Doctor Who: The Trial Of A Time Lord (DVD boxset review).

February 28, 2014 | By | Reply More

‘The Trial Of A Time Lord’ is very difficult to assess in anything than a boxset and I doubt if anyone would really want to make the mistake of buying each of the 4 DVDs separately.

regular guest stars: Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham

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The Mysterious Planet by John Holmes

cast: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby, Joan Sims, Glen Murphy, Tom Chadbon and Roger Brierley

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The TARDIS is drawn to a space station and the Doctor (Colin Baker) exits alone to find himself on trail by his peers, the Time Lords, with the Valeyard (actor Michael Jayston) his prosecutor and the Inquistitor (actress Lynda Bellingham) supervising the case. The Doctor’s crime: interfering with other species’ lives. The Doctor also finds he is no longer head of the council by never being there.

The Valeyard presents the case by showing one of the Doctor’s recent adventures. He and Peri (actress Nicola Bryant) have arrived on Ravalox and underground they find a sign labelled ‘Marble Arch’ and this planet might well be Earth. A spooked Peri decides to stay on the surface while the Doctor investigates further.

Unknown to either of them, they had been watched by two visiting mercenaries, Glitz (actor Tony Selby) and Dibber (actor Glen Murphy), who while they considered killing them, instead go after the natives and are captured themselves. Their leader, Kayryca (actress Joan Sims), doesn’t believe their story about turning off an aerial that is attracting firestorms to the planet and imprisons them both. They latter find and imprison Peri in their hut.

Meanwhile, the Doctor, in a new section of the underground, is nearly stoned for picking up a sphere of water, but is instead taken to meet the Immortal aka Drathro (voiced by actor Roger Brierley), a giant robot who wants the Doctor’s aid to do some repairs but refuses to let him go to surface to repair the aerial, which is the main problem. He escapes and finds a couple of his former captors willing to help him. Merdeen (actor Tom Chadbon) does this, providing he takes Balazar (actor Adam Blackwood) to safety on the surface.

Although not sure about Glitz and Dibber, but likely to suffer their fate being burnt at the stake, Peri joins them when they flee and doesn’t notice Glitz ordering Dibber to go and destroy the aerial. All three of them are later chased towards the entrance to the underground tunnel as the Doctor and Balazar emerge and all of them run inside. They then find themselves facing another robot. Fortunately, Balazar recognises members of the villagers and gets them to shoot it instead of them.

They flee back to the surface and Kayryca holds them all prisoner and to determine who is guilty, needs to read the flames, so they are packed back into the guardhouse. However, the robot has been revived and smashes through the wall to grab the Doctor. Glitz, Dibber and Peri flee, too, but hold back as the villages chase and attack the robot, stunning the Doctor.

Glitz, thinking the Doctor dead, orders Dibber to go back to their spaceship and bring the heavy armament and to meet him at the underground entrance. The Doctor revives and he and Peri get there first and hurry in. With the destruction of the aerial, there is going to be a black light explosion and he needs to persuade Drathro he needs to be turned off. At the same time, the villagers thinking that they destroyed the Immortal and leading their own rebellion in the underground.

That should whet your appeitite. I do think that this black light power source sounds awfully like a black hole singularity. I should also point out that there were several interruptions of the events at the court of the Time Lords with the Valeyard deliberately trying to conceal evidence, much to even the Inquisitor’s displeasure, not to mention that of the Doctor. There is also the mystery of why the Earth was moved and renamed as Ravalox.

In many respects, this is a jolly romp with all the usual ‘Doctor Who’ ingredients. Peri continues to disobey orders and still whines a lot and still is very much the reluctant companion. The 18 month delay in the seasons also allowed actress Nicola Bryant to grow her hair longer.

