Terror of the VervoidsBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Still not sure, exactly, why Pip and Jane are so maligned by fandomn. 

Okay, "Time and the Rani" was pretty bad in spots (though still not half as bad as some of the other "duds" the series has produced now and again), but their other submissions to the series are actually quite strong. And, in all honesty, I can see why JNT turned to them as often as he did during this highly tumultous time. The bottom line is, they're fairly solid writers. 

And "Terror of the Vervoids" is a pretty good example of this. Even though it's probably my least favourite story in the Trial of a Time Lord season, it's still a damned good one.

Okay, the dialogue is a bit overblown in places and we practically need a thesaurus in order to follow along with some of the dialogue. But I can think of plenty of authors who do this in Who. It's actually part of what I like about the show. It has seriously enriched my vocabulary over the years because the scriptwriters weren't afraid to give the actors some real mouthfuls sometimes. So, really, to bitch about Pip and Jane doing this is pretty silly. I could find you some pretty overblown stuff from the great Robert Holmes without having to look too hard. So let's get off the poor Bakers' back about it, already, okay? 

Now, rather than address the sillines of fandomn's tastes, let's get into the story proper. It's a nice little premise, of course and the parallells between it and "Murder On the Orient Express" are obvious enough (and I'm pretty sure we all got it without the shot of the book sitting on the table but it was still nice touch). The characters are also well-suited to a murder mystery premise. Although I did find the actual execution by the actors playing Lasky and Rudge to be a bit "off". Honor Blackman just doesn't seem to have the prescence of her "dragon lady" personae "down" right. And I feel that Rudge needed to, perhaps, "bumble" a bit more to convey that he's a bit on the incompetent side. Although, once he shows his true colours, I did feel his performance improved.

The direction of the storyline works pretty good, overall, and Chris Clough does a good job with what he's given (which he does in all the stories he directed). Even with the budget increased because of the episodes being reduced, the classic series was still never given enough money to achieve all the proper visuals. So Clough is smart enough to not dwell too hard on certain sequences whereas he puts a nice chunk of the budget into that opening shot of the Hyperion III and gives us a very nice first impression of the third case in the trial because of that shot. He also put some nice work into the Vervoid costumes (even if we do see a jumpsuit or two) and their death sequence looked quite impressive. I'm still not exactly sure how he got all those leaves to turn colours at once! 

The biggest drawback that I feel this story suffers from is one that happened in a few mid-80s Who tales. There are, perhaps, just a few too many plot strands going on here. We've got murder, hijacking and killer plants all weaving in and out of each other a bit too much at once. It's just a bit on the prepostorous side to have so much going on in the plot and it stretches credulity a tad too far because of it. Although, in its defense, too much plot is always better than too little. But still, I just find it hard to believe that so much can happen on just one flight of a ship! But that's really my biggest gripe.

There are, of course, some silly inconsistencies like the whole "key upside down" sequence but they're hardly worth getting "up in arms" about. Sillier things have happened in a Who story. And some of the clever things like the Mogarian translator not switching on makes up for any of these smaller problems quite nicely.

The trial going on outside of the Hyperion storyline is getting quite interesting by this point. We now see that the Doctor definitely believes the Matrix is being falsified and even suspects who's up to it. And the charge being changed at the end of the final episode is a nice little twist and a good way to finish the whole story off with a bit of a bang. Some very well-achieved scenes. But then, I loved the trial scenes throughout this season so it's a bit of a bias, really! 

So, not a whole lot of problems with this story in my book. A bit too "busy" plot-wise and a few minor problems with some of the acting but this really is another fairly well-told story from Pip and Jane Bakers' pen. So, once again, gang: What is the big problem with the Bakers? I think they did the show quite good, overall.





The Mysterious PlanetBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

No one knows what a Black Light Explosion could do - there's never been one! "There will be soon."

Ah, a lovely story. The Doctor decides to check out the planet of Ravalox which is eerily similar to Earth, but upon arrival Peri finds the landscape a bit too familiar for comfort. And she's right: Ravalox is Earth, devastated by a fireball 500 years previously, the regenerated world is deserted bar a handful of survivors lorded over by Drathro the Immortal. But all good things come to an end and enthusiastic entrepreneurs Glitz and Dibber have unintentionally triggered doomsday.

