Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Season Twenty-Three

Or Trial of a Time Lord as it is notoriously known! As usual with these things I don't find it any better or worse than other Doctor Who and actually whilst watching through these stories I found there was a great deal to praise. During this umbrella season the Doctor faces the sinister Drathro, Sil and his mentor chums on their home planet of Thoros Beta, the hissy Vervoids and the Valeyard himself who turns out to be...well that would be telling!

The regulars -

The Mysterious Planet written by Robert Holmes and directed by Nicholas Mallet

This story in a nutshell: Why has the Earth been blown two light years of course and renamed Ravalox?

Aristocratic Adventurer: My favourite story for Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor. It’s a brilliant re-invention of the character by Robert Holmes, practically a rendition of the comic strip Doctor who was far more cute and approachable than the acidic example of season 22. People say that the Trial idea was ill judged but as a chance to examine the sixth Doctor and make judgement it was ideal and the irony is that although the fans had fallen in love with him by the end of the season (or by the end of this story probably), it was he who was blamed for the shows deficiencies. A real shame. But I refuse to wrap up this introduction to the best characterisation my favourite Doctor on a negative note. He is travelling alone at the beginning of the story, dragged off course and totally wrong footed by events. He’s scathing about the Time Lords which is always good for a laugh. He’s impatient, petulant (‘NOT GUILTY!’) and arrogant (‘I AM LORD PRESIDENT OF GALLIFREY!’) which should make him thoroughly unlikeable but it is played in such a childish, innocent manner you can't help but love him as he throws his toys out of the pram on public display. I love the scene where he tries to comfort Peri, heartbroken at the loss of her planet but he does it in exactly the kind of serene alien way that Baker wanted to play the role from the beginning. The Doctor cannot walk away from a mystery and he has to have answers. His scenes with Balazar sparkle with wit and humour. Always likes to do the unexpected because it keeps people on their toes. ‘Never believe what is said, only what you know’ is just one of his pearls of wisdom this season. I loved his affronted reaction to having his teddy bear taken from his pocket, stuffing away petulantly. He taunts Drathro hilariously (‘You’re obviously a robot used to getting his own way!’) and never misses a chance to have a dig. Does the Doctor corrupt events wherever he goes? Look at the childish look he gives the Valeyard when he gets one up on him; I bet the kids loved that. ‘That’s where the money is!’, ‘How do you put up with him?’ – its one winning line after another. He does a pantomime ‘whoops!’ once he is caught escaping which is pure Troughton. The Doctor finds physical violence distressing…especially when he is on the receiving end of it. ‘These are not my friends!’ he says of Glitz and Dibber and then grabs Peri. He softly calls out for Sarah Jane and as soon as he realises it is Peri he starts barking orders. He cannot let people die if there is a chance of saving them. The Doctor’s furious, childish rant in the courtroom is one of Colin Baker’s finest scenes in his televised adventures; full of moral outrage, butting heads against bureaucracy and criticising Time Lord impotence – he’s radiantly good. Wow, the Doctor trying to convince Drathro to save his slaves at the cost of his life reaffirms his morals and beliefs in a beautiful way. Holmes has tapped into a softer side of the sixth Doctor and it's gorgeous. Good with intelligent reasoning and bad with low cunning. ‘I did my best, I only hope its enough’ sums up the Doctor perfectly. Rather than shouting at Peri he cuddles her. Not many people can claim that they have saved the entire universe. Although I am willing to bet he will mention it a few times.

Busty Babe: Another great use of Peri, I am starting to wonder if I underestimated the writers of her time as, apart from the occasional moment of outrageous sexism, I have enjoyed her character and her rapport with both Doctors greatly. She goes on an astonishing journey in her first three stories alone; introduced to the Doctor's insane lifestyle, having him sacrifice his life for her and then finding herself trapped with an unstable and unlikable replacement. Nicola Bryant is always served the best material but she does her best with it and there are several moments in every story where she shines (the only story where you would be hard pressed to find anything of worth for her is Timelash). Peri holds the Doctor’s arm as they enter the story, their gentle affection is wonderful and long overdue and it makes perfect sense to have had these two travelling for years and getting along famously now. Peri’s reaction to the devastated Earth is probably her most natural material, real effort has gone into making this as poignant as possible. ‘Such women as we have must be shared’ – poor Peri blanches at the idea of being supplied to many husbands. She makes a great gag about infidelity. It's nice to see Peri branching off and having her own adventures, both here and in Mindwarp, and she forms good chemistry with Glitz and condemns him for his mass murdering schemes. ‘Now they’ve killed the Immortal she’s planning a takeover’ – there’s a really blatant accent slip there. It's great how the Doctor and Peri practically talk in short hand when the chips are down and how Peri asks the very natural question ‘oh great so that’s why we’re going in, is it?’ about walking into danger. She convinces Merdeen to leave Drathro’s slaves alive. Confident and funny, she's great fun to be around these days.

