Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sixth Doctor Part IX - "Trail of a Time Lord"

My lord, members of the jury and those from around the world, we are gathered here today to see whether the 14-part Doctor Who serial "Trail of a Time Lord" is worthy material. This inquiry shall look into the lost 23rd season as well as look into the individual episodes which compromise this serial. Will this be final proof that Colin Baker shall be vindicated? Let's take a look closer.

"Doctor Who" was on hiatus for 18 months following the 22nd season. Plans for a 23rd season were in the works and would see the return of numerous villains including the Celestial Toymaker, the Ice Warriors, the Master, the Rani and Sil (from "Vengeance on Varos"). For anyone interested in what that 23rd season would have looked like, click here for a short documentary narrated by Colin Baker.

What eventually came about was "Trail of a Time Lord" a 14-part serial which encompassed the entire 23rd season. The Doctor (Colin Baker) has been taken out of time and is put on trial for meddling in the affairs of time and the universe. It soon becomes apparent that the prosecutor known as the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) is willing to do anything to bring down the Doctor and the evidence in the Doctor's favour may have been tampered with. Will the Doctor be able to survive?

At first glance, the premise for this season sounds excellent. I for one am partial to legal, court-room thrillers and seeing the Doctor in this setting seemed fantastic. Most people who have a problem with this series is that the adventures are interrupted by the court room scenes which detracts from the actual story. I must disagree. I found the break in action to be quite interesting and I liked the semi-comic interludes between the Doctor and the Valeyard (or is the Scrapyard, Brickyard, Boatyard etc?). But what of the actual stories? "Trial of a Time Lord" is comprised of four stories - each one titled after the season's release. Let's take a quick look at each one.

The Mysterious Planet - This first episode does a good job of balancing the adventure and the trial sequences. We're presented with a familiar situation - the Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) land on a strange barren planet whose inhabitants live under the ground, ruled by a powerful, sadistic robot. A group of resisters live on the surface and the Doctor and Peri soon themselves in a war to survive. As a first episode, this story isn't bad. It's good some good concepts and it did make for engaging watching. Colin Baker has mellowed out considerably and he is really a likable guy. Plus, the show has beautiful production values now and although the special effects are a bit dodgy, I think this season is one of the best-looking of the Classic era.
The Doctor is taken out of time

Mindwarp - Oftentimes considered the best story from this series, I will have to respectively disagree. I just felt really disinterested by this whole story. The Doctor and Peri find themselves on yet another alien planet where they find themselves face-to-face with Sil, from "Vengeance on Varos" who is now engaged in some illegal arms trading. In addition, one of the alien's king needs a new body and it seems as though Peri may be the perfect specimen. As I said above, the story just failed to hold my interest. It moved along at such a slow pace and I didn't care what happened to the characters. Sil, who was such a terrifying villain from "Vengeance on Varos" seems to have made a complete 180 degree character change. he no longer has the menacing air which he did originally and it seemed as though he has thrown into the mix needlessly. Guest star Brian Blessed does the best with the script he's given and as always he has an over-the-top screen presence and he's the saving grace of his tepid story.

Terror of the Vervoids - This was probably my favourite episode from the season. The Doctor and his new companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) find themselves on a passenger space ship in the future. It soon transpires that one of the guests is a ruthless killer and there is something in the cargo hold which could wreck havoc on the ship if it escaped. This was by far the best story of the series, although perhaps I'm somewhat biased since it was obviously inspired by the works of Agatha Christie (in fact guest star Honor Blackman can be seen reading a copy of Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express"). The episode is filled with some great twists and turns and we see a brilliance to the Doctor we haven't seen in a while.

The Ultimate Foe - In the final installment, the Doctor discovers that the Valeyard has been altering evidence for see the Doctor die and he escapes into the Matrix, an alternate universe where the Valeyard reigns control. I really don't know what was supposed to be happening in this story. There were some great scenes - the episode one cliff-hanger was brilliant, but aside from that it just feels like a jumbled mess. Michael Jayston gets to take centre-stage here and he portrays the villainous Valeyard brilliantly. But that doesn't make up for the jumbled mess which finishes off this serial.

To be honest, I haven't even scratched the surface here but seeing how this review is getting pretty long, I'll try and sum up. Colin Baker is brilliant as usual and he remains the most criminally underrated Doctor of the lot. The level of the writing was rather sub standard for the time and I found myself rather unattached to the action of two of the four stories. The introduction of Bonnie Langford to the TARDIS crew was an interesting move (she only screams five times in "Terror of the Vervoids" - she does it a lot more in episodes to come), but she was by no means the best companion to enter the blue box. "Trail of a Time Lord" was a rather underwhelming end to the Sixth Doctor's tenure. Colin Baker left the series at the end of this series and his shoes were soon filled by the umbrella-toting, scheming, spoons-playing Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor. Stop back next time for a glimpse into the Seventh Doctor.

Coming Next Time: I finish out my look into the Sixth Doctor's tenure with the introduction of the Seventh Doctor in "Time and the Rani."

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