Season 23 (Nov 28 - Dec 4)

November 28: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts One & Two (The Mysterious Planet 1-2)
November 29: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Three & Four (The Mysterious Planet 3-4)
November 30: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Five & Six (Mindwarp 1-2)
December 1: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Seven & Eight (Mindwarp 3-4)
December 2: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Nine & Ten (Terror of the Vervoids 1-2)
December 3: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Eleven & Twelve (Terror of the Vervoids 3-4)
December 4: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Thirteen & Fourteen    (The Ultimate Foe 1-2)

November 28: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts One & Two

(The Mysterious Planet parts 1 & 2)

And so here we are, eighteen months after Doctor Who was last on the air, and the show's undergone a bit of an overhaul in the meantime.  The focus of the hiatus had moved increasingly from being a purely financial decision to a creative one.  The show, according to the BBC's upper management, had become too violent, and that needed to change.  (There's a theory that the BBC wanted to be rid of the show entirely at this point, but that the public outcry when the hiatus was initially announced led them to rethink their plans.  This probably isn't true (as there's no indication in the initial announcement of a permanent cancellation), but it's no secret that BBC1 Controller Michael Grade and Head of Drama Jonathan Powell hated the show (and its producer, John Nathan-Turner, it seems) and wanted to be rid of it.)  In addition to less violence and more humor (so, a bit like what Graham Williams was told, it seems), a couple more radical changes were initiated: the show was to revert back to its 25-minute format (the 45-minute format having been deemed a failure -- nobody tell BBC Wales), and the season was to be shortened to a mere 14 episodes.

Obviously these changes mean that the original season 23 has had to be scrapped (although, based on the subsequent Big Finish adaptations of some of the planned stories, we had a lucky escape in not having Mission to Magnus made -- and one wonders if The Hollows of Time would have still been as worryingly convoluted (even with the framing narration out and the Master back in) as the audio version).  In its place, John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward have come up with a new (and somewhat fate-tempting) plan: as the show is on trial in real life, why not have a season-long story where the Doctor is also on trial for his meddling (an update to the events seen back in 1969 at the end of The War Games)?  But rather than have one extra-long story, they decided to take three stories and have them be loosely connected to the trial theme, followed by a wrap-up for the overarching tale.  And so The Trial of a Time Lord was conceived...

That's the set-up then; what did they actually put on television?

The very first thing to notice about The Trial of a Time Lord is that they've revamped the theme tune.  Instead of the more triumphant version we've been used to, composer Dominic Glynn gives us a much more ethereal rendition, with lots of high pitches and little in the bass range.  I actually rather like it just because it's so different from anything we've heard before or since, though I understand it's not exactly a universal favorite.  At this point it doesn't really seem like it fits with the title sequence at all though.

It's a hell of an impressive opening shot, though, as the TARDIS is pulled into some sort of space station via a beam of light (I'm trying to avoid using the term "tractor beam", but as the phrase actually comes from E.E. "Doc" Smith rather than Star Trek, it's probably okay).  Clearly some motion control work went into this shot -- the stars moving along with the camera is proof of that.  It's a really nice shot.  That's then followed by some self-aware dialogue.  "Am I late for something?" the Doctor asks as he enters a darkened courtroom.  "I was beginning to fear you had lost yourself," the prosecutor, the Valeyard143, replies.  It seems there is to be an inquiry into the Doctor's activities regarding interference in other cultures -- something, you may recall, expressly forbidden by Time Lord law.  "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum," the Valeyard tells the court -- and yet this is a Robert Holmes script, not a Pip & Jane Baker one.  Why he can't just say that he's going to show two different examples of the Doctor's guilt is beyond me.

This leads into the (first) main story proper: that of the Doctor and Peri's investigations on a planet called Ravalox, some two million years in the future.  It's quickly clear that Ravalox is actually Earth, though as of now there's no clear reason why Ravalox and its "constellation" (er, does he mean "solar system"?) have moved a couple light years away from their typical location.  But look!  Everything's on video now, which does give the production a unified look (the real world reason having to do with the problems of developing film -- an incident involving a scratch on a film negative for The Two Doctors, necessitating a pricey reshoot of the footage, only to later discover that the scratch wasn't that bad, made Nathan-Turner decide film was more trouble than it was worth).  And the story is rather intriguing so far, with two "tribes" of people nearby -- one on the surface and one underground.  The surface dwellers look like a primitive tribe, while those underground appear to be locked into a dictatorship run by an L3 robot named Drathro.  Drathro is a suitably impressive costume -- it looks like a metal robot (instead of, say, a foam rubber costume) and it towers over everyone.