Sparkling Dialogue: One of my most quoted stories…it's one humdinger of a line after another.
‘Amazing the effect a long bang can have on a primitive mind.’
‘Planets come and go, stars perish, matter coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.’
‘I’m sure my conscience will prick a little but where money is concerned it doesn’t usually last long.’
‘Be silent, fat one!’
‘I have read it in the flames many times! We go…forward!
‘We should be free…’
‘Immature? I was on Ravalox trying to avert a catastrophe! The Deaths of several hundred innocent people. Surely not even in the eyes of Time Lords can that be deemed either immature or a crime!’
‘Don’t try and think about it Dibber, you’ll give yourself a hernia.’
‘Everything in life has its purpose Drathro. Every creature plays its part. But the purpose of life is too big to knowable, a million computers couldn’t solve that one.’

The Good Stuff: A jaw dropping opening sequence; a dizzying, detailed, atmospheric and vertiginous piece of model work of the sort of quality we are simply not used to on Doctor Who (and the score that accompanies it is wonderfully funereal). I like it when we head off to an unusual location and the autumnal, foggy, barren woodland carpeted with leaves very much looks the part or a devasted Earth making a fine recovery. Glitz and Dibber go down like a fine wine, it’s a witty Holmesian double act that comment on the action abusively. The truth of where the Doctor and Peri is is brought home suddenly with the authentic looking escalator set, a genuinely impressive piece of design work. The Earth has been devastated, blown off course, a war of primitives against technology – Holmes sure knows how to dream up a potent scenario. Micheal Jayston, Lynda Bellingham, Tony Selby, Joan Simms and Tom Chadbon…the Trial stories boast the most incredible casts, as many big names as you would find in a Poirot drama now. Drathro is a towering, multi limbed and jointed robot and is every bit as menacing as the Giant Robot wasn’t, he’s a fearsome piece of design. Look at how much effort has gone into making the primitive settlement work (the design, costumes, the mixture of elderly citizens and children and scenes of them cultivating the land…that’s a lot of background effort that we don’t always see in Doctor Who stories). The books of knowledge are a great running gag, especially the Doctor’s reaction to UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose by HM Stationary Office. Glitz’s scenes just get better and better (‘D’you think an old hag like you can bring me down?’). The L1 can be laughed at but it is far better than the last attempt at this sort of thing in Terminus (plus I love it's mock Jaws theme). I love the hunt through the leaf blown woods, it's such an awesome location to choose, lots of ducking in and out of the trees – when I first watched this story I just wanted to head out into the woods and get chased about. The gentle rivalry between Merdeen and Grell is nicely played, especially the latters death and the formers grief stricken reaction. Bleeping the evidence and setting up mysteries and revelations for later on is much more accepted in the arc driven seasons of today and the unsolved mysteries are nicely mentioned by the Doctor at the end of the story. If people think waiting a handful of stories for answers is stretching it, I guess they never imagined the patience straining plotting of Moffat era that introduced elements in The Eleventh Hour that still haven't been solved. The last episode is one priceless moment after another for the sixth Doctor. I love Dibbers style; when the going the going gets tough, he blasts a buggering great hole in the wall! The sizzling, smoking Drathro looks excellent, a molten metal man. I’m glad Holmes lets Glitz and Dibber get to clean up on this job and have a tasty little kitty for the next venture…lets hope it's soon. At first you might think the Valeyard might be taking the wrong approach by showing a story that boasts a heroic Doctor but this is just softening up material, lulling him into a false sense of security before condemning him with Mindwarp!