Robert Holmes wrote this story while seriously ill and with a bunch of stuffed shirts calling themselves BBC executives breathing down his neck. If I could write something this good under such circumstances, I'd be irrideemably smug. Maybe it's just the return to 25-minute episodes but this is the first story of the Sixth Doctor era where the plot doesn't feel upside down and inside out. OK, it's clearly rooted in Holmes other works: The Krotons (a hidden robotic god demanding the two cleverest youths join him in hiding); The Space Pirates (Glitz is the latest in a long line of Milo Clancy characters); The Ark in Space (humanity surviving the burning of Earth); The Deadly Assassin (a black monolith heralding the end of the entire universe); The Ribos Operation (a con job involving a planet of primatives). Give the guy a break - Rob Shearman rewrites the same story every Big Finish he does, you don't come down on him like a ton of bricks, do you?

Holmes treats the Sixth Doctor like he did the Fifth - ignore everything and write for Tom Baker. This is no slur on Colin; Holmes only wrote for Tom Baker. Look at Carnival of Monsters or The Space Pirates - how easy to have Tom Baker appear in them. It's just one of those things I suppose. But how did I miss the scene where the Doctor offers Humker and Tandrell jelly babies? Or when he calls for Sarah-Jane? And anyone stupid enough to say the Sixth Doctor was 'evil' or 'lost his principals', I refer you to the scene he breathlessly tells Peri they are charging into mortal danger: when Peri ridicules this decision, he stares at her in horror and says, "Peri, I can't just let people die if there's a chance of saving them!" before storming off.

Yep, that's the Doctor all right. Willing to risk it all to save a bunch of people he hardly knows and, like in The Caves of Androzani, they're all callous bastards. No. Look again. Glitz is usually shown as light comic relief, and watching the last three episodes of this story, you can hardly blame them. But look at episode one. This cheeky space-Arthur Daley plans to shoot the Doctor and Peri in the back of their heads for nothing more than sadistic pleasure, at the time regailing Dibber with tales of trying to kill the countless psychiatrists that tried to help him. Glitz is a bleeding psychopath! Maybe it was the rewrites that reduced him to the comic foil he becomes by part four, but he's still a hard case - cheerfully planning to wipe out 500 innocent people by gassing them like badgers, he may rarely get a chance to use his guns but if he did there's no doubt Katryca would be the first to die.

The rest of the cast aren't particularly nice. Drathro's the villain, but Merdeen is supposed to be a hero - though this hero is quite happy to cull the Doctor and dozens of others if he thinks he's being watched. Just because he sees its unecessary doesn't excuse he fact he does it. Grell's worse, not even seeing any problem with murdering friends and family. Katryca... well, she's just a nutter and its good that Joan Sims shows that off. Katryca's written as a wily old woman - as long as she's half-asleep staring into a fire. Beyond that, she goes crazy, makes speeces, and enjoys burning people in Wicker Men, only without the Wicker. The fact that Broken Tooth and the others let her push them around shows they aren't up to much either. The only remotely nice character is Balazar, who winds the Doctor up so much he calls him 'a pallid little swot' to his face, and also organizes fatal stonings.

There are a few problems with this story, I admit. For a start, the fact its working title is The Mysterious Planet. Odd how the mystery is solved five minutes into the first episode. It's Earth! Then, in the third. It's definitely Earth! Surely this should be a Planet of the Apes-style final episode revelation? And why is Peri so instantly tuned into the fact she's wandering around the United Kingdom and speak of it with nostalgia? She's not from there. Was Holmes thinking the campion might be English and recognize it? And Glitz seems well up on human culture for someone who's Andromedan (he knows of marriage, funerals, stamp collecting, charity workers and the Latin phrase Pater Familias). If Earth was destroyed two million years after the 1980s, why was Marble Arch station unchanged? Why do the train guards wear torch helmets when there's plenty of light to see? Why does Drathro only realize there is a village AFTER the L1 has left there? And if Drathro has studied human behaviour for 500 years... why's he so appallingly bad at it? (That may be the point, so I'll let it go.)