But the best part about these two episodes are the Holmes double-act of Sabalom Glitz and his partner Dibber.  In the tradition of characters like Jago and Litefoot from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Glitz and Dibber engage in highly entertaining banter, with lots of dry wit.  Unlike Jago and Litefoot, Glitz and Dibber's conversations are significantly more sadistic:
GLITZ: You know, Dibber, I'm the product of a broken home.
DIBBER: You have mentioned it on occasions, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: Which sort of unbalanced me.  Made me selfish to the point where I cannot stand competition.
DIBBER: Know the feeling only too well, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: Whereas yours is a simple case of sociopathy, Dibber, my malaise is much more complex.  A deep-rooted maladjustment, my psychiatrist said.  Brought on by an infantile inability to come to terms with the more pertinent, concrete aspects of life.
DIBBER: That sounds more like an insult than a diagnosis, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: You're right there, my lad.  Mind you, I had just attempted to kill him.  Oh, I do hate prison psychiatrists, don't you?  I mean, they do nothing for you.
Glitz and Dibber are less like villains (even though they want to kill the Doctor and Peri, though only to eliminate competition) and more like an amoral third party, come to cause extra problems.  But they're already significantly more entertaining than anything in The Two Doctors was.

But then this first part of The Trial of a Time Lord (hereafter The Mysterious Planet, as that's what everyone calls these first four episodes) is already a lot more interesting and entertaining than Holmes's last script for the show.  The story is moving at a nice clip, and while it might not be the most original story, it at least has its charms (such as Katryca, the leader of the Tribe of the Free, already knowing what a spaceship is), and the interruptions of the actual trial aren't too bad.  Interesting how both cliffhangers end with a close-up on Colin Baker's face, though.

November 29: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Three & Four

(The Mysterious Planet parts 3 & 4)

There are some more self-aware lines in the courtroom scenes ("Valeyard, are these unpleasant scenes necessary to your case?" the Inquisitor asks.  "I too find it repugnant to witness, my lady, but the Doctor has a well-known predilection for violence," the Valeyard replies), but these scenes do sometimes feel intrusive as well -- one is designed to point out why we're viewing events the Doctor wasn't present for (useful but presented rather tediously), two are because of sensitive material, and one seems designed just so that the Inquisitor and Valeyard have some screen time, even though the points being made feel rather irrelevant.

Dibber and Glitz enter Drathro's control room, where Drathro and
the Doctor are already present. (The Trial of a Time Lord Part
Four) ©BBC
But there seems to be a larger problem at stake here.  The Valeyard has presented this Ravalox material as proof that the Doctor interferes and leaves bodies in his wake, but we only really see three people die (Katryca, Broken Tooth, and Grell), and Grell was probably going to die by Merdeen's hand anyway.  The Doctor may be indirectly responsible for Katryca's and Broken Tooth's deaths, but that's really only because his presence caused Drathro to send a robot after him, which the Tribe of the Free mistook for Drathro himself.  It's not his fault that they charged into Drathro's base and then confronted the robot directly.  But more importantly, here's a situation where the Doctor definitely had a positive effect, if his claims about what would happen in a black light explosion are true -- and there's no reason to believe they're not.  (Even if they bear a worrying resemblance to the plot of Plan 9 from Outer Space...)  The Doctor resolved a situation that he wasn't responsible for (as he had nothing to do with blowing up the black light collection aerial) with minimal casualties.  Why does the Valeyard think this is a good example of the Doctor's meddlesome activities?144

Moreover, the sequences we're shown not only demonstrate the good-hearted nature of the Doctor (the way he presents himself to the L1 robot so that Peri and the others can escape, the conversation he has with Peri -- "I can't let people die if there's a chance of saving them"), but also show that the Doctor has freed them from Drathro's influence -- no more forced cullings, it seems, and while life will probably be harder in some respects for the underground dwellers, there's no suggestion that this isn't a desirable thing -- Merdeen's been trying to free people for years, after all.  Even Humker and Tandrell, Drathro's lackeys, seem happier away from him.  So if this is meant to be an instance of the negative influence the Doctor's meddling has, it's not a very effective one, and it's not like the Doctor's history isn't littered with more damning examples (such as The Caves of Androzani, in which the Doctor's mere presence leads to a huge number of deaths and the destabilization of an entire society).  No, what we actually get in The Mysterious Planet is an entertaining little tale with ultimately a much more upbeat ending than we might have expected, given it's being used as evidence against the Doctor.  Of course, the Valeyard promises us that the best is yet to come...

