The Trial of a Time Lord

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The Trial of a Time Lord
Trial of a Time Lord DVD cvr.jpg
Cover of the 2008 Region 2 DVD release.
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 14
Broadcast
Original channel BBC One
Original run 6 September 1986 (1986-09-06) – 6 December 1986 (1986-12-06)
Home video release
DVD release
Region 1 7 October 2008
Region 2 29 September 2008
Region 4 2 January 2009
Season chronology
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Season 24
List of Doctor Who serials

The Trial of a Time Lord is a 14-part British science fiction serial of the long-running BBC series Doctor Who. The serial, produced as the twenty-third season of the Doctor Who television series, aired in weekly episodes from 6 September to 6 December 1986. The only Doctor Who presentation of its kind, it contains four mini-adventures, The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids and ended with Colin Baker's final story The Ultimate Foe.

The idea for the serial stemmed from several production changes to Doctor Who, such as reduced screen time for the season and a request from BBC controller Michael Grade that the series contain less violence and more humour.[1] Several problems occurred during production, including the death of scriptwriter Robert Holmes, and the resignation of script editor Eric Saward.

Preproduction[edit]

Original Season 23[edit]

The change of format that Doctor Who had undergone in Season 22 (45 minute episodes, moving back to one episode per week on Saturday evenings) had been reasonably successful, with ratings around the 6-8 million mark.[2] As such, the production team began preparations for Season 23 in the same format, with a total of 13 episodes spread over six stories, with five 2-episode serials and one of 3 episodes. A number of storylines were submitted, with six eventually being commissioned between September 1984 and February 1985. However, in February 1985, the BBC announced that, as a cost cutting measure owing to the costs of several large projects (not least of which was the launch of EastEnders), Season 23 was being put back from its planned transmission in January 1986 to the following September, which would be a different financial year.

Planned serials[edit]

Story number No of Episodes Title Written by
1 2 The Nightmare Fair Graham Williams
Written by Graham Williams, this two-part story[3] was commissioned on 25 September 1984 as Arcade[3] and was planned to open the original 23rd series.[4] Nathan-Turner hoped to have Matthew Robinson direct the adventure.[5] Williams wrote a novelisation of the script which was published by Target Books in May 1989. It was later adapted by John Ainsworth for Big Finish Productions as part of their The Lost Stories series in November 2009.
2 2 The Ultimate Evil Wally K. Daly
Written by Wally K. Daly, this two-part story was planned to be the second story in the original 23rd series.[4] Nathan-Turner hoped to have Fiona Cumming direct the adventure.[5] Daly wrote a novelization of the script which was published by Target Books in August 1989. An audiobook of this novelisation, read by Daly, was released by the RNIB in March 2010.
3 2 Mission to Magnus Philip Martin
Written by Philip Martin, this two-part story was planned to be the third story in the original 23rd series.[6] Nathan-Turner hoped to have Ron Jones direct the adventure.[5] Martin wrote a novelization of the script which was published by Target Books in July 1990. It was later adapted by Martin for Big Finish as part of their The Lost Stories series in December 2009.
4 3 Yellow Fever and How to Cure It Robert Holmes
Yellow Fever and How to Cure It was a three-part story by Robert Holmes that would have taken place in Singapore and featured the Autons as the monsters, with both the Rani and the Master appearing.[6] The first episode was commissioned on 26 October 1984, before being put on hold.[6] The entire story was subsequently commissioned on 6 February 1985,[6] only a couple of weeks before news of the planned hiatus broke. Nathan-Turner hoped to have Graeme Harper direct the adventure.[5] After the news of the hiatus, Holmes was asked by the production team to continue with the story but as six 25 minute episodes,[6] this version seeing the removal of the Master from the plot.[7] Holmes reportedly only completed a story outline before the planned Series 23 was completely cancelled.[8]
5 2 In the Hollows of Time Christopher H. Bidmead
Commissioned as a two-part story from Christopher H. Bidmead on 21 November 1984.[6] After the news of the hiatus, Bidmead was asked by the production team to continue with the story but as four 25 minute episodes.[6] It was later adapted as The Hollows of Time by Bidmead for Big Finish as part of their The Lost Stories series in June 2010.
6 2 The Children of January Michael Feeney Callan
Written by Michael Feeney Callan, this story was commissioned on 5 February 1985.[3] After the news of the hiatus, Callan was asked by the production team to continue with the story but as four 25 minute episodes.[6] It had been planned that an adaptation of this story would appear as part of Big Finish's The Lost Stories range, but fell through due to the author's other commitments and was replaced by The Macros.[9]

