Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Trial Of A Time Lord 9: Terror Of The Vervoids, Part One

Originally Broadcast 1st November 1986

Written by: Pip & Jane Baker

In a nutshell: After being through trials by the Valeyard, it’s the Doctor’s time to put forward evidence. From his own future…

Review: When a Doctor and companion are so memorable together it doesn’t work when they’re apart. I always find it odd pairing the fifth Doctor and Peri together as she works so well with the sixth Doctor, in the same way I can’t imagine the sixth Doctor with anyone but Peri. As the audience is still mourning her, it’s very fitting that the Doctor is as well. I’m glad we haven’t just forgotten her by the time the next part of the story comes along and it also proves the script editing of Eric Saward is working on top form despite backstage fights at this point in the series’ development. It also serves as increasing our hatred for the Valeyard and his horrible attitude toward the Doctor’s loss.

Back to my point of the Doctor and new companions, this one isn’t working for me. I’ve got nothing against Bonnie Langford and when she appears in interviews talking about the show she comes across as one of the nicest people in the world. I get the impression she’s really kind and lovable and she’s proven she’s a good actress yet the material she’s been given here just doesn’t do her any favours. The first scene between a Doctor and new companion has her putting him on a treadmill and complaining about his waistline. I’m just going to say it now: I don’t like Mel. She’s written awfully. I don’t really dislike Pip & Jane either, who I’ve defended in articles in the past. They constantly get blamed for all sorts of problems that wasn’t their fault and they are good storytellers in the back end of a show full of backstage arguing. The plot here is good and it’s got me interested, it’s just the writing of the Doctor/Companion team letting everything down.

Not the most respectable of introductions
It’s quite a feat to get Honor Blackman as a guest star in this serial. Doctor Who has always been praised for its guest stars and, in the 1980s, ‘stunt-casting’. What we’ve got to remember is this is straight after the eighteen-month hiatus, the reputation for Doctor Who has never been lower and yet we’ve got Joan Simms, Lynda Bellingham, Michael Jayston, Honor Blackman and, later, Geoffrey Hughes. That’s an amazing cast and shows the programme has a high status despite failing times thanks to Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell.

There seems a strain here to tell us, in badly scripted dialogue, things about Mel. What she likes and where she comes from. We get a line about her coming from Pease Pottage that stands out like a Kroton in a supermarket. Away from this, I’m amazed we get a good fifteen minutes to distance ourselves from the trial room. It really gives us a chance to get into the story and set up the new companion and when we do return just prior to the cliffhanger, it actually goes places. The evidence is being manipulated…but how? Mel might die like Peri? The ‘whodunnit’ aspect is being played in both parts of the story and it works really nicely. Despite some awful dialogue and fitness situations for Mel, I actually think this is a great episode and certainly one of the best from the Trial series so far. There’s a lot of questions being set up as we head toward the end point of the story and I can’t wait to get some answers. Top notch Doctor Who here and it’s very welcome!

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