November 30: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Five & Six

(Mindwarp parts 1 & 2)

See, you can tell this is a separate story not just by the new writer credit during the title sequence, but also by the fact that we don't get a reprise of part four's cliffhanger.

The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Five through Eight (aka Mindwarp)'s story proper opens with a lurid pink sea and a eye-strainingly blue shoreline, all against a green sky with a ringed planet at the horizon.  Can you guess what new toy the BBC visual effects department has procured?145

And into this environment (the planet Thoros Beta), the Doctor and Peri have come to find out why advanced weaponry is being supplied to comparatively primitive cultures -- but it's perhaps no surprise to learn that Thoros Beta is the home of the Mentors, the race of beings that Sil from Vengeance on Varos hailed from (and Thoros Beta does indeed get a namecheck in that earlier serial).  Happily, this means that Sil is back, ready to be manipulative and scheming.  Sil is still entertaining, as he fawns obsequiously over his leader, Kiv, who's suffering from some sort of brain-case size problem that requires his mind to be transferred to a new body.  "Take charge, Sil!" Kiv cries, in an effort to find the Doctor and Peri.  "Before I perish!  Then where will you be, eh?  Dead!  No, worse than that, poor!"  And so what Mindwarp does is it makes Sil no longer unique; now he's from a whole planet where everyone's like he is, where his behavior is considered normal.  This therefore in turn makes the Doctor and Peri the outsiders, even more than usual, and when the Doctor gets his, er, mind warped (well, that is where the title comes from), this makes Peri really alone.

Well, not entirely.  Far and away the most watchable person on the screen is Brian Blessed as King Yrcanos, a Krontep warlord who's been brought to Thoros Beta to be pacified.  (Didn't work.)  Blessed is in his usual over-the-top form, which turns a rather dull character on paper into something much more entertaining -- the way Yrcanos is completely dedicated to his cause of killing the traitors and villains who brought him to Thoros Beta, starting with the Doctor, is both incredibly watchable and surprisingly believable.

The Doctor, the Inquisitor, and the Valeyard in the courtroom.
(The Trial of a Time Lord Part Five) ©BBC
Meanwhile, writer Philip Martin has started to play with the trial format he's been given.  Not only is the Doctor's mind warped by Crozier's brain machine, but there's also the fascinating suggestion that the Matrix, which we're repeatedly told is infallible and that the mere suggestion that the events shown have been altered or fabricated in some way is laughable, has in fact been tampered with.  The Doctor insists that these events didn't happen the way they're portrayed and seems thoughtful when he's informed of the Matrix's infallibility.  If there's been a problem so far with the trial format, it's that The Mysterious Planet played far too safe with events.  A censored word here or there hardly makes for exciting television, and that, coupled with the relative benignity of the events shown, has made the trial seem somewhat unimportant.  But here, we get some damning evidence of the Doctor working with the Mentors and actively betraying Peri, and with the mystery as to whether this is a result of the mind warp, a ruse by the Doctor, or tampered evidence, Martin gives us something more tangible to mull over.  The question is then whether the next two episodes can deliver on what Martin has set up here, both regarding the events of Thoros Beta, and the events of the larger trial story.

December 1: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Seven & Eight

(Mindwarp parts 3 & 4)

They are a bit uneven, these two episodes, aren't they?  In some respects it feels like they're padded out to meet the required length, with lots of corridor wanderings and little in the way of complications -- the first two parts of Mindwarp had all the stuff with the Doctor behaving unpleasantly to keep things going, but here it just feels like marking time, waiting for the end of part eight to start moving again.  Kiv being placed into a new body is rather nice, and the hints that the host's old brain cells are influencing Kiv are intriguing, but they don't do enough with it, content instead to show Peri, Yrcanos, and Dorf wandering corridors while the Doctor continues to help out with Crozier's experiments.  And more egregiously, they don't really make it clear when the Doctor's mind slips back into phase (for lack of a better term), which leads the audience to wonder how much of the Doctor's behavior was a ruse and how much was genuine.