But on the whole, it's fine. The Doctor and Peri are the best of friends, with the former worried around the latter enough to delay his exploration and the latter willing to run into a shootout to rescue the former. The humor level is turned up and... I like it. OK, some of it's not sophisticated ('I did it.''I think you'll find that I did it.''I did it.''I DID IT!!'), but I laughed anyway. The Doctor deliberately getting people's names wrong, carrying a teddy bear, Glitz and Dibber discussing their childhoods, Balazar getting a face full of green slime... I laughed. It's feel good stuff. And after the relentless, plotless grittiness of Revelation of the Daleks, a breath of fresh air - this is a story where all the characters get a purpose before dying horribly. In Season 22, Humker and Tandrell would have been brutally shot down (stop cheering!) but here they escape, they reach the outside world... and they are so amazed by it they stop arguing, totally absorbed by it. Katryca learns fatally not to push it and that shouting she's in charge won't impress anyone. For all Drathro's talk of logic, he falls for Glitz's ploy hook, line and sinker. Balazar goes from annoying nerd to... well, he's still an annoying nerd but he'll never stone someone to death again. And Dibber continually proves he's smarter (and fitter) than his boss. It's a happy ending.

And that's Rob Holmes' genius. How the hell does he make these happy endings after such implicitely grim storyline? When I recently watched The Sun Makers with the eyes of a grown-up, I found it utterly terrifying. All of humanity was screwed by the Usaurians and then worked and taxes to death for centuries. The Doctor stops it in one afternoon, but what about the years and years of hopeless horror that Cordo and his ancestors suffered? Not only does this story show all human civilization burnt off the face of the Earth, the five hundred survivors are kept at that number by routine cullings. For five hundred years. Five hundred years. But somehow, even knowing that, it still feels right that the Doctor and Peri walk away from it exchanging witty insults. I wonder how Warriors of the Deep would have ended if Holmes had had a hand in it - it sure wouldn't have concluded with the Doctor croaking there should have been another way.

But it isn't just levity. The Doctor's passionate speech to Drathro is exactly the sort of stuff he should have had right in the beginning - he speaks of life with such awe as if even discussing it is not his place. No bombastic shouting or sulks, and it is a revelation to see the Sixth Doctor face an enemy he cannot sweettalk or defeat. As Glitz says, "Don't knock low cunning,". Seeing the Doctor only win the day by being defeated by a bunch of wandering cooks is a nice throwback to the Peter Davison days as well.The Mysterious Planet is a great story, and bar Peri's hairstyle, I think fandom would have engineered its replacement of Timelash without a second thought. It is only when I look at the story as Doctor Who's last, desperate bid to win the ratings war do I think it's in any way lacking. Where's the returning monster, the new villain, the companion departure, the event that stops a story being a disposable one? Where's the thing that makes you desperate to see what happens next? As a Doctor Who story, it's great, but as a television gambit, this is as far from target as its possible to get.





MindwarpBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It is said by some that an infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite amount of typewriters will eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare; one can only guess therefore at how few monkeys with how few typewriters it would take to reproduce 'The Trial of a Time Lord' Episodes Five to Eight, also known as 'Mindwarp'. I'd been rather enjoying 'The Trail of a Time Lord' on this reviewing, until I was forced to sit through this tripe, which is to Season Twenty-Three what a cheese-grater is to a penis. 

Before I launch into an attack on the main body of this dross, I'll discuss the overall impact it has on the actual trial. In this regard, it actually has some merit; the decision by the Time Lords to remove the Doctor from time and space at the critical moment that they choose, and their rather dubious reasons for doing so (that Crozier's experiments pose a threat to the future of evolution throughout the universe) adds to the growing suspicion that they have an ulterior motive for placing the Doctor on trial. Indeed, the end of Episode Eight sees a furious Doctor announcing, "No, there's something else going on here… I was taken out of time for another reason and I have every intention of finding out what it is". As the Valeyard's assault on the Doctor becomes ever more vicious, it also becomes even clearer that his real motivation runs far deeper than a desire for justice, and the realization by the Doctor that the evidence presented by the supposedly infallible Matrix is being tampered with adds further intrigue. 