The Bad Stuff: The subway sets are over lit and plastic, a sharp contrast to the shadowy, foggy locations elsewhere. It’s easy to mock the yellow boiler suits. I am still uncertain about the Trial season version of theme tune. When I hear it now it reminds me of his Big Finish adventures because they have rather monopolised the theme (and as such it does get me excited because Sixie's audio adventures are by far my favourite). However as a piece of music it is perhaps a little to subtle for me. Can a trial transform into a witch hunt that easily? Humker and Tandrell are wittily scripted but should have been brought to life by a less wooden pair of actors. The Doctor has faced far more impressive dangers than that at the end of episode two and hasn't felt the need to make such grand statements. One thing that often gets me cross about the ratings is how people use them to defend stories they like and damn stories they don’t. The Mysterious Planet has one of the lowest ratings of the entire series but then so does The War Games and Ghost Light are yet they are praised on their own merits. Whereas stories such as Underworld and The Power of Kroll are blessed with individual episodes that reach 11/12 million and we all know how thrilling they are. It’s all nonsense of course, the show would always recover (as it does this season into something a lot more respectable) but there is no doubting that the hiatus has had a huge impact on the reputation of the show, the overall average this season down by about two million viewers. It’s fortunate that the dialogue sparkles so brightly because the story runs on the spot in episode three before rallying for a great final episode.

The Shallow Bit: The thoughts I used to have about Dibber when I was younger were obscene. It's not often you get a cute bit of rough like this in Doctor Who.  How embarrassing, the Doctor looks as though he is humping the L1 at one point. Drathro holds up the secrets like a dainty new handbag!

Result: Another seriously underrated eighties story, The Mysterious Planet features some of Robert Holmes wittiest dialogue and he gives all his characters some wonderful moments. A lot of people use this story as a example of how ill Holmes was and how his work suffered as a result but I just cannot see that there is a noticable drop between this and the majority of his other work on the show. The script is imaginative, fun, adventurous and packed with lively characters and set pieces. Nick Mallet’s direction is lighter than anything we have seen since Black Orchid but it lets the actors and the design work charm us throughout. Give the man a hand, Colin Baker has never been better in televised Who and the sixth Doctor as seen here is the Doctor at his peak. With an incredible cast, some lovely autumnal location work and lots of lovely ideas zipping about it's another story I find a joy to re-watch. The Trial of a Time Lord is regularly knocked because it's fashionable to do so but when you break it down there is far more here to enjoy than there is to dislike. Give it another chance and let the great gags and warm script wash over you: 8/10

Mindwarp written by Philip Martin and directed by Ron Jones

The story in a nutshell: Visiting the sherbet dip planet, the Doctor and Peri both go out of their minds as horrid turd slug Sil licks some serious ass and the Time Lords kill everybody to protect their secrets. Doctor Who is finally on acid.

Dark Doctor: Oddly enough even in his darkest hour there are still loads of charming for the sixth Doctor in this story, showing how far we have come since The Twin Dilemma. He is piercingly and irrefutably told to shut up and stop being so naughty in the courtroom. 'Who else is there?' is his response to being asked why they should interfere. One thing that ran through his time on the show was the sixth Doctor’s expressive enthusiasm of machinery. Bask in his foot stomping hilarity when he loses his temper with the Valeyard. As soon as the Doctor realises what Crozier’s machine is for he tries to dismantle it, a defiant moral reaction. Colin Baker tries to summon the humour of his name sake by acting as though he has had one two many down the pub but these moments of giddy delirium where the Doctor has gone out of his mind are my least favourite of his, the only time I feel he was an embarrassment in the role (thank goodness it is contained to a couple of scenes in part six). His betrayal of Peri is played so broadly it feels very wrong, like he is a twinkling panto villain and enjoying his companions fear. You have to feel sorry for our Doctor (in the courtroom) trying to defend such damning evidence against his character. ‘I see my own interests. I put myself first!’ – you would have thought the Valeyard would be a little subtler in his character assassination than that. His quiet ‘Is Peri dead?’ at the beginning of part eight is quietly played and deadly serious. He describes Peri as ‘fliberty giberty…hopeless!’ and admits that he has enough feelings for her not to want to see her experimented on. I suppose that is some progress from The Twin Dilemma where he tried to throttle her. Look at his face when the guard captain gives him his weapon to cover Ycarnos, I always crack up at that bit. ‘We haven’t got time for you to go courting!’ - definitely my Doctor back. The last scene is possibly the Doctor’s darkest moment in this incarnation and Colin Baker is extraordinary; the Doctor’s reaction to Peri’s death is grief stricken, speechless, furious.

