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The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe

by Pip and Jane Baker

Book review by Paul Scoones

Season 23 has achieved some degree of notoriety as that which featured the abominably bad The Trial of a Time Lord. In my opinion the first three stories, each featuring `evidence' from the Matrix, were not all that bad on their own. None were destined to be classics, true, but they were fairly standard fare. What destroyed the season was the final two-parter, designed to tie up all the loose ends from the first three two tales and end the trial. Continuity concerning the Time Lords, the Matrix, Mel, regeneration and the concept of time itself was ignored in a seemingly deliberate attempt to devastate the Doctor Who mythology.

The architects of this abomination, Pip and Jane Baker have now seen fit to produce an equally dreadful novelisation that if anything creates more flaws than already existed. This is a shame, as there was great potential in novelising the story to clean up a good deal of the mess and rework it into a great little yarn. Undoubtedly there will be those who will be pleased to know that the novel is fairly faithful to the script, and most of the padding to meet the required page limit is explanation, rather than invented scenes. The major exception is the epilogue; one of the few plusses in the book. Mel is dropped off by the Doctor and she immediately meets up with him again, but this is an older Doctor Who has lost weight - after he drops her off he supposedly goes to Pease Pottage, meets her, has the Vervoid adventure, then goes to Oxveguramosa, where Mel is abducted and then returns. The problem still remains that the Doctor already knows Mel before she meets him on Earth, and the Time Lord knows what will happen when he comes to have the Vervoid adventure...

The explanations dotted throughout the story are often more to its detriment than its help - the revelation of how the Master came to have the Matrix key will only have continuity buffs cringing, and the bit about the Master's escape from his last peril is copied virtually verbatim from the pages of another, equally dreadful book by the Bakers, Time and the Rani. Perhaps the worst thing of all is that the Doctor actually calls his first skirmish with the Rani 'The Mark of the Rani', and that Peri supposedly encountered the warlord Yrcanos on Ravalox of all places!

My main criticism of the novelisation itself is one that I apply to all of the Bakers' Doctor Who novels, namely their writing styles. I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on this sort of thing, but I have read a lot of good and bad fiction, and the Bakers' is about the most disjointed and uneven prose style I have ever come across. The narrative is dotted with one-liners, questions and insights into things yet to occur, and I'm not even referring to the dialogue. The book is written almost as if it to be read aloud in a patronising manner to young children. The only thing contradicting this being their convoluted way of stringing the thing together and their standard practice of trying to fit as many unnecessarily complicated words as possible where they are perhaps the least needed. Although perhaps they are aiming at the young fans, I feel these fans will be put off by the thesaurian proportions, or else dive for a dictionary. (Is this latter option what they intend? Who knows?)

Unless you are intent on collecting all the Doctor Who books I can't recommend this as a worthwhile purchase. For a reliable indicator of what to expect from it read any of the Bakers' other three books for the Doctor Who series. I tend to think that the only good thing about The Ultimate Foe is that it marks the end of the Bakers' association with Doctor Who for the foreseeable future.

This item appeared in TSV 10 (December 1988).

Index nodes: The Ultimate Foe