In addition to the plot developments, both Jayston and Baker continue to impress in the trial segments, and whilst Baker is often accused of being particularly hammy in Season Twenty-Three, I still like his Doctor here. The look of relief on his face at the start of Episode Eight when the Valeyard tells him that Peri is still alive is impressively performed and of course has extra poignancy with foreknowledge of Peri's apparent demise. Baker also conveys anger well during the episode's climax, as noted above. Unfortunately however, there are two problems with the trial segments during these episodes; the first is that Philip Martin's diabolical script extends to the courtroom, with lines as bad as "This is… not a debating society for maladjusted psychotic sociopaths", and the Valeyard's embarrassing description of the next piece of evidence as the Doctor's latest "frightening adventure". Worst still, the trial scenes become deeply intrusive here, distracting from the action on Thoros-Beta (hang on, what am I saying? This can only be a good thing, surely?). By the time that the Doctor and Peri enter the caves and have been attacked by the Raak, there have already been three trial scenes. And there's another straight after the Raak's death. 

Anyway, onto 'Mindwarp' itself. There are many promising elements in 'Mindwarp'; with sea-monsters augmented so that they can operate machinery, a wolf-man who cries for help, and the notion of brain transplantation against the body donor's wishes, the potential body horror here could rival that of 'Revelation of the Daleks' and more appropriately, 'The Brain of Morbius'. Unfortunately, after the eighteen-month hiatus, Doctor Who had its teeth pulled, and what we actually get is a gaudy sub-pantomime runaround. Fans of this story might point out that 'The Horns of Nimon' is a gaudy sub-pantomime runaround and that I like that, but 'The Horns of Nimon' is amusing whereas this is just facile. It doesn't help that the plot is actually very slight and there is bugger all else to compensate; everyone spends four episodes either working to save Kiv, or chasing up and down corridors, and it's always a bad sign when what is effectively a four-episode story drags interminably. 

The weak plot is undermined still further by the diabolic script. It's hard to believe that Philip Martin would follow the excellent 'Vengeance on Varos' with such tepid scribbling, unless I suppose you've read the almost unbelievably silly 'Mission to Magnus', in which case you might just conclude that Martin is the Doctor Who writer equivalent of a one-hit wonder. The jury's out until I hear Big Finish's 'The Creed of the Kromon', but it's not currently looking good for Martin. In addition to the crass dialogue that blights the courtroom scenes, here we get lines such as "nobody likes brain alteration" and "stop gyrating your throat". And of course almost every piece of scripted dialogue that Yrcanos gets, but I'll come to that later on.

What can salvage is a slight plot is decent characterisation complemented by good acting. Sadly, there is little of either here. The Doctor's apparent treachery throughout Episodes Six and Seven might be intriguing, were it not for the fact that Colin Baker delivers his worst performance in the role to date, and here he really is hammy. He delivers the line "Now I'm just like you Sil" with an painfully exaggerated grin, and his brutal interrogation of Peri, which could have been disturbing, is actually so embarrassing that, in defiance of all probability, it makes me fondly yearn for 'The Twin Dilemma'. Then there's Sil. It's hard to believe that the character who was so effective in 'Vengeance on Varos' is here reduced to mere comic relief, and it's doubly unfortunate since 'Mindwarp' is about as amusing as receiving bill from the Inland Revenue. His sadistic gloating over the Doctor at the end of Episode Five is rather good, but aside from that he does nothing except kiss Kiv's arse and deliver witless lines, and although Nabil Shaban seems to be enjoying himself, I find that I am not. And the redesigned costume he gets is a bit crap too. 

