Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord Parts Nine to Twelve: Terror of the Vervoids

Part Nine

“Let’s exercise the grey cells for once, shall we?”

The Doctor, still very upset at Peri’s death, is nevertheless forced to continue with the trial, and to show some evidence of his own. And this evidence is… from the future. His mind really must be addled by grief. And how does this work anyway? Can’t the Doctor think of anything that’s already happened to him throughout his entire life that will help his case? Why is evidence from the future even admissible? After all, by definition it can only be from a possible future, particularly as it seems at the moment that the Doctor is to be executed long before he ever gets to meet Mel or visit the Hyperion III.

So, it’s 2986, and said ship is travelling between what appear to be the colonial possession of Mogar and Earth- interestingly, given the fact that we appear to be in the same time period as The Mutants. We’re not in the same genre, though; there’s a murderer on board, and the spirit of Agatha Christie hangs in the air. No doubt this’ll be just as good as The Robots of Death, then.

Honor Blackman’s in it. The Doctor’s wearing a yellow cravat. Oh, and there’s a new companion, Mel, or rather there will be once the Doctor actually meets her. I’m enjoying this sort of timey-wimey stuff, much as the trial framing sequence is no longer making any sense. And I like Mel. And I like Bonnie Langford. There, I’ve said it.

Our scheduled broadcast of carrot juice and exercise bikes is interrupted by a mayday call, and our two TARDISeers are, er, embroiled in a web of intrigue. The Doctor and Mel have a great relationship, very tactile, with no serious bickering and a great chemistry. And Mel’s a likeable character who actually seems to enjoy travelling in the TARDIS, which comes as a huge relief. Because arguably no one else really has ever since Romana.

There’s an awful lot of aerobics in this story; it may be the 2980s, but it’s still the ‘80s. It’s all such fun though. I love the novel Professor Lasky’s reading…

We finish with some more apparent evidence that the Matrix has been tempted with. But on the plus side, Mel is definitely great- she can scream in the exact same key as the closing theme…

Part Ten

“The fellow may be a fool but he’s not a criminal.”

We get our first intimations here that there’s a dangerous alien plant species on the loose. And some more stuff happens with the murder mystery plot. But the main distinguishing feature of this episode is that rather cool-looking three dimensional Space Invaders clone the Mogarians are playing. Aside from its obvious coolness, it’s another example of how impressive the effects have been this season. Seldom before have we seen such casual brilliance.

We get a mention of the Black Hole of Tartarus, but we’re assured it’s perfectly safe. It’s definitely not going to be a threat at any point, then. The Mogarians discuss Earth’s plundering of their planet- bit of politics there- and there’s another murder. There’s some rather too heavily telegraphed Poirot stuff from the Doctor in the courtroom as he shows off about the Mogarian translator, but by now the murder mystery plot is bubbling nicely.

Mel screams in exactly the right key again.

Part Eleven

“Never mind the Just So Stories! That guard looks trigger happy to me!”

In a departure from the norm, Mel screams quite early in the episode this time. And narrowly escapes being murdered in true Perils of Pauline fashion. Meanwhile, the Vervoids appear properly and turn out to look fab- once again on the production side things are superb. And they get such naturalistic dialogue, too, with lines such as “We are doing splendidly!” which sound in no way bizarre coming from a talking plant.
Meanwhile the viewer gets confirmation that the Matrix’s pants are well and truly on fire as the Doctor is shown smashing the communications equipment. Much as this may not be anywhere near as well-written as Mindwarp, and the trial sequences make a lot less sense, I must admit that this time at least we know when the Matrix is lying and when it isn’t.

But the trial sequences make no sense at all here. The Investigator implies that the Doctor is guilty until proven innocent, the Valeyard is now trying to condemn the Doctor for things which haven’t actually happened yet and possibly never will, and the Investigator describes the Doctor’s “fair trial” as “an indulgence”. Everything tells us that this is just a show trial, with barely a pretence of justice, yet the Doctor seems to have no objection whatsoever to the Inquisitor’s conduct, and the script seems to assume that the audience are supposed to accept her as a legitimate authority figure, which is absurd.

Part Twelve

“The charge must now be genocide!”

Well, there’s a surprise- the ship’s headed straight for the Black Hole of Tarsarus. Who’d have thunk it? Technically, of course, there’s no danger at all as the Doctor and Mel could simply bundle everyone else in the TARDIS. In fact, that’s definitely what he would have done back when he was Peter Davison, although come to think of it that sort of thing more or less stopped with Planet of Fire.

Anyway, Rudge and the Mogarians slightly irritate our heroes with a fairly crappy hijack attempt. This is soon dealt with, but at least it manages to highlight the rather fantastic looking graphic effect on the screen on the bridge. The Doctor rather cleverly fingers Doland as the killer and turns the tables on him, and Lasky rather suddenly sees the error of her ways. Although she gets killed by the Vervoids anyway in the obligatory “But you can’t kill me! I’m your creator!” scene.

As a final nice touch, the Vervoids’ leaves turn autumnal before they crumble and die. Unfortunately things then start going all arbitrary in the courtroom…

The actual Vervoid story was rather good, I thought- nothing particularly clever, unlike last story, but it was a straightforward adventure done well and there’s nothing wrong with that. And like everything else in this season so far it looks great. It’s just a shame that the trial sequences, rather well-integrated until now, have started to unravel. Still, 4/5.

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