Category Archives: season 23

The Trial of a Time Lord (The Ultimate Foe)

The Ultimate Foe brings this trial of a Time Lord to an end, and not in quite the way I had expected. Yes, the Valeyard is trying to frame the Doctor, but I didn’t imagine there would be a conspiracy to cover up evidence that ran all the way to the top of the high council, nor that the Valeyard would be a manifestation of the Doctor’s dark thoughts, from a post-twelfth regeneration future. That fits quite nicely with the upcoming 50th anniversary special – perhaps they’ll mention it?

In a part of the matrix that looks like a sand dune, an image of the Valeyard confronts the Doctor.

In a part of the matrix that looks like a sand dune, an image of the Valeyard confronts the Doctor.

The mysteries from the previous stories actually are explained, which is surprising! The valuable data Glitz was after was leaked from the Time Lords’ information matrix, and the planet Earth was pushed away and disguised as Ravolox to cover it up. To help his defence, Glitz and Mel are brought back to corroborate the Doctor’s story, by none other than the Master. It’s quite a reunion they’ve got going on, fitting for a season finale.

Peek-a-boo! The Master reveals he's been watching the entire time from within the matrix. The supposedly impenetrable, impossible to corrupt, matrix.

Peek-a-boo! The Master reveals he’s been watching the entire time from within the matrix. The supposedly impenetrable, impossible to corrupt, matrix.

Most of the story takes place inside the matrix, where the EvilDoc/Valeyard is hiding, plotting to assassinate the judge and jury with a wibbly-wobbly matrix energy something-or-other. It does get a bit silly, with them waiting around in Popplewick’s office, being exposed to illusions and the Doctor being hypnotised by the Master. It’s not exactly a tidy conclusion, and the appearance of both the Master and the Valeyard as ‘villains’ (and both Glitz and Mel as companions) only clutters things further. Alas, it is a fairly forgettable mini-adventure, and it would seem the Valeyard isn’t defeated anyway, laughing maniacally prior to the credits rolling.

Despite ostensibly teaming up for the greater good, the Master still uses the Doctor as bait.

Despite ostensibly teaming up for the greater good, the Master still uses the Doctor as bait.

As this is the final story to feature Colin Baker, I was expecting him to be injured at the end and forced to regenerate, but it never happened. In fact, the whole way through this trial, I had expected a forced regeneration as his sentence (much like at the end of The War Games) – instead, the judge drops all charges because he saves their lives and the Doctor and Mel just leave. Meh, fair enough.

The Valeyard's deadly plan is foiled when the judge and jury duck.

The Valeyard’s deadly plan is foiled when the judge and jury duck.

Regarding Mel, then. Her pantomime performance is a poor replacement even for Peri, but the weirdest thing is how she’s introduced. She’s from this Doctor’s future, so from her perspective they met in the past. But this is the first time the Doctor has met her. Presumably, then, he will have to take her back to her own time, then travel back to an earlier version of Mel who will then meet the Doctor for the first time? Goodness me, that’s messed up. Oh, and the explanation of what “really” happened to Peri is pathetic. Married to King Yrcanos, who she found creepy? C’mon, I’d rather she died! What a lame cop-out.

Another creepy mask reveal. The Valeyard takes some lessons from the Master by disguising himself as Mr. Popplewick.

Another creepy mask reveal. The Valeyard takes some lessons from the Master by disguising himself as Mr. Popplewick.

Well, the trial wasn’t a total waste of time. Thematically, the “ultimate foe” being the Doctor himself is quite cool. I also enjoyed the Doctor’s epic rant in the courtroom about the corruption of long-lived societies, proclaiming the Time Lords to be more evil than Daleks, Sontarans, etcetera. Colin Baker may be a bit one-note in his performance, but when that note is ranting hysterically, he does it with flair. However, I will have more to say on the sixth Doctor shortly.

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The Trial of a Time Lord (Terror of the Vervoids)

The prosecution rests. It’s now time for the Doctor to present his defence, and he’s given control of the matrix viewer to show a more favourable adventure. Weirdly, the one he chooses is from the future, something he hasn’t yet done. Now, this is an intriguing concept because, surely, if the Doctor actually has further adventures in the future, it must mean that the trial ends in his favour… otherwise he’d be dead, no? No doubt a society so entrenched in the mechanics of time travel has many legal precedents for this sort of situation, and yet nobody actually brings it up. The adventure is accepted as fact, and is therefore valid evidence.

The starliner Hyperion III nearly flies into a black hole.