Busty Babe: I’ve got a secret confession to make, I really like Peri. I know she whinges on a bit but unlike Tegan she feels like a real person to me, a stroppy little madam with a privileged upbringing who is whisked off into a universe of horrors and excitement where every over despot they encounter wants to nibble on her bangers. Peri works for me because Nicola Bryant gives her some real pathos and humour and because she shares wonderful chemistry with both of her Doctors (but particularly with Colin Baker which has only been honed over the years in her audio adventure with Big Finish - they are a formidable team these days). I’ll probably be shot down for this but I actually prefer Peri to Ace because her dialogue is more realistic (anybody's dialogue is more realistic than Ace's) and you don’t expect that much of her so she often quietly surprises you whereas Ace was introduced as an amazing not Mel (there is no greater way to describe her) who was often drearily melodramatic and nowhere near as hip as she pretended to be. Peri is often forgotten amongst the wealth of companions but quietly she is one of my favourites and this is a superb final showing for her character.

‘Far out!’ She emerges from the TARDIS terrified that she might clash with whatever lives in a pink sea. Peri is getting on extremely well with the Doctor these days and there is lots of subtle touching and warmth between them. ‘Dirty old warlord!’ She sometimes wishes the Doctor never left Gallifrey, not (my God she’s even cracking jokes, what has happened to her?). ‘I think it just winked at Peri’ ‘Oh cheek!’ ‘There’s no accounting for alien taste…’ – seriously how well do these two work in this first episode? A sign that Peri has grown up she tells the Doctor she wants out of this adventure in a very adult fashion. How marvellous is it to find someone who thinks Peri is revoltingly ugly for a change? Throughout Peri and Ycarnos’ relationship is massively watchable, they bicker like an old married couple  but with much affection for each other. He calls her Perpeguilliam of the Brown and she she has to keep him and his aide from tearing each others throats out. Returning the favour from Vengeance on Varos, Peri attempts to murder Sil. If what we see is to be believed than Peri’s last words to the Doctor are an insult at what a disgusting person he has become. What a sad way to end their time together (although she does still try and save his life). I love the scene where Ycarnos and Dorff have a bitch fight over Peri, she certainly gives as good as she gets. If it is true and Peri and Ycarnos wound up married to each other there is nothing in this story that contradicts that possibility. Her stupidest ever line: ‘Nobody likes brain alteration!’ The scenes in the cell between Peri and Ycarnos are beautifully played and very sweet, Peri wants to go back to her own time and be around people she loves. Nicola Bryant goes out in real style, giving a very disturbing performance as Mentor Kiv and proving at the 11th hour what a versatile actress she is.

Slimy Snake: Whilst he made an instant impression in Vengeance on Varos it was clear that the make up needed a little perfecting. That has been done and the final effect in Mindwarp is seamless, you can't really tell what is is costume and what is make up.  Every line out of Nabil Shaban’s mouth is a little gem and I have endlessly quoted lines from this and Vengeance to unsuspecting friends over the years (‘Money! Moneymonamonamonamoney!’). He’s such a fantastic suck up that if you are looking for ways to lick up to your boss simply watch this story, copy and paste (‘Long may that day be postponed, great Kiv!’). Sil is purely a comic creation these days (he was somewhat more sinister in his debut) but who cares when he lights up the story so much whenever he appears. The one thing that remains consistent is how thrilled he is at watching Peri being tortured. He finds it extremely useful to have a Time Lord in his employ, helping him to pick and choose which companies to finance and get the greatest return on. He sulks like a petulant child when things don't go his way. It really upsets me that to this day we never learn what happened to the poor old slug. Big Finish have come to the rescue there with the lost story Mission to Magnus being dramatised (seriously give it a listen, it is a camp classic!) and a fourth adventure is in the pipeline early in 2014. I can't wait. He's the best original creation of the sixth Doctor's era by a country mile.

Sparkling Lines: This is an extremely witty script…
‘Then where will you be, hmm? Dead! No worse than that…poor!’
‘Unless you want to add your own despair to the sea of sorrows…’
‘Half my fortune if you give me a five minute start!’
‘I’ll scout ahead!’ ‘We’ll all scout ahead!’
‘Die well, my lady.’
‘His name is Dorff and you are scum!’
‘What is more important, my well being or your wealth?’ ‘A trick question magnificence…’
‘And so they took it upon themselves to act like second rate Gods!’
‘You…killed Peri.

