For the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who we revisit the story of Doctor Who, the occasional series written for the 50th Anniversary, explaining the origins of the programme.

Episode 31 - An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV Legend: First published 23 Nov 2013

The Mysterious PlanetBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'The Trial of a Time Lord' Episodes One to Four, which I'm going to refer to by the novelisation title of 'The Mysterious Planet' for ease of reference, immediately grabs the attention for several reasons. For one thing, it has a memorably impressive opening shot of the TARDIS being plucked out of time and dragged to a Time Lord space station where the Doctor is subjected to an inquiry into his activities, which soon becomes a fully-fledged trial. This opening effects sequence is often accused of using up far more than its fair share of the season's budget, which is possibly true, but it does have the benefit of immediately grabbing the viewer's attention. Unfortunately, it is preceded by Dominic Glynn's neutered arrangement of the theme tune, which is so utterly irritating that it probably persuaded some viewers to change channels before they even got to see the TARDIS being captured.

The actual idea of the trial appeals to me a great deal, and the tactic of using complete stories as evidence should theoretically prevent it from getting boring. It has been argued that the length of 'The Trial of a Time Lord' might have put off casual viewers, but this would also be true of the twelve part 'The Daleks' Master Plan', a story which is rarely subjected to the same criticism. Besides, this is not a criterion upon which I'm judging the story. The initial set-up of the trial therefore works rather well and acts as a hook; it quickly becomes clear that the Valeyard has an agenda of his own, thanks to Michael Jayston's excellent portrayal. The Valeyard positively seethes with repressed hatred throughout whenever he speaks to the Doctor, and foreknowledge of what is revealed in Episode Thirteen adds interesting significance to the sheer contempt in his voice when he tells the Doctor "smugness does not become you". The fact that the Doctor's trial is motivated by something more than spurious Time Lord justice is hinted at several times throughout 'The Mysterious Planet'; the excision of data from the evidence, something the Valeyard is expecting but that the Inquisitor is not, makes it clear that there is an underlying mystery here, and for anyone who doesn't pick up on this, the Doctor lists unanswered questions for Peri in a rather unsubtle piece of dialogue at the end of the segment. There is also the Doctor's thoughtful "so, you want me dead, do you?" to the Valeyard at the beginning of Episode Two, which is the first real suggestion that the Valeyard has personal reasons for wanting to see the Doctor prosecuted. It's all rather intriguing at this point, and sets the scene for the remainder of the trial. 

The trial scenes also work reasonable well at this stage because they are used sparingly; when the evidence is interrupted, the dynamic between the three main characters succeeds in keeping things interesting. The growing animosity between the Doctor and the Valeyard works well, thanks largely to the juxtaposition of Baker's bombastic Doctor and Jayston's icy Valeyard. The pair manages to suggest real emotion, as the two characters increasingly come to despise one another as events progress. Having said which, the Doctor's various acerbic "yard" puns on the Valeyard's title quickly grow tiresome. Linda Bellingham's aloof Inquisitor is effective enough at keeping order, although the stupid lace trimmed collar she is given to wear is a horrible piece of costume design. Which leads me neatly into 'The Mysterious Planet' proper…

Whilst I generally rather enjoyed 'The Mysterious Planet' on this viewing, I do have several criticisms of it, a few of which I'll get out of the way in one fell swoop. Firstly, it looks cheap. The location footage, something from which the series always benefits, helps to compensate, but the interiors of the huts and the corridors of Marb station look dreadful. Money clearly hasn't been spent on the costumes either; aside from Glitz and Dibber everyone is dressed in wardrobe cast-offs. The underground dwellers look especially stupid, with everyone wearing spray-painted BMX helmets, except for Balazar who wears an incredibly silly balaclava. Possibly the Immortal knitted it for him for Christmas, and he doesn't want to upset him. 

Secondly, bearing in mind that Robert Holmes is my favourite Doctor Who writer, there are several touches in 'The Mysterious Planet' that are very disappointing. The most obvious of these are Humker and Tandrell, who are presumably meant to provide comic relief, but are actually not remotely amusing (nor for that matter are the Doctor's facile puns on their names, as he calls them Handrail and Humbug amongst other things). Partly this is because Billy McColl and Sion Tudor Owen are rather wooden in their roles, but mostly it's because their scripted dialogue is weak. The only interesting aspect to the characters is that they have passed a selection process to find the brightest students from amongst a population controlled by an unseen being worshipped as a god, whom they are then sent to. It is widely believed amongst the underground dwellers that the Immortal intended to eat them, whereas in fact they effectively become his students. The point of all of this is of course that it takes the central premise of Holmes' 'The Krotons' and twists it round. 