Elsewhere in the acting stakes, we are presented with the really rather discomforting fact that in a story filled with silent black slaves, every non-white actor cast here is really, really bad. Trevor Laird's Frax and Alibe Parsons' Matrona Kari are both incredibly wooden, whilst Gordon Warnecke's Tuza is merely trying far too hard. Meanwhile, Patrick Ryecart is often praised for his dignified portrayal of Crozier, but he's far too laid back to be convincing, except during Episode Eight when he rants about how he has discovered the secret of immortality, at which point he delivers his lines in such a way that he sounds like he's gargling with shit. Which considering the script, is in a sense true I suppose. It also doesn't help that silliness surrounds his character; he's the most unconvincing surgeon ever, as he sips tea in the middle of operations, and allows his clearly confused patient to attend business meetings minutes after having brain surgery. It also strikes me as a bit of a leap from brain transplants to mind transference, although as they are both currently the stuff of science fiction I perhaps shouldn't quibble. 

Fortunately, Nicola Bryant does reasonably well out her final story, forced to strike out on her own once the Doctor seemingly betrays her, and she gets some great moments such as when she knees Frax in the groin and of course her constant placating of Yrcanos. Bryant also does well with Peri's death scene (I'll talk about massive cop-outs when I get to Episodes Thirteen and Fourteen in case anyone is wondering), managing to seem reasonably sinister once Kiv takes up residence in her body, and seeming genuinely frightened as Crozier and Matrona Kari prepare her for the operation beforehand. She even manages to come out of the dire scene in which she teaches Yrcanos about love without too much embarrassment. Which brings me, inevitably, to Brian Blessed. 

Brian Blessed is a great actor. I know this, because I've seen the Avengers episode 'The Superlative Seven'. Unfortunately since appearing as Richard IV in Blackadder, he's been typecast as an over-the-top, shouting, eye-rolling buffoon. Which is exactly how he plays Yrcanos in 'Mindwarp'. So astonishingly hammy is Blessed here that he makes me remember Stephen Thorne with fondness, as he bellows his way through a script that has him uttering such verbal diarrhoea as "Vroomnik!" and "Slugs!" at every opportunity. Amusingly, Peri at one point tells Yrcanos that he'd like Earth because it is full of "lots of actors playing over the top" (incidentally, for some reason Peri's introduction of herself as "Perpugilliam of the Brown" always puts me in mind of the South Park episode in which the kids discover the fabled "brown note"). Every time Blessed flares his eyes and nostrils, I cringe, and every time he grabs somebody's lapels and shakes them I, erm, also cringe. It is a truly horrendous performance that must rank amongst the worst in the series' history. 

As for the production, the fact that director Ron Jones fails to elicit any decent performances from his actors whatsoever tells you all you need to know. On the other hand, the sets are quite well designed and I also rather like Richard Hartley's incidentally score, which often seems to get panned by critics, although, as with Glynn's score for 'The Mysterious Planet', it frequently becomes intrusive. There isn't anything else really worth mentioning, except the hideous costumes. It's a sign of how tacky things are that Matroni Kari, an assistant during a surgical procedure, is dressed as a cheap hooker. But then I suppose this is appropriate to the story really; rather like the special effects used to colour the surface of Thoros-Beta, 'Mindwarp' is crass, tacky and a complete waste of time and money.





MindwarpBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Douglas Westwood

Many people dislike Mindwarp, saying it is all about people escaping, running along tunnels, being recaptured etc, and not having any story. I think rather that,like Resurrection of the Daleks, it has too many interwoven plotlines - the selling of arms to Ycarnos and his warlords, finding a transplant doner for Lord Kiv, the Trial itself, the overthrow of the Mentors.....and it doesn't all hang together that well. It is still, also like Resurrection, one of my favourite stories for the following reasons.

Firstly the characters I find uniformly excellant. The delightfully loud Ycarnos providing much needed light relief,the dour Frax, and of course Crozier. This man, outwardly so ordinary looking and not some ranting power mad megalomaniac, was nevertheless sinister and utterly without compassion; destroying (so we are lead to believe) one of the Doctor's companians,this quietly spoken man becomes one of the Sixth Doctor's biggest threats. So we are lead to believe.

