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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – Terror of the Vervoids (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.

Mmm. This is a situation that requires tact and finesse. Fortunately, I am blessed with both.

– the Sixth Doctor

Okay, so the “past” and “present” sections of The Trial of a Time Lord haven’t been blow-outs. The Mysterious Planet demonstrated that maybe, once upon a time, Doctor Who had been decidedly average, constructed of a checklist of familiar and inoffensive tropes. Mindwarp demonstrated that Colin Baker’s Doctor was the kind of character who you could probably imagine chaining his companion to a rock on the beach, before leaving her to die… or marry Brian Blessed… or something. But, hey, there was some social commentary! If The Trial of a Time Lord is constructed as a defence by the show to avoid being sentenced to the bleak nether-realms of cancellation, I have to confess that I’m not convinced. And I like the show to begin with.

Still, it’s not a total failure. I mean, whatever the show was or is, it can always be something better, right? And so, this final story, Terror of the Vervoids, could easily prove that the show has a very clear idea of where it’s going next? The future will be better tomorrow, and all that?

Cue incredibly lame "Pussy Galore" joke...

Cue incredibly lame “Pussy Galore” joke…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – Mindwarp (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.

Hey, keep together. This is a great day for battle. A great day to die!

Does he always go on like that?

Afraid so.

-Ycranos, Tuza and Peri discover she apparently has a type

The Trial of a Time Lord loosely adheres to the structure of A Christmas Carol. If The Mysterious Planet can be seen as the “past” story, then Mindwarp is very clearly the “present” story. The BBC’s sudden “hiatus” for Doctor Who yanked the series suddenly out of Colin Baker’s first season, to the point where dialogue from Baker referencing the planned series opener had to be dubbed out. As a result, for the eighteen month gap, Colin Baker’s first full season in the role was a perpetual “present.” It was the last Doctor Who that had aired, and – as a result – it was the version of the show that first popped into people’s minds when they thought of the series.

So it seems fitting that The Trial of a Time Lord sees Colin Baker yanked directly from an adventure that looks like it could have been filmed as part of his first full year in the role. If The Mysterious Planet evokes a hazy and romantic past, a story constructed from familiar archetypes and plot points, then Mindwarp is a very clear acknowledgement of what the show had evolved into. Given the difficulties facing the programme after that problematic year, Mindwarp is the segment of this over-arching plot that needs to make the most robust defence of the show, or at least deflect the most criticism.

Despite some interesting strengths, Mindwarp doesn’t quite construct a convincing argument in favour of the show. More than that, though, its deflections prove a little weak.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Mysterious Planet (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.

Well, this is a charade.

– the Doctor gets the idea quickly enough

The Doctor had been off screens for eighteen months following Revelation of the Daleks. Michael Grade was desperately trying to cancel the show, and it only limped back to screen with a significantly reduced budget and much shorter run of episodes. The show length was also reverted back to its default value. This season would only run for fourteen half-hour episodes – what would become the set length for Doctor Who in the years to come. (Indeed, counting the Christmas Special, the revived series also runs to that length, albeit in forty-five minute episodes.)

By all accounts, the production on the infamous Trial of a Time Lord was a disaster for reasons natural and otherwise. Veteran writer Robert Holmes was to provide the opening and closing scripts, but passed away before his work on the finalé could be finished. Script editor Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner clashed over the climax of the trial, prompting Saward to resign and Nathan-Turner to temporarily become script editor himself. Colin Baker couldn’t make sense of Mindwarp. The last episode of the season was written by two writers wrapping up from Holmes’ first part, but unable to examine his notes on how he planned to conclude it.

Believe me when I state that every last ounce of this behind-the-scenes friction was visible on-screen by the end of the year. Luckily enough, the show does a decent enough job concealing these approaching problems in the first story of the arc. That’s not to say that The Mysterious Planet is an unsung classic, merely to point out that it is at least unburdened by the seemingly real time collapse of Doctor Who.

Ah, it's a fourteen-week adventure about watching Doctor Who!

Ah, it’s a fourteen-week adventure about watching Doctor Who!

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