The primary audio commentary is nicely done as actor Colin Baker systematically introduces Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby and Adam Blackwood. Hearing that they all had to suppress the giggles made me more attention to their eyes, especially that of actor Tom Chadbon (Merdeen) who was only allowed to smile in the last episode. This is also Glen Murphy’s first major role before he became well-known as a fireman in ITV’s ‘London’s Burning’. Baker also points out that the space station in the opening episode cost more than his own fee. The banter between the four of them, not just about the show but other showbusiness matters was illuminating and I could have listened to that for hours. It does make me wonder why Tony Selby was never in the window of choice to have played the Doctor himself.

Script editor Eric Saward’s commentary over episode one is a bit of a misnomer as he isn’t really talking about the specifics of this story but writer Robert Holmes career, the problems at the BBC and getting a theme for the entire season, some of which is repeated in ‘The Making Of The Mysterious Planet’. One thing I wish was included was that although Saward said that drama chief Jonathan Powell sent notes down about things he didn’t like, I wish there was an indication of how many times that had happened before to put it into perspective.

There is an interesting selection of extras. Primary of these is the 25 minute ‘The Making Of-’, where we have discussions with the actors and seeing inside of the two robots. Although Robert Holmes wasn’t well and this was his final script, scriptwriter Eric Saward thinks they could have done better with it.

The deleted scenes shows a different interpretation of the script, chiefly where the Doctor and Peri were still at odds with each other. From what Colin Baker says in ‘The Making Of-’, where they were allowed to play out a nicer approach, I think they were allowed to film both interpretations to see which was better.

As the start of the season, the extras are numerous. The interview from the ‘Wogan’ show with actors Colin Baker and Lynda Bellingham plus a couple of the Who monsters moving equals the piece from ‘Blue Peter’ which also includes a mini-interview with Nabal Shaban, suitably made up as Sil are notable.

 

Mindwarp by Philip Martin

cast: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Brian Blessed, Nabil Shaban, Christopher Ryan, Patrick Ryecart, Thomas Branch and Albie Parsons

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The Doctor and Peri arrive on Thoros-Beta, seeking who made the weapons on a previous unseen adventure. They find their way underground where they are attacked by a creature which the Doctor accidentally kills. They are captured and discover that the Mentors Sil (actor Nabil Shaban) and his boss, Kiv (actor Christopher Ryan), have their tame scientist, Crozier (actor Patrick Ryecart) brainwashing warrior King Yrcanos (actor Brian Blessed) to sign their contract. Crozier’s other task is to find a new body for Kiv, whose brain is growing too big for his body, and the creature that the Doctor killed draws some concern because it was the prototype and he needs to know what went wrong with it. The Doctor and Peri flee, discover a chained man-wolf and captured after the Time Lord disconnects the device securing Yrcanos. However, he is put under the machine to provide the truth. Fortunately, Yrcanos breaks free and he leads the two time travellers into the tunnels.

On verge of being captured again, Yrcanos and Peri flee in different directions but the dazed Doctor has had a personality change where he is looking after his own self-interest and helps restore the machine and even ignores the possibility from Crozier that his own body could be used for Kiv’s enlarged brain. Yrcanos discovers the man-wolf was once his aide and releases him so they can escape together. Peri becomes a hand-maiden for Matrona Kani (actress Albie Parsons) and becomes part of her troop feeding Sil and the others and ultimately betrayed by the Doctor and captured again.

Throughout all of this, there are the occasional intrusions from the court with the Doctor not remembering all the events that happened and that the Matrix isn’t showing the truth.

Crozier, with the help of the Doctor succeeds in transferring Kiv’s brain into a new body, although it doesn’t go without some complications as its properties, like a taste for fish, begins to assert itself.

Yrcanos, Peri and the man-dog, finally getting his name, the Lukoser (actor Thomas Branch), are captured by the resistance but the king convinces them he can lead the rebellion. This is again thwarted with another capture by the Mentors’ men. The Doctor uses his trust to look around and frees Yrcanos, unaware that Crozier is planning to impose Kiv’s personality into Peri’s body. The next rebellion nearly succeeds before the Time Lords pluck both the Doctor and his TARDIS to the court.

The Doctor is dismayed by their actions and Peri’s death, which wouldn’t have happened had he been there. The Inquisitor explains it was important that Crozier’s personality transplant experiments had to be stopped by the Time Lords themselves.