And yet I find I don't mind too much.  There may be a good deal of padding, but it's at least entertaining padding -- Brian Blessed continues to be a lot of fun ("Oh, very well.  Today, prudence shall be our watchword; tomorrow I shall soak the land in blood"), and the bits with Sil are still fun; the way in which Kiv slowly awakens in his new body to see Sil's face beaming at him is a comic delight.  The manner in which Colin Baker plays the Doctor for most of this, with a sort of off-kilter, fascinated joy, is also worth watching -- you can tell he's not taking things for granted.  The scene with him and Sil, discussing commerce and future events that could lead to profit, is a particular highlight.  But apparently it depends on my mood as to how much I enjoy the sound-sensitive Mentor in the induction centre -- I recall being highly amused by him in the past, but this time it fell a little flat.

Kiv wakes up in his (her?) new body. (The Trial of a Time
Part Eight) ©BBC
It's that second half of part eight that really kicks Mindwarp into high gear, though.  Crozier decides to use Peri as the new host for Kiv's mind (as that second body is only meant to be temporary), while the Doctor does his best to free Yrcanos and others to help him save Peri.  There's a lot of good action in these scenes, and while the ending is spoiled rather by Time Lord machinations, you can tell that Nicola Bryant is having a ball, getting the chance to play an amoral character.  She takes particular delight in the waking-up scene as Kiv, enjoying the feel of warm blood.  Of course, this does mean the end of Peri, as her mind was destroyed when Crozier put Kiv's mind in her body.  Thus we bid farewell to Peri and to Nicola Bryant -- but what a way to go, eh?

However, these ending scenes are marred by that aforementioned Time Lord interference.  We have no way of knowing whether the Doctor would have arrived in time to save Peri (or if Yrcanos would have, for that matter -- although it looks like he probably would have been too late), because this is the moment that the Time Lords choose to pluck the Doctor "out of time" (as the Doctor puts it later), as well as slowing down Yrcanos's charge so that he'll be able to kill Peri/Kiv and Crozier at the right moment.  And yet the Time Lords have the sheer nerve to then claim that Peri's death is the Doctor's fault, as well as continuing to accuse him of meddling in the affairs of others.  The hypocrites.  It's also weird how the Inquisitor is suddenly the one to start berating the Doctor for his actions and to inform him what the High Council decided -- you'd think this information would have come from the Valeyard, rather than the supposedly impartial Inquisitor.  Good cliffhanger ending though: "There's something else going on here.  The High Council has no right to order Peri's or anyone else's death. ... I was taken out of time for another reason, and I have every intention of finding out what it is."

Mindwarp's actually a surprisingly entertaining segment; I remember not caring for this story much the last time I saw it, but I'm not actually sure why: this time it seemed significantly more enjoyable.  It's nice that the trial sequences are being used for more than just rather tiresome points of exposition, and the suggestion that something more is going on than simply a sudden whim to now try the Doctor for meddling is a welcome one.  The Valeyard's actual case seems suspect (this time around the argument seems to be that the Doctor was responsible for everything that happened on Thoros Beta just by being there -- which may be true but seems a lot like supposition rather than a genuine argument (there's no reason to believe that the Doctor was instrumental in Crozier's success, for instance)), but we're starting to get an indication that this trial format might actually work out.

December 2: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Nine & Ten

(Terror of the Vervoids parts 1 & 2)

It's the Doctor's turn to mount his defense, and while I see what the production team is going for with this Christmas Carol past-present-future vibe, it really is a terrible defense, to the point where it doesn't really seem like a legitimate one at all.  (Or, to quote About Time, "if it's not immediately obvious as to why [the basis of the Doctor's defense really is crap], we refer you to the Monty Python sketch where Eric Idle is accused of murdering several people and claims, 'I'm very sorry and I won't do it again.'")  But this is where the trial is going, so I guess we have to go along.

