The Trial of the Trial of a Time Lord

Written by:
Robert Holmes/Philip Martin/Pip & Jane Baker/Robert Holmes & Eric Saward/Pip & Jane Baker
Directed by: Nicholas Mallet/Ron Jones/Chris Clough
Starring: Colin Baker
Year: 1986
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

The Trial of a Time Lord, eh? It opens out with tacky stars, Colin's cheesy grin and music that sounds like someone tapping on a kettle full of cat wee. I was 14 when I first saw this, and thrilled to the continuity, the full-on dynamics and the puberty-enticing antics of Peri. Oh to be 14 again. It takes a special kind of story to be actually improved by the appearance of Anthony Ainley, but that's all to come.

Let the slag-off commence!!



EPISODE ONE:
It has to be said the opening effects in this story are superb. Weird to think that Doctor Who's most expensive effect still only cost 2000.

When we see Colin there are nice subtle hints that his bluster might be all front. He goes to knock on the courtroom doors, then changes it to a full barge. Later, he instinctively begins to rise at the sight of the Inquisitor, then corrects himself into a defiant leg cross. It doesn't last, sadly, and before you know it he's on a full OTT marathon.

The actual story itself isn't so bad (even though, as the first season shot entirely on video, it looks cheap and the way Peri pronounces "birds" is annoying) with Tony Selby good, if not great, as Glitz. Glen Murphy clearly has no respect for the script and gives little effort to his Dibber.

For a story about a ravaged Earth, though, this is low-key, something which perhaps explains why it's often overlooked. Mindwarp and Vervoids you'll never forget for better or for worse - this one you'll need prompting to remember. One notable bit is the Doctor almost saying his full name, and the Kings Cross escalator. Some might say it looks more like the escalator down Kwik Save, but I don't reckon it's so bad. There is some amusement to be had when Colin interrupts the evidence to complain that the story is boring, though Joan Simms, great in Carry Ons, is awful here. And Jethro or whatever his bloody name is never looks like anything other than a man in a suit.

nterestingly (?) the Doctor's repartee with Balasar seems to reference Much Ado About Nothing, what with "whiskerless youth" and all that. It's not funny though. In fact, the "humour" is the weakest thing about season 23. Enforced from high up in the BBC, it always feels forced and grafted on. The cliffhanger, you'll be shocked to know, is a close-up of Colin.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "Can't we just have the edited highlights?"
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 23.08m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 5.21m
* * *



EPISODE TWO:
I know I keep banging on about this*, but the lighting really is far too bright for this season. The underground scenes never look anything other than BBC sets due to this problem. And if they ever remade this story, Dibber's so wooden he could be played by Vinnie Jones.

* I hadn't even mentioned it at this point, so it's a dead giveaway I wrote this review out of sequence.

I wasn't as keen on this episode as some plastic robots don't make satisfying antagonists, and the humour is even more artificial. Colin starts cranking it up, both in the story proper and in the trial, and it really can be annoying. Particularly galling are the "humbug"/"handbag" lines, marginally less sophisticated than the humour in The Tweenies. There's no depth or characterisation to the Sixth Doctor in Trial - he's just one-note hammery throughout. And the cliffhanger (yes it is) is rather silly. After all, the Doctor's faced much worse without declaring it "the end".

EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 25.55m (?? Can't be right, can it? Can't read my own writing, I'll have to time it again...)
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 2.50m
* *



EPISODE THREE:
The guns the Doctor was so afraid of turn out to be toy pop guns. And while this is one of only a handful of stories where the entire universe is threatened (as revealed in episode four) there's really no narrative tension. It's all a bit repetitive, too, making it a less than fitting final story from Robert Holmes. Hunker and Tandrell are particularly grating, and not very well acted either. And isn't Colin's impression of Tom (or is it supposed to be Jon?!!?) crap? The cliffhanger, for one of only two occasions this season, ISN'T a close-up of Colin.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "I would appreciate it if these brutal and repetitious scenes were kept to a bare minimum."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.30m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 3.12m
* *



EPISODE FOUR:
Colin's first trial scene in this episode is so over the top it's in orbit. Peri, meanwhile, barely registers in her penultimate story, while Tom Chadbon is pure plank.

