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A Continuity Dilemma

By Jon Preddle

This is a revised version which appeared in the Best of TSV 1-20 and is a total rewrite of the original article from TSV 3

The Trial of a Time Lord raises an unresolved continuity problem. The Doctor arrives at his trial alone and discovers that in his future he gains a travelling companion called Mel. Mel is then brought to the trial as a defence witness and at the end of the story leaves with the Doctor. She travels with him, and then presumably is summoned to the trial as a witness, and so on ad infinitum. Is Mel trapped in a time loop - or is there some alternative way of interpreting these events?

The following theory relies on an understanding of where the three adventures played at the Doctor's trial come from. The Ravalox, Thoros Beta and Vervoid incidents were all stored in the Matrix, which stores everything recorded by every TARDIS of events in the past, present and future. This means that once the Doctor and Peri had visited Ravalox, the recording of their visit was beamed back to the Matrix.

Following their Ravalox adventure, the Doctor and Peri arrive on Earth in 1986 at Pease Pottage, where they meet Mel. The Doctor and Peri leave, and eventually arrive on Thoros Beta. At the conclusion of this adventure, Peri stays behind to be with King Yrcanos, and the Doctor travels alone, meeting along his way Captain Travers and Investigator Hallet for the first time. The Doctor then returns to Pease Pottage in 1986 and Mel joins him as his companion. They then arrive on the spaceship Hyperion Three where they encounter the Vervoids, and then go on to other adventures (see fig.1).

All of these exploits are beamed back to the Matrix. On Gallifrey, the Time Lord High Council views these recordings and panics upon learning that the Doctor has stumbled across the secret of Ravalox and decide to have him put out of the way. A mysterious court attorney known as the Valeyard assists in their covert plans, altering the Matrix recordings to make the Doctor appear guilty.

Whilst on Thoros Beta and on his way to save Peri, the Doctor is pulled out of his time-line by the Time Lords and brought to the space station on which his trial is to take place. In interrupting the Doctor's timestream, the Time Lords are preventing his future adventures from taking place, as they would have done otherwise. The recordings of the Doctor's future exploits are however still stored in the Matrix (see fig.2).

During the trial, the Valeyard displays slightly altered Matrix recordings of the Doctor's exploits on Ravalox and Thoros Beta. The Doctor is then permitted to present his defence, and selects an event from the future that he would have had if the Time Lords had not snatched him from his time-stream. The adventure he displays is the Vervoid incident on the Hyperion Three, which again was slightly altered by the Valeyard.

On viewing this excerpt from what would have been his future life, the Doctor recognises Mel, whom he has met once before at Pease Pottage whilst still travelling with Peri.

Mel is then brought to the space station as a defence witness. She has been taken from her time-stream at some point after her first meeting with the Doctor, but before she would have become his companion. This means that, like the Doctor, she had never experienced the Vervoid adventure. The Mel who confirms the death of the Vervoid race - thus providing the Time Lords with the opportunity to pass the death sentence on the Doctor - was a false Mel at a fake, illusory trial, set up by the Valeyard within the Matrix in an attempt to deceive the Doctor. The real Mel never ever mentions the Vervoid adventure at any point, so it is safe to assume that she never actually experienced it.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Doctor is acquitted and leaves with Mel in the TARDIS to begin a new set of adventures. The Vervoid incident would almost certainly have not taken place, but if it did, the adventure would have been quite unlike what was viewed on the Matrix screen. Partly because in the Doctor's altered time-line he has not met Travers or Hallet previously, but mostly because he already knows how to solve the problems encountered through witnessing the incident at his trial. Eventually the Rani draws the TARDIS to Lakertya and the Doctor regenerates (see fig.3).

It is interesting to consider the possibility that had the Time Lords not interfered with the Doctor's time-line, his entire future might have been quite different...

fig.1 Figure 1
The Doctor's time-line if the trial had not occurred.
fig.2 Figure 2
The Doctor is removed from his time-line by the Time Lords.
fig.3 Figure 3
The Doctor's time-line as a result of the events of the trial.
  1. The Doctor and Peri's adventures on Ravalox (The Mysterious Planet).
  2. The Doctor and Peri meet Mel at Pease Pottage, England, in 1986.
  3. The Doctor and Peri's adventures on Thoros Beta (Mindwarp).
  4. Companionless, the Doctor returns to Pease Pottage, 1986, and is reunited with Mel. She becomes his new travelling companion.
  5. The Doctor and Mel's adventures on the Hyperion Three with the Vervoids (Terror of the Vervoids).
  6. The Doctor's trial (The Trial of a Time Lord).
  7. The Doctor and Mel travel together. The TARDIS crash-lands on Lakertya and the Doctor regenerates... (Time and the Rani).