The Mysterious Planet (Trial Of A Time Lord, Parts 1-4)

Doctor WhoA huge space station drags the TARDIS out of time and space, depositing the Doctor in a Gallifreyan courtroom where a Time Lord tribunal accuses him of meddling in the history of the galaxy. The ruthless prosecutor, the Valeyard, presents events from the Doctor’s past as evidence of his transgression of the Time Lords’ non-interference laws. In the adventure shown, the Doctor and Peri – who is curiously absent from the courtroom – discover that the planet Ravolox is actually Earth, two million years hence, and somehow moved into another solar system. Two rogues from another galaxy are hunting down copies of a huge databank which have found their way into the possession of a robot which lords over the last remaining humans on Earth. The source of these copies also turn the Time Lords themselves into suspects in the crime of the eon – the disappearance of Earth.

Order the DVDwritten by Robert Holmes
directed by Nicholas Mallett
music by Dominic Glynn

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Bonnie Langford (Melanie), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Lynda Bellingham (Inquisitor), Tony Selby (Glitz), Joan Sims (Katryca), Glen Murphy (Dibber), Tom Chadbon (Merdeen), Roger Brierly (Drathro), David Rodigan (Broken Tooth), Adam Blackwood (Balazar), Timothy Walker (Grell), Billy McColl (Humker), Sion Tudor Owen (Tandrell)

Broadcast from September 6 through 27, 1986

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: After the 1985 season, the BBC took a very cool attitude toward Doctor Who, citing excessive violence as its major fault and effectively cancelling the show. But fan outcry forced the BBC to retract that move, and producer John Nathan-Turner was told to tone down the violence and increase the humor, and it was over a year before the Doctor was seen on television again.

This is probably the best of the four installments that made up the Trial Of A Time Lord season, and that’s not really saying much – the entire season was a missed opportunity. Still, there are entertaining things in this particular segment. Glitz, who later appeared in The Ultimate Foe and Dragonfire, is at his best here. In those later stories, Glitz is bumbling comic relief, but here he’s mad, bad and dangerous to know – and still funny at the same time, an obvious homage to such rougish characters as Han Solo. Dibber balances Glitz’s character nicely, and it’s a shame that Dibber didn’t return in Dragonfire (admittedly, there wouldn’t have been room for Dibber in The Ultimate Foe). Glitz and Dibber are at their best when serving as the mouthpiece for some typically hilarious Robert Holmes dialogue. The trial idea itself is a cleverly satirical swipe at the fact that Doctor Who as a series was very much on trial in 1986, and this is the only story of the season to comment on that, with the Valeyard charging that the Doctor has often been at the center of violent events.

My biggest gripe with the Trial Of A Time Lord stories is that none of them were terribly interesting or well told. Throughout each of them, the action is interrupted by more scenes of Colin Baker – whose command of the role of the Doctor improved tremendously in this season – and Michael Jayston as the slippery Valeyard bickering at one another. In some cases – particularly in the following segment, Mindwarp – the narrative flow of the story was jettisoned altogether, with the trial being used as an excuse to make a quantum leap forward in the plot. This device could have been used very inventively, but instead it was used to cover some very poor plotting and logic on the part of the writers.

Another glorious missed opportunity in this season could have been to intersperse some real past adventures in with the “new” past adventures presented as evidence. Numerous episodes of individual stories, especially from the first two Doctors’ eras, are missing, but some of the “orphaned” episodes – survivng half-hour segments of incomplete stories – could have been used to great effect as smaller individual bits of “evidence” in the trial. With the four new stories presented, either the Doctor or the Valeyard was already verbally setting up the action with some backstory, and they could have done the same to fill in the gaps of missing shows. I think BBC Video – struggling to find material to fill out the Doctor Who video line – should consider putting the sixth, seventh, or even eighth Doctor on trial again as a means of showcasing these incomplete stories. Paying the artists involved for the reuse of their material would have been cost-prohibitive, and using those old episodes in the midst of the new stories might have drawn unwanted attention to the inferior nature of some of the new material.

On a purely trivial note, you may note that Glitz and Dibber brandish some familiar artillery – their heavy-duty guns in part four would later get much more screen time as the bazookoid weapons aboard Red Dwarf, the show which eventually supplanted Doctor Who as the BBC’s flagship science fiction series. On a similar note, the well-executed opening special effects scene of the TARDIS being drawn toward the Time Lords’ space station was included in the promos and “electronic press kit” for the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. This was the sole piece of footage from the original BBC series which was included in Fox’s publicity for the show.