I started watching this one last night and fell asleep halfway through. Whether this is a comment on Who's most nondescript season opener or because I was tired is up to you to decide.

The deleted evidence is quite a fun bit, though quite obvious looking back. Lip readers in particular should have no problem getting it all. Here's a thought - even though none of the stories are outstanding, made in black and white with The Mighty Trout would they have worked? Cos the shouter in the silly coat certainly kills it. Some crap laser effects later and it all slumps to an anti-climatic halt.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "It's a farce!"/"I tire of this empty banter."
SENTENCE ACTUALLY WORTHY OF PRAISE BY BEING INTENTIONALLY IRONIC: "If the rest of his presentation is as riveting as the first little epic, then wake me when it's finished."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.34m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 4.30m
* *



EPISODE FIVE:
Watching this stuff out of context* makes it seem even more stagy, as we open with another of those contrived courtroom scenes. The Valeyard accuses the Doctor's humour of being pathetic and juvenile, which, considering he's just called him the "Brickyard", is pretty apt. You might think Colin would give his all as the show was under threat. He does... but not in a good way. Over the top seems too small a phrase somehow. He really is a complete twat. Sorry, but it's true.

* I reviewed segments 5-8 (aka Mindwarp first)

Oh God, it's the woman from the OXO ads now: "This is a court of law, not a debating society for malajusted, psychotic sociopaths." Pip and Jane ain't even involved for another four episodes. And there's some guff about "Sagacity" now. The Valeyard wants to present "The Doctor's next frightening adventure." Frightening? Stuff this bad is horrific.

Anyway, the story itself. The paintbox technology is quite nice, though as it temporarily turns the Tardis pink as well it's a technology they improved in the McCoy years. Peri's stupid fake Daffy Duck accent and "I-I-I" forced stuttering is really irritating. I most definitely, definitely would, though. The court scenes are more intrusive than I recalled, (again maybe heightened by seeing it out of sequence), though there's a rare moment where Colin actually acts. For three seconds anyway.

Back to the story and a giant clam beast - the sort of thing that would have just about passed in the Hartnell era in black and white - attacks Peri. Trevor Laird comes on as a guard. It's an unfortunate fact that Who had so few black actors in its history. It's an even more unfortunate fact that the ones it did have - Rick James, Leee John - were abysmal. Laird joins these ranks with plank-like gusto, much like his namesake, Jenny.

There's a bit of humour (in inverted commas, obviously) with the "skedaddle" test. Any chance he gets, any bone to play with, Colin goes at it full pettle. Elsewhere, Brian Blessed outhams even Colin (no mean feat) with the definitive bad guest actor appearance.

It's only just hit me why I didn't find all this so bad at the time - I was watching it round my Granddad's on a black and white telly. Without the garish colour even Colin's stupid coat wasn't that bad. Nabil Shaban reappears, the horrific, nasty alien from the superb Vengeance on Varos. Except here he's just a send-up, overacting dick in a green romper suit. When he meets Peri he calls her revoltingly ugly. What Pulp SF dirge. "Coming from you, that's a compliment" quips Peri. Who wrote the script, Harold Pinter? Oh, and Richard Hartley's jingly-jangly repetitive music is very, very tiresome.

Groundbreakingly, the Trial cliffhanger sees a close-up of Colin's face. This whole episode really is a pile of horse excrement.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "Are you really offering this inconsequential silliness as evidence?"/"This is the most ridiculous, preposterous travesty of a trial."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.51m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 4.11m
*



EPISODE SIX:
I'll say one thing about this season: it looks expensive. No wonder Michael Grade wanted to axe it, it must have taken 50 million out of the BBC coffers.

