Thursday, 19 November 2009

Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord Parts Thirteen and Fourteen: The Ultimate Foe

Part Thirteen

“I’m as truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come.”

The court is back from recess, and who should turn up but James Bree! There’s little time to wallow in nostalgia, though; the main trial plot has stopped treading water and started swimming again, and the Doctor’s in trouble. He’s run out of tricks for his defence, he’s accused of genocide and he’s a hair’s breadth away from being convicted and condemned. So now, of course, is the dramatically appropriate moment for Mel and Glitz to mysteriously turn up to testify in his favour. Glitz, necessarily, has softened from the thug of earlier.

It’s also the dramatically appropriate moment to reveal they’ve been sent by the Master, who is a most suitable means of extracting maximum dramatic potential out of the revelations that follow. Particularly as he turns up from inside the Matrix. Glitz was working for the Master back in parts one to four, and that mysterious box was full of “stuff the secrets had been nicking from the Matrix for years”. And, of course, this being a script by Robert Holmes, a dirty Time Lord cover-up then ensued, involving Earth being naughtily moved across the galaxy to become Ravolox, with enormous collateral damage caused by solar flares. The Doctor gets a great speech after this revelation, describing his own people as “decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core,” although unfortunately this is one of those moments where Colin’s performance suffers a bit of a wobble.

And then the Master casually refers to the Valeyard as “the Doctor” while explaining that he’s been adjusting evidence on behalf of the High Council to ensure the Doctor’s conviction. The Doctor is told that he’s “an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final regeneration.” Interesting- this wording, together with the fact he seems to be working for the High Council as some sort of expendable stooge, seems to indicate he’s not so much a future incarnation of the Doctor as a distillation of certain of the Doctor’s qualities, and to some extent an artificial creation of these shadowy Time Lord politicians. This is the Robert Holmes script about corrupt Time Lords to end all Robert Holmes scripts about corrupt Time Lords. Literally.

Oh, and it all seems to make sense, incidentally. The only bits so far that haven’t made sense at all have been in the Pip and Jane Baker episodes, where the workings of the trial seemed to be all over the place and the consequences of the evidence being from the future hadn’t been though through. But the whole business with the sleepers, Ravolox, and the Doctor’s apparent actions on Thoros Beta seem to have been resolved pretty much satisfactorily to me. I don’t think we need to have it spelled out exactly which scenes happened as shown and which didn’t.

Oh, and I haven’t any complaints about Peri’s fate, either. It makes sense, more or less, given her earlier relationship with Yrcanos.

Anyway, Holmes recalls his own script for The Deadly Assassin as the Doctor and Glitz spend the rest of the episode inside the Matrix. Among other things they encounter a number of Mr Popplewicks, all played by Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances, a wonderfully Holmesian satirical dig at bureaucracy.

Part Fourteen

“You are elevating futility to a high art. There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality.”

…So, after a sublime swansong from Holmes, we move to the ridiculous in the shape of this script by Pip and Jane Baker. Sadly, the comparison with their lamented predecessor hardly shows them in a good light.

We get to see the familiar sight of the inside of the Master’s TARDIS. It’s only by doing this marathon that I’ve come to realise just how consistent was its appearance during the ‘80s. We also get an exploding quill pen, by far the coolest thing in this episode. Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of utter poo here. The Doctor states that “I would trust Mel with my life,” but he’s not even met her yet! I know he’s only pretending to go along with the fake trial, but still. At least I got a cheap laugh out of “Never mind the Sydney Carton heroics,” mind.

This is so poor compared to the previous episode, though. There’s not actually much wrong with the plot, but the dialogue is awful and the characters keep explaining the plot to us in a condescending manner which rubs me up the wrong way. Plus, we get loads of no doubt accurate scientific gobbledygook which reminds me of all the things I didn’t like about the Bidmead scripts. And then the Master, hearing that the High Council has been deposed and insurrection has ensued, actually makes a speech to the Time Lords in the courtroom offering to take control which bears uncanny similarities to a certain speech in Logopolis. Unbelievable.
As a final indignity, the Doctor actually suggests the Inquisitor as a candidate for the presidency. Why? She’s spent the whole season being nothing but an incompetent buffoon.

So, it’s a tale of two episodes. The first part, a worthy swansong from Robert Holmes which fortunately doesn’t leave the plot for Pip n’ Jane to explain, gets 5/5, while the Pip n’ Jane monstrosity gets 2/5. I’m not too bothered about what Eric Saward’s version would have been like, but I’d have loved to have seen Robert Holmes’. I was going to give it a 1/5 but I suppose giving one episode 5/5 and the other 1/5 would have been a bit much.

The last episode aside, though, it’s actually been a damn fine season. I wasn’t actually expecting that I’d be rating this particularly highly until I got to it, but it’s a relief to give a season a good score for once- at 4/5 it’s a creditable joint sixth, which comes as a genuine surprise to me. Who’d have thunk it? Not only is this much-maligned season a triumphant return to form after a poor few years, but it’s the best season of the ‘80s so far by a long way. I suspect the famously diminished presence of Saward may have something to do with it…

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