Revised Season 23[edit]

Title card as used in this season

Although Doctor Who had been recommissioned, it yet again underwent a format change, with episodes reduced in length back to 25 minutes, and the full season running to only 14 episodes (a total of 350 minutes running time), which worked out at almost half the total of Season 22.[1] As a consequence, the production team were forced to abandon the various serials that had been commissioned for the original Season 23, and instead come up with something new. John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward eventually came up with the idea of having the various serials linked with an overarching narrative - this led to the conception of a trial story with an A Christmas Carol-inspired "past, present, and future" storyline, thereby stretching the length of the season. The planned 14-part serial was intended to be divided into a pair of 4-part stories followed by a 6-part one. By July 1985, the characters of the Valeyard, the Inquisitor, and Mel were conceived.[1]

Synopsis[edit]

In the serial, the Sixth Doctor is tried by the High Council of Time Lords for breaking several of the laws of Gallifrey, the Time Lords' home world, including interference with outside worlds and genocide. A mysterious character called the Valeyard acts as prosecutor. In the first two chapters (The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp) events from the Doctor's past and present are submitted as evidence of his guilt. The third chapter (Terror of the Vervoids) presents future events in the Doctor's defence. In the concluding chapter (The Ultimate Foe) the Doctor's trial is halted, and the Doctor confronts the Valeyard and his old rival, the Master, in order to clear his name and to save the High Council.

Casting[edit]

Main Characters[edit]

Colin Baker makes his final appearance as the Doctor in this longest running serial before being fired by the BBC. Nicola Bryant departs as Peri Brown in Mindwarp. Bonnie Langford makes her debut as the Doctor's future companion Mel Bush in Terror of the Vervoids.

Guest stars[edit]

Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham both appeared throughout the whole serial, the former as the Valeyard and the latter as the Inquisitor.

Anthony Ainley returns as the Master in the last adventure, The Ultimate Foe.

Episodes[edit]

The series remained at once-weekly Saturday broadcasts. All episodes were 25 minutes long. Although there were now 14 episodes in the season, the total running time was significantly reduced since the episodes were just over half as long.

Story No. Episodes Title Directed by Written by UK viewers
(million)
AI
(%)
Original air date Production
code
143a 1–4 The Mysterious Planet Nicholas Mallett Robert Holmes Ep. 1: 4.9
Ep. 2: 4.9
Ep. 3: 3.9
Ep. 4: 3.7[10]
Ep. 1: 72
Ep. 2: 69
Ep. 3: 70
Ep. 4: 72[10]
6–27 September 1986 7A

The first episode begins with a motion-control special effect sequence depicting the Doctor's TARDIS being plucked out of time and space. The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is charged with breaking the First Law of Time—a law forbidding interference in alien worlds—by the High Council of Gallifrey. In his prosecution, the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) presents the transgressions in the style of flashbacks on a video screen, depicting the Doctor’s past adventures with companion Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant). As the trial progresses, the Doctor becomes suspicious about evidence being censored and his TARDIS being bugged.