It's hard to tell what Blessed is ranting sometimes. Does he really shout "slags"? Another time he seems to suggest his equity card is in a dungeon. After this performance they should have burnt it. Colin tries to upstage him, but they both come over as a couple of stupid arses.

Michael Jayston is a class actor but the Valeyard's dialogue is absolutely dire. And how seriously can you take a man who has a black binliner on his head? What's the point of Sil's black S & M fetish anyway? Shaban has obviously had the floor manager tell him he's funny a few too many times. Peri tries to kill him, the ruthless cow. And that's what it really comes down to: a three hander between the smug hammery of Colin, Nabil and Blessed. Combine this with a turd of a script and garbage production and what you're left with is pretty dire. Peri dresses up in harem get-up as a disguise this episode. A guide to how poor this story is can be gleaned by the fact that Arabic music plays whenever she's on screen. I did half consider giving this one ***** for the scene where Peri, chained to a rock, has the tide splash over her spreadeagled body. Sadly though, this dubious bit of pervy nonsense can't save things. And in an unusual move, the cliffhanger is a shot of Colin's face.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "I do grow tired of these constant interruptions."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.53m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 2.26m
*



EPISODE SEVEN:
A notable scene early on where Peri tries to separate Brian Blessed and that Dog bloke by sticking her chest out. It's an interminable scene, though, and drags on for over three minutes non stop (which doesn't sound that long, but in the edit-happy 80s this was a looooong one). There really is too much Blessed in this episode.

Elsewhere, an increasingly annoying Colin mocks Sil by telling him to go for a walk. As Sil is played by a disabled actor who has to travel in a wheelchair then the taste of such a remark is in question.

At least Peri gets her jacket taken off her so we get to see her bare arms. Her dialogue is really trite for her last story, though - it's as if they were getting in practise for Bonnie Langford. Sil, meanwhile, seems to have access to a kind of intergalactic Internet, which is fairly ahead of its time. Rather unfortunately though, the typeface used to represent this would look dated for 1976, never mind 1986.

On the earlier theme of poorly acted ethnic minorities, then Gordon Warnecke adds his wooden charms to that of Laird and Alibe Parsons. Colin thinks he's being really funny this episode. What a shame none of the five million watching did. The cliffhanger, however, despite being another Colin close-up, is actually quite strong, with the Doctor facing the harsh realisation of his own actions.

EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.41m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 2.23m
*



EPISODE EIGHT:
An exciting opening battle here, with the twin planks of Laird and Warnecker proving to be formidable opponents agains the ham triad. Christopher Ryan is in annoying send-up mode, too, though a mention must go to Patrick Ryecart, the only cast member to retain dignity.

Peri and Brian Blessed get a scene in a cell, where Blessed asks "What is that... love?" while "romantic" music plays. Subtle, ain't it? After this we're led to believe Peri wants to marry him. Maybe she just likes it rough, the dirty minx. Here's a question - in Varos, Sil's voice was supposed to be the result of a malfunctioning translator. So how come all the mentors talk the same way here?

There's some would-be ironic humour here, with much reference to Blessed's shouting. It's all very unsophisticated, though, and the unvaried music has to be in the top ten worst list. Like the story itself, in fact. I remember getting quite excited at the "Doctor taken out of time" scene, which I thought was really cool at the time. Peri's "death" in a bald wig is too pulpy to work. Michael Jayston, meanwhile, has to say "My Dear Doctor" for the third time this story. And as for the cliffhanger... guess.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "I thought it was somewhat gratuitous."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.51m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 2.10m
*



EPISODE NINE:
When I first saw this story I thought it was the worst of all time. But then, I also thought Mindwarp was a classic. Seen again, and this one reached the giddy heights of mediocrity. So what about this time around*?

* I actually caught a clip of this one again after writing this review - I really am far too kind to it here, you know.

Well, the first episode phased me by opening with Colin Baker actually acting. Still, I guess everyone has an off day. The multiple level shots of the liner are great, but what's with the CSO spaceship? It was acceptable for the Williams era, but this was 1986. It looks frickin' awful!

