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The Trial of a Time Lord

Review by Richard Scheib

Maybe I should take back what I said last issue about the whole Colin Baker era having consistently better highs than the Sylvester McCoy era. This is one opportunity where a whole season universally stinks.

The Mysterious Planet or Parts 1-4, were the better ones. There was at least the potential germ of an idea amid the great cliché of underground civilisation remnants, when the story started out treating it satirically. But then they started treating as burlesque - the whining of Glitz and Dibber began to get on my nerves as did the prattling between Hamker and Tandrell. Unfortunately amidst this Colin Baker's attempt to do some serious acting in the trial scenes went amiss. The robot was one of the stupidest looking until the advent of the Kandyman. Nobody really bothers to explain why Earth is two light years out of position, this is fairly absurd - Earth and the Sun's positions are constantly moving in relation to other star-systems. In the 500 years mentioned Earth will have quite easily moved two light years.

Oh well, Mindwarp (Parts 5-8), continued the downward trail, crowned in particular by allowing Brian Blessed, the hammiest, most over-the-top actor in the whole British film industry, his free indulgent reign. The plot was merely stupid, betraying no knowledge of genetic engineering or even basic biology. The idea that Peri with Kiv in will spell the end of the human race is absurd - a brain transplant is not a mutation that will be genetically passed, the genes will still be Peri's. And even if they were and even if they were dominant how many Peri/Kiv's are likely to be bred to prove a threat to the galaxy against the vast number of normal human beings bred also. It is sad to see Peri go, just when she had started to get some decent dress sense. It was good to see Sil back and there were some decent atmospheric sets.

The season hit rock bottom with the vegoid Agatha Christie Terror of the Vervoids (Parts 9-12). It was not helped by the confusing gaps in exposition regarding the introduction of Mel and the Doctor being able to search into his own future. This naturally implies that he has a future which is already fixed, hence what is he worried about concerning surviving the Trial if he has a future to survive to? The proceedings hinge on pretty pathetic clues and killings and the Vervoids with humanoid arrangements of leaves, even down to the boots and gloves are pretty hysterical. The revelation of the mutant with luridly pulsing veins, at the end of episode 2, was one effective and relatively startling twist that I liked among the whole sorry mess.

I think Mel makes an okay companion, very much reminiscent of the Katy Manning cute image of Little Girl Lost, although Mel gets an Eighties overhauling - a sense of curiosity that would make Lois Lane jealous and some, for Doctor Who, rather incongruous trendy additions - a preoccupation with health fanaticism. This is not new - Jo Grant, Mel's source of inspiration, jumped pretty much on the Seventies hippie environmentalist bandwagon - but I never thought I would see the day when Doctor Who would include jazzercise scenes and videogames.

The Ultimate Foe, Parts 13-14, did an okay job of wrapping up loose ends and, at least, the first episode, is probably the season's best offering by default. The story is never interesting enough to follow up its most interesting leads - it is far too light in treatment to do any more than gloss over the idea of a corrupt Time Lord Council. Likewise it has to make happy ending for the Doctor, dismissing charges against him without even referring back to the rest of the council, as well as Peri, revealing that she is married. Personally I find it hard to believe that she would wish to marry a blustering barbarian warrior with a Kamikaze wish but as they say there's no accounting for taste. The Master is put to little use and the story strains to give him a motive. The Matrix chase, in fact the whole episode, were rehashes of the infinitely superior Deadly Assassin.

I would go so far as to call The Trial of a Time Lord, Doctor Who's worst season ever. Not even the framing device made any particular sense. If the Doctor was to be hauled up for crimes there are surely far more potentially heinous crimes he could be accused of that the ones presented here - the death of Adric, killing off entire races - the Daleks in The Daleks and particularly wiping out Skaro in Remembrance, the Macra - countless examples where he has directly interfered and personally fermented revolution on worlds - Vortis, Xeros, Marinus, Karfel, Solos.