Friday, 14 June 2013

The Trial Of A Time Lord 14: The Ultimate Foe, Part Two

Originally Broadcast 6th December, 1986

Written by: Pip & Jane Baker

In a nutshell: The Doctor is trapped in the Matrix as he attempts to stop his future self, The Valeyard, from stealing his future incarnations.

Review: OK, the NOOOOOO at the opening of this episode is embarrassing! But it’s a thirty minute episode! An extra five minutes of Colin’s Doctor! So we get a great effect shot of the Doctor escaping from the sand/hands and a decent meeting with an illusion of the Valeyard but why, if everything is so obviously an illusion, is the poisonous gas real? And how come the Doctor knows the difference? One set of rules for one thing, another for the same thing!

Ainley’s Master is coming into his own a bit more in this episode, he’s double crossing whoever he can. He tells the Doctor he wants to kill the Valeyard so traps the Doctor to use him as bait. He places the Doctor in a catatonic state and I love how it’s Mel who snaps him out of it. Who else would be able to make the Doctor come to his senses than his companion and she brings him back to the trial room. It’s funny when the Inquisitor says “Keeper” and it sounds like she’s telling him to “Keep her” in reference to Mel. A moment of amusement from the usually stubborn Time Lords.

It turns out this is a false trial room which, I thought at first, as Mel didn’t seem real when she was wooing the Doctor to her. But we got so far into the story with him and Mel in the trial room I just assumed it must be true. It was a clever ruse of Pip & Jane to pull the stunt for a little longer to trick us properly. Now we’re back to the Master trying to hypnotise Glitz which is a bit of a disaster looking at the bright reflection bouncing around the screen. It’s just a little off-putting.

The two Doctors?
I don’t think the pace is right in this episode. It’s feeling a little drawn out and too long, yet we’re jumping about a few different scenarios as we have the right amount of characters to have multiple storylines running concurrently. This should make it feel a lot fresher but it is still a little slow. It’s all just feeling like a slow build-up to the meeting between the Doctor and the Valeyard. I’m eighteen minutes in and I want it now! I’m loving the huge amount of double crossing going on. We’re meant to rely on and trust the characters in the show who are traitors or bad guys or renegade Time Lords. It’s a clever move, giving us this bunch of rogues as our protagonists and one that keeps the audience guessing at who the Doctor can rely on.

We can’t even rely on Geoffrey Hughes who turns out to be a fantastically disguised Valeyard. Sadly the episode starts to turn into gobbledegook mode as scientific jargon is wheeled off by all the characters with little explanation. I’m fairly sure I’ve got the gist of what the stakes are.

Luckily the day is saved pretty quickly after the threat was set up but not before we get an embarrassing face from Ainley in his TARDIS and some horrible blue squiggles that look like what I could achieve in Paintshop Pro (do people still use that? It looks like it was all the rage in 1986!). And then, if that wasn’t enough, we have to be told Peri is still alive. I loved how emotional her death was and how it affected the Doctor, although it makes him pleased she’s alive so I suppose we should be happy as well. The problem now, however, is how Mel is travelling with the Doctor. She came from his future but leaves in his past. Timey-wimey I think. And the Valeyard is still alive! It’s a great ending because he could be a great villain given more time to evolve.

Anthony Ainley - not the best face he's ever pulled.
Overall, this episode was a poor one. I like the very end of the episode (after the threat has been thrown out with) but I don’t really think anyone is to blame for this episode being a disaster. I certainly don’t blame Pip & Jane who did a pretty decent job given the horrific circumstances they had to do it in (see the Making Of documentary on the DVD for more) and I can’t blame Eric Saward for walking out after loosing one of his great friends, Robert Holmes.

The last two instalments of The Trial Of A Time Lord (Terror Of The Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe) have both suffered from not being the greatest of adventures, but they really are Colin Baker’s Doctor at his very finest. He’s not being all morbid and miserable and moany at his companions, he’s having a great time and cracking some jokes. It proves he really is a strong Doctor and deserved to hold the crown of playing the Time Lord for at least another season. I don’t have anything against Sylvester, either, but I would love to see how Colin would have handled a third series in 1987 instead of having to bring in a seventh Doctor.

I think the idea of making a season-long story was the right one for the programme at the time and I do think it worked. I know people have their doubts about the Trial and, whilst it did get in the way a lot in the first two segments, it was a clever idea and a just one given the state of the show in the press. I also think it was a satisfactory ending, although the Valeyard wasn’t handled as well as he could’ve been and the big science-based rubbish in the last five minutes was mishandled and came across as a load of old confusion.

Goodbye Colin! It was brilliant!
So there we have it! Doctor Who’s longest ever story that took us through 1986. I have really enjoyed it and if you haven’t seen it or don’t own the DVD I truly recommend it. It’s a fun story but the DVD is one of the best ever releases for the show, coming packed with so many special features across the four discs including a Making Of for each segment, deleted and extended scenes, archive footage on the hiatus, an hour long documentary about the sixth Doctor’s time on the show and a look at what series 23 was meant to be as well as so much more. It really is great!

Goodbye Doctor Six! You were brilliant, far too short lived and, at the best of times, a lot of fun. Carrot juice!

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