Terror of the Vervoids146 does something of a first for the show (well, "An Unearthly Child" excepted): it introduces a companion in media res, without any of the "getting to know you" stuff that's usually standard for these things.  This is of course because this story takes place in the Doctor's personal future (so, er, he's found innocent at the trial, then -- and when did this thing become a trial anyway?  It started as an inquiry...), and so from his point of view he's already known Mel, the new companion, for some time.  And so Bonnie Langford is introduced as something of a health nut, trying to get the sixth Doctor into better shape.  Mel is somewhat relentlessly cheerful and bubbly, but as it makes a welcome change from Peri and the Doctor's more fractious relationship (even allowing for the softening we saw in the first two stories this season) the positives outweigh the drawbacks.  (And, being American, I have no preconceived notions about Bonnie Langford going into this -- I understand that's not the case for the majority of British viewers.)

The actual storyline concerns a murder mystery, and other than a couple instances where the Doctor contests what's being shown in the courtroom, contending that it's been altered since he reviewed it in preparation, the trial interruptions are generally kept to a minimum -- thus allowing Terror of the Vervoids to develop its own pace -- and as this is intended to evoke Agatha Christie's stories, pace is a crucial concern.  But it's an odd sort of murder mystery that Pip & Jane Baker are presenting us with -- the initial death turns out to have been faked, but then that person dies for real, while there's some stuff involving giant plants that seems to worry Professor Lasky and her two assistants (probably because they end up being killer plants).  This means that the first mystery has been cleared up, the second leaves us none the wiser, and meanwhile there are a bunch of homicidal plants on the loose that nonetheless no one seems to know about, even though they've started killing people too.  It's almost like setting Murder on the Orient Express (and note the homage early in part nine) in the middle of a slasher movie.  And since this is a Pip & Jane Baker script, people talk in ludicrous ways; infamously, Michael Craig, as Commodore Travers, has to deliver the line "Accident?  Why can't you use plain language, mister?" and then follow it up with "Whoever's been dumped in there has been pulverised into fragments and sent floating in space, and in my book that's murder."  He also gets lines like, "I should accept that advice and drop the sophistry", while the Doctor has to say things like "The weird atmosphere down there could lead to phantasmagoria."  It's particularly obvious with Craig because he spends the rest of his time trying to play a no-nonsense ship commander, and the dialogue gets in the way of that.

Nice design though; you do get the sense that this is a luxury liner (the cabins in particular seem to have been designed to be small and claustrophobic, as you'd expect), with carpet on the walls and warm colors everywhere.  Plus full marks to whoever decided to put framed comic book pages up as artwork in the cabins.  And there's a nice costuming touch that's been going on throughout the season: Colin Baker's cravat changes color (so blue means past, red means present, and now yellow means future) to act as a subtle indication of what version of the Doctor we're watching.

So it's not the worst thing ever, but judgement of Terror of the Vervoids will probably depend on how it resolves the various problems and mysteries it's setting up.  Nice cliffhanger into part eleven, though; the design of the mutant is realized very well.

December 3: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Eleven & Twelve

(Terror of the Vervoids parts 3 & 4)

The Vervoids plan their next move. (The Trial of a Time Lord
Part Eleven) ©BBC
It's a bit difficult to get a handle on these two episodes; on the one hand they do seem to sort of be following the murder mystery conventions, with red herrings and extra complications (like the sudden hijack of the ship), but on the other hand it all feels a bit distant, like everyone's just going through the motions until the time is up and the murderer is revealed.  It also doesn't help that there don't seem to be many plausible suspects available (and the culprit is hardly a surprise when we do find out for sure), and that the murderous intent of the Vervoids overshadows what was the main plot.

Actually, this might be a bigger problem than it first seems.  Because the murder plot is so lightweight (and probably because the segment's called Terror of the Vervoids rather than, say, The Hyperion III Murders), the Vervoids become the main focus of attention, and all they're doing for most of this is lurking in the (really quite impressively large) ductwork and occasionally killing crewmen.  (And pause to note that, yes, the Vervoid heads do look a bit naughty -- although frankly they don't look as inappropriate as is sometimes stated.)  So the end result is this lopsided story where the script wants us to concentrate on the murders and the finished product is far more interested in the Vervoid side story.  There are lots of bits relating to the murders -- including an attempt to kill Mel halfway through part eleven (although this requires Hyperion III to incinerate its used towels rather than launder them -- humanity is such a wasteful species -- and for the worker on duty to literally be paying no attention at all to what he's throwing away) -- but they're frankly rather uninvolving.  The script sort of seems to be aware of this, so we get an end-of-episode cliffhanger involving Lasky's assistant Bruchner hijacking the ship and piloting it into an incredibly unconvincing black hole, just so that there's some excitement happening.

