabbles are few and far between, and both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant make the very best of
what they are given in the script. When writing this story Holmes seems to have had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek despite his poor health - for once, Peri’s wisecracks are actually funny! I love the one about multiple husbands – “we tend to have them one at a time!”
However, even the Doctor and Peri find themselves overshadowed by the infinitely more entertaining duo of Glitz (Tony Selby) and Dibber (Glen Murphy). Dastardly; malicious; and unreservedly selfish these two men really make “The Mysterious Planet” worth watching. Dibber is stupid and ruthless - Dennis Waterman through a mirror, darkly! Glitz is possibly the greatest recurring character of the eighties - "Athur Daley in space!" He is intelligent
and verbose, but best of all he knows he is a crook and makes no bones about it. Holmes’ script is littered with razor sharp dialogue for Tony Selby to relish.
Interestingly, I note from the DVD's commentary track that Selby's distinctive voice has not aged a day since his last appearance in Doctor Who. How awesome would it be if Big Finish were to bring back Glitz in one of the audios? Now that I would love to see.
Philip Martin’s contribution to the season marks a definite (and welcome) change in tone. Despite the ominous sense of foreboding present throughout the first four episodes, visually “The Mysterious Planet” was a very bright and colourful story; lots of daylight, yellows, greens, and reds. Conversely, “Mindwarp” is black, pink and dirty green. A remarkably effective little bit of Paintbox magic brings the colourful skies of Thoros Beta to life, but the vivid images of ocean and sky are short-lived as for the most part Martin’s dark tale of Sil and the Mentors takes place deep underground.
“His name is Dorff, and you are scum!”
It is impossible to talk about “Mindwarp” without mentioning the legendary Brian Blessed who gives a larger-than-life performance (as always) as the warrior King Ycarnos. He has some great one-liners and his attraction to Peri is uproarious to witness as he tries to impress her with his great deeds’ and backhanded compliments. For me, the highlight of the DVD’s “Making of Mindwarp” featurette is where Blessed shares his insights into Yrcarnos.
I really do not think many people realise just how much thought he put into bringing life this magnificent character.
“As a matter of interest, where is Peri?”
On a darker note, the events documented in “Mindwarp” parallel the events leading up to Adric’s death in “Earthshock” quite uncannily. Much like Adric in that story, here Peri makes it clear throughout that she has become homesick and unhappy travelling with the Doctor
but, just like he did in “Earthshock”, the Doctor handles the situation exceptionally poorly. From both the way that the Doctor / Peri scenes are written and especially from the banter between the Doctor and the Valeyard in the courtroom, Peri’s fate as depicted at the end of Part Eight is a dramatic certainty.
What I found really interesting about these four episodes of the serial though was the fact
that some of the Valeyard’s allegations about the Doctor’s appalling behaviour are clearly made out, albeit with mitigating circumstances. From what I understand Martin cannot take all the credit for this shocking turn of events as Saward claims have written most of the courtroom scenes, but even so the writer has to be given an awful lot of credit here for utterly confounding the audience's expectations.
Still, we all know that the Doctor would never behave so badly… right? Were it any other Doctor, you could be sure that he would not. But the sixth? The Doctor who tried to kill his companion in a post-regenerative fit? The Doctor who is now stood in a courtroom, claiming amnesia, as on screen the Matrix shows him betray his companion? It certainly gives the viewer pause.
Of course where it all falls down, as the Merseyside Branch of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society were keen to point out on that notorious 1986 edition of Open Air (included on disc four of the DVD box set), is that none of the issues raised in "Mindwarp" are paid off or even explained. To this day we still do not know for certain whether the Doctor’s mind was addled by Crozier’s machine, whether it was all a big rouse, or whether the evidence presented by the Matrix had been tampered with. Saward has always maintained the latter, but in the
DVD commentary Martin goes on record and states that in his view everything shown here happened and that the Doctor’s mind had indeed been affected by Crozier's machine (I guess “Mindwarp” is something of a clue...) so we are no further forward. I suppose that Martin's view is wholly at odds with the big cop-out at the end of Part Fourteen - which he is keen to distance himself from, understandably - giving some credence to Saward's
position, but whatever was supposed to have happened 'really' it just goes to show what a complete hash was made of things by the production team when the script editor and writer had very different views as to what the story was about. It is a miracle, frankly, that "Mindwarp" is as good as it is.