The starliner Hyperion III nearly flies into a black hole.

Terror of the Vervoids is a murder mystery story set in space. In that respect, it’s similar to Robots of Death, but it doesn’t really have the same quality of memorable characters nor interesting themes, nor creepy atmosphere, nor quality of production. It’s not bad, per se, but it has a certain silliness to it. The Vervoid creatures are actually pretty creepy, or as creepy as plant men with flower heads can be, I suppose. There’s also a hijacking subplot that comes out of nowhere and leads to pretty much nothing. That said, I quite like the design of the Mogarians – just a shame we had to see their actual faces by the end of it. The resolution was a bit bleak – no coexistence between plant and animal can ever work? It’s thought-provoking, but surely it could be approached from a more optimistic angle.

Bill and Ben.

Bill and Ben.

What becomes apparent during this story is that somebody is definitely tampering with the evidence. At this point, I’m inclined to suspect foul play from the Valeyard, who is probably trying to frame the Doctor for something. Whether this ties up with the mysteries from the previous stories remains to be seen, but the Doctor nevertheless has to continue with the evidence as presented, only objecting where the facts deviate.

The Mogarians play some sort of Galaga variant. This would have looked cutting edge in 1986. I thought it looked quaintly retro. Funny how things change.

The Mogarians play some sort of Galaga variant. This would have looked cutting edge in 1986. I thought it looked quaintly retro. Funny how things change.

Since this story is set in the future, the Doctor already has a new companion, the permed and perky Mel (played by Bonnie Langford). Their relationship is pre-established – that is, it’s implied they’ve been travelling together for a while at this point. This seems like a cheap way to drop a new actress into the show without having to introduce her first. The sixth Doctor is not exactly a character you would volunteer to travel with, but will we ever see them meet? Is that still to come? This is… weird.

Between them, the Doctor and Mel have more hair than even the Tardis can contain.

Between them, the Doctor and Mel have more hair than even the Tardis can contain.

I’m getting a little bored of this trial now. Thankfully, it’s about to be wrapped up in the next story, and then I’ll have a verdict of my own.

The Trial of a Time Lord (Mindwarp)

GORDON’S ALIVE, IT’S BRIAN BLESSED! Playing a warrior king on Thoros Beta (home planet of the slug-like alien Sil, from Vengeance on Varos), Brian Blessed is the beacon of fun and enthusiasm in this otherwise shoddy story. I can barely remember what else happens, something about a scientist experimenting on the humanoid locals, looking for a suitable body donor for Sil’s boss, Lord Kiv, before he dies, and the Time Lords ultimately having to step in and stop it. What happened to non-interference, eh?

Part 1 uses funky video colouring to make this scene look like an alien planet... or an Andy Warhol painting.

Part 1 uses funky video colouring to make this scene look like an alien planet… or an Andy Warhol painting.

Amongst all the lunacy is Peri being recruited as a serving wench for all of five minutes, a strange mutated wolfman, and the Doctor losing his marbles… but actually it’s all a ruse! OR IS IT? It’s a pretty poor ruse, as Peri’s mind gets wiped and the Time Lords kill her. OR DO THEY? Etcetera, etcetera. What the hell is going on?!

Sil's head prosthetic has improved since his last appearance, but the character is superfluous this time. His gurgling laugh is as distinctive as ever, though.

Sil’s head prosthetic has improved since his last appearance, but the character is superfluous this time. His gurgling laugh is as distinctive as ever, though.

Where the previous story worked perfectly well without the courtroom framing device, the four parts of Mindwarp seem intertwined with what’s happening there. The Doctor’s amnesia prevents him from setting the record straight, so we have to take the story at face value. Either that, or the amnesia is just an excuse for poor characterisation. The Doctor is a thoroughly detestable character in this story, reverting back to his cowardly ways from The Twin Dilemma.

Brian Blessed basically dominates every scene with his presence, for better or worse.

Brian Blessed basically dominates every scene with his presence, for better or worse.

Ultimately, though, Mindwarp is just boring. Really boring, aimless, witless, silly and without merit. The only excuse I can give it is that perhaps it’s unfair to judge until the full story is revealed and it’s building up to something special in the trial, but I’m not hopeful of that. And if this really is the end of poor Perpugilliam, it’s the worst exit a main character could ever hope for.

Kiv's mind is transferred to Peri's brain, shortly before she's killed in an attack. Is this really the end of her?