Mel and the Doctor say their goodbyes. (The Trial of a Time
Part Twelve) ©BBC
Oh, and in case you missed it, the murderer is Lasky's other assistant Doland, who's so desperate to exploit the Vervoids as a slave race (even though one pollen spore in a microscopic cut was enough to turn his assistant Ruth into a half-human/half-Vervoid mutant) that he'll kill a number of people to get them through to Earth.  Although one wonders who would actually want a genetically-engineered slave race with built-in insta-kill thorns in the first place; that seems like you're just asking for trouble.  And then you have to wonder why Doland rigged up the electrocution booby-trap in the hydroponics lab that activated the Vervoids in the first place; surely they would be much easier to deal with in their pre-germination state?  As Zaphod Beeblebrox might say, "Okay, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?"

Still, part twelve is a vaguely more exciting episode as the Vervoids start openly attacking people.  There are some decent scenes, such as Janet the stewardess and some guards trying desperately to keep the Vervoids out of the lounge, but soon enough the whole story ends when the Doctor does something clever to wipe out all the Vervoids -- which leads the Valeyard in the cliffhanger to accuse the Doctor of committing genocide.  So, you get to try people for crimes they haven't committed yet in Time Lord courts, do you?

There seems to be a conscious effort with Terror of the Vervoids to create a deliberately whimsical tale -- albeit one that still seems awfully bloodthirsty; stop and think for a moment about how many people are dead by the end of this -- but this leads to a feeling of being rather lightweight and disposable as well.  It's certainly not a bad story, and there's nothing that's truly egregious about it, but one does get the feeling that in context this is a misjudged opportunity.  Doctor Who is on trial for its life, and it needs something more than a throwaway tale to convince people that it's a show worth doing.  Terror of the Vervoids might be okay in isolation, but in this larger framework it falls rather flat.

December 4: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Thirteen & Fourteen

(The Ultimate Foe parts 1 & 2)

Finally, we're getting something imaginative and more than just business as usual from this story!  The Ultimate Foe (or Time Inc., if you prefer) is set the task of wrapping things up, and it actually does this surprisingly well -- particularly given the nightmare that was going on behind-the-scenes.147  We get a reasonably satisfying explanation about why this trial is happening: some secrets were stolen from the Matrix and hidden on Earth, so the High Council moved Earth a couple light years, accidentally wiping out most of the planet in the process, and renaming the place Ravalox -- and all was well and good until the Doctor stumbled upon evidence linking Earth and Ravalox.  Therefore, discredit/execute him in a trial (although it's maybe not quite such a good idea to feature the thing you're trying to cover up in said trial), and the High Council's actions would remain undiscovered.  This leads to a deservedly oft-quoted speech from the Doctor:
In all my travelings throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators.  I should have stayed here.  The oldest civilisation: decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core.  Ha!  Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they're still in the nursery compared to us.  Ten million years of absolute power; that's what it takes to be really corrupt.
The revelation of all this comes via the Master of all people, who's been hiding out in the Matrix and is frankly better here than he's been his last few appearances.  Anthony Ainley seems to delight in playing the role of a spoiler, come to undo the High Council's actions ("I've thrown a pebble into the water, perhaps killing two birds [the Doctor and the Valeyard] with one stone, and causing ripples that'll rock the High Council to its foundations.  What more could a renegade wish for?" is delivered with particular glee), and he's much more interesting here than when he's trying to kill the Doctor.  And I utterly adore the way the true nature of the Valeyard is just casually tossed away by Ainley: "They made a deal with the Valeyard, or as I've always known him, the Doctor, to adjust the evidence, in return for which he was promised the remainder of the Doctor's regenerations."  Also, full marks to composer Dominic Glynn for not highlighting this reveal until the Doctor cottons on to it.

