Wednesday, 12 September 2012

659 The Trial a Timelord Part Fourteen (The Ultimate Foe Part Two)

EPISODE: The Trial a Timelord Part Fourteen (The Ultimate Foe Part Two)
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 06 December 1986
WRITER: Pip & Jane Baker
DIRECTOR: Chris Cloug
PRODUCER: John Nathan-Turner
RATINGS: 5.6 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Trial Of A Time Lord

The Doctor escapes from the sand by denying the illusion of what he sees. They are rescued from a nerve gas attack on the beach by the Master's Tardis. The Master immobilises the Doctor and sends his hypnotised form out as bait for the Valeyard. He is rescued by Mel and taken to the court room where he admits his guilt for the genocide of the Vervoids and accepts his punishment, but this is all an illusion within the Matrix and the real Mel watching in the court room dives into the Matrix through the Seventh door to save the Doctor, but in the process ruins his plan to get the Valeyard to expose himself. Glitz obtains the Matrix secrets from Popplewick and takes them to the Master. The Doctor & Mel go to JJ Chambers Fun Factory where the Doctor exposes Popplewick as the Valeyard. Revolt against the corrupt High Council breaks out on Gallifrey, instigated by the Master who intends to rule them, but when he loads the tape of the Matrix secrets into his Tardis it proves a fake which freezes him and Glitz in the Matrix. The Valeyard intends to use a weapon within the Matrix to kill all the courtroom but Mel manages to evacuate them while the Doctor creates feedback which traps the Valeyard and escapes back to the Courtroom. The Inquisitor dismisses the charges against the Doctor and tells that Peri is safe as Yrcanos' warrior queen. The Doctor leaves with Mel as the Inquisitor orders the Keeper of the Matrix to begin repair work but as he turns away he's revealed to be the Valeyard.....

An incoherent mess. Awful. Appalling dialogue from the Bakers including the Valeyard's "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!" and "Megabyte modem" a line that will haunt Mel's character forever. The fake courtroom scenes are obviously fake, there's something just not right about Mel in them. I can forgive much given the conditions it was created under but I'm sorry that's awful and such a let down after part 13 which was head & shoulders above the other episodes this season.

Mel's ruining of the Doctor's plan echoes Jamie & Victoria's actions during the Web of Fear which ruin the Doctor's attempt to contain the intelligence.

It's worth a quick look at Mel & The Doctor's time line from both of their points of view: First the Doctor: During Trial of a Timelord The Doctor sees the events on the Hyperion with the Vervoids. Then

A) Mel is scooped out of time and the Doctor meets her for the first time and returns her to where she was taken.
B) Mel meets the Doctor for the first time on Earth and starts travelling with the Doctor
C) Terror of the Vervoids
D) Mel & The Doctor have further adventures together.

From Mel's point of view

1) Mel meets the Doctor for the first time on Earth and starts travelling with the Doctor (B above)
2) Terror of the Vervoids (C above)
3) Mel is scooped out of time and the Doctor meets her for the first time and returns her to where she was taken. (A above)
4) Mel & The Doctor have further adventures together. (D above)

Gasp! Mel is a prototype for River Song with her and the Doctor's encounters not being in the same order for each other!

Who's idea was it to put a pink boarder round that picture of Peri & Yrcanos? It looks awfully like it's meant to be a heart shape but someone's had second thoughts and zoomed it in somewhat! I'm really not sure how I feel about Peri surviving. On the one hand I like the character a lot, but leaving her with Yrcanos who she'd never have gone for in a million years? I mean he's twice her age for a start (not that this has stopped some women I know!) But on the other hand, my goodness that was a good leaving scene to see her taken over by the alien villain and then gunned down.

One new location: boarding the Master's Tardis was filmed at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve close to the Camber Sands location used for the beach.

I have a friend, Ralph, who loves Trial of a Timelord. He also hates the phrase "behind the scenes chaos" but you can't help but apply it to this episode. The original intention was that Robert Holmes was going to write these last two episodes, but he died halfway through writing the thirteenth episode. Eric Saward stepped in to finish the episode off. It was planned that Saward would write the Fourteenth two. According to Saward's version of events on the episode 13 commentary on The Trial Of A Time Lord DVD he and producer John Nathan-Turner agreed the direction, tone & ending for the episode. Saward wrote the episode but JNT was unhappy with what was delivered, particularly objecting to the ending where the Valeyard & Doctor end up trapped in a time vent together for all eternity. By then Saward had had enough, declined to continue working on the project and withdrew his script from being used.

Dramatically, I think Saward was right, it is a great ending for the serial leaving the end of the season on a cliff-hanger. Equally I can see John Nathan Turner's point of view that it's a downbeat ending and would have given the BBC a great opportunity to kill the show off. Saward favoured the ending that was best for the story, while John Nathan Turner wanted an ending that would be better for Doctor Who as series. Oddly virtually the only bit of the episode I really like is the very end where it's revealed the Valeyard has escaped and assumed the identity of The Keeper of the Matrix. In fact it might make sense that he always was the Keeper of Matrix: that way explains how he corrupted the evidence so easily.