The other rather crap aspect of the script that I find disappointing is the subject of Black Light. Holmes used technobabble throughout his Doctor Who career, but never does it feel less convincing than it does here. The only purpose that the Black Light gibberish serves is that it ups the stakes from the deaths of everyone on Ravalox to possibly the destruction of the whole universe, and it just feels forced, since all it really does is facilitate the Doctor's smug gloating to the court that his supposed interference actually saved the universe. 

Despite all of this, there is much to enjoy in 'The Mysterious Planet'. Holmes brings some nice touches to the post-apocalypse society of Ravalox, such as Balazar's pride in the Books of Knowledge, which turn out to be Moby Dick, The Water Babies, and UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose. The alternately naïve and pompous Balazar is also rather well characterised, and Adam Blackwood plays the part very well, successfully conveying Balazar's mixture of confusion and wonderment as the Doctor turns his world upside down. On the subject of characterisation, Glitz and Dibber are arguably the last real Holmesian double act, and they too are well characterised. Glitz has a real edge here; despite his considerable flamboyance, he is has no qualms about killing and is prepared to gas the underground in his pursuit of profit. He also has a string of prison sentences behind him and claims to be wanted on a dozen worlds. But the script also uses him and Dibber as comic relief, and unlike Tandrell and Humker they work well in this respect, such as when Glitz is cheerfully discussing his own social maladjustment. Unfortunately, whilst the script works well, the acting doesn't. It came as a huge disappointment to me watching 'The Mysterious Planet' again to see just how terribly stilted Tony Selby's delivery of his lines is; he sounds throughout as though he's just reading his lines throughout rather than actually acting and given my fond memories of the character this comes as quite a blow. 

Unfortunately, Selby isn't alone in the dodgy acting stakes. Joan Simms is not as bad as Katryca as her reputation would suggest, but she gets very hammy once the Tribe of the Free enter the underground, although considering that she gets lines such as "Am I to be surrounded by fools?" I suppose she isn't entirely to blame. In addition, the eighteen-month hiatus seems to have taken its toll on Nicola Bryant; she seems tired with the roll of Peri during this segment of the trial, and her accent fluctuates alarmingly in Episode One. It doesn't help that she gets very little to do here except run around in search of the Doctor. Baker's performance too has suffered; the lack of bickering between the Doctor and Peri is presumably a deliberate attempt to mellow the Sixth Doctor, but the void that is left by the lack of antagonism in his character is often filled with buffoonery. I still like him in the role, but he's a lot less commanding here than he was in Season Twenty-Two. He is, as noted, better during the actual trial scenes, although when the Doctor tells the court that he always likes to do the expected, he comes across as such an imbecile that I find myself siding with the Valeyard. 

The other major character of 'The Mysterious Planet' is of course Drathro, and although he's basically just another megalomaniac computer but on legs, I quite like him. His design is very striking, partly because of his sheer size and because of his huge sickle-shaped head, although in a certain light parts of his torso look suspiciously like cardboard. But he also works as a character, Holmes' compensating for his direct characterisation of the Immortal's assistants by making Drathro himself far more interesting. Despite his talk of logic, he's bad tempered and egotistical and it seems to me that after the destruction of his power source, he becomes increasingly desperate to justify the need for his own survival with ever-more spurious logic The Doctor's attempt to persuade Drathro to sacrifice himself so that the Doctor can save the "work units" is one of Baker's few really great scenes outside of the courtroom during these four episodes, and Drathro's stubbornness to accept the Doctor's arguments about the sanctity of organic life seems more like fear of dying without a struggle than any sort of logic. 

Nicholas Mallett competently directs 'The Mysterious Planet', and there are some nice point of view shots from the perspective of the service robot. Incidentally, although the service robot looks like the bastard love child of a Dalek and a JCB, I find it quite impressive that the production team makes it look as though its caterpillar tracks actually work, simply because it's not something I've ever seen in Doctor Who before. On the other hand, Mallett starts the trend of ending episodes with a close-up of Colin Baker's face, which increasingly seems like self-parody as the trial continues. And whilst I'm still moaning, Dominic Glynn's incidental music is very intrusive. Overall, 'The Mysterious Planet' is a promising start to the season, albeit one that is not as strong as it could, or indeed should have been.

FILTER: - Television - Sixth Doctor - Series 23

The Mysterious PlanetBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Sarah Tarrant

Although there was much to enjoy principally for the fans like myself, Colin Baker’s first full season was not well received generally. As well as being unfairly deemed excessively violent (e.g. certain scenes in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ and‘Vengeance on Varos’) the forty-five minute episodic format seemed unpopular. A rest and rethink was implanted leading to a much longer than usual eighteen month gap between seasons.

Returning in September 1986, a group of four separate adventure segments, linked by an overall fourteen episode single story entitled ‘The Trial of A Time Lord’ showed a season that certainly reflected a change of style. The opening adventure with the working title ‘The Mysterious Planet’ was the last complete four parter from highly regarded writer Robert Holmes. Having given the series such classics as ‘Caves of Androzani’, ‘The Ark In Space’ and ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ there are signs of his writing prowess in this segment of the Trial.

