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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Ultimate Foe (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

In all my travellings 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 Doctor

There really are no excuses for the mess that The Trial of a Time Lord became. I mean, seriously. The producers had eighteen months to plan everything out. The task shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are going to fictionalise the persecution of Doctor Who by the BBC in the form of a trial, you really should have some idea what you plan to do or say at the end of it. If your fourteen episode season-long story arc is about defending a show that is coming close to cancellation, then perhaps it might be a good idea to be able to tell us why it shouldn’t be cancelled. The Trial of a Time Lord is a gigantic mess, and something that makes a stronger case in favour of Michael Grade’s attempts to cancel that show than it does against them.

The Ultimate Foe isn’t as soul-destroyingly horrible as Terror of the Vervoids, but that may be because Pip and Jane Baker only wrote half of it.

Only himself for company...

Only himself for company…

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Doctor Who: Timelash (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite (and not-so-favourite) stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Timelash originally aired in 1985.

I don’t trust you. You’re being too reasonable.

– Peri’s on to him

Timelash is on the short list of serials broadly agreed to be “the worst Doctor Who stories ever.” Given how prone science-fiction fans are to bickering about absolutely everything, and how impossible it is to find consensus, that’s really saying something. More than that, it ranks with quite a few Colin Baker stories among that list. I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem with Baker’s tenure isn’t a lack of classic episodes (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos surely count), but the batting average skewed by so many truly terrible stories.

Any season containing Timelash would be ridiculed, but it’s hard to imagine that any year of television containing Attack of the Cybermen, Timelash and The Mark of the Rani couldn’t help but raise questions about the show’s future at the BBC.

The face of evil...

The face of evil…

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Doctor Who: Robot (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Robot originally aired in 1974 and 1975.

There you are. Now come along, Doctor, you’re supposed to be in the sick bay.

Am I? Don’t you mean the infirmary?

No, I do not mean the infirmary. I mean the sick bay. You’re not fit yet.

Not fit? I’m the Doctor.

No, Doctor, I’m the doctor and I say that you’re not fit.

You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.

– Harry meets the Doctor

Robot feels a bit like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, or a Tom-Baker-shaped peg into a Jon-Pertwee-shaped hole. At the time that Baker assumed the role as everybody’s favourite time-travelling phone-booth dweller, Pertwee had just finished the longest stint as the character, portraying the Doctor for five years. Of course, Baker himself would go on to break that record, playing the part for seven years, but it gives you a sense of just how big of a transition it was. As such, it’s easy to understand why outgoing producer Barry Letts felt the need to essentially cast Tom Baker in what feels distinctly like a Jon Pertwee story. As a concept, the central character aside, Robot feels like it would have fit in quite well as part of Pertwee’s last season, which is – I think – part of the problem here.

Tom Baker is a lot of things, but he’s not Jon Pertwee. As a result, Robot feels a little clunkier than it really should, as if the show is actively working against the character who should be driving it.

The Doctor will see you now...

The Doctor will see you now…

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