Anyway, onto the Tardis scene. Does it really begin with Bonnie Langford's pop music exercise regime? Or did I have it as a nightmare? Maybe it's just overfamiliar immunity, but it really doesn't bother me that much any more. And season 23 Mel is, despite the overacting, a much more proactive character than season 24 Mel. I wouldn't touch her with yours, though.

Again, it all looks so cheap and so tired. Say what you like about Sylvester's debut season, it feels so much fresher than this. Watching Trial of a Time Lord you can't help but come to the conclusion that maybe Michael Grade did have a point.

I'm not a Pip 'n' Jane basher like most, but lines like "I found myself in a web of mayhem and intrigue" stink to high Heaven. Anyway, while a wander around an MFI furniture warehouse might not be the most exciting of adventures, the reduction in trial scenes helps. In fact, other than the opening scene, only once does the courtroom appear in this particular episode. The music is also fairly discrete, one of the most distracting elements of my prior Colin reviews, Attack and Mindwarp.

The Valeyard having a Benny at the Doctor's suggestion of Matrix tampering is a good bit. And, for once, a Trial cliffhangerisn't based around Colin's nostrils. Yippeee! Oh, but it's based on Bonnie Langford screaming.

MOST LUDICROUS LINE: "Whoever's been placed in there has been crushed into fragments and sent floating in space - and in my book, that's murder!"
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 23.05m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 3.51m
* * *



EPISODE TEN:
The opening prong in this episode is very phallic. And when the monsters do emerge their faces look like the female member. Freud would have a field day. Other questions abound: why do the Mogarians need a translator to speak English, yet seem to be able to understand it when spoken to them? Why does the Inquisitor have a beauty spot painted on her face? (Actually, a reader of this review suggested to me that the Mogarians just don't have the biological means to speak English, which is quite a decent theory, I thought).

I'll say one thing about this story: the dialogue is a bit clanky, the direction a bit flat, the sets cheap - but the acting isn't all that bad. Michael Craig comes off worst, not because he's poor, but because he gets the most overblown dialogue.

There are some little touches of humour here and there - the Mogarians playing Space Invaders (and the shot of "Murder on the Orient Express" in episode eleven). However, as a murder mystery this doesn't really work, because you don't give a shit about any of the victims.

You know, though, say what you like about Bonnie Langford, she has a much better rapport with Colin than Nicola ever did. Yes, really. The cliffhanger, if a bit grimier and darker, would actually be quite scary. Strangely though, the final shot is again Colin's face... despite it being hidden under a gas mask.

In all, though, despite being the only story (along with episode 14) not to have a script editor, this really isn't so bad.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "Will you end this charade?"
MOST LUDICROUS LINE: "I can. The answer's simple enough. You've got a killer on board!"
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.27m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 3.17m
* * *



EPISODE ELEVEN:
The third part of this segment sees the full emergence of the Vervoids. They're the reason why I initially hated it, as they look ludicrous. There's no getting around it - walking plants do not hold any credibility.

Bonnie shows herself as a resourceful companion this episode, but walking plants!

Season 14, Season 7, Season 5... just three seasons that, generally, looked well made and, if not expensive, then adequately budgeted. So why does this story look so, so cheap? If only they'd dipped the lighting a bit it might be better, and walking plants!

Even a black hole is neon red in the JN-T era - would only hr be so gaudy? Walking plants! Rubbish toy guns! Walking plants! Oh, and walking plants!

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "Is there any point in continuing?"
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.20m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 2.14m
* *



EPISODE TWELVE:
The Mogarians turn out to be hijackers at the start of this episode. Though any alien race that can be defeated by chucking a glass of water over them don't really crank up the fear factor.

Almost all of the dialogue in this part is clunky without question. And the major fault of season 23 is revealed - even when the Commodore switches off the lighting it's still lit bright red. When the Vervoids die, a three-second shot of a Vervoid's tracksuit bottoms can be seen. Appallingly amateurish.