For this story must be unique in that the events seen on the Matrix screen are, it is hinted, maybe not entirely as they transpired. We can only guess how the events on Thorus-Beta end, we are not told. We don't really know if we are watching the lies of the Valeyard, the Doctor suffering from the effects of that machine, or the unvarnished truth. Or a mixture of all three.

But I was talking about what I like here which is, the Mentors! I always like a story with cool monsters and these Mentors look good and are funny as well as being ruthless and clever. Clever because it is only their ability to control people's minds that makes them able to have slaves who would otherwise be able to crush them underfoot.

Mindwarp is a delightfully amoral story. No one really cares about their actions - Kiv, Sil, Crozier, even the Sixth Doctor. Or is it illusion? Da, da!





The Ultimate FoeBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After twelve episodes, 'The Trial of a Time Lord' finally concludes with Episodes Thirteen and Fourteen, also known as 'The Ultimate Foe'. Finally, the real reasons for the Doctor being placed trial, hinted at throughout, are revealed, as is the Valeyard's motivation for wanting him dead. And considering the production nightmare that plagued this finale, the fact that it works reasonably well is frankly astonishing…

Robert Holmes' final episode for Doctor Who doesn't quite achieve the classic status of much of his work, but is still nevertheless a worthy departure, albeit one cut short by his tragic death. The various hints that the Time Lords had ulterior motives for taking the Doctor out of time and placing him on trial bear fruit, as it is revealed that the corrupt High Council are seeking to cover up an atrocity committed in order to protect their own interests; dragging Earth light years across space and renaming it Ravalox in order to conceal secrets stolen from the Matrix by the Andromedans and almost wiping out the planet's inhabitants in the process. Finally, the censorship of segments of the evidence in 'The Mysterious Planet' and the Doctor's assertion that other evidence has been distorted makes sense, as Holmes' revisits his version of the Time Lord society from 'The Deadly Assassin', revealing that "the oldest civilization" is "decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core", a collection of corrupt politicians who will stop at nothing to safeguard their own power base. 

More dramatically however, we also finally discover the true motivation behind the Valeyard's obvious desire to see the Doctor dead. The revelation that he is a distillation of all that is evil in the Doctor, and that he wants take the Doctor's remaining lives so that he can gain independent corporeal existence free from his better side is a startling development and one which is undoubtedly memorable with both fans who like the idea and those who do not. The concept of a "dark Doctor" would be revisited during Sylvester McCoy's tenure in the role, again more obviously during the New Adventures, and yet again more recently in Big Finish's Doctor Who Unbound series, but it is worth remembering that this is the first time the concept was really explored since the First Doctor gradually shook off the trappings of an anti-hero back in Season One. Jayston's performance makes it work especially well, and the script makes it work too; the choice of the Doctor's dark side as an ally in their attempt to dispose of the Doctor and thus reduce the chances of the Ravalox affair being discovered by the High Council makes sense given the Doctor's resourcefulness, since they are in effect recruiting the Doctor to defeat himself. And it nearly works, but for an unlikely intervention in Episode Thirteen.

'The Ultimate Foe' is the third and final time that Robert Holmes would write for the Master, and the only occasion on which he would write for the Anthony Ainley incarnation. Although Ainley tends to ham up the role (allegedly on instructions from John Nathan-Turner), watching the series in order has forced me to accept the fact that I'm usually pleased to see him in spite of this, or perhaps even because of it. I rather like the idea that the Doctor is facing a death sentence with no means of escape until his arch-enemy reveals himself in order to put a spanner in the works, and I love his reasons for doing so; the fact that the Master is unprepared to countenance a rival in his long running feud with the Doctor harks back to the Pertwee era, and the master's seeming need to impress his old foe. Perhaps more significant is the implication in Episode Fourteen however that the Master really has cause to fear a version of the Doctor unfettered by moral scruples; the Doctor has after all defeated the Master on numerous occasions and occasionally spared or saved his life in the process, but the Valeyard would hardly be so generous… Despite as usually grinning like a Cheshire Cat on numerous occasions, Ainley is quite good here, conveying the impression that the Master is genuinely flattered when Mel describes him as "utterly evil", which is deeply silly but an amusing nod to the character's essential shallowness. 