The above notwithstanding, I suppose that it does not really matter all that much why the Doctor behaved as he did on Thoros Beta – the real issue is that the Time Lords pulled the Doctor out of there before he could put things right.
“Alive within this oh so wonderful, wonderful frame!”
Seeing Kiv awaken inside Peri’s body, one can really empathise with the Doctor. Yes, he was meddling in affairs that did not necessarily concern him, but he could have made things right. And what really stings is that they did not pull the Doctor out of time because at that specific moment he had crossed the line or broke the camel’s back (the final straw came just after “Synthespians™”, according to Craig Hinton's 2004 novel) - they pulled him out because Crozier’s experiments had gone too far; so far that the Time Lords perceived a threat to their universal hegemony. Peri’s apparent death is made all the more tragic by the fact that it could have so easily been prevented.
'Terror of the Vervoids'
Were Doctor Who a US sci-fi drama series then “The Trial of a Time Lord” would probably have taken the form of a twenty-six week season of ‘the Doctor Who clip show’, the bulk of the evidence presented being lifted from previously broadcast stories. And with hindsight, that may have been a mercy. Suffice it to say that Part Nine of this serial sees matters go downhill drastically.
When I received “The Trial of a Time Lord” box set, I sat down and watched the four hours or so’ worth of special features before I watched the serial itself. And when I got to the final disc and had to watch Pip and Jane Baker being crucified on Open Air by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, I really felt sorry for them. I almost felt bad for giving a lot of their work such a hard time myself.
And then I watched these four episodes again, and any feelings of guilt were swiftly expunged.
The concept of the Vervoids may have bordered on being interesting, but their realisation is atrocious, not to mention rather rude. Worse still, this story introduces us to Mel – a companion that, in her television appearances at least, is so bad that she even makes
Dodo look good. Mercifully Big Finish Productions, together with a few very well-written novels, have helped to save Bonnie Langford’s character, but there is still no getting away from the fact that these four episodes are perhaps the worst introduction to the series that any companion has ever had.
If you can call it an introduction, that is. On top of everything else, “Terror of the Vervoids” opens up a gigantic can of worms when it comes to continuity. Fair enough, it does all make sense – if you can be bothered to read “Time of Your Life”, “Business Unusual”, and all the rest of it. How on Earth did the writers expect the casual viewer to get their head around Mel not yet having met the Doctor, yet there they both are sharing an adventure in the future…
“I’m truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come.”
- at least Mel admits it!!!
…before a Mel from the even further future arrives on the Time Station to testify, leaving with the old Doctor at the end of the serial... only to be deposited off-screen with the Doctor's future self, apparently! I know they wanted to hit the ground running following Peri's departure, but an under-fire show was never going to garner any support by confusing the audience.
'The Ultimate Foe'
The quality of the last two episodes of "The Trial of a Time Lord" varies immensely. This comes as little surprise though considering that the revered Robert Holmes passed away after having only completed the first eleven minutes of the thirteenth episode and some preliminary notes for the fourteenth. Eric Saward eventually completed the serial from Holmes' notes, but unfortunately he had a major disagreement with John Nathan-Turner that saw him leave the series, taking his script for Part Fourteen with him.
“I should have stayed here. The oldest civilization. Decadent. Degenerate. And rotten to the core.
Ten million years of absolute power, that’s what it takes to be really corrupt.”
Holmes had wanted to end the last episode on a cliffhanger, with the Doctor and the Valeyard locked in mortal combat, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty style. Personally I think
that this ending would have been a much more satisfying climax dramatically than what we were ultimately left with, but for better or for worse the producer won out and eventually had
to commission Pip and Jane Baker to write the season finale in just three days without any reference to either Holmes' or Saward's work. The result is understandably variable in
quality but, in fairness, I have to concede that the Bakers did a fairly good job given the circumstances - their episode of "The Ultimate Foe" is certainly a cut above their usual standard.