But what a fascinating idea!  The concept of a dark Doctor from the future -- "an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation", as the Master puts it148 -- is a striking one, and it also makes the current sixth Doctor seem more moral in contrast.  This sixth Doctor has been alien and often nontraditional in his approach to concepts of good and evil, but when placed next to the Valeyard, who seems significantly more corrupt, the sixth Doctor's virtues become more apparent.  And then Robert Holmes, the man who wrote The Deadly Assassin, sends the Doctor and the Valeyard into the Matrix to have an entertainingly surreal battle, with loads of Victoriana and bureaucracy swimming around.  This is an environment in which the Doctor seems both out of place and in his element as he fights his future self (his ultimate foe in more ways than one, you might say -- another reason why that's a much better title than Time Inc. ever was), trying to both play by the Valeyard's rules and to work out how to build to a final confrontation.

The Doctor and the Valeyard in the Matrix. (The Trial of a
Time Lord
Part Fourteen) ©BBC
Once again, given the production nightmare, the fact that Part Fourteen is as coherent as it is is a testament to the Bakers' abilities.  It's not quite as wonderful as Part Thirteen was, but there are some great moments: the Doctor's confrontation with the Valeyard on the beach, the fake trial the Valeyard sets up in the Matrix, any scene with Sabalom Glitz in it (although the best one is when the Master tries to hypnotize Glitz with a shiny watch, swinging it back and forth, leading to Glitz trailing off: "Splendid, splendid." the Master says.  "Listen to me.  Are you listening, Sabalom Glitz?"  "Not really," Glitz replies, totally unhypnotized.  "I was just wondering how many grotzits this little bauble cost you") -- these all add up to a memorable resolution.  And while there may be some less scintillating moments (including, infamously, "A megabyte modem!" and the ludicrous pink heart-like haze surrounding the scene demonstrating that Peri and Yrcanos are happily married -- oh right, Peri's not dead; that was one of the Valeyard's fabrications), on the whole this ends very satisfactorily.  Although ponder the paradox at the end, as Mel seems ready to travel with a Doctor who hasn't met her yet -- and note that the last words spoken by the sixth Doctor here are "Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice!": this will matter in a moment.  But it's still a great ending, as we see the Valeyard has escaped to fight the Doctor another day (though, an off-hand reference in "The Name of the Doctor" aside, the Valeyard hasn't made a reappearance or even really been mentioned on televised Who since).

I suspect that The Trial of a Time Lord, as an entire story, has improved with age.  Audiences are now willing to devote more time to longer-running threads that run through a series of unrelated stories (indeed, Steven Moffat has been making it a huge part of his run on Doctor Who -- although he seems to have dialed it back in his most recent series), and the trial part of The Trial of a Time Lord fits this style very well: a few hints here and there to suggest that something else is going on, leading to the big reveal at the end of the season, with implications for the future as well.  It may have confused viewers at the time (one of the primary criticisms often leveled at this story -- although the audience appreciation figures are all reasonably high, suggesting this may not have been the case), but the season as a whole holds together very well.  If there's a complaint to be made, it's that the individual segments often play it safe, opting for familiar, well-worn paths rather than trying something new, beyond the overarching theme.  As with Terror of the Vervoids, the whole thing isn't bad (and The Ultimate Foe leaves one with, perhaps, a greater feeling of goodwill toward this season than it actually warrants), but at this point in time, not being bad isn't really good enough.  But with the departure of Saward and Colin Baker, the shake-up that this show really needs might finally be around the corner.

But yes, it's time to say goodbye to Colin Baker, who was unceremoniously fired by BBC1 Controller Michael Grade after season 23 aired (thus unfortunately making that "Carrot juice" line his final one as the sixth Doctor).  Many of the scripts Baker was saddled with were problematic, and much of what he was asked to do in terms of performance was questionable, but Colin Baker himself managed to rise above this to create a compelling new persona -- larger than life and often abrasive, but still the same Doctor we'd come to know and love.  Anyone who's listened to some of his Big Finish audios will know that Colin Baker plays an excellent Doctor, and that the sixth Doctor definitely works as a character -- it's simply a sad fact that the televised stories didn't afford him quite the scope or control over the character to really make this clear.  There are certainly gems to be found during his era, but the fact that sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find them isn't his fault, and by the end of season 23 he was firing on all cylinders.  Michael Grade made the wrong decision, and Colin Baker frankly deserved better than he got from the show.

