The Trial of a Time Lord
The Doctor: Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds.
Story Code: C23.1.
Production Codes: 7A and 7B and 7C.
Story Number: 143.
Countdown week: 5…
An experiment for the show as it returned after a production hiatus of a year-and-a-half, with a slimmed down season which was also one long bulked-up story – a story both wonderful and awful.
Parts 1-4 / 143a / “The Mysterious Planet”
The Inquisitor: “Are these unpleasant scenes necessary to your case?”
The behind-the-scenes story of this 14-part serial is mainly the story of many writers (including the script-editors and Philip Martin who wrote the “middle” story) but Robert Holmes and Pip-and-Jane Baker wrote the majority of the 14 eps. (A sad end to Holmes’s epic involvement with DW which is beyond the scope of this review to detail.)
The serial starts brilliantly in a very Holmesian fashion – in many ways this a “greatest hits” with many pleasing Holmes DW tropes present and correct, however the day-glo aesthetic recalls Carnival of Monsters (as does the meta-commentary of “watching Doctor Who on the telly”) rather than the “Gothic” classics. Sabalom Glitz and Dibber are a classic Holmes duo, but great dialogue and performances feature from most of the cast too.
This is kind of the “greatest hits” of Doctor Who too, with a techno-savages set-up familiar from every era of the show. The Inquisitor in these episodes is balking at some scenes, perhaps a commentary from the programme makers about recent responses from the media – the show very much being “on Trial” after the hiatus.
Parts 5-8 / 143b / “Mindwarp”
Peri: “…and actors playing over the top at politics.”
The extra layer of the story – the Trial scenes – begin to affect the fabric of the narrative of the three tales beyond the mere censorship of Glitz dialogue, with the idea of the Matrix being an “unreliable narrator” floated.
The show continues to look inward, seemingly commentating on the lurid nature of “modern” entertainment by producing lurid and exaggerated entertainment, hopefully knowingly (?) in the style of Brian Blessed’s other main Sci-Fi Warrior-King tale, the film Flash Gordon.
In contrast to the superb previous set of eps, this is would be a kind of average DW story if it was a “story” (average meaning both regular and not-great-not-bad) – however the end is far from regular, which means the narrative isn’t resolved in any meaningful way, meaning the viewer will wait for Eps 9-14 for some sort of coherent resolution to Peri’s tale, (bad luck viewer!)
Parts 9-12 / 143c / “Terror of the Vervoids”
Mel: “Is the vocabulary of all the Time Lords so antediluvian?”
Returning to the idea of behind-the-scenes story of the two main writers Robert Holmes and Pip-and-Jane Baker: with these eps the dialogue takes a turn for the worst, with convoluted and ridiculous lines for virtually every character at some point.
The downward spiral from a superb group of episodes to dreadful group continues, with even the sets reflecting this: the pleasingly colourful set design of 143a is replaced with a return to terrible “very ’80s” sets of Colin Baker’s starting story. Other elements of that story to return is an unDoctorish Doctor, with the Doctor’s rationale of Vervoid/Human “co-existence impossible” both nonsensical and uncharacteristic-of-the-Doctor.
The Valeyard sensibly points out that the Doctor’s “defence” set of eps only show that the Doctor now has added “genocide” to the Trial.
Parts 13-14 / 143d / “The Ultimate Foe”
Valeyard : “There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!”
As mentioned before, it is beyond the scope of this review to detail the production turmoil of the story, but it will note that – the writing for this is by “Robert Holmes and Pip-and-Jane Baker”.
The overwrought dialogue of the previous set of eps continues (provided by Pip-and-Jane), combined with the Holmesian “greatest hits” – the cliffhanger for Ep 13 is a remix of the most notorious cliffhanger (the one Whitehouse complained of) from Holmes’s The Deadly Assassin. Readers (who have not watched the DVDs yet) note – one of the “surprises” of these eps is spoilt by the DVD menu for “The Ultimate Foe”.
As the story-season (about a microcosm, the Matrix) is a microcosm of DW, so these two eps are a microcosm of the story-season: wonderful and awful.