Walking through a fairly sparse leafy forest the colourfully attired sixth Doctor holds onto his trusty multicoloured umbrella, his companion, Peri, unlike previous seasons seems content to hold on his arm whilst sheltering under the umbrella. The more grown up, tasteful and stylish clothes (silver-grey slacks, gold coloured silk blouse and diagonally striped yellow blazer) and longer hair conveys a companion who has certainly developed since the previous ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ story. The interaction between her and the Doctor, as typified during their initial scenes, has also evolved which albeit being quite natural is certainly most welcome. The character of Peri has indeed developed since first appearing as virtually a screaming spoilt brat in ‘Planet of Fire’ (e.g. her scenes in that story with Professor Howard Foster).

Having located a hidden entrance the duo’s subsequent exploration inside and below ground are well handled, complemented with suitable lighting and incidental music. Of particular note is the conversation Peri has with the Doctor, following the discovery of the Marble Arch underground sign, where Peri conveys her emotions about realising that Ravolox is infact Earth. This leads to Peri’s initial reticence to explore further leading to the pair temporarily separating. For the most part I find the incidental music for this story to be mostly gloom and boom however there are a few instances where it is particularly noteworthy and memorable. One such example is the piece used whilst the Doctor initially explores the Marb station facility.

Now Robert Holmes is well known for character double acts throughout the scripts he has produced for the series and ‘The Mysterious Planet’ has certainly a few of note. First up, observing the Doctor and Peri, considering whether to kill them or not are the mercenary pair of Sabalon Glitz and his junior assistant Dibber. Tony Selby is certainly well cast as the shady trader and popular rouge, so much so that it is most welcome that he gains repeat appearances both later in the ‘Trial’ season and then again in the fairly forgettable ‘Dragonfire’ story from the following year. His assistant the fairly slow witted Dibber is less memorable although his questionable past seems to indicate that Glitz possibly freed him from a remand home for some minor criminal infringement that he perpetrated. Amongst their dialogue I was surprised to note the familiar ‘Brigadier’ phrase ‘five rounds rapid’ cropping up in the fourth episode as they clasped blasters which looked suspiciously as if they had been lifted from the ‘Red Dwarf’ series.

Assisting Drathro, the impressive looking robot controlling Marb station, are Humker and Tandrell, two prattling servants who engage in light hearted banter whilst going about their duties. Similarly dressed in scientist whites together with yellow shirts these almost identical twins seem to delight in attempting to put down each others attempts to serve Drathro and it is only the towering robotic figure that seems to keep them focused on their task. On encountering them it’s interesting to mention how the Doctor takes great pleasure throughout the story in mis-naming them (e.g. ‘Handrail and Tonker’ or ‘Humbug and Toenail’) whenever they meet. In fact the Doctor’s naturally upbeat humorous interaction with, in particular the inhabitants of Marb station is most enjoyable.

There is also a less subtle pairing between Marb Station’s patrol Chief Guard, Merdeen (marking the welcome return of Tom Chadbon (formerly seen in Tom Baker’s ‘City of Death’ story) and his deputy Grell. We are presented with a memorable scene between these two when Grell questions Merdeen’s motives and loyalty to Drathro. This eventually leads to the death of the young deputy and as Merdeen kneels over his fallen comrade he emotionally expresses his regrets in being forced to kill him and how he had originally helped him to join the guards. Whilst Timothy Walker’s Grell is decked out in the usual red and yellow guard’s uniform topped off with the often used helmets (e.g. cropping up in ‘Earthshock’ and ‘Delta and the Bannermen’) Merdeen, dressed in scaly black with a close fitting closefitting skull cap really conveys the appearance of an cold emotionless character in the service of Drathro which is largely confirmed during the story.

Living up on the surface we encounter ‘The Tribe of the Free’, a primitive but proud people apparently eking out an existence from the land around them, or so we are led to believe. I’m sorry but judging by the spotless nature of their albeit authentic looking clothes I find it difficult to grasp that these people are struggling to survive. Maybe if they had been a little bit more dirty with mud splattered costumes and faces I might have been convinced. We then come to the leader, Queen Katryca as portrayed by noted comedy actress, the late Joan Sims. Now I know it’s great to get big name stars to play parts they would not normally be associated with but despite Joan’s best efforts I remain unconvinced that she is the great ruler that she claims. The costume and the regal way in which she carries herself whether it be in her initial open air meeting with Sabalon Glitz or inside the great hall of their settlement certainly help but in the final analysis I remain, ultimately, unconvinced. As a final word on the Tribe’s Queen her ultimate demise, together with one of her closest advisers, Broken Tooth, at the hands of Drathro is, I feel is, despite being fairly brief, well handled.