The audio commentary is spread between actors Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant and writer Philip Martin with a lot of interesting reveals. The wardrobe department actually budgeted in that the cast might buy their costumes off of them to balance their own books. Philip Martin wasn’t aware that Nicola Bryant was aware that he was going to assassinate Peri. More importantly, no one had explained to Colin Baker and the lines were missing that the Doctor’s odd behaviour was because he’d absorbed some of Yrcanos’ personality from the machine they were both hooked up with.

A multitude of extras starts with ‘The Making Of-’ and nice to see Brian Blessed, who notes the Queen had seen his performance in ‘Flash Gordon, and how to raise bluster. Oddly, both Nabil Shaban and Christopher Ryan were absent. The ‘Now And Then’ feature and how the Paintbox effects altered the scenes shows what was done. This feature also extends to the next two stories so if you don’t want any surprises, wait until after you’ve seen them. There’s a brief couple minutes ending of the fourth story and Nicola Bryant’s reaction to her survival. I always thought she knew what happened from the brief scene being filmed but it must have been stock footage.

 

Terror Of The Vervoids by Pip and Jane Baker

cast: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford, Honor Blackman, Michael Craig, Denys Hawthorne and Malcolm Tierney

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The Doctor uses the Matrix to pick out a future event when he and his new companion, Melanie Bush (actress Bonnie Langford), follow up on an SOS that only the TARDIS received to a Hyperion III space-liner enroute from Moga to Earth where a series of deaths has already begun. Although initially accused, the Commodore Tonka Travers (actor Michael Craig) knows the Doctor and thinks leaving him to his own devices will sort out what is going on. There are a lot of suspects and the number slowly goes down as more murders take place. None of which is helped by the released murderous plants in the cargo hold. Anything else is beyond be leaf. Sorry, but it was too easy to declare the murderer could have been a plant.

This story is a loose rendition of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ and too much information here would mean me killing you. As it’s a TV show, it’s not worth that much effort so you’ll have to watch it to find out who did what to whom. However, not only are there a selection of red herrings, there are more than one murderer and not all of them covert.

The audio commentary is spread between actors Colin Baker and Michael Craig, scriptwriters Pip and Jane Baker and director Chris Clough. A lot of it is banter which occasionally and interestingly extends beyond the show but makes for a lot more depth. Michael Craig was the most surprised that he hadn’t been asked to be in ‘Doctor Who’ before but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Colin Baker points out that Bonnie Langford was always fully prepared even in rehearsals. I know she received a lot of flak when she became a companion which even then I thought was a little unjustified. If anything, she was probably the first companion that was recognised from the earlier part of her career, but when you consider that she started off as a child actor, that’s hardly surprising. Further points were raised that she was also a great screamer and could do it in the same key as the Who theme music. It took until the third episode for Jane Baker to make the connection that the phaser looked like a banana although I would have thought the yellow colour would have been a giveaway. Chris Clough also describes its firing tip as looking like a ballpoint pen.

There’s a multitude of extras. The making of feature is always interesting, if only to see actors being themselves and not the parts they play. The ‘Deleted And Extended Scenes’ gave me food for thought about the editing process and the decisions made to remove them. It’s no wonder the cast of any series or film are never sure what is filmed will appear on the screen. ‘The Lost Season’ shows what the plans were for the missing 23rd season which I haven’t really thought of for a few years. Considering that the Celestial Toymaker was being considered back then, it’s a shame he can’t be resurrected again today, even if actor Michael Gough has passed away. It’s about time there was an indication that it wasn’t only Time Lords who could regenerate.

‘Get Out Of That’ looks at the various cliff-hangers that the Doctor has been put through, with various contributions from cast members and even goes up to the Eccleston era. At the end, Tom Baker contributes the thought that death is the ultimate cliff-hanger which should make us all think as to what happens next or not.