The Good Stuff: I have always had a love/hate relationship with Mindwarp, finding that with each successive viewing my opinion shifts dramatically. Frankly I have never known quite what to think about this story and I think Mindwarp quite likes it that way. Half the time it can't make up its mind what is the truth or not. However today I think I have finally made up my mind…with a few caveats.

Any story that can open with a model shot that good and music that moody can’t be all-bad. It might be my favourite musical score in the classic series’ run, go and listen to the haunting music as we approach Thoros-Beta. Irritatingly, it seems to be the only soundtrack from the classic series that isn't available as an isolated score. Th surface of Thoros Beta might make your eyes bleed but it is still the most dazzlingly psycadelic alien world ever seen in Doctor Who. People tend to forget how good JNT’s stories can look and the image of the TARDIS materialising in an electric pink sea with the ringed planets dominating the sky remains unforgettably innovative. The dialogue might be perfunctory but there is some real talent in that courtroom between the actors (Jayston, Bellingham and Baker) of making it dramatic. How dark and under lit is this story? Coupled with a moody score, twisted themes and some uncomfortably bold direction and the overall effect is electrifying in parts. Brian Blessed! Christopher Ryan! Nabil Shaban! What an impressive cast! Blessed in particular puts a smile on my face from his first appearance to his last, so bold and brash (and yet capable of great moments of subtlety) that he can even blow Colin Baker off the screen. The Lukoser manages to go from being frightening to sympathetic in the same introductory scene, that is some confident shifting of tone. The first episode is practically plotless but proves to be one punch the air moment between Peri and the Doctor after another. When Ycarnos starts smashing up Crozier's laboratory, he rushes to protect the pulsating brain. The sets this week are genuinely impressive; future tech that looks like future tech and not an embarrassing tinfoil wrapped vision of the future, strobe lights capturing the action in sudden flashes, mist rolling through the caves…it really feels as though Peri has fallen down the rabbit hole into a sick, twisted Hell. Peri chained to the rock is really nasty, especially that first sudden cut to the waves slashing at her body. Giggling Sil coming into focus from Kiv’s POV always makes me chuckle, Mindwarp can cut from the horrific to the childish in a heartbeat. ‘RETREAT? I AM KING YCARNOS OF THE KRONTEP!’ – man Ycarnos rules. Why couldn’t this cuddly bear have been a companion? Imagine him and the sixth Doctor rattling about the universe? They would have to give out ear plugs wherever they visited. He certainly would have livened up season twenty-four (‘You’re obsessed with dying Ycarnos, I don’t know what’s wrong with you…’). The end of part three feels extremely dramatic, odd considering we have seen a hundred cliff-hangers of this nature before that left me shrugging my shoulders. Ycarnos is capable of moments of surprising gentleness and depth amongst all the entertaining bellowing, making his character one to watch. The atmosphere in the last episode is stifling; it really feels like the hand of fate is closing around Peri, even more so than it did with Adric in Earthshock. The ancient ‘wizened one’  is a lovely character (‘Thank you’ ‘For your life it was nothing’ ‘No...for not shouting.’). Brian Blessed really underplays his reaction to Dorff’s death and it isn’t sentimental in the slightest and thus extremely poignant. The Doctor being taken out of time is one of those wonderful 'oh shit' moments when you suddenly realise that he isn't going to be able to sort this one out. There were plenty of times when this happened with the fifth Doctor but his replacement has been so hands and it has never happened to him before. His enrage importance in the courtroom shows how he is desperate to get back there and get his hands dirty. The revelation that Crozier can offer immortality frightens the Time Lords in a way that forces their hand in order to protect their secrets. It is another example of their interference this season (we haven't yet learnt of their hand in the Ravalox affair). All these examples are stacking up to make the Doctor's violent condemnation of his own people in The Ultimate Foe really impact.  Sil’s ‘I wish you could have found a more attractive one’ is perfectly timed. Is this one of the most dramatic denouements in Doctor Who? I was left breathless at the twists and turns and especially at Peri's grisly fate.