As I’ve said before I am most impressed with the costume for Drathro, a marvellous creation which allows great flexibility of movement, however his wide horn shaped head is frankly a bit of a disappointing letdown. Drathro, clearly unwilling to venture out from his surveillance fortress, despatches an L3 robot in his attempt to recapture the Doctor. The L3, an obelisk shaped object mounted on twin caterpillar tracks equipped with top mounted video relay equipment seemed to present limited offensive capability (namely running into things). However I was pleasantly surprised when having located the Doctor, locked up in one of Katrica’s primitive cell buildings, unleashed electrically charged cables from it’s sides to incapacitate and then secure him ready for return to Drathro. 

The subsequent rescue leads to another pleasing nod to the past, whether it be merely for fans or general viewers it is most welcome. With just the right amount of nasal inflection Colin Baker gives a fair interpretation of Jon Pertwee when, regaining consciousness at the base of the inert L3 robot, he says to Peri ‘My head hurts abominably Sarah Jane’. This follows nicely on from the previous season’s ‘Timelash’ stories appearance of a painting of the former Doctor. I also felt that the interaction between Drathro and the Doctor in the fourth episode was slightly reminiscent of Sarah Jane Smith’s persuasive conversation with the Giant Robot in Tom Baker’s debut.

Now with this particular adventure being part of the overall Trial story I should make some comment on those linking scenes. Well, yes the first scene where the TARDIS is dragged down to the space station and into the docking port is indeed impressive, certainly for the time it was made. I particularly like the slightly revised theme tune which I am delighted to say is currently being used by Big Finish in their Sixth Doctor releases. I feel Colin Baker did show potential in the television series and it is certainly heartening to find this vindicated in their releases. The way he stumbles out of the TARDIS, uncertain, how he got there, where here was and why Peri was missing does give way to a familiar sense of irritation on his first entering the Trial room and encountering the people he meets there. His interaction with the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) and the Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham playing it very posh and upmarket) is typical of his character. I counted five mispronunciations of the Valeyard’s title spread throughout the story (episode two gave us ‘boatyard’ and ‘graveyard’, episode three weighed in with ‘farmyard’ and ‘scrapyard’ whilst episode four featured ‘knackersyard’). The final mispronunciation, that of ‘knackersyard’ was in amongst a particularly memorable blustering outburst directed mainly towards the Valeyard. This was entirely typical of this incarnation of the Time Lord but of course there was much more to come to raise his emotions higher in the subsequent segments of the trial…

In summing up ‘The Mysterious Planet’ whilst not obviously reaching the classic status of some of Robert Holmes’ previous stories does stand up fairly well on repeat viewings. Although obviously conveying a distinct change in style from the preceding years stories it is an enjoyable and welcome opening four episodes of what was, at the time, an important season for the series.

FILTER: - Television - Sixth Doctor - Series 23

The Mysterious PlanetBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Douglas Westwood

When I first saw this, in 1986, I thought it was pretty naff. I was eighteen at the time and trying to wean myself off doctor who, and it didn't help that my elder brother, a non dw fan, kept laughing at the programme. I suppose from a non fan's point of view, Drathro did look pretty lame, the scene where the green food drops on Balazah's face fairly cringe-worthy and the tribe of the free just a kiddies version of the Sevateem.

It must be remembered that we had grown up on stories such as Pyramid of Mars, Talons of Weng-Chiang, etc, and so were judging this story in comparison. I kept wishing for something dramatic to happen, like Peri dying or something , just to shut my brother up. Oh, my prophetic soul! For in the very next story, which of course my brother didn't see...

But now I watch this story and regard it as something of a classic. The excellent dialogue (the Canadian goose indeed!), Glitz, the Queen.....all of it is brilliant and fast moving. I can sit back from it now and see more than the lack of violence into the cleverness of the plot itself. I even love the look of Drathro! Most gripping stuff, and Colin Baker of course superb as the Doctor.

FILTER: - Television - Sixth Doctor - Series 23

Terror of the VervoidsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the ghastly 'Mindwarp, 'The Trial of a Time Lord' continues with a story commonly known as 'Terror of the Vervoids', by 'The Mark of the Rani' scribes Pip and Jane Baker. I must confess that, my mood considerably soured by the preceding four episodes, I was expecting to vent further spleen on 'Terror of the Vervoids', but although it is somewhat flawed, I nevertheless found it hugely entertaining on this occasion; for all of its faults, 'Terror of the Vervoids' is essentially fun.