 

The Ultimate Foe by Robert Holmes, Pip and Jane Baker

cast: Anthony Ainley, Tony Selby, Geoffrey Hughes and James Bree

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With the Doctor accused of genocide, the big reveal is the Valeyard is the accumulation of his evil from something from before his twelfth regeneration. The appearance of the Master from a screen inside the Matrix proves that it as leaky as a sieve to anyone who wants to get inside. The Master’s ulterior motive is to remove someone even more evil than himself and if both Doctors kill each other then it would be all to the good or bad, depending on your perspective. He also provides Melanie Bush and Glitz for the Doctor’s defence but before they can do anything, the Valeyard flees into the Matrix with the Doctor and Glitz following him and various menaces within to unravel. As to what is real and what isn’t within is something you will have to watch for yourself as there’s far too many spoilers.

Even when I watched this story back in the mid-80s, I did spot one enormous flaw or rather the contradictive nature of the Time Lords. Back in ‘The Genesis Of The Daleks’, the Doctor was sent into the past to stop the creation of the Daleks, effectively committing genocide which he ultimately didn’t do. You would have thought that he might have raised that point when he was told he was breaking Gallifreyian law.

There is also the possibility that the Valeyard is still out there although he’s kept himself hidden ever since. As he’s also a Time Lord and privy to how to acquire multiple regenerations, I’m surprised no one has thought to bring him back again. I mean, it’s not unusual for heroes to have a dark version adversary of themselves to fight and leaves the dilemma that he can’t be killed without causing problems for the Doctor.

The audio commentary with actors Colin Baker and Tony Selby with director Chris Clough and with episode two, scriptwriters Pip and Jane Baker filling in why they were brought in at the eleventh hour for a three day script. Much of what goes on is banter and the delights of night shooting in Stoke.

Something that did occur to me watching the Doctor and Mel leaving was that they were off to the Hyperion III space-liner which would explain why the Time Lord was so laid back in that story. I mean, he has seen it twice, once picking it out of the Matrix and a second time in the trial, so he not only knew what was going to happen but unable to change things neither and just had to let things play out without deviating from events. The paradoxes of which I’ll let you ponder on.

There is a second audio commentary from script editor Eric Saward explaining his stepping in as original writer Robert Holmes became seriously ill and died. Although it’s only hinted at as to how he was going to end the fourteenth episode and what producer John Nathan-Turner wanted, I do see why the latter was the better choice. Having the two Doctors falling into a black hole could easily have been used as an excuse for a final end point for ‘Doctor Who’, not to mention drawing comparisons to a certain Sherlock Holmes and how he took Moriarity into the waterfall.

With only two episodes, there is plenty of room for other extras on this DVD. ‘The Making Of-’ covers the usual examination by cast and scriptwriters although some points given were covered in the audio commentaries. The 55 minute analysis of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor is very illuminating, even going over it all again today. Objectively, from costume to budget, it looked like a road accident waiting to happen and it’s even more amazing that some good material came out of it.

The ‘Open Air’ extract with Liverpool Who fans asking questions about the season with Pip and Jane Baker on a live-link and John Nathan-Turner on the phone revealed their dissatisfaction and not as easy to understand by the ‘normal’ viewer whoever they are. The fact that the season had 5 million viewers would have belied that in my opinion.

 

Looking at ‘The Trail Of A Time Lord’ as a whole, I think it still holds up reasonably well. I can even accept the Doctor’s bizarre coat and even Colin Baker thinks it was a product of its time. Retrospectively, I do think something really ought to be done about the Valeyard, especially after the recent regeneration into the Capaldi Doctor. I mean, the Doctor being gifted with another twelve regenerations couldn’t have come without some sort of price. There might even be a nice Master out there if the pay-off for extensions is to purge the opposites into an auxiliary version. If nothing else, the current Doctor could certainly do with a stronger named nemesis and not just another alien species out for his blood.

GF Willmetts

February 2014

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD2422. 4 DVDs 350 minutes 14 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £12.00 (UK) if you know where to look. Subtitles.)

regular guest stars: Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham

check out website: www.bbcshop.com

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Category: Doctor Who, TV

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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