Saturday 28 November 2015

Story 143a - Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 1 - 4)

The Mysterious Planet.
In which the Doctor suddenly finds himself on a vast space-station, with no sign of Peri. The TARDIS has been drawn into the station, and the Doctor's memory has been scrambled. This is due to the combined willpower of an assembly of Time Lords, who have gathered here to conduct an inquiry into his recent actions. An Inquisitor will examine his behaviour. He will be invited to give his version of events and justify his actions, whilst the Valeyard will present evidence against him. The Doctor elects to conduct his own defence. He learns that he is no longer President of the High Council of Time Lords - having been deposed in absentia. It has been felt that the previous trial he underwent at the end of his second incarnation was unduly lenient.
The Valeyard presents his first piece of evidence - taken from the Matrix. This involves the Doctor's visit to a planet named Ravolox.
He and Peri arrive on this world which presents a puzzle. It is of the exact same mass, angle of tilt and period of rotation as the Earth, and yet is light years away from the Solar System. It appears to be lifeless at first, but they are being watched by a pair of intergalactic criminals - Sabalom Glitz and his partner Dibber. Entering a cave, the Doctor and Peri discover that it leads to the ruins of an underground railway station - London's Marble Arch to be precise. Ravolox is Earth.

The station has a tunnel that leads into a high-tech labyrinth where there are survivors living - people who survived whatever it was that destroyed the life on the surface. The Doctor is attacked by them when he takes a sip of water from a jar. Everything is rationed in this underground realm. He is saved by a man named Merdeen - captain of the Train Guards. He meets the keeper of the sacred books, Balazar. It is clear that these people have lost their knowledge of how life in London once was, and have a corrupted view of history. The domain is controlled by someone called Drathro, who lives in a castle at its heart. This proves to be a huge robot - the L3. Marb Station, as it is known, was created as a shelter to protect some humans from the catastrophe which befell the planet - a great firestorm. Drathro runs things like an experiment. Everything is controlled, including occupant numbers. Regular culls take place when numbers are exceeded. Drathro believes that surplus people are killed, but Merdeen has been secretly allowing them to escape onto the surface. These people have formed a community known as the Tribe of the Free, led by Queen Katryca.
Peri, Glitz and Dibber are captured by the Tribe. Glitz is interested in a tall black column, which the Tribe revere as a totem. He claims that it was this that brought down the firestorm, but Katryca does not believe him. Other travelers from the stars have tried to take their totem - always giving different explanations as to what it is. When the Doctor escapes from Marb Station he is also captured by the Tribe, and Drathro sends a servo-robot - the L1 - to bring him back.
The Tribe decide to attack the station - to free the humans that are still held there.

It transpires that Drathro originates from Andromeda. It has valuable information stored which Glitz has been employed to obtain. The Tribe's totem pole is its Black Light energy converter, and it will perish if it is destroyed. Agents from Andromeda were sent to get this information a long time ago - but the Earth was moved out of its position by some process that also destroyed life on the surface. The Andromedan agents - known as Sleepers - therefore never arrived. In the court room, the Doctor is furious to find that the full explanation about the information Drathro holds has been censored by the Inquiry. The Tribe launch their attack, but Katryca is killed by Drathro. It decides that the experiment is at an end and Marb Station and all its occupants should be destroyed. Dibber blows up the Black Light Converter. Glitz pretends that he has a similar device on his ship and so tempts Drathro into accompanying him out of the station. Drathro has copies of the information it is protecting on computer tapes. Denied its power source, Drathro collapses and is destroyed - taking the tapes with it. The Doctor manages to prevent the destruction of the station. The underground dwellers and the Tribe will live together free on the surface. Glitz and Dibber leave without the information they were after, but the pieces of the Converter are made of a valuable substance so they will be able to make some money out of this affair.
The Doctor is left with nothing but questions - who moved the Earth and renamed it, and why? And what were the secrets which Drathro held that Glitz was paid to obtain? Why wouldn't the Time Lords let him know the answer to this?
No answers are forthcoming, and the Valeyard is only just getting started. And where is Peri?

This four part introduction to the season-long Trial of a Time Lord was written by Robert Holmes, and was broadcast between the 6th and 27th of September, 1986.
It marks the opening of the delayed 23rd Season, and was the last full story that Robert Holmes contributed to the series. At 14 episodes, this is the longest Doctor Who story ever, but it is split into 3 x 4 part segments and a 2 part conclusion, and many fans often look at it as four separate stories with a linking arc. The on-screen evidence is that it is one single story however, which is how I intend to cover it here. This first segment is generally given the title The Mysterious Planet.
As mentioned previously, a number of stories had been lined up for Season 23 before the show was put on a temporary hiatus for 18 months. All of these were dropped and a new structure - with new sub-stories - was developed instead. As the programme was on trial, the idea of a courtroom concept was agreed upon by producer John Nathan-Turner and Script Editor Eric Saward. More writers were approached, but all of the new ones fell by the wayside. The BBC decided that the season would only run to 14 x 25 minute episodes - its shortest run ever. Holmes would write the opener and the conclusion. Philip Martin would write a story bringing back Sil from the previous season, and Pip & Jane Baker would provide the third segment.
Sadly, for his last full story, this is not one of Holmes' best. He has a duo of comedic pairings - one of his trademarks. Glitz and Dibber work very well, but the bickering Humker and Tandrell, who work alongside Drathro are neither funny nor relevant to the plot. Bizarrely, it was Glitz and Dibber that the BBC big-wigs thought pointless.

