Saturday, 9 January 2016

Story 143(d) - The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 13 - 14)

The Ultimate Foe
In which the Doctor is furious that he has just been accused of committing genocide. As he argues against the court, his old enemy the Master intrudes on the proceedings from within the Matrix. A couple of travel capsules are on their way to the space station - containing Mel, from the Doctor's future, and Sabalom Glitz. The Master has brought them here to give evidence on behalf of the Doctor. Why would the Master help the Doctor? Because the Valeyard poses a much greater threat to him than his old school acquaintance. The prosecutor is really a future version of the Doctor - the amalgam of all his evil, negative aspects, originating from between his twelfth and thirteenth incarnations. He has entered into a deal with the High Council to have the Doctor executed, so that he can gain his future lives. The Master reveals that the Matrix security is deeply flawed, and its secrets have been plundered over the centuries. It was these which the Sleepers of Andromeda were after. Held on tapes by Drathro, once the planet Earth had been moved and renamed Ravolox, the Master had employed Glitz to procure them for himself. It was the High Council who destroyed Earth and moved it - to cover up the theft of the secrets. This is why that piece of evidence was censored.

On hearing all of this, the Doctor is furious and rails against his own people. Whilst he has been battling evil across the cosmos for centuries, a far greater evil was brewing on his home planet. The Keeper of the Matrix had claimed that no-one could penetrate it, but the Master has managed to. He reveals that there is an entry point here on this station. The Valeyard flees into it -  and the Doctor follows. Glitz goes after him. The Doctor finds himself in a strange nocturnal Victorian urban landscape. He comes upon a man named Popplewick - a Dickensian office clerk - who refers to a J J Chambers who is in charge here. The Doctor and Glitz pass through an office door and find themselves on a deserted beach, in broad daylight. Disembodied hands grab the Doctor and drag him down under the sand.

This is all illusion, however. The Doctor enters a nearby hut - which proves to be the Master's TARDIS. The Master hypnotises him so that he believes that he has been found guilty and so must be executed. Mel decides to enter the Matrix to rescue him. The Doctor had only been pretending to be hypnotised - so that he could flush out Chambers. The Doctor finds a note in Chambers' handwriting - a list of senior Time Lords. Chambers is found to look exactly like Popplewick - really the disguised Valeyard. The Doctor recognised the handwriting as his own - for the Valeyard is a version of himself. All the names on the list are Time Lords present in the courtroom. The Valeyard is going to assassinate them all using a weapon hidden within the Matrix - which is linked to the court. The Master finally gets his hands on the secrets, which he aims to sell, but the Valeyard has booby-trapped them. He and Glitz find themselves frozen in time. The Doctor and the Valeyard finally confront each other. The weapon is activated. The Doctor and Mel manage to escape back to the space station to warn the court, whilst the Valeyard gets caught up by his own weapon. The Inquisitor announces that the High Council has been overthrown. She also reveals that one of the Matrix tamperings by the Valeyard concerned the death of Peri. She is really alive and well and living with King Yrcanos. Bless. The Doctor pleads leniency for Glitz, once he and the Master are freed from their time trap. He then leaves the station with Mel. She already knows him, yet he has only just met her. The Inquisitor asks the Keeper to start clearing up the mess with the Matrix. After she has gone, he reveals himself to be the Valeyard...

This two part finale to the Trial of a Time Lord, and indeed the 23rd season of the programme, was written by Robert Holmes (part 13) and Pip & Jane Baker (part 14). It marks the final on screen adventure for Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, as well as introducing the character of the Valeyard - a (possible) future incarnation of the Doctor.
If you've been following the behind the scenes story closely so far, you'll know that Robert Holmes has sadly passed away during the recording of one of the earlier segments. He has written the final two episodes, and the Valeyard idea is his. His final episode ends with a bit of a downer, however. The Doctor and the Valeyard are sucked into a time fissure, and it ends on a Reichenback Falls cliffhanger. Producer John Nathan-Turner is really up for this at first, but then starts to get cold feet. He knows the programme's future is in the balance, and is worried that this might give the BBC top brass an excuse to end the show. Leave the fans hanging -  a bit like they did with the final episode of Blake's 7. Script editor Eric Saward, who regarded Holmes as a mentor and a bit of a father figure, won't countenance his final work being messed about with. He loves this ending. Stalemate in the production office. Saward is fed up with JNT anyway, so decides to finally walk away. Taking Holmes' script with him.
What's a producer who has a show with no ending supposed to do? He calls upon Pip & Jane, who he trusts to fire off something usable at short notice, to get him out of a hole. They get summoned to the BBC and get to see what Holmes had written, with lawyers present. They then have to come up with a final episode that picks up from the conclusion of Part 13 and deliver a satisfying conclusion that doesn't use any of Holmes' Part 14.