Kiv’s mind is transferred to Peri’s brain, shortly before she’s killed in an attack. Is this really the end of her?

Although he’s certainly the best thing in it, not even Brian Blessed can save this one, and that’s thoroughly damning!

The Trial of a Time Lord (The Mysterious Planet)

Sometimes you need to take a break to recharge your creative batteries. After more than twenty years on the air, Doctor Who takes its first “hiatus”, coming back fresh after an eighteen month gap. Colin Baker returns, along with his scary smiling face in the title sequence, but the music has been changed to a more subdued and bassy version of the theme. Season 23 has one further change: the entire season is one story arc, encompassing multiple stories that tie into a narrative framing device, namely a courtroom trial. The Doctor is facing charges from his own people, for meddling in the affairs of others. Past attempts to bring together multiple writers’ stories into an arc have not been successful, so I remain sceptical for now.

The Time Lord courtroom. Surely putting the screen BEHIND everyone is just going to cause neck aches, no?

The Time Lord courtroom. Surely putting the screen BEHIND everyone is just going to cause neck aches, no?

Things certainly get off to a good start, as the story opens with the single most ambitious visual effect the show has ever attempted so far. A fantastically complex motion-controlled sequence sees a Time Lord space vessel pull the Doctor’s Tardis into its glowing tractor beam hatch, the camera swerving and swooping around to cinematically capture the event. It’s seriously impressive. Sadly, that’s where most of the budget went, as the rest of the story is set within the usual low-budget BBC sets or out in a forest, and film has been swapped for cheaper outdoor video again. Oh well!

The incredible opening sequence is not just technically accomplished, it's superbly composed too.

The incredible opening sequence is not just technically accomplished, it’s superbly composed too.

The courtroom side of the story has the Doctor face off against his prosecutor, the Valeyard. As you would expect, he doesn’t take the situation seriously, and gets increasingly irrate. This is actually quite a suitable situation for this version of the Doctor and provides some comedic moments (“I object!” “What now?” “Yes, now!”) and some epic rants. All the while, the court is watching one of the Doctor’s adventures on the screen, set on a mysterious planet that closely resembles Earth…

Seeing the remains of Marble Arch underground station, Peri is understandably upset at seeing what Earth will eventually become. The Doctor merely sees it as a statistic. All worlds come to an end eventually.

Seeing the remains of Marble Arch underground station, Peri is understandably upset at seeing what Earth will eventually become. The Doctor merely sees it as a statistic. All worlds come to an end eventually.

Well, it’s two billion years in the future and Earth isn’t where it’s supposed to be; in fact, the Doctor confuses it for planet Ravolox. Something is going on here but it’s a mystery for another time. The story features a fairly typical social dichotomy setup, with a primitive tribe above ground and the technologically advanced society sealed below. In a classic role reversal, the poor humans down there are slaves to their robot “god” and the Doctor has to lecture it about the value of life, which it obviously fails to grasp.

The Doctor confronts the robot, Drathro.

The Doctor confronts the robot, Drathro.

There are certain similarities with Robert Holmes’ first Doctor Who script, The Krotons, which is fitting as this was his last one before he sadly died the following year. He has undoubtedly made some of the best contributions to this show over the years, and this remains evident even in his final story. Take the two mercenaries, Glitz and Dibber. Another writer might have ignored any characterisation of two fairly inconsequential characters, but Holmes fleshes out his villains with quirks, gives them humour and personality that breathes such fun into their scenes that I was actually glad that they got away at the end.

Glitz and Dibber plan to breach the control room.

Glitz and Dibber plan to breach the control room.

Where the writing kind of fails is where it uses wishy washy space terms without much thought. Glitz and Dibber are from “the constellation of Andromeda”, apparently. Now, let’s ignore for a moment the fact that you can’t strictly be “from” a constellation, since it’s merely a representation of many stellar bodies as seen from Earth; one such body would be the Andromeda galaxy, which is such an astronomical distance from our own that it renders any interest in Earth trivial. These two characters noticing that Earth is a couple of lightyears off of its position is, to put this into perspective, like somebody in Australia noticing that a grain of sand on Brighton beach has moved a couple of millimetres to the left. A couple of lightyears isn’t even as far as Earth’s nearest star, Promixa Centauri! Where is this mysterious planet getting its sunlight from?!

Anyway, niggles aside, I thought the Mysterious Planet was rather good. I’m certainly intrigued by the courtroom side of things, but I found the actual story presented to be strong in its own right. We’re off to a good start, let’s hope it continues.