Before I start on the story proper, I'll again consider the actual courtroom scenes. Here, they are once more rather less intrusive than in Episodes Five to Eight, and despite the Doctor's continued grief at Peri's apparent death, the mood is lightened somewhat as the ball enters the Doctor's court. It is often argued that the idea of the Doctor presenting evidence from his own future is nonsensical, although this is not strictly true; it is established back in 'Genesis of the Daleks' that the Time Lord's can make predictions of possible future timelines, and in retrospect the Matrix seems to be the most obvious tool for them to use. Thus, it is consistent with what we know about Time Lord technology that the Doctor could present evidence from his own possible future, even if he were to be executed at the end of his trial. Speaking of which, foreknowledge of what is to come adds rather deeper meaning to the Valeyard's line, "The future? Is it going to be the Doctor's defense that he improves? This I must see!"

In terms of the overall subplots seeded throughout 'The Trial of a Time Lord', 'Terror of the Vervoids' contributes rather less than its predecessors, although the fact that the evidence has been altered since the Doctor reviewed it whilst preparing his defense makes it even clearer that the Matrix has been tampered with. Ultimately of course, the greatest contribution of 'Terror of the Vervoids' to the trial is the fact that it causes the charge against the Doctor to be changed. I find it rather amusing that the Doctor is ham-fisted enough to provide evidence of himself committing genocide to an opponent as obviously keen to see him dead as the Valeyard is, although this bit really is nonsensical; since these events haven't happened yet, why doesn't he just promise to find an alternative solution to the Vervoid problem when he eventually encounters them?

And so on to the story itself. 'Terror of the Vervoids' suffers from several faults. For one thing, the direction by Chris Clough is competent for the most part, but let down by a few really poor moments, such as when the trainers worn by the actors playing the Vervoids become visible twice in Episode Twelve. The effects sequences used to depict the Black Hole of Tartarus are really bad, showing as they do a black hole picked out in bright red triangles; these sequences look even worse when the model of the Hyperion III is placed in them, as neither the shot nor the script provides a sense of perspective. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of physics must surely realize how far away from the black hole the Hyperion III must actually be in order to pass near it in safety, but here it looks as though as it is literally missing it by a few feet. And yes, I know this probably wouldn't bother me if I weren't a scientist, but I am and it does. Whilst I'm on the subject of poor direction, the close-up of the Doctor's face at the end of Episode Ten is taking the piss even in the midst of Season Twenty-Three; provided with the more sensible option of keeping the camera on Ruth Baxter's face, Clough instead directs the camera straight up Baker's nose. 

In addition to these minor niggles with the direction, 'Terror of the Vervoids' has what might be generously termed eccentric scripting. The Bakers are notorious for overblown dialogue, and here it is evident throughout. The most memorable examples of appalling dialogue are delivered by Commodore Travers and include "On the previous occasion that the Doctor's path crossed mine, I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intrigue" and of course the immortal "Whoever's been dumped in there has been pulverized into fragments and sent floating into space, and in my book that's murder!", as well as the less celebrated "Fire alarms are not playthings for irresponsible buffoons". Whilst I'm on the subject of eccentric scripting, there is a scene in Episode Nine which seems intended purely to establish that Professor Lasky is a bit of a battle axe, as she grills Janet the stewardess about her lost luggage. It transpires that she entered cabin six by mistake, when she should have entered cabin nine, because she was looking at her key ring upside down. The scene demonstrates that Lasky is short-tempered and quick to place blame on others, but more than this it ends up raising the question of why the Hyperion III has lockable cabin doors if the keys are interchangeable…

But despite these flaws, 'Terror of the Vervoids' is very entertaining. It is hugely derivative, inviting comparisons with the base-under-siege stories beloved of the Troughton era and of course 'The Robots of Death' to which it bears several similarities in terms of plot, and of course it is a blatant homage to Agatha Christie's Murder On the Orient Express, a copy of which Lasky reads at one point. This scene in fact typifies the slightly tongue-in-cheek approach that the Bakers take in their script, although this is far less obvious than in 'The Mark of the Rani'. As in their earlier stories, the Bakers seem to enjoy making use of the Doctor Who format, combining the elements of a traditional monster story with the cliché of a scheming megalomaniac (albeit one who is more banal than many in the series), all wrapped up in a fairly effective whodunit subplot. There is a certain knowing humour inherent in the story; the boots left by Hallet are clearly planted to suggest that the missing passenger has been thrown into the pulveriser, and it's so blindingly obvious that the Bakers have to be poking fun at the format of murder mystery stories. By the end of Episode Eleven and throughout Episode Twelve, numerous plot threads mature and within the space of about twenty-five minutes we are presented with two hijack attempts with entirely different motivations, the unmasking of a murderer, and the defeat of the obligatory monsters. It borders on the ludicrous, but it works because the script has a certain verve that belies its pompous and overblown dialogue. 