With the Valeyard's true nature thus exposed, the story changes gear as the Doctor pursues him into the Matrix, and Holmes' revisits the surreal dreamscape concept of 'The Deadly Assassin' to good effect, with nothing as it seems. There is a surreal creepiness to proceedings, such as the eerie singing of children in the background, and the cliffhanger ending to Episode Thirteen as the Doctor is pulled into the sand by clutching hands is a memorable image, for once justifying a close-up of Baker's face. Dominic Glynn's incidental score helps considerably in creating this atmosphere. Holmes' old skill at characterisation also becomes evident one final time in the shape of Mr. Popplewick. Geoffrey Hughes is perfectly cast as this pompous, stuffy living embodiment of bureaucracy, and he provides an opportunity for some amusing lines that poke fun at such bureaucracy, such as "The holy writ of order is procedure" and his defense of absurd regulations, as typified by his conversation with Glitz in Episode Thirteen. Having explained "the junior Mr. Popplewick is not permitted to expect anyone", his indignant reaction Glitz's entirely reasonable question "Why didn't you put him in the picture?" is of course, "And upset the procedure!?".

Another plus here is the return of Sabalom Glitz. Whilst I criticized Tony Selby's performance in 'The Mysterious Planet', he seems more assured in the role here, which benefits the character. Without Dibber (or a gun) to back him up, Glitz loses his edge somewhat and stands exposed as a bit of a coward, albeit a rather likeable one, and his constant switching of allegiances is rather amusing. He agrees to help the Doctor in Episode Thirteen because he's worried that the Valeyard intends to dispose of any witnesses to what is taking place, then when the Master provides sanctuary from the nerve gas in Episode Fourteen he rejoins his old business associate. He even briefly tries to suck up to the Valeyard at the start of Episode Fourteen, getting dismissed as an "oaf" and a "microbe" for his pains. But he isn't merely a buffoon; his willingness to betray the Doctor to Popplewick in Episode Fourteen for the sake of his wallet is a reminder that Glitz is inherently untrustworthy, and the Master's inability to hypnotize him is not entirely unimpressive. This particular scene is especially entertaining, as Glitz is more interested in the value of the "bauble" that the Master uses to try and hypnotize him forcing the Master to resort to simply bribery since it is more likely to appeal to Glitz's "crass soul". 

But despite all of these good points to 'The Ultimate Foe', it doesn't work quite as well as it should do. There are numerous minor failings: Holmes returning to the Doctor's habit from 'The Mysterious Planet' of making crap insults based on the Valeyard's title, here calling him "the railyard", betrays the patchwork nature of what is ultimately a single fourteen-episode story. The revelation that Peri did not die at the end of 'Mindwarp' but instead has been set up as a warrior queen by King Yrcanos is a massive cop-out akin to revealing that Adric managed to survive 'Earthshock' after all. Although I like the Doctor's impassioned ranting at the Time Lord's in Episode Thirteen (his famous "In all my travellings throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed at home!" speech), there are also some truly appalling lines of dialogue. Mel gets more than her fair share from Holmes, including "That's it Doc, now we're getting at the dirt" and "How utterly evil!", and even more when Pip and Jane Baker take over for Episode Fourteen as she gets to spout drivel like "Never mind the Sidney Carton heroics". The Valeyard gets to join in as well, with the cringe worthy but strangely memorable "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality". And I should also mention James Bree's performance as the Keeper of the Matrix, an exercise in wooden acting that proves that he hasn't honed his art since his diabolical performance as the Security Chief way back in 'The War Games'. 

In addition to this, I'm suddenly forced to realize exactly why so many fans dislike Mel. Whilst I liked her in 'Terror of the Vervoids', she's simply awful here, partly because of the horrid dialogue Langford is given and partly because, with circumstances meaning that the character has less opportunity to enjoy herself here, Mel suddenly becomes shrill and irritating. Also, Langford's acting suddenly takes a nose-dive, a fact that is especially obvious when she has to deliver the line "the Doctor's convinced he has to sacrifice himself… and you're content to let him!". 