In the first flashback presented by the Valeyard, the Doctor and Peri arrive on the tribal planet Ravolox, about two million years in the future. The Doctor notes a similarity between Ravolox and Earth, with objects from Earth − notably Marble Arch tube station and the novel Moby Dick − present on Ravolox. The only apparent astronomical difference between the two is Ravolox's position in the galaxy

Meanwhile, rogue Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby) attempts to obtain hidden secrets and advanced technology that are guarded by a robot. The Doctor is forced to deactivate the robot’s unstable power supply to avoid a chain reaction that threatens the universe, but in the process the secrets are destroyed. As he leaves Ravolox, the Doctor wonders why Earth appears to have been moved several million light years from its original position.
143b 5–8 Mindwarp Ron Jones Philip Martin Ep. 5: 4.8
Ep. 6: 4.6
Ep. 7: 5.1
Ep. 8: 5.0[11]
Ep. 5: 71
Ep. 6: 69
Ep. 7: 66
Ep. 8: 72[11]
4–25 October 1986 7B

The Valeyard presents his second piece of evidence: The Doctor and Peri's activities on Thoros Beta immediately before the trial. The flashback shows the Doctor investigating arms sales, where he sees his old adversary Sil (Nabil Shaban). Sil's race, the Mentors, are revealed to have been supplying Yrcanos (Brian Blessed), the local king of a primitive culture, with advanced weaponry.

Meanwhile, a scientist, Crozier (Patrick Ryecart), is preparing for surgery on Kiv (Christopher Ryan), an influential Mentor whose brain is expanding. The Doctor is portrayed as self-serving and unconcerned with Peri’s welfare during the flashback, as he appears to help Crozier and the Mentors by betraying Peri and Yrcanos. This uncharacteristic behaviour convinces the Doctor that the evidence has been altered.

When the Doctor learns that Peri has been chosen as the new host for Kiv’s brain, he allies with Yrcanos to kill the Mentors. However, before he can attack he is captured by the High Council, resulting in Peri's death.
143c 9–12 Terror of the Vervoids Chris Clough Pip and Jane Baker Ep. 9: 5.2
Ep. 10: 4.6
Ep. 11: 5.3
Ep. 12: 5.3[12]
Ep. 9: 66
Ep. 10: 69
Ep. 11: 69
Ep. 12: 69[12]
1–22 November 1986 7C

The Doctor is allowed to present evidence in his defence. He chooses events from the future, in hopes that it will prove he has reformed. During the presentation, some details appear altered from what the Doctor reviewed, furthering his suspicions that evidence is being tampered with. In the year 2986, the Doctor and his new companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) answer a distress call from the interstellar ship Hyperion III. The ship is sabotaged and people are dying at the hands of the Vervoids, plant-like humanoids whom the Doctor learns were genetically engineered to be slaves.

Although the Doctor and Mel are able to stop the Vervoids, he admits that none of the Vervoids survived the voyage. The Valeyard then charges the Doctor with genocide.
143d 13–14 The Ultimate Foe Chris Clough Robert Holmes (Part 13)
Pip and Jane Baker (Part 14)
Ep. 13: 4.4
Ep. 14: 5.6[13]
Ep. 13: 69
Ep. 14: 69[13]
29 November–6 December 1986 7C

The Doctor claims that the Matrix has been altered, and the Keeper of the Matrix (James Bree) is called. Seconds later, the Master (Anthony Ainley) appears on the Matrix’s screen, proving that it can be infiltrated. Sabalom Glitz and Mel are called as witnesses to the Doctor's defence, and they inform the Doctor of the Council's actions.

The secrets Glitz sought had been stolen from the Time Lords, and Earth was ravaged and moved to preserve them. The Doctor was used as a scapegoat to hide the incident, and the Valeyard—an amalgam of the Doctor's evil personalities from between his 12th and final regeneration —was offered the Doctor's remaining regenerations. To ensure a guilty verdict from a neutral jury, the Valeyard falsified evidence.

The Valeyard escapes to the Matrix, followed by the Doctor and Glitz. The Doctor's attempts to prevent the Valeyard from killing the High Council are stopped by the Master, who wants to dispose of the Doctor and seize power. The Doctor thwarts the Valeyard by causing the destruction of the Matrix archive.

The Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham) then clears the Doctor of all charges and offers him the Time Lord presidency, which he declines, suggesting that she run instead. After he leaves, she asks the Keeper of the Matrix to make repairs; the Keeper then turns to the camera, revealing his face to be that of the Valeyard.