As for the murder mystery itself, it is effectively handled; Malcolm Tierney's Doland is motivated by a desire to achieve financial glory by exploiting the Vervoids, which despite the science fiction trappings is a believably petty motivation. He shows no remorse whatsoever and keeps on killing victim after victim to protect his own interests, but whilst he's a clearly a psychopath, Tierney's quiet, banal performance makes Doland far more realistic than many of the raving lunatics seen inDoctor Who. In the style of such writers as Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, all of the clues as to the identity of the killer are available to the viewer, making it easier and easier to work out who the murderer is as the story progresses. Indeed, the death of Hallet deliberately makes an example of the fact that clues are on screen for the attentive viewer to spot, as the Doctor smugly points out to the Valeyard; as a story point it is a nice detail which shows off the Doctor's deductive abilities (I confess I don't recall spotting the translator clue when this story was first broadcast, although I was only nine years old at the time…), but it also gently plays with the whodunit format. 

'Terror of the Vervoids' also benefits from decent characterisation. In part, this is a requirement of the format, as characters are given enough background to provide a number of suspects; David Allister's highly strung Bruchner is one such character, and eventually turns out not to be the murderer, but to be sufficiently horrified by the thought of the Vervoids reaching Earth to not only attempt suicide but to take everyone on board the Hyperion III with him. Of the other two scientists, I've already discussed Doland, but Honor Blackman is perfectly cast as the grouchy Professor Lasky, her initially foul tempered demeanor making her growing respect for the Doctor all the more effective. Meanwhile, Denys Hawthorne also puts in a good performance as Rudge, yet another potential suspect who turns out to have (or rather, develops) his own agenda, as the put-upon security guard decides to get some pay back for years of humiliation at the hands of his superiors. Both the script and Hawthorne effectively suggest that this perceived poor treatment is largely in Rudge's own insecure mind, and the Doctor's final dismissal of him as "just a little man" is cruelly ironic. The Mogarians, Rudge's fellow hijackers, are also potential murder suspects, as they continuously object to the exploitation of their planet's resources by humanity. And whilst I'm on the subject of the Mogarians, it is nice to see an alien race that doesn't speak English for once. 

Even those characters that never seem like potential suspects are well acted and characterised; Arthur Hewlett's Kimber serves primarily to necessitate Hallet changing his plans and adopting the guise of Enzu, but the few scenes that he is in are enough to render him sufficiently likeable that his death has some impact. As for the Commodore, Michael Craig does a frankly astonishing job of maintaining the character's dignity in light of the mouthfuls of awful dialogue that he is given, and the character's previous experience of the Doctor makes for an often amusing relationship between the two, that also showcases some painful insights into how the Doctor is often perceived, Travers noting that people tend to start to die whenever the Doctor is present. 

Such characterisation adds significantly to the air of intrigue that permeates Episode Nine, as questions are raised for the viewer about the pods, the Isolation Room, and Grenville's suspicious behaviour. Mention of the pods brings me to the Vervoids themselves. Whilst they are often derided for having heads that resemble female genitalia, as an attempt to create a hostile plant they really aren't bad. Whilst 'The Seeds of Doom' is rightly acclaimed as a classic by many fans, even the Krynoid looks dodgy at times, highlighting the fact that creating monstrous vegetation is no easy task. The Vervoids are well designed if a little rubbery in execution, and in terms of the story their instinctive antipathy towards all animal life makes a peaceful solution possible; the result is a rare attempt for the Sixth Doctor's era at a real monster story, and it is more than welcome. In addition, the means by which the Vervoids are defeated is rather ingenious, even if it is dependent on technobabble. 

Finally, there are the regulars. In keeping with his desire to prove to the court that he improves, the Sixth Doctor of the future is far more playful and whimsical than usual, and it works very well. Lines such as "More of a clown actually. Would you like to hear my rendering of "On With the Motley?" ", "This is a situation that requires tact and finesse. Fortunately, I am blessed with both" and "Wish I could get rid of my waste so easily" shows a more self-deprecating side to often arrogant Sixth Doctor, in part due to Baker's warmer delivery. In addition to this, his relationship with new companion Mel contrasts nicely with his often-spiky relationship with Peri, the pair indulging in much light-hearted banter and seeming genuinely close. It is hard to imagine Peri managing to persuade the Sixth Doctor to use an exercise bike for example, but it seems perfectly natural that Mel can do so. As for Mel herself, she is one of the least popular companions to appear in the series, but personally I rather like her. Both Bonnie Langford and Mel the character exude tremendous enthusiasm, and it's refreshing to see the Doctor accompanied by someone who is obviously enjoying the ride. True, Langford (and by extension Mel) can be too chirpy to he point that she becomes annoying, but the character's essential bravery and resourcefulness, coupled with an inquiring mind and tremendous curiosity, mean that she's ideal companion material. 