We have a wonderful effects shot at the start - suggesting that the series is back bigger and better than ever. A lot of time and money was spent on the tracking shot of the space station. Impressive, but what follows is just same old. There is an impressive cast, but some of it doesn't quite work. Carry On doyenne Joan Sims just doesn't convince as a futuristic Boadicea, whereas Tony Selby as a galactic wheeler-dealer conman does.
The Marb Station sets are dreadfully over-lit, and the underground dwellers have preposterous costumes to contend with. Adam Blackwood (Balazar) describes himself looking like a condom. It is a nice touch that one of the few books his character keeps he thinks is written by a person named H. M. Stationery Office.
Filming at a real Iron Age settlement recreation lends the home of the Tribe some verisimilitude.
Other Ravolox segment characters worth mentioning are Glen (London's Burning) Murphy as Dibber - a really nice performance. Merdeen is an underused Tom Chadbon (last seen as Duggan in City of Death).
Principal guest stars for the whole season are introduced in the court scenes - the mighty Michael Jayston as the Valeyard, and the late Lynda Bellingham as the Inquisitor.
Episode endings are: fairly rubbish throughout all of the season - mostly comprising a zoom into Colin Baker's face showing a wide range of emotion. I am being charitable here...
  1. The Valeyard tells the court that this should no longer be a mere inquiry, and that the Doctor should be put on trial. Doctor looks gobsmacked.
  2. The Doctor and his friends are trapped between the Tribe warriors and the advancing L1 robot. The Doctor claims he is helpless as to what they should do. Doctor looks uncertain.
  3. Merdeen points his crossbow at the Doctor and fires... Doctor-free expression this one.
  4. The Doctor points out that nothing he did on Ravolox was against Time Lord laws. In fact he saved people. The Valeyard says that by the time the inquiry is over, the court will be demanding his life. Doctor looks smug.

Overall, an okay opener. Nothing much better to say than that. The robot costumes are very good. There's that impressive model sequence. We like Glitz. The court scenes are too frequent and often pointless in these opening episodes - with some dire attempts at humour. The Doctor's variations on "Something-yard" are tiresome. The new title music is rubbish.
Things you might like to know:
  • There is an obvious irony in the fact that before he got into acting, Colin Baker had studied to become a barrister. When charged with speeding a few years ago, he elected to act as his own defence. He lost and was banned.
  • The Inquisitor is never named on screen, but fan fiction (books and audio) has her called Darkel.
  • It was claimed that "Valeyard" meant a Doctor of Law (hinting at who this character might turn out to be). A bit like Vader being Father in Dutch. Google "Valeyard" and you will get nothing but Doctor Who references - or the query "Did you mean Vineyard?".
  • An obvious inspiration for this story was the second Planet of the Apes movie - which features the subway station beneath New York's Grand Central Station as the entrance to a high tech base. The humans who live there also look a bit condom-like.
  • The train guards' helmets are a not-quite last hurrah for those that we first saw back in Earthshock. They have one more appearance to make in the series.
  • A TARDIS exterior scene was filmed but never used. You can see it on the DVD. As broadcast, the Doctor and Peri are already wandering through the forest when we first see them.
  • The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has improved a great deal. This had been a criticism of the 22nd Season.
  • Drathro is voiced by actor Roger Brierley. He was originally supposed to have been inside the robot costume as well, but got an attack of claustrophobia. A member of the VFX team, Paul McGuiness, who had been the model for the building of the costume, stepped in to replace him. Again, look to the DVD for a Blue Peter piece on the operation of both robots seen in this story.
  • One of the working titles for this segment was "Robots of Ravolox".
  • As well as the trial format, the season was also based on A Christmas Carol - with stories that were to represent the Doctor's past, present and future.
  • That opening model shot cost around £8K, and took about 6 weeks to film. It is motion-controlled camera stuff. It was originally intended that we would see a mass of wrecked spaceships, then the big Time Lord craft would be seen in the middle of them. It was described as being like a Gothic cathedral, which is where incidental music composer Dominic Glynn got his inspiration from.
  • Glynn recently released dancified versions of his Who soundtracks. Personally, I find Season 23's version of the theme rather weak and watery.
  • Tony Selby had been on a diet, but agreed to give it up for this appearance. On location, he, Baker and Joan Sims indulged in pudding-eating competitions. Ironic, as Sims, in her autobiography, describes herself as "Queen of the Puddings" at this time - suffering as she was from depression and alcoholism and so "comfort-eating". She passed away in 2001.

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