Still, the climax - things get even worse for the Doctor - isn't bad, although why they had to end on his nostrils again is beyond me...

MOST LUDICROUS LINE: "All they need is sunlight and water."
EPISODE LENGTH (WITHOUT CREDITS): 22.56m
LENGTH OF COURTROOM SEQUENCES: 1.14m
* *



EPISODE THIRTEEN:
Unlucky for some? Not in this case, with the only episode from Trial to be above average. Even gargling James Bree with an old Yale key can't spoil it. Colin's "Daleks, Sontarans, CY-bermen" speech is often praised, but is actually cringingly hammy. Even Anthony Ainley seems subtle in comparison.

However, the revelation that the Valeyard is, (to an extent) the Doctor's evil future self, totally blows the series wide open. This might be the worst season of all time, but that is a true standout moment.

Even though this ends up being a shameless Assassin retread, preformed by a crap Baker instead of a Baker at the height of his powers, it still works. Yet when Tom faced dangers, you marvelled at his ingenuity and survival instinct. When Colin does it you just think "what an arse."

This is an episode where the Doctor can stand thirty feet away from a factory with a huge neon sign and not see it, yet the surreal Matrix is a superb narrative device. It's still not top grade Holmes, but (Androzani excepted) it's his best work since 1976. Lines like "how utterly evil!" gall, but the whole set-up still engages.

The decent Repulsion-style cliffhanger is too melodramatic to really compel, but still rewards.
* * *



EPISODE FOURTEEN:
Sadly, as many will know, Robert Holmes was too ill to complete the season, and Eric Saward withdrew his version. Instead, we get Pip and Jane's manically teleporting Valeyard and his masterplan - a box with flashing lights on it.

However, despite being a vibrant mixture of the reasonably inspired and the totally crap, it generally comes over as a decent episode. And despite having predictable twists and somewhat trite sentiments, this is the second best episode of the season.

Despite the tack, it's suddenly hit me that the final two episodes score over the rest by the darker lighting. They certainly don't work for Colin's performance. The Valeyard, meanwhile, has been written into a cackling panto villain, saved only by Jayston's acting.

The ending is okay (I thought it was the bee's knees when I was 14) but surely the Time Lords present would have realised the Keeper had been taken over when he starts cackling like a loon and breaking the fourth wall? Like the rest of the season, it's too trite and melodramatic. The Valeyard is a villain I'd love to see again, but not in a Pip and Jane script with a binliner on his head and a budget of 50p.

SENTENCE MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT FOR IRONIC PURPOSES: "You'll soon have ample scope to indulge in melodrama"/"You are elevating futility to a high art."
* * *



OVERALL VERDICT:
I have to declare this as undeniably the worst season of Doctor Who ever made. Yes, even worse than season 24.

Shoddily made, badly scripted and with a horrendously bad central performance. To think after this Colin had the cheek to storm into Jonathan Powell's office and complain about his sacking. Powell should have said "I've got this little thing to show you as evidence, Colin... it's called season 23". This is the worst performance given by an actor in the title role, bar none. One only has to compare his riffing on Tom's "I deny this reality" from The Deadly Assassin to see the world of difference between the two.

But it's not all Colin's fault - Nicola Bryant is just as awful (particularly as, in this season, she's no longer used as sex appeal, which used to cover her shortcomings. Here, when relying on characterisation, we're cruelly reminded she never had any in the first place) and Bonnie Langford was never right for the part on television.

The whole look of the thing is wrong - tacky sets, tacky costumes, glaringly bright lighting. The decent ideas in the season are half-baked old ones, and the new ideas are appalling. The most promising new writer of the previous season delivers an awful, awful script, and Robert Holmes was a shadow of his former self. The idea of a fourteen-part story (particularly one as intricate and continuity-based as this) is also a terrible idea, not to mention a lousy title.

I did enjoy the story more than I expected, but this was probably Doctor Who's nadir. Ultimate Foe? Yeah, it's called Trial of a Time Lord. Well deserving of its place in the cream of the crap.
* *