In summary then, 'Terror of the Vervoids' sees an improvement in the fortunes of 'The Trial of a Time Lord', and if nothing else is very entertaining. It also serves as a well-timed rest from the courtroom proceedings, which are less intrusive here, after the various issues that were raised during 'Mindwarp' and before all is revealed in the story's denouement…

FILTER: - Television - Series 23 - Sixth Doctor

Terror of the VervoidsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Douglas Westwood

Terror of the Vervoids is a very good story with only one central flaw. Good stuff first - I love the claustrophobic, unknown killer on board the space liner theme, I love a nice decent murder mystery and Pip and Jane Bakers' scripts are always excellant, even if they have me reaching for the dictionary with every other word. Elephant's child? Just So Stories?

I even like the nice, friendly rapport between the Doctor and Mel - it makes a nice change from all the arguing and bickering that has gone on in the Tardis since around 1981, by my reckoning. And the Vervoids more than live up to my idea of a cool looking monster - rubbery looking lethal plants with that disconcerting bit of pink brain looking stuff on their heads. Ruthless creatures, but only fighting to survive.

So what don't I like? A major spoiler follows, beware. Here goes. Doland was the assassin? No way! When Edwards was electrocuted, the sparks and stuff caused the Vervoids to pupate from their husks, which was the last thing any of the agromonists would have wanted. Therefore, I reasoned, neither Doland, Bruchner or Professor Lasky could be the killer. Watertight logic you would think? But no. Also, the motive for the murders struck me as being a bit spurious and tacked on. Still, this is only a minor destraction from a suspense laden plot.

FILTER: - Television - Series 23 - Sixth Doctor

Terror of the ZygonsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After Season Twelve ending on a sour note, Season Thirteen gets off to a great start with 'Terror of the Zygons'. After the shoddiness of 'Revenge of the Cybermen', 'Terror of the Zygons' succeeds on almost every count, boasting great location work, cracking monsters, fine acting and a first rate script. 

Firstly, the Zygons themselves are excellent. Their costumes are amongst the series' best efforts, their sucker-covered embryo appearance being visually striking and rather disturbing. Good costumes alone however do not a decent monster make, and the Zygons benefit from a script that portrays them as ruthless, capable warriors armed with a novel but effective weapon on the form of the Skarasen. Their sibilant voices are suitably threatening, and the implication that they are equipped with stings (it is never confirmed in the script, but the way their victims scream when strangled suggests that they are suffering severe agony) makes them physically formidable. Further enhancing the success of the Zygons is the strong visual design of their spaceship interior, its organic appearance making it look authentically alien and fitting in with the visual appearance of the Zygons to make them look perfectly at home inside it. The fleshy controls are so unusual for Doctor Who that they can't help but be distinctive, and it makes a refreshing change to see a spaceship interior that isn't all polished metal and featureless corridors. The script also helps to contribute the success of the Zygons through its attention to detail; several Zygons aside from Broton are referred to by name, and throwaway remarks about "organic crystallography" and "dynacon thrusts" (amongst others) subtly reinforce that these creatures are using technology not known to this planet. The fact that these references are mentioned briefly and in passing somehow ensures that they don't sound like technobabble. Attention to detail is very important to the success of this story, from the deafening effect of the Zygon spaceship taking off from beneath the Loch, to the sight of the fluid rising ominously in the self-destructor in Episode Four. 

Another key factor in the success of the Zygons is John Woodnutt's superb performance as Broton in both his Zygon form and in his guise as the Duke of Forgill. Woodnutt, who previously appeared as the confused Hibbert in 'Spearhead From Space' and as the Draconian Emperor in 'Frontier in Space', is very, very good here, imbuing Broton with real menace, but also making him an actual character rather just a generic villain. As the Duke, Broton is required to pose as a human, and during the scenes in the castle in Episode Three, it is possible to forget that he's really a bigheaded green and orange alien warlord, as he displays dry wit and quiet courtesy, but he retains an air of menace as he keeps a cold, calculating gaze on his visitors at all times. As a Zygon, he's a threatening presence, glaring balefully from beneath large brows and hissing malevolently as he arrogantly boasts of Zygon supremacy to first Harry and later the Doctor. But he also has moments of real motivation; his announcement to Harry that he can never return home is matter-of-fact, but briefly stirs sympathy, before he flatly states that he intends to conquer Earth instead. He agrees with the Doctor's point that conquering Earth will be rather difficult for just a handful of Zygons, but adds that although it will be challenging it will not be impossible, which suggests that he has carefully considered his plans, rather than just decided to seize supreme power for the sake of it in a moment of megalomania. His defiant last words, as he grunts "the Skarasen will destroy you all", indicate a refusal to just give up even in the face of overwhelming odds, which I find strangely impressive even though he is trying to wreak havoc with a big puppet. 

