Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Trial Of A Time Lord 1: The Mysterious Planet, Part One


Originally Broadcast 6th September 1986

Written by: Robert Holmes

In a nutshell: The Doctor is drawn to a space station where he is put on trial by his own people.

Review: I’m really excited to be reviewing TTOATL (as it will be referred to throughout these fourteen reviews) as it’s one I’ve wanted to rewatch for years and years but, for whatever reason, just never got back to.

So the back story is Doctor Who has been on ‘hiatus’ which is BBC slang for “we tried to axe it” and the makers of the show have to pull us back in with something special. Cue a fourteen part season-long epic and an opening shot of one of Doctor Who’s finest ever effects. The next thing to note is how ridiculous Colin Baker’s hair has got since the last series ended. I know what he wasn’t doing in Who’s 18-month hiatus: getting a hair cut!

He does play the role of the Time Lord brilliantly in this episode, however, starting with the moment he goes to knock on the door but instead decides to barge his way in instead. There’s some wonderful atmospheric shots in the courtroom before the lights are raised and Lynda Bellingham walks in. The idea of a trial also works nicely to tell the adventure in a different way, by showing us the events as evidence against the Doctor, although I can’t imagine all those bland move-at-the-same-time Time Lords really are silly aren't they?

Colin as the Doctor, on trial and performing brilliantly.
There’s something that strikes me with this episode and I can’t place it. I think I’ve got it narrowed down to the sets and location. There’s just something uninteresting about the courtroom, I’m not sure if it’s the lack of characters and overkill of mute Time Lords in the background or if it’s the set itself looking a but studio based. Then we move onto location and we’re clearly just in a wood and the whole thing feels painfully staged. This feels like the stereotypical view of Doctor Who that always gets the piss taken out of it.

That’s not to say everything is bad here, there’s actually a lot of great stuff. I think Colin Baker is the best he’s ever been, whilst Holmes’ final completed storyline sets up a baffling and gripping storyline about the titular planet, but Glitz and Dibber are blatantly here for comic effect and they feel like a badly rehashed Jago and Litefoot.

Part One’s cliffhanger is brilliant and won’t at all get tired as it becomes reused time and time again throughout this serial (honest!) and there are some really nice and grabbing zoom shots used in the episode, the most obvious one being at the climax. Overall, it’s a mixed bag but mostly a strong opening episode and a fine return to form for Who after it’s 18 month break.

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