Production[edit]

Robert Holmes was commissioned to write the first and final chapters of the serial. His draft of the first chapter, The Mysterious Planet, was criticised by BBC Head of Drama Jonathan Powell for its comedic content, contradicting the BBC controller’s request for a more humorous series.

The second chapter, Mindwarp, was written by Philip Martin. Martin's character Sil, introduced in Vengeance on Varos, was popular among the production team, who asked Martin to feature the character in another serial. Nathan-Turner asked Martin to include Sil in his chapter, and asked for Peri to be killed in accordance with Nicola Bryant’s wishes to leave the show.[14]

The third chapter was to be interlinked with the fourth. Holmes was originally asked to write it, but declined, citing a dislike of six-part serials. After rejecting submissions by Christopher H. Bidmead and PJ Hammond, Nathan-Turner approached husband-and-wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker to write a studio-based serial, Terror of the Vervoids.[15][16]

Holmes was unable to finish writing the fourth chapter, originally called Time Inc., before his death from liver failure on 24 May 1986.[15][17] Pip and Jane Baker were commissioned by Nathan-Turner at short notice to write a new version of the episode, after series script editor Eric Saward withdrew his permission for his original version of part fourteen to be used: the original ending would have featured a fight to the death in a time vent with both the Doctor and the Valeyard, which executive producer John Nathan-Turner did not want to use as such a downbeat ending would have provided an excuse for BBC management to cancel the show. Subsequently the title was later changed to The Ultimate Foe.[15][17]

Filming of the serial began on 7 April 1986 and ended on 14 August 1986.[1][14] For the opening sequence, Nathan-Turner commissioned a 45-second model shot that cost over GB£8,000, which at that time was the highest amount of money spent on a single special effects sequence in the history of the series. The outdoor sequences in The Mysterious Planet were filmed in mid-April in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, and studio work followed on 24 April and 10 May.[1] Studio work for Mindwarp took place from 27–29 May and 11–13 June, and location shots were filmed in Brighton from 15–16 June.[14] Terror of the Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe were produced simultaneously; production began with location filming for the latter in late June,[17] before returning to the studio to film scenes for both chapters on 16–17 July.[16][17] Terror of the Vervoids was the last chapter to be completed, with studio work taking place from 30 July–1 August and from 12–14 August.[16]

Reception and analysis[edit]

Public reaction to the season was mixed. Although the Audience Appreciation figures had improved since the previous season—the lowest figure was 66% for parts seven and nine[14][16] and the highest was 72% for parts one, four, and eight[1][14]— the viewing figures were lower.[17]

Reviews[edit]

The serial received mixed reviews from Doctor Who critics. Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping, co-authors of The Discontinuity Guide, wrote that as a whole, the serial's plot "hangs together remarkably well".[18] David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker, authors of Doctor Who: The Television Companion, disagreed, arguing that the serial was a "monumental wasted opportunity".[19] They disapproved of the trial storyline, being unconvinced that a prosecutor "in any reasonable legal system" would be allowed to modify charges and court proceedings mid-trial.[20] They did find the meta-humour of "the Doctor effectively sitting down to watch Doctor Who for fourteen weeks" amusing if repetitive however, and praised Baker’s acting.[21] Both reviews found that the trial scenes detracted from the chapter story arcs.[22][23]

Reviews of the individual chapters were also mixed. Although appreciative of Brian Blessed’s acting, Cornell, Day, and Topping argued that the script for Mindwarp lacked focus, "[trying] to be comic, grotesque, straight, and farcical all at the same time".[24] Howe and Walker were more favourable towards the script, citing Sil’s re-appearance as positive, and hailing Peri’s death as "one of the most dramatic and impressive moments of the entire season" and Bryant's best scene since The Caves of Androzani.[25] Both reviews judged Terror of the Vervoids to be a well-written story, although Cornell, Day, and Topping criticised the dialogue, and Howe and Walker were unimpressed by Bonnie Langford's performance.[22][23]

Commercial releases[edit]

The Trial of a Time Lord was broadcast from 6 September to 6 December 1986.