But it's the nature of the show to always keep moving forward; now it's on to season 24 and a brand-new Doctor...


143 It's occasionally stated that "Valeyard" is an old word for "prosecutor" or some such, but I've never been able to verify this -- the only thing that ever seems to come up when you do a search for "Valeyard" is Doctor Who.
144 This choice of evidence is going to seem even stranger when we get to Parts 13 and 14, and the nature of the censored secrets is revealed -- but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
145 The answer is a digital image manipulation system called Harry from Quantel, makers of Paintbox.
146 As the whole season is officially called The Trial of a Time Lord, we get to hark back to the days of William Hartnell and debate what to call these segments.  The first two had their accepted titles on the scripts, so no problems there, but the working title for this third segment was first The Ultimate Foe (now the accepted title for the last two parts -- a confusion that might have occurred because these last six episodes share a production code of 7C) and then The VervoidsTerror of the Vervoids is a title that was invented for the Target novelization (although it's not clear if it was someone at Target or Pip & Jane Baker who actually came up with the title) and which has since stuck with everyone except the people who insist on referring to The Daleks as The Mutants.
147 The story so far: the original season 23 had to be scrapped, as you'll recall, and John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward came up with the idea of having a season-long story about the Doctor being on trial.  The first two segments went relatively smoothly, it seems, other than some last-minute requests by Head of Drama Jonathan Powell to make some major changes to Robert Holmes's segment -- which were eventually worked through, but Saward became unhappy with the disrespect he perceived from Powell toward Holmes, a man he respected very much.  Saward also found that the last two segments of the trial format were going very poorly -- at least three writers were approached and had scripts found wanting (either by Saward or Nathan-Turner) before Pip & Jane Baker came along for parts nine to twelve.  In addition to all this, Saward found his relationship with Nathan-Turner was deteriorating (he felt Nathan-Turner was emphasizing and paying attention to the wrong things and disagreed with a number of decisions being made) and he was rapidly losing the stomach to keep working on the show.
     Then Robert Holmes died, having only written the first episode of the concluding segment, and Saward was devastated.  He wrote up the final episode, based on the discussions he'd had with Holmes, only for Nathan-Turner to disagree about the ending (Saward had written a "down" cliffhanger ending that showed the Doctor and the Valeyard locked in a struggle as they fell through a time vent, inspired by Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's death in "The Final Solution"; Nathan-Turner disliked this on the grounds that it would make it too easy for the BBC to cancel the show, if the last shot was of the Doctor apparently going to his death).  This, it seems, was the final straw; Saward withdrew use of the final script and quit the show entirely.
     Nathan-Turner, now desperate for a final episode, turned to Pip & Jane Baker, who, after a story conference with Nathan-Turner that apparently included a third party to witness the fact that Nathan-Turner hadn't told the Bakers anything about Saward's part fourteen script, went off and wrote their own ending based on everything that went before and a handful of locations that had already been scouted (Saward's script, for instance, apparently required the use of a large round building that ended up not being used in the Bakers' script, though you can still see it in some of the Victorian sequences).  Fortunately the Bakers were able to turn in a script that was largely coherent, thus saving the day.
148 Obviously this slightly odd description (not necessarily a future Doctor so much as a dark distillation offshoot) is intended to not have to actually cast Michael Jayston (or some equivalent) as an evil thirteenth Doctor, and it's also the case that the language is such that, given that we've subsequently seen that the Doctor has more than twelve regenerations, we might not have actually witnessed the creation of the Valeyard yet.  But with the recent revelations, in "The Day of the Doctor" and "The Time of the Doctor", both of a War Doctor between McGann and Eccleston and that the Doctor's almost-regeneration in "Journey's End" does count as using a regeneration, an interesting correlation shows up.
     To recap: if McGann is the 8th incarnation, then Hurt is 9, Eccleston is 10, and Tennant is 11.  But then Tennant uses up a regeneration in "Journey's End", thus also becoming 12.  And what happens in "Journey's End"?  A little after the regeneration we get a second Tennant Doctor (the metacrisis Doctor), one who we're told was "born in battle, full of blood and anger and revenge" -- not exactly an "amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature", but close enough (as well as matching up with the "between your twelfth and final incarnation" description surprisingly well) to at least require some thought.  Pure speculation, obviously, but more has been built with less.