The result? A bit of a mess, but good on the Bakers - when you consider the circumstances. They get the nightmare world of the Matrix and help develop the Dickens-ish Popplewick and the Valeyard. Fans find it confusing and a tiny bit incoherent - and laugh at the idea of a mega-byte modem being a weapon of mass destruction. They say so on a TV review programme - chief slagger-off being a young Mr Christopher Chibnall, of a local DWAS group. Whatever happened to him...?
Tragically, Robert Holmes' final piece for Doctor Who is one of his weakest - a pale attempt to recapture the third episode of The Deadly Assassin (one of his finest moments). An "alternative" dodgy Doctor is a great idea. Steven Moffat will pinch it when it comes to springing the unseen War Doctor on us. And the Dream Doctor.
The episodes look very good, with some nice atmospheric night-time location filming, and we get some great performances. We finally get to see why they cast the brilliant Michael Jayston at the start of the season. Tony Selby had been likable as Glitz back in the first segment. The big addition is Geoffrey Hughes as Popplewick / Chambers. Even Anthony Ainley rises to the occasion - his Master being a witness to some grander scheme than one of his own, more feeble, recent efforts.
Episode endings are:
  1. As Glitz watches, the Doctor is seized by humanoid arms which rise out of the ground and drag him down under the surface...
  2. The Doctor has departed the space station. The Inquisitor has a brief word with the Keeper of the Matrix before flouncing out of the courtroom. He turns (to camera) to reveal that he now has the features of the Valeyard...

Overall, a very weak ending considering that it isn't just a story in its own right but the conclusion to a whole season. Lots still to commend it though. It's the catharsis of spurious morality, if you want my opinion. And you just can't prevent that. Lord knows I've tried...
Things you might like to know:
  • You'll have noticed that I have gone with the segment title of The Ultimate Foe. This is the most common one, but some fans prefer "Time Inc.". I would say that the Valeyard - as the Doctor's own evil persona - is the ultimate foe for him. Don't quite see what "Time Inc." actually means in the context of the episodes as broadcast.
  • Naturally, fandom has had a field day working out how to reconcile Mel going off with the Doctor when he hasn't met her yet, as far as his time-line is concerned. Check the books and the audios for this, if you have more time and money than is really good for you. Obviously, he has to lose her somewhere, then pick her up again before she knew him (in that adventure involving the Master trying to bring down the global economy, which was in her character brief).
  • Is George Osborne an unseen incarnation of the Master? Looks a bit Harold Saxon if you ask me...
  • The Sixth Doctor's last words are "Carrot juice". Repeated a few times. In 2015 Big Finish brought back the Valeyard, played again by Mr Jayston, to give the Sixth a much better send-off than what he got on screen. Problem is, he still has to end up falling off that exercise bike on Lakertya, and be played by Sylvester McCoy in a wig, no matter what BF have done.
  • To finish off Colin Baker's stint as the less than popular Sixth Doctor, time to go back behind the scenes. JNT has handed in his annual resignation letter to the BBC. Trouble is, he isn't well liked at the corporation due to his associations with the popular press amongst other things, and they don't have any other job they trust him to do. Also, no-one wants to pick up the seemingly poisoned chalice that is Doctor Who and replace him. He gets the call to stay on, and the BBC will make a new series. It will be his last one - honest guv. Only thing is they don't want Baker. Infamously JNT calls Baker at home and tells him he has some good news and some bad news. Good news is that there will be a Season 24. Bad news is that Baker won't be the star...
  • Baker is told that he has done three years and that is quite enough, merci beaucoup - despite the fact that he was twiddling his thumbs for 18 months of that period. He gets offered the chance to return for a final story, to regenerate at its conclusion. He asks to get the full season and regenerate at the end of that. BBC says no. Baker won't give up job offers just to be free to do four episodes many months hence. He walks away. Result: McCoy in a wig.
  • JNT forebade any use of the Valeyard during the remainder of his tenure on the programme. The danger is that he will always turn out just like the Master - except with even bigger words - if not written properly. Of course we have now gone beyond the point when he should have been created. Matt Smith turned out to be the final incarnation of the Doctor, so he arises between Tennant and Smith. Or doesn't. The new Time Lord High Council can engineer things so that he never comes into being. Then again, he would have made a valuable weapon in the Time War...
  • Bonnie Langford had to film the location work for this before she did anything else, so was understandably confused by the whole thing.
  • Having moved on by this time, Nicola Bryant had no idea that her character had actually survived and had gone off to be a warrior queen. Check the DVD extra commentary where she gets to see the hideous, tacked-on ending. She hates it. Not only is it dramatically rubbish, but we see the loving couple in a cliched pink halo, in case you weren't already feeling nauseous.
  • There is a not terribly funny sketch by French & Saunders which was filmed on the courtroom set. They play aliens based on half-Silurian, half Foamasi costumes. George Layton (The Space Pirates) plays a Doctor who dresses like Tom Baker. It was never broadcast - no prizes for guessing why - but can be seen on the DVD for these episodes.
  • They'll get a lot of mentions over the next three seasons, but this is our final look at the Time Lords of Gallifrey until The Sound of Drums.
  • The bit above about JNT handing in his resignation / asked to stay on for a new series etc. will be cut and pasted so that I can use them for the next three seasons - just in case they look familiar.

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