Wednesday 19 August 2020

Inspirations - Trial of a Time Lord (2)

Last time, we saw what Season 23 might have looked like, if it hadn't been for the enforced hiatus. Time now to start looking at what we did get.
It was always envisaged that the season-long story would comprise individual adventures, representing past, present and future for the Doctor. From the outset, it was intended that Robert Holmes would write the opening section, which would introduce the trial setting and the new recurring characters of judge and prosecutor, and he would then return to finish off the narrative with a two episode conclusion. This left room for two further stories to be included within the overall season structure. That the first of these would go to Philip Martin was also intended early on. It was with the third instalment that uncertainty lay, as several writers were considered and their ideas were dropped before the final choice was made. Other external factors would also come into play. We'll come to that in good time.
The title given to the opening four episodes by Holmes is usually given as The Mysterious Planet.
For inspiration, Holmes looked back to his own work once again - in fact right to his very first dealings with the programme.
In the mid 1960's Holmes submitted a story entitled "The Space Trap". He had earlier tried to submit this for inclusion in the sci-fi anthology series Out of the Unknown, but had been unsuccessful. He had now added the Doctor to the story and was trying again. The story was passed on by successive script editors and eventually came to the attention of Terrance Dicks. He thought the story had some merit, and asked producer Derrick Sherwin if he could develop it with Holmes as a pet project of his own, as Sherwin already had his own ideas about Patrick Troughton's final season. This turned out to be a smart move, as the planned stories all fell through one by one, and so Dicks was asked to proceed with commissioning Holmes to write what was now The Krotons, to fill one of the gaps which had been left.
Some elements of The Krotons find their way into The Mysterious Planet.
First, we have a society which survived some great cataclysm in the distant past, and which is now being manipulated by a more advanced, technological force which is alien to the planet. This force inhabits a place which the population know about but have never been allowed to enter, save for a select few, and they have never seen who, or what, resides inside. The Krotons are not robots like Drathro, but they might as well be in terms of their design and operation. Drathro, like the Gonds, has permitted a pair of bright young natives to come and live with him, as the intelligent young Gonds were supposed to become the "companions of the Krotons".

Another old story which appears to be an influence is The Face of Evil. Whilst not written by Holmes, it was developed with him, and he acted as script editor on it. That story also involved a society which has been split in two, with one half living in a futuristic, technological space (the Tesh), whilst the other half live a more natural life in the wild (the Sevateem). In The Mysterious Planet we have the Tribe of the Free living technology-free on the surface of the planet, with the subterranean tunnel dwellers living beneath.
The Doctor and Peri discover that the "mysterious planet" Ravolox is actually the Earth of the far distant future when they descend into a tunnel and find that it is really the ruined Marble Arch Underground station. We are naturally reminded of the closing scenes of Planet of the Apes (1968) here, where astronaut Taylor comes across the remains of the Statue of Liberty when he thought that he was on an alien world. The sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), is even more of an inspiration, as that included the discovery of an underground rail system (this time the New York one), wherein a separate society of humans live, who are again more technologically advanced than those who remained on the surface.
That Earth was destroyed and shifted across the universe by the Time Lords is just the culmination of the more decadent and deceitful version of the Doctor's race, which Holmes had introduced in The Deadly Assassin. Holmes' Time Lords are not the god-like benevolent beings created by Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, and perpetuated by Barry Letts. Dicks himself came to prefer Holmes' darker version, which he used in a number of his novels.
This is the third time that we have encountered a destroyed Earth in the series. The first time was back in 1966, with The Ark, where we saw the planet evacuated and the population setting of for a new home on Refusis II. The implication in that story was that this was the final end for the Earth, being swallowed up by the sun. Later, we had The Ark in Space, but then it was the case that the Earth's surface had been hit by intense solar flare activity, and merely had to be evacuated temporarily, to be repopulated at a later date. We've since seen the definitive destruction of the Earth in the year 5 Billion, and it didn't fit with what we saw in The Ark, so it may well have been the Time Lord intervention which the Ark people were fleeing in that 1966 story.
And this idea has been revisited yet again in the last series, in Orphan 55. Yet again , we discover that an apparently alien planet is really the Earth from a ruined underground station, in Russia this time. In this story, the Doctor makes it clear that this is only one of a number of possible futures for the planet - so what we saw in The Ark could be another alternative time-line.

Of the new characters introduced in this story, two of them fit the pattern Holmes likes to use of a double act, who are often rather comedic. Here we get the intergalactic rogue Glitz and his dim-witted assistant Dibber. Previous double acts have included Kalik and Orum, and Vorg and Shirna (Carnival of Monsters), Litefoot and Jago (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), Spandrell and Engin (The Deadly Assassin), or Chessene and Shockeye (The Two Doctors). The Doctor and the Master have also been paired with characters by Holmes to form comedy / sinister double acts.
In the court room we have the Inquisitor, who acts as the judge, and the Valeyard, who is the prosecutor. The claim that "valeyard" is an archaic word for a doctor of law, thus hinting at his true identity, was a fib.
Next time: Peri bows out in a story about a rather stereotypical mad scientist, in a sequel of sorts to a story from the previous season, and the main guest star was almost cast as the Doctor, more than once...


  1. Glitz should have been a full-time companion!

  2. You can still see Tony Selby as the egregious Corporal Marsh of "Get Some In" fame on YouTube. A fine comic actor.