Monday, 30 December 2013

The Trial of the Valeyard written by Alan Barnes & Mike Maddox and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: There is some evil in all of us – even the Doctor. Transported aboard the Time Lords' orbiting courtroom, the Doctor once again encounters the Valeyard, an amalgamation of the darker sides of his nature. This time, however, the Doctor isn't in the dock. This time, the Valeyard is the defendant, accused of a crime so terrible that the presiding Inquisitor is forbidden to reveal it even to the court, nor even to his counsel for the defence… the Doctor. If the Valeyard is found guilty, he'll be executed. Execute the Valeyard, and the secret of his origins dies with him. A secret that the Doctor is desperate to know… and which the Time Lords will stop at nothing to protect.
Softer Six: He simply will not accept that he has landed on the Trial station again and walks straight back into the TARDIS and refuses to come out. Clearly his Trial is a period of his life that still haunts him. If he can’t escape he will wait for the 17 suns of Kasterborous to go out before he leaves his ship and is subjected to more political chicanery at the hands of his people. He might say that his interest isn’t piqued but he still wants them to put the lights on so he can see precisely where he is. He’s sooner embrace oblivion than yet again suffer the prolonged misery of the Gallifreyan system. Rather than undergo the same indignities as last time he fesses up to all the charges that were laid at his door (stealing a TARDIS, meddling in the affairs of others, etc.). There can’t be many Time Lords that the Doctor is still on speaking terms with after all these aeons. He refers to the Master as ‘old pointy beard.’ He doesn’t hate easily but when it comes to the Valeyard…but does that mean he hates himself? Given Colin Baker’s career in panto, the Doctor’s line defending the genre was quite a nice touch. The only thing that riles him even more than a future version of himself meddling in his affairs is the Time Lords not playing fair and that is what encourages him to speak on the Valeyard’s behalf. Like the Trial during season twenty-three, the facts being revealed suddenly become a noose around the Doctor’s neck. The idea of experimenting on himself to extent his life cycle doesn’t even seem possible, let alone plausible. ‘Gallifrey can go hang!’ he cries, a condemnation that he might live to regret.

The Inquisitor: Lynda Bellingham was sorely missed in the last three seasons of Gallifrey (her Inquisitor was one the best elements of the series, taking the term villainess to new levels of space opera campery). I’m pleased that Big Finish have been able to avail themselves of her services again. She doesn’t have any time for vulgar theatrics. Age is a Time Lady’s prerogative and she isn’t telling. I’m not sure whether the Inquisitor is the Doctor’s ally or enemy in this adventure and I think she rather likes it that way. Ultimately, I don’t think Barnes and Maddox quite got a handle on the character but she is salvaged by Bellingham’s phenomenal performance.

The Valeyard: This is a character that is ripe for further exploration that Big Finish has practically ignored entirely (which is most unlike them) aside from the dire Unbound adventure He Jests at Scars and that dealt with an alternative version of the character. The twist at the end of Trial of a Time Lord that he is a darker version of the Doctor is one of the finest shock twists in the shows history, they sat on that revelation for 11 episodes so it made the maximum impact. And it is a concept that is ripe for great drama, a sinister, corrupt version of the Doctor. When I heard that Big Finish were going to put this story out as a subscriber special I was very excited, finally somebody had grabbed hold of a idea that has barely been touched upon and was going to look into it in more depth. Personally I would be up for a Valeyard series, simply because the idea of an anti-hero travelling in the TARDIS is too delicious to waste. He cannot believe that the Doctor had the chance to be Lord President of Gallifrey and he squandered it. His earlier iteration might think that he has lived but he knows that he has barely even started. The all-seeing, all-knowing Time Lords of Gallifrey don’t know what the Valeyard is. That is what scares them. He wanted the remainder of the Doctor’s lives because having seen what he did with them he considers himself doing the universe a favour. He only stumbled across the Matrix door because he was trying to hack into the system, which has earned him a death sentence. He has devoted himself to the study of eternal life, regeneration after regeneration.