But above all, 'The Ultimate Foe' leaves me with a feeling of anticlimax. Episode Fourteen is perfectly serviceable, in that it wraps up the story line as well as introducing further developments. The Valeyard's intention to wipe out the court is perfectly consistent with his motivation, since he would hardly want witnesses left alive had he succeeded in taking the Doctor's remaining lives. Likewise, the revelation that in addition to trying to get the Doctor and the Valeyard to eliminate each other the Master is also making a play for power on Gallifrey is perfectly in character. The concept of the trial within a trial as the Valeyard creates a duplicate of the courtroom in the Matrix to try and trick the Doctor is a novel idea and also worthy of mention, although Chris Clough's unsubtle direction rather spoils it; the sinister background noises and Langford's ever-so-slightly suspicious performance are unnecessary and alert the viewer to the fact that something is wrong before we find out for certain, thus spoiling the surprise. The main problem with Episode Fourteen is that it somehow feels like a by-the-numbers attempt to finish the story off and tidy up, and it all falls a but flat. The Valeyard suddenly becomes a Master clone at the end, laughing maniacal, gloating, and explaining his plan. There is too much technobabble, with a "megabyte modem", "particle disseminator", and "limbo atrophier" and it all ends with a big explosion. The ending feels particularly tacky; I can buy the idea of the Inquisitor throwing the case out after the events of the last two episodes, but the suggestion that the Doctor runs for President is as ghastly here as it was when Flavia suggested it at the end of 'The Five Doctors'. Ultimately, the conclusion to 'The Trial of a Time Lord' feels adequate, but I can't help wishing that it felt spectacular. 

The Completely Useless Encyclopedia has an entry that reads "Carrot juice, carrot juice, vworp-vworp, carrot juice", and defines it as "famous last words". It's an unfortunate fact that whether or not 'The Trial of a Time Lord' is any good, the controversial sacking of Colin Baker means that he gets a fairly ignoble final scene, as he departs, under threat of exercise, with a slightly paradoxical companion (for anyone who cares, the obvious explanation for resolving this can be read in Pip and Jane Baker's novelisation of 'The Ultimate Foe', or the Missing Adventure 'Time of Your Life'). His tenure in the lead role is arguably the most controversial of any of the seven Doctors that appeared in the main run of series, and he departed under ignominious circumstances, with fandom divided to this day about whether or not he ever managed to make a good Doctor. Thirteen years later however, and with the advent of Big Finish, the redemption of the Sixth Doctor would begin…





The Ultimate FoeBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Douglas Westwood

The Ultimate Foe! What a remarkably accurate title for a change, no inaccuracy here! I don't know if the resolution to the trial of a time lord makes a lot of sense, but what a brilliant way to end it! Now then, unless you have been living in a cave, in Mars, with your fingers in your ears, you will know that the Valeyard was in fact the Doctor himself, in his twelfth and last regeneration, and that he wanted the sixth Doctor (himself) dead so that he could steal his remaining regenerations for himself.

Absolute rubbish? Possibly, possibly, but an ending surely noone could have predicted. and is it all that unlikely? Here is a future incarnation of the Doctor, possibly thousands of years into the future - it is likely to assume that a person's priorities might change in all that time from good to evil, even the Doctor's. And he was facing death after his next regeneration, so was presumably desperate enough to try drastic measures to prolong his life - for a time lord who's lived so long, death when it comes must be even worse than for a human.

I also loved Mr Popplewick who was (cave in Mars, fingers in ears) also the Twelfth Doctor. I would like to see a load of new adventue novels featuring Mr Popplwick in a Tardis, maybe slowly tranforming from good to evil. No? Oh well.

But a good ending to a good series. On the whole. I personally thought that there was a bad Sixth Doctor that we were seeing on the matrix screen - a doppleganger who we were seeing doing all those bad things, and not the good sixth Doctor at all. Well, it seemed plausable at the time!








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