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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (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 Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (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.

Paradise Towers originally aired in 1987.

Oh, I see. It’s some sort of robotic cleaner with automotive bicurval scraping blades. Impressive workmanship.

You don’t understand.

No, I don’t, but I intend to.

– the Doctor and the Deputy Chief Caretaker

Paradise Towers is brilliant. It’s crazy, it’s overstated, it’s an hour too long and it suffers from the fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing, but there’s a sense of genius at work here. Script editor Andrew Cartmel took over at the start of the season, with no scripts. Time and the Rani came from John Nathan Turner’s reliable Pip and Jane Baker, so Paradise Towers is the first script where Cartmel has been allowed to make his mark.

And it’s precisely what the show needed. The execution is significantly flawed, the pacing is all wrong and there’s a sense that not everybody between the script and the camera realised what was going on, but it has a distinct energy to it. Time and the Rani was essentially Doctor Who struggling to keep its head above water. Paradise Towers sees the show diving right into the eighties.

"... where the grass is green and the girls are pretty..."

“… where the grass is green and the girls are pretty…”

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Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (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.

Time and the Rani originally aired in 1987.

Right, that all seems quite clear. Just three small points. Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?

– the Doctor

A Doctor’s first story is always difficult. Even if it’s not as explicit as it was in Power of the Daleks, the new actor his constantly fighting against the weight of expectation, trying to cast off the spectre of their predecessor and make the show their own. There’s also a sense that the production team is trying to reinvent the show around their new lead. It’s transitional, and it’s not too difficult to see how the task could be daunting.

If that’s a typical first story, imagine how frustrating Time and the Rani must have been at the time. Hastily cobbled together in a rush, coming out of a season that had been a spectacular failure and with the shadow of cancellation looming heavy, there’s a lot of pressure on Time and the Rani. It is a story that is routinely trashed and mocked, and perhaps deservedly so. However, I must concede, it’s not as bad as it could have been and I’d be very reluctant to rank it among the worst Doctor Who serials of all time.

He's got an umbrella and he's not afraid to use it!

He’s got an umbrella and he’s not afraid to use it!

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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: 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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