Home media[edit]

The entire serial was released as a three-tape VHS set in a TARDIS style tin box on October 1, 1993 as part of the show's 30th anniversary celebrations from BBC Video in the UK. It was released in North America on June 1, 1995.

All serials of The Trial of a Time Lord were released in a DVD box set on 29 September 2008 in region 2, on 7 October 2008 in Region 1, and on 5 January 2009 in Region 4.

In print[edit]

"The Missing Episodes"[edit]

Serial name Novelisation title Author First published
The Nightmare Fair The Nightmare Fair Graham Williams 1989
The Ultimate Evil The Ultimate Evil Wally K. Daly 1989
Mission to Magnus Mission to Magnus Philip Martin 1990

The Trial of a Time Lord[edit]

Serial name Novelisation title Author First published
Parts 1-4 The Mysterious Planet Terrance Dicks 1988
Parts 5-8 Mindwarp Philip Martin 1989
Parts 9-12 Terror of the Vervoids Pip and Jane Baker 1988
Parts 13-14 The Ultimate Foe Pip and Jane Baker 1988

Notes[edit]

  • ^a Although the following serial Time and the Rani was the Sixth Doctor's final appearance, Baker declined an offer to return either for the entire story (as originally offered) or solely for a regeneration scene, and the part was instead portrayed by Sylvester McCoy wearing a blonde wig.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Sullivan, Shannon. "The Trial Of A Time Lord (Part One)". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ Sullivan, Shannon. "The Sixth Doctor (1984-1986)". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Pixley 2003b, p. 19.
  4. ^ a b Howe, Stammers & Walker 1996, p. 83.
  5. ^ a b c d Pixley 2003, p. 20.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Howe, Stammers & Walker 1996, p. 84.
  7. ^ Pixley 2003c, p. 44.
  8. ^ Howe, Stammers & Walker 1993, pp. 207–208.
  9. ^ Berry 2010, p. 18
  10. ^ a b "A Brief History Of Time (Travel): The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment One)". Shannonsullivan.com. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  11. ^ a b "A Brief History Of Time (Travel): The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Two)". Shannonsullivan.com. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  12. ^ a b "A Brief History Of Time (Travel): The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Three)". Shannonsullivan.com. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  13. ^ a b "A Brief History Of Time (Travel): The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four)". Shannonsullivan.com. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Shannon. "The Trial Of A Time Lord (Part Two)". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  15. ^ a b c Pixley, Andrew (1992). "Archive Feature Serial 7C The Ultimate Foe". Doctor Who Magazine (London: Marvel UK) (Winter Special 1992): 43–49. ISSN 0957-9818. 
  16. ^ a b c d Sullivan, Shannon. "The Trial Of A Time Lord (Part Three)". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Shannon. "The Trial Of A Time Lord (Part Four)". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  18. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Trial of a Time Lord 4". The Discontinuity Guide (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website). London: Virgin Books. p. 332. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  19. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Trial of a Time Lord 4". Doctor Who: The Television Companion (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website) (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. p. 497. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  20. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Trial of a Time Lord 1". Doctor Who: The Television Companion (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website) (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. p. 492. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  21. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Trial of a Time Lord 1". Doctor Who: The Television Companion (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website) (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. p. 493. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  22. ^ a b Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Trial of a Time Lord 3". The Discontinuity Guide (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website). London: Virgin Books. p. 328. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  23. ^ a b Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Trial of a Time Lord 3". Doctor Who: The Television Companion (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website) (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. p. 496. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  24. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Trial of a Time Lord 2". The Discontinuity Guide (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website). London: Virgin Books. pp. 325–326. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  25. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Trial of a Time Lord 2". Doctor Who: The Television Companion (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website) (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. pp. 495–496. ISBN 0-563-40588-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  26. ^ Sullivan, Shannon. "Time and the Rani". A Brief History of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2008-04-16. 

External links[edit]

Reviews[edit]