Standout Performance: Jayston should have been exploited far more than he has by Big Finish, a menacing, silky voiced performer who is more than up to the task of heading a box set or range of his own. It was a delight to get reacquainted with the actor during this adventure and I would love to hear more from him.

Sparkling Dialogue: The Doctor claims that the Gallifreyan legal system makes ‘Jaundice vs Jaundice look like summary justice.’
‘Don’t tell me somebody has stitched old Morbius back together again.’
‘I know how it all works out for you, this ‘living a little.’ You have no idea what’s coming next.’
‘It’s not such a long journey from the bench to the docks.’
‘Repeating heresies is a favourite pastime of mine.’
‘You will create me because you will wish not to become me. That is our tragedy, Doctor.’
‘I’ve witness more considerate lynchings!’

Great Ideas: Considering how he has been pining over the Time Lords for much of the New Series and has just spend the 50th anniversary agonising over his choice to destroy them to end the Time War, it is fascinating to return to a time when his opinion of his people was so low that if he had that choice at this stage of his life he might have used the moment in a fit of pique. But then then Time Lords were up to some dodgy business during these times. As a fan of the Trial season I cannot say that I object the opening five minutes playing out like a carbon copy The Mysterious Planet with the Doctor once again being dragged to the graveyard of spaceships and butting heads boisterously with the Time Lords. The most shocking thing that the Doctor could possibly be told is that he has been selected by the Valeyard to act as his council and his reaction is as calm and mild mannered as you can imagine. The Valeyard walks the Doctor through his coming incarnations, offering him titbits of information. The seventh Doctor is described as playing a game that was never his to the win and the eighth a man who can never escape death. The Trial Station s located in a wholly unremarkable area of space save for the fact that it is the location of a Matrix door, a point of access to the Time Lord’s great repository of knowledge. The Time Lords have been re-visiting their own time stream and re-writing the law – there are no depths that they won’t plumb in order to get their own way. How can anybody have a fair trial if the Time Lords can go back in time and jiggle the judicial system to suit their whims? He was discovered on the planet that exists below the Trial ship as a wordless mute, little more than a savage. When the populace realised he was of Time Lord descent he was returned to his people. Upon arriving at Gallifrey it was discovered that his bio data extract was an exact match for the Doctor’s and he was dispatched to a shadow house. That is where all Time Lords who have suffered regeneration failures wind up, Rassilon’s mistakes. Time Lords who have reverted into children, who have half regenerated, whose bodies have regenerated but whose brains have not, who have regenerated inside out. It’s a fascinating idea, and I hope in the future we get to visit a shadow house because it sounds like a regular house of horrors, both physically and mentally. We know for a fact that the mad scientist that the Doctor meets is not his thirteenth life (that was Matt Smith’s Doctor) but that doesn’t make the notion of the Doctor taking a look into his far flung future and being horrified by what he sees any less disturbing. The Valeyard was put on Trial because he wouldn’t share the secrets that he had discovered, the ability to cheat death. I can’t believe that Barnes and Maddox had the nerve to include a fake trial sentence, attempted execution, a surprise future version of the Doctor and a particle disseminator. We could call this The Ultimate Foe Mark II.

Audio Landscape: TARDIS landing, the engines faltering when the transduction barriers raise, the Jury entering the Trial, I did squee when the Time Lords attempting to bleep out the Doctor’s revelation about the Time Lords meddling in the affairs of Ravalox and it was exactly the same sound as the Trial season, the Valeyard being dispersed, walking through squelchy mud, war TARDISes, stasers, bubbling mud.

Musical Cues: Is it my imagination or is Andy Hardwick’s music starting to sound a little samey these days? His score for this story sounds like it has been borrowed from a handful of his other adventures.