These final two episodes reveal that the Valeyard is the Doctor’s potential future self – a time-looped distillation of all the evil that lurks within the Doctor’s soul, a bit like the
‘Watcher’ that came into being to bridge the gap between his fourth and fifth incarnations, but bad. Very bad. It turns out that the Valeyard struck a deal with the corrupt High Council so that he may inherit the rest of the Doctor’s lives for his own evil purposes...
“The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature,
somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation, and I must say you do not improve with age.”
Now I love this idea, I really do, but I have major reservations about how it is executed here. What should be an action-packed and climactic finale descends into an awful, awful run-around inside the Matrix. Why on Earth the sickeningly bureaucratic ‘Mr Popplewick’ was thrown into the mix by Saward I will never understand; after twelve episodes of verbal sparring, could the production team not see that we would actually want to see more of the 'proper' Valeyard, rather than a pen-pushing Valeyard wearing a rubber mask? Colin Baker and Michael Jayston really had that Pertwee Doctor / Delgado Master chemistry going by this point in the season, and as such it is an awful shame that Jayston is used so sparingly
in these final two parts.
That said, at least the Master is used well in these last two episodes. It is always interesting to see the Doctor and his oldest foe being forced to combine forces for whatever reason,
but here it is especially fascinating because of the unique circumstances. The Master hates the Doctor, and as such he wants him dead. But the Master hates the Valeyard every bit as much and realises that the Valeyard’s utter lack of scruples make him much more of a threat than the Doctor ever could be.
Furthermore, the Master takes great delight in revealing the Time Lord conspiracy (moving Earth and its constellation into a different part of space and time etc), a master stroke by Holmes or Saward or whoever wrote the damned thing, as the dreary task of exposition is suddenly imbued with a whole new life. Moreover, these revelations make the plot of “The Mysterious Planet” suddenly make a lot more sense.
One thing that does frustrate me about “The Ultimate Foe” though is that it cops-out of everything. The Master’s revelations cause the High Council to be deposed, for example. And then nothing happens. A new High Council is elected. What is the point of having it deposed only to replace it with another, similar one? Where is the drama? Why not do something interesting? Why not have the Time Lords thrown into chaos for a while? Why not let the Master rule Gallifrey for a little while?
Similarly, the impact of “Mindwarp” is completely negated by the news of Peri’s survival. To ‘undo’ her death but not bring her back into the series seems pointless in the extreme - “absolute schlock”, as Colin Baker puts it on the DVD.
And as for the serial's ultimate conclusion, well, to quote Peri... “it sucks.”
The Doctor escapes the Matrix having destroyed the Valeyard’s bomb.
And that’s it.
Anti-climax does not even come close.
The Master is trapped in the Matrix, the Time Lords promise to let Glitz off with a slap on the wrist, and the Valeyard lives to fight another day.
Oh, and the sixth Doctor mutters the worst ‘last words’ - at least on television - of any of the Doctors: “Carrot Juice! Carrot Juice! Carrot Juice!” Not that Colin Baker knew that these would be his last words when he filmed that scene, of course. Just after attending a publicity session with Bonnie Langford to promote “The Trial of a Time Lord”, he was inauspiciously fired.
And for a year or so at least, that is where it all ended. The Doctor Who that we knew and loved was gone, to be replaced by the bad children’s pantomime that would constitute the bulk of the forthcoming season.
It is hard to judge a serial as long and as varying in quality as this one is. Saward's courtroom drama, though legally spurious in the extreme, is often very entertaining but a lot
of the 'evidence' presented is best avoided. In short, I like the meat of this one, but hate
most of the veg.
For those such as myself who are engrossed in the whole ‘Valeyard’ arc, I would certainly recommend reading “Millennial Rites” by Craig Hinton; “Matrix” by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker; and especially this year's charity release, "Time's Champion" by Craig Hinton and Chris McKeon, all of which explore this captivating concept with much more success than this over-long and under-par behemoth of a story.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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