By this point locations had been found and rehearsals were beginning. Now desperately close to filming JNT contacted Pip & Jane Baker, who had already stepped in to write parts 9-12. They were given a copy of the script for episode 13 to work from but wasn't allowed to show them the work Saward had already done on part 14. What they delivered was vastly overlong and had to be cut considerably to get down to the nearly 30 minutes it was eventually broadcast at, by far the longest episode of Doctor Who away from the Five Doctors special and the 45 minute double length episodes.

On August 13th 1986, the September edition of Starburst Magazine was published which contained a scathing interview with Eric Saward on his time as Doctor Who script editor. Scans of the interview can be found here. As a result of criticisms of Colin Baker that he made in the interview the two have not spoken since. Baker doesn't appear on the Revelation of the Daleks DVD commentary track that Saward does, and Saward's commentary contributions for episodes 1 & 13 on The Trial Of A Time Lord DVD are made by himself.

So .... Trial of a Timelord. The real thrust of the story is episodes 1-4 & 13, with 5-12 serving only to rid us of Peri and make the point that the evidence in the Matrix was altered. (Has any of the Ravalox evidence also been altered?) 14 is mopping it all up with a big confrontation between Doctor & Valeyard but effectively 13 has done the hard work by resolving the plot threads. It's an odd beast for sure and doesn't work for me. Fourteen episodes is too long especially when you're expected to remember details that haven't been mentioned for weeks. The ending is a mess and needs some tidying up but given the circumstances it's a miracle we got an ending at all.

Sadly the production of the series wasn't the end to the behind the scenes drama. Reaction had been poor, and viewing figures weren't great and were down on the previous season: 3-5 million compared to the 6-8 million of the previous year. Part of that was down to the opposition on ITV, the popular US import The A-Team. BBC1's controller Michael Grade even approached Doctor Who co-creator Sydney Newman about giving the show a makeover. At the same time producer John Nathan-Turner was trying to leave the series, as he had been doing for some while. He was told by his bosses he could but only if he sacked the show's star Colin Baker first in order that a change in leading actor might change the public's perception of the show. The Producer informed baker of the decision on October 29th 1986, in between the airing of episodes 8 & 9 of this series and Baker declined the offer to return for a regeneration story at the start of the next season leaving his closing words in this story "Carrot Juice" as the last he said on screen. Since Doctor Who Baker has mainly concentrated on theatre work but returned to the role of the Doctor for the Dimensions in Time special and, to great acclaim, for Big Finish productions. He has also been a tireless campaigner and fund raiser for research into Sudden infant death syndrome. Nathan Turner meanwhile found his bosses reneging on their promise to let him leave Doctor Who and found himself with no leading actor, no script editor and no scripts.

There's two Colin Baker stories I really like: Attack of the Cybermen & Revelation of the Daleks. The first episode of Mark of the Rani's good and the second is OK. The rest...... Hmmmm. But throughout this time Colin Baker's done a really good job with some, at times, quite shoddy material. Yes his performance in Twin Dilema might be a mistake, but that's what the script was leaning towards him doing. Later performances for Big Finish Productions as the Doctor have demonstrated what he's capable of and has led to a renewed following amongst Doctor Who fans culminating with him becoming the Doctor Who Appreciation Society president in 2011

Also this episode we say goodbye to the awful but thankfully short lived Dominic Glynn arrangement of the theme music and, sadly, the star field theme sequence and "neon tube" logo that had been with us for the last 6 seasons since the autumn of 1980. One has some thoughts top share on it's replacements.

The last two episode of this serial were originally known as Time Inc but when Pip & Jane Baker novelised them in 1988 they were released as The Ultimate Foe, an earlier title for the Vervoids story, which has since stuck. All 14 episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord were released in a video boxset in October 1993 in a Tardis shaped tin with a picture of one of the seven Doctors on the base of the tin. I'm yet to meet anyone with all seven tins! All 14 episode were released on DVD on 29 September 2008.


  1. Nonsense! Best episode of WHO ever!

  2. Great series, respectable final episode given the constraints and some splendidly OTT verbiage.

    The Saward ending would have killed the show stone dead. The man was an arrogant tit to think otherwise, given what was going on, and his refusal to compromise with JnT highlights what an unlikeable tit he in fact is. As a script-editor I would have to say he is probably the worst that Doctor Who had. His interviews both in print and the DVD extras show a man almost pathologically incapable of admitting to any failings on his part as script editor, which would have affected the stories that made it to the screen. (Time Flight commentary)

    I can recognise the flaws in the show, but damn it was enjoyable when I watched it first time round, and I still enjoy it now. It's criminal that the Valeyard is shunted to the sidelines of Doctor Who, as there's fertile ground for storytelling there.

  3. I agree with you, Colin Baker has been fantastic on the Doctor Who Big Finish audio plays. On more than one occasion, listening to them, I've thought to myself "If only he had gotten material even half as good as this to work with when he was on television!" Was fortunate enough to meet Baker at the New York Comic Book Convention a few years ago, which was a real thrill (I went into total geek mode), and I told him how much I enjoyed his work on the audio plays. He seemed like a really nice person, and it was definitely a pleasure to chat with him for a few minutes.