Isn’t it Odd: There was a very good reason that the Trial season didn’t consist of fourteen episodes of court case action and that is because it is extremely hard to maintain a decent dramatic narrative through exposition (although recently nobody seems to be reminding Steven Moffat of that fact). Whilst The Trial of the Valeyard is a fun enough story as a subscriber freebie, I think had this tale been a full priced tale it would have played out very differently. Not relayed through a court case but give the proper dramatic opportunities as we follow the Valeyard from his conception to his confrontation of the man he believes made him. There is something quite soulless about telling a story in legal terms. Towards the end of the story the Time Lords seem to be so corrupt that they are willing to toss all legal requirements aside and do anything to dispose of the Valeyard who has become an embarrassing faux pas to them. Apparently the reason that Time Lord’s can only regenerate twelve times is because the symbiotic nuclei can only be split so many times before it becomes unstable. What a boring, biological explanation. The ending is confusing, as though the writers had run out of time to wrap up all of their ideas. The Valeyard pops up after having faked his death and flies off, the status quo resumed but nothing is really resolved.

Standout Scene: The Valeyard is the side effect of somebody’s illegal studies into the extension of the regeneration cycle. Is it possible that in his dying days the Doctor might carry out illegal experiments on himself to try and gain extra lives? That the Valeyard could be a cast off from those experiments, a failed interim regeneration? If I’m honest that’s an idea that has more dramatic potential than what actually happened in Time of the Doctor (pixie dust flying from Amy’s crack inexplicably).

Result: Hugely entertaining, if a little too hysterical. If you had no knowledge of Trial of a Time Lord you will probably be completely baffled by this follow up and if I’m honest it is little more than a huge wave of exposition that hits you like a Cyberman info-stamp. However it is delivered by three superb actors who have the chance reprise their characters from the Trial season, characters it has long been my wish to see given more material. Like the Trial it does get a little lost up it’s own arse, plot wise, but it is ridiculously enjoyable for most the part, offering an explanation of how the Valeyard came into being and tackling the thorny subject of extending a Time Lord’s regeneration cycle. It is a subscribers special packed full of lovely ideas, but it is a shame that it all has to be dramatized as a court case rather than allowing us to experience it as a piece of drama. Show, don’t tell and all that. With the suggestion of the sixth Doctor meeting his thirteenth incarnation, this had to the potential to be ground-breaking but recent events on the TV have already contradicted this. I rather like the idea of the Doctor going nuts, winding up on a mud ball planet and attempting to extend his life cycle. It’s rather ghoulish. That’s what I really took away from Trial of the Valeyard, great ideas and the joy of listening to the Doctor, the Valeyard and the Inquisitor locking horns again. If anything this proves that there is a great deal of mileage in Valeyard still, especially just to have the opportunity to enjoy further performances by Michael Jayston. Troublingly complex and clinical but a delight to Trial aficionados like myself nonetheless: 7/10


Tyrionhalfman said...

Personally, I enjoyed this story immensely. However, I feel so much more could have been done. And the Final Doctor was so obviously not real at times, as I kept imagining that it should be Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi, which I knew could not be the case, particularly in voice and different actor. I thought it excellently portrayed corruption in the Time Lords. Travelling into their own past to reinstate capital punishment. What a chilling prospect....
Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Time of the Doctor. I found it entertaining and revealed a lot, yet in hindsight it was not how I imagined Eleven's death. He dies in the same way as the First Doctor effectively, wearing a bit thin. I was annoyed at the retconning of Asylum of the Daleks and the explosion of the Tardis still made no sense after all these series. I would be less critical of the Moffat era than most but he needs logic in his scripts, otherwise we end up with another Master resurrection from the End of Time i.e. it's magic, it doesn't have to make sense, to quote the idiot Joe Quesada of Marvel Comics fame.

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ali Servan said...

Only 7/10!? I think you were a little harsh. This was a craking story, well acted, wnderfully written, full of Dr Who lore, a proper geek's episode. Worth 9/10 at least!