The Bad Stuff: The first scene continually points to The Mysterious Planet for answers, bringing up plot points and in jokes which aren't relevant to this story. It works if you take this as a 12-part story but if you are only dipping into the series it is completely alienating. Can you imagine anything more 80’s than the Doctor and Peri walking across a garishly luminous beach in garish luminous clothes? What is Martha’s dad doing on Thoros Beta? Peri’s scenes with Matrona are so outregously camp they move somewhere beyond  movie – that can pretty much be levelled at the whole of episode two actually. Peri’s butch ‘Yes my Lord’ might be a new nadir of the Colin Baker era. As good as Mindwarp is in place, it descends into moments of head shaking embarrassment on occasion. The dance of the Alphan slaves is hilarious. Tuza is a wooden character being brought to life by a wooden performer.

The Shallow Bit: What’s the verdict on Peri’s grown up look with permed hair and clothes that cover her skin? The end of part one looks as though Colin Baker is masturbating. Not a good look for the show.

Result: One of the most impressive casts gets to play about in Philip Martin’s menacing and playful script. Mindwarp has a really wobbly second episode (which in isolation really doesn't ass anything to the development to the story and could happily be cut out with relatively few alterations to other episodes) but after that things just get darker and more twisted and climax on one of the most dramatic last episodes of Doctor Who ever. The mixture of humour and horror reminds me of Rob Shearman’s work, it's uncomfortable but enjoyably so (if you are as twisted as I am). Mindwarp is also a visual treat with sets, effects, lighting and music all exceeding the already pretty high average of eighties Who. Peri is given a remarkably good send off, in this story she is  funny, commanding, mouthy, sweet and her fate is breathtakingly climatic. Nicola Bryant has always been game but she throws herself into this with everything she has. Her one scene as Kiv is gob-smacking. I’m not going to pretend that Mindwarp is a Doctor Who masterpiece, there are some woefully embarrassing moments that cannot be ignored but taken as a whole it is dark and delicious, funny and eccentric, unpredictable and entertaining. An unforgettable ending to an underrated tale, this has been one of my greatest surprises during my marathon re-watch: 8/10

Terror of the Vervoids written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Chris Clough


The Ultimate Foe written by Robert Holmes & Pip & Jane Baker (who ever thought those creative credentials would see the light of day?) and directed by Chris Clough

This story in a nutshell: The Trial comes to a head with some big surprises…

Theatrical Adventurer: Even if this wasn’t supposed to be the sixth Doctor’s swansong it is wonderful to see him going out with such great material afforded to the character. One of the major strengths of the Trial season was Colin Baker’s effortless portrayal of the Doctor and his gentle softening up with each subsequent story. Here he gets to stand up to his people in one of finest speeches in the shows history, to confront the darker side of himself and to show us just how cute a pairing he and Mel would have been had they had more time together. Not a bad story to go out on at all. The Doctor’s accusation that somebody has been tampering with the Matrix to falsify evidence against him would be laughable if it wasn’t so outrageous. His fury at the Time Lords for sacrificing the Earth to protect their secrets is truly explosive – not even Troughton was this furious when he faced the judgement of his people. Of all the Doctor’s incarnations I am so glad it was the least appreciated and most theatrical that got the chance to really stick it to them. The lighting on Colin Baker’s face when he discovers that the Valeyard is his future self is superb, half dark, half light just like the two sides of his characters standing in the courtroom. He’s a man of action, dashing into whatever horrors the Matrix can throw at him in order to confront himself. The Doctor cannot bear the bureaucracy of the Valeyard’s fantasy in the Matrix and has always been a bit of an iconoclast by nature. He’s happy to sign his remaining lives over to the Valeyard should he unexpectedly die. The Doctor wants to know why the Valeyard has gone to such extraordinary lengths to kill him. I’m pleased that the Doctor’s hand in the genocide of the Vervoids isn’t completely dismissed even if it is only handled in the fake trial room. You’ve got love how the Doctor plays along with the whole sorry business of his fake execution – even going to the lengths of giving Mel a little speech about accepting his fate. He definitely has a touch of the Grand Guignol! His last line isn’t great but at least he goes out on a fun moment – if we couldn’t get a regeneration seeing him save the day so heroically and turning down the Presidency is the next bet thing.

