Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord
Reviewed by Nigel Flockhart
The Mysterious Planet
Well, the trial at last and a chance to see what all the fuss was about.
The season opener promised to be the better of the four stories, width the characters establishing themselves. Especially Colin Baker who shakes off his clown-like behaviour, at least in court. We are also introduced to the excellent Michael Jayston who plays the Valeyard with a menace that has been lacking in villains of late. Lynda Bellingham was good as well, although she seemed to be the one stuck with the bad costume - namely the stupid white flimsy collar.
As for the story itself, while not being a Holmes classic, we still get a mixture of rich characterization and sharp dialogue. At the top of the list is the duo of Glitz and Dibber, the flamboyant rogue and the thuggish henchman, an idea Holmes has used before in The Ribos Operation (Garron and Unstoffe) and 'The Caves of Androzani' (Stotz and Keppler). However we do get a few mistakes i.e. Humker and Tandrell - a plot device gone wrong and serving only to clutter the story with meaningless drivel. This also occurs to a lesser extent with the train guards with lines about hunting on foot, etc which all turns out to be cryptic nonsense. The rest of the cast try, but, as in Joan Sims' case, what is supposed to be serious comes out hammy.
The design was excellent here, especially Drathro, who was very convincing both technically and as a character. The L1 robot was unfortunately less so. Particularly impressive was the shot of the space station at the start, demonstrating some very good model and camera work.
At the end we are left with the questions which we must wait until Part Thirteen to learn their solution, though I do seem to remember something about the Earth crashing into the sun, unless it was moved back. And what's so special about Marble Arch tube station anyway.
The story starts well with the spacial view of Thoros Alpha and Beta and the paintbox overlay of the location footage to give an alien feel to the setting. However it soon degenerates into the same old formula of running around, getting caught, escaping, knocking a few guards out, getting caught etc... The brain exchange experiments have been done before so its rather old hat by now.
Most of the characters are cardboard with no real depth, bar a few of the more well-known ones. Brian Blessed gives his usual OTT performance (anyone who has seen Blackadder will know what I mean). Christopher Ryan's Kiv is unrecognisable from his role as Mike on The Young Ones and he doesn't really get a lot to say which is a shame as he could have been expanded on more. It is Nabil Shaban as Sil who retains his slimy personality to great effect for a character who we're not supposed to like, thus his appeal.
The ending was well done with Nicola Bryant giving an excellent performance as someone else, rather than a cute but loud American botany student. With her supposed death and the Valeyard's quote about 'forfeiting the remainder of the Doctor's lives', we know something is terribly wrong, compelling us to watch on.
Pity about poor old Raak though...
Terror of the Vervoids
The mistake here is to use information from the future which hasn't happened yet and as there are any number of possible futures, it only helps to complicate things later on for a whodunnit. We get some form of suspense but the characters don't really put enough in to be believable. Only David Allister as Bruchner is convincing in his role as the frenzied anti-hero.
The general sense of terror is never really captured. Especially when we are confronted with the Vervoids themselves. They were very well made, but their shape could have been broken up more to make them less humanoid. Being somewhat of a biologist, the revelation about the impossibility of co-existence between sentient killer plants and animals had me cringing.
The Doctor here is given rather a lot of wordy mouthfuls that really mean absolutely nothing. (Okay, so he says it wasn't what he said on court).
Bonnie Langford's Mel is introduced and shows some initial promise as being resourceful and independent. However she does tend to overplay the more obvious conclusions and you almost expect everybody to breathe in suddenly in a gasp and for us to get a couple of notes of organ music played.
Really, for a liner there was a distinct lack of passengers and much of the equipment (the gym and waste disposal units) weren't very hi-tech for 30th Century Earth.
The Vervoids destruction and the cliffhangers were done well and this seemed to make up slightly for the rather unfrightening plot and overall outcome.
The Ultimate Foe
Well, the final two-parter, the story that would tie everything together and give the explanation we had been waiting for. Part Thirteen brings all the threads together and introduces a few new ones of its own in what I thought was the best individual part of the whole fourteen episodes.
The truth about just who the Valeyard really is, is just superb and not really that hard to believe. After all, K'anpo had Cho-Je and Tom Baker had the Watcher so why not.
The introduction of the Master had me wondering at first until his reasons for interfering became clear, which seemed to justify his inclusion in the plot.
In typical Holmes style we are returned to the unreal world of the Matrix with nice weird little touches such as the B-grade movie fantasy factory facade, the bureaucratic Mr Popplewick babbling on about procedure and the familiar mudflats.
Then sadly Holmes's health deteriorated and he passed away, not being able to complete the crucial episode the previous thirteen had been leading up to. Personally I feel our man Saward could have done an able job but he resigned so it was relegated to the terrible twosome Pip and Jane Baker.
And so what we get is a cluttered mess, which jumps about making things hard to follow. The Bakers use of words not commonly used in everyday English only helps to confuse. Effects and props such as the Particle Disseminator and its resulting destruction were rather weak and showed the haste in which they had been made.
The end is too hurried with the solution hastily tidied up. The only problem is that all the continuity gets fouled up in he process, especially when Mel comes into/goes out of the story. Admittedly I liked the surprise at the end about who the Keeper really was and can only hope that someone else reuses the Valeyard as a villain in the future.
This item appeared in TSV 19 (June 1990).