John Woodnutt is not the only actor to put in a good performance in 'Terror of the Zygons' (although whilst I'm still on the subject, his performance as the real Duke of Forgill is further credit to his talents, possessing a warmth and good humour absent in Broton's impersonation). Angus Lennie is great as Angus McRanald, the local landlord who remains sceptical of UNIT's and Sarah's claims about monsters and aliens with bugs until the Zygon posing as Sister Lamont kills him. In truth, Lennie's performance is very similar to his performance as Storr in 'The Ice Warriors', but he's so right for the role that I don't really care if he's typecast or just playing himself, or simply doing a very good job. As with the Zygons, he benefits from the attention to detail in Robert Banks Stewart's scripts, and although his talk of second sight and knowing all the local gossip isn't remotely important to the plot, it adds some nice characterisation. Huckle too is well acted and characterised, Tony Sibbald providing a much better American accent that previous actors have done in Doctor Who! His performance nicely conveys Huckle's anger and distress at the loss of so many of his men and is, again, an example of the attention to characterisation that makes 'Terror of the Zygons' work so well. 

The regulars all benefit greatly from the script too. Tom Baker is superb, and it is impressive to see the Doctor's mood changes as he becomes involved in mystery of the rigs' destruction. Initially sullen and moody at having been summoned by the Brigadier to solve a problem relating to fuel, he's brought around by the Brigadier's sharp retort of "you don't want any more people to die?" which not only again nicely highlights the Doctor's sense of moral obligation to help people, but also serves as a reminder of how well the Brigadier knows him. As the story progresses, the Doctor gives an impression that he is enjoying himself, even when being chased across Tullock Moor by the Skarasen, admiring the creature as it stomps away in Episode Three. His scenes with Broton are great, as he casually belittles his enemy with lines like "Very good, very good. Almost impressive!" and "You can't rule the world in hiding. You've got to come out on to the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle!" In addition, I also like the fact that this doesn't at all rile Broton, despite the Doctor's best efforts. I also like the Doctor's attitude towards the Skarasen; he has no qualms about blowing up the Zygon spaceship with them on board, but seems quite happy to let the monster go home (not, admittedly, that there is much else he could have done about it), since it was its masters who were responsible for it destroying the rigs and since it is basically a dumb animal that isn't really to blame. The unusual concept of the huge reptilian monster being allowed to go home and relax at the end of the story is rather endearing. Oh, and I love the Doctor's Scottish costume in Episode One!

Sarah and Harry also get plenty to do. Sarah's investigative skills are put to work in Episodes One and Three, and in addition she shows her usual mixture of curiosity and courage in following the tunnel in Forgill Castle down into the Zygon spaceship and rescuing Harry in the process. Mind you, points are deducted for her dithering on the cellar steps in Episode Four when the Doctor tells her to fetch the Brigadier. Harry also proves his value here. This is Harry's last story as a regular, and it's a shame to see him go, especially since his last ever appearance in the television series is in a story almost as bad as 'Revenge of the Cybermen', but at least he gets a last decent showing here. As well as getting another chance to put his medical skills to good use in Episode One, it is also Harry who first meets Broton, and learns about the Zygons, and although the Doctor doesn't actually find this out, Harry saves his life at the beginning of Episode Three, his interference with the Zygon controls releasing the trionic activator from the Doctor's hand just as the Skarasen attacks. Harry's last scene in the story, as he stands beside the Brigadier in full military uniform and politely but respectfully declines another trip in the TARDIS is a somehow very appropriate departure for him. In addition, Ian Marter gets to show off his acting skills by briefly playing a villain, which he does rather well; the nasty, sneering Zygon Harry is markedly different from the real Harry and the murderous look on his face as he attacks Sarah with a pitchfork is alarmingly convincing. 

'Terror of the Zygons' also marks the last appearance of the Brigadier for a good many years, and the last decent appearance of Benton and UNIT. As in 'Robot', the Brigadier retains some of his old credibility, or at the very least some of his old charm, and most crucially seems suitably commanding when he's organizing the attack on the Zygon ship in Episode Three and the hunt for the Zygons in Episode Four. The Brigadier is the subject of some wit, most notably his "Asleep? Impossible. I was on duty" line in Episode Two, but the story manages to incorporate this without making him the buffoon of 'The Three Doctors'. And in his last semi-regular story, it is worth noting that he finally meets a non-bullet proof alien menace, something he wished for in 'Robot', as he shoots Broton at the end. Benton too comes over well, ever likeable and ever reliable. I particularly like his "Why are you whispering?" scene with the Doctor in Episode Two.

Production-wise, 'Terror of the Zygons' is magnificent. The location work is superb, and although it wasn't filmed in Scotland it looks very authentic. The impressive incidental score helps to create this impression too. The Skarasen is of course the story's greatest limitation, but Douglas Camfield's careful direction means we only get very brief glimpses of it for the most part, save for the cringe-worthy shot of it rising out of the Thames at the end. Generally, the direction is very good, and the multiple fading shots of the Zygons' hands as they manipulate the controls on board their ship in Episode One are worthy of special mention. Overall, 'Terror of the Zygons' is a superb Doctor Who story and perfect start to the season.

FILTER: - Television - Series 23 - Sixth Doctor