The Other Doctor: I love how the Valeyard tries to bluff his way through all the interruptions to his damning court case against the Doctor knowing that he is about to be rumbled. I think villains are always more dangerous when they are caught off guard. He wants to attain his freedom and operate as a complete entity, stealing the Doctor’s remaining lives. With the Doctor destroyed and unlimited access to the Matrix there will be nothing beyond his power. Just when I was thinking it was a shame to see the death of such a great villain the ending sneaks up and surprises us as the Valeyard turns to the camera and laughs menacingly. Hoorah! Lets hope we see him again one day. The Doctor needs someone to remind him to stop elevating futility to a high art! Michael Jayston is one of the major strengths of season twenty-three, he gives a towering performance and manages to make the most unlikeliest of dialogue (especially in the contributions by Pip'n'Jane) sound plausible, even frightening. It is a shame that he never had the opportunity to butt heads with the seventh Doctor, I have a feeling that would have been a terrific battle of wits.

Bubbly Bonnie: Oh sweet bejesus that Mel is a sparky thing, isn’t she? Despite being saddled with some dreadful lines I still maintain that she worked well in the trial season – I think there is something about pairing her up with Colin Bakers similarly theatrical Doctor that really stirs up some good chemistry. She’s about as truthful, honest…and about as boring as they come (at least she is honest about it). Mel spoils everything by refusing to let the Doctor sign on as a martyr. The ‘Don’t go through that…’ ‘…door’ scene always make he laugh. Mel needs the mickey taking out of her more often. How the Doctor has managed to survive this long is a mystery to her.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil. Against power mad conspirators! I should have stayed here! The oldest civilisation; decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core! Power mad conspirators? Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen…they’re still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of absolute power! That’s what it takes to be really corrupt!’

The Good Stuff:
· Seeing James Bree in turn up in this story reminds me that he also saw in Troughton’s Doctor as well. This actor is a portent of doom for the current inhabitant of the main part…
· Glitz was my number one ‘I’d like to see return’ character so its great that we didn’t even have to wait until the end of the season to get a return visit from my favourite rogue. His appalled looking ‘are they all like you here?’ to Mel is hilarious and he looks positively affronted when the Valeyard calls him a common criminal! He’s a small time crook with small time ambitions and one of which is to stay alive and as such needs to be blackmailed into helping the Doctor. Isn’t it hysterical that Glitz wears a knuckle duster? Can you imagine him actually laying someone out with that thing? It's lovely that the Doctor asks them to exercise leniency with Glitz…that he isn’t beyond redemption.
· I know that the Master is contractually obliged to appear once a season but this has mostly led to some ridiculous appearances (and even more insane disguises) but for once it is a genuine thrill to see him. He looks down on the whole sorry courtroom and takes the piss out of everything – he has been watching this travesty of a trial from beginning to end and has been enjoying himself immensely! He’s in his element stirring up the Valeyard and showing his hand in trying to kill the Doctor and in doing so rocking the High Council to its foundations with his barrage of revelations. Turns out the Master is genuinely frightened by the Valeyard because he has all the Doctor’s intelligence and cunning but twisted into a darker persona without morality to hold him back. Finally the Master has met his match. He’s such a devious sod that he uses the Doctor as bait to bring the Valeyard out in the open so he can shoot him. There's a gloriously post modern feel to the Master having sat through the entirety of the Trial and not being at all impressed, he really is speaking for the majority of the fandom at the time this was aired.
· The revelations are genuinely shocking – I know back in the day people weren’t used to season long arcs but today’s audience are much more savvy about such things – and the return to the story that began in The Mysterious Planet gives the conclusion a real sense of epic proportions. Secrets were being stolen from the Matrix and fed to Andromeda via Earth and protect their secrets the Time Lords drew the Earth billions of years across space causing the fireball that nearly destroyed the planet. That is an awesome twist and it’s the first of many this story has to offer.
· I don’t think we should underestimate just how good of a twist finding out that the Valeyard is the Doctor really is. Never before had Doctor Who held off such a delicious concept for so long to create maximum impact and it is a revelation so good because it floors an audience that thinks this wrap up is going to be more dull court proceedings. This is something for us to really get our teeth into – a darker version of the Doctor for him to face. I cannot think of a more exciting twist in the shows history.
· The nightmarish sequences inside the Matrix are brilliantly directed by Chris Clough, they’re dark and menacing and the sound effects (a bell tolling, maniacal laughter, children singing) are used to disturbing effect. The lights of the Fantasy Factory all snapping on at once is a visual worthy of Sapphire and Steel it is so surreal. The feather explosions across the courtyard look fabulous and I cannot compliment Clough enough for his handling of the Doctor’s fake execution. Even Mel looks creepy shrouded in shadows beckoning the Doctor back to the courtroom. The whispering of ‘Death Death Death Death’ is very effective. Clough's best direction for Who by a country mile.
· The cliffhanger is stomach churning but less because of the Doctor being dragged into the quicksand and more because of the nightmarish image of the hands groping their way excitedly at thin air. We think of Doctor Who at the time as something that everybody was pointing at a laughing but I had a friend who was seven when this was on and she absolutely adored it…except for this cliffhanger which gave her nightmares for weeks and her parents wouldn’t let her watch any more. All she remembers was the Doctor dressed up like a clown (ahem) being dragged under a beach by dirty hands and it still makes her shudder to think about it today. So the show was still doing its job even during its more difficult periods.
· Whilst I don’t buy into the idea of a Megabyte Modem, I can buy into the assassination of the Time Lords in the courtroom and the race against time to warn them and subsequent fight between the Doctor and Master is far more exciting than similar scenes in The Deadly Assassin. The music is especially good in this climatic sequence. I don’t know what those sparkling blue bits do that come spitting out of the machine but I bet it's not nice.

The Bad Stuff: ‘That’s it Doc now we’re getting at the dirt!’ is a line that should never have seen the light of day. ‘How utterly evil!’ is another (although the Master’s quiet ‘thank you’ is quite lovely). And ‘You’ll soon have ample scope to indulge in melodrama!’ Retconning Peri’s death was a big mistake (given it was one of the more memorable and dramatic moments of the season) and it's something I like to skip over when I think of her character's outcome. As far as I’m concerned she did die on that surgical bed. What do you mean I can't make it up as I go along? The Doctor dressed up like Ronald McDonald clutching his head and going boss eyed as rainbow lights strike him is not exactly the sort of image the show needed at a time like this. What is it about these villains who enjoy wearing rubber masks? They always look absolutely convincing until it comes time to pull the rubber facade off. The Megabyte Modem is a decidedly dodgy piece of design work (Doctor Who rarely descended to a box with flashing lights) and the technobabble that centres around it remains unintelligible. If it is real science (and Pip'n'Jane and Colin Baker maintain that it is) I would rather they went for a more entertaining and understandable creative alternative. ‘You can never prevent the catharsis of spurious morality’ might just be my most quoted Pip'n'Jane line. It's treasurably bad. When the whole story should be leading to this point it feels rather strange that the High Council being deposed is thrown in as something of an afterthought. Nice to know that in the Time Lords eyes that 
once you save the lives of your jury all charges of interference and genocide will be dropped. Their just making it up as they go along.

Result: I don’t care who knows it – I really like Trial of a Time Lord and I think The Ultimate Foe is a pretty damn good climax. Part Thirteen is the better of the two (and not because it isn’t the part written by Pip’n’Jane) because it is always easier to set things up than to conclude (look at Russell T Davies) and it manages to be classic episode of shocking revelations (The Master! The Valeyard is the Doctor! The Time Lords tried to destroy the Earth!), quality dialogue (the Doctor’s incensed speech to his people) and some dark and twisted imagery within the Matrix. It's about as far from the dying show of repute as you can get. The second episode is full of cracking moments too but wants to fit in too many bluffs and whimsical scenes when it should be squarely focused on wrapping the story up. Throughout the guest cast are terrific (Ainley, Bellingham, Jayston, Hughes and Selby all shine), the music is evocative and Chris Clough delivers his finest direction for the series with some very atmospheric sequences (especially the Doctor’s fake execution). It's not perfect by any means (the megabyte modem) but it’s an exciting, engaging conclusion to a largely fun experiment and in his last story Colin Baker gets to show all sides of his wonderful Doctor. A shame it had to end here as he clearly had so much more to give but the TV series' loss is Big Finish's gain: 8/10

1 comment:

Guy Grist said...

I really enjoy Trial of a Time Lord as well it vers from high camp to incredible plot twist, from spellbinding character scenes to some of the most pantomime dialogue in the classic series. The surreal, sublime and and so bad it's funny sit side by side in this season and I still love it.