Season 23 – Worst to Best
For many, at least those who saw the McCoy years as an uptick, this represents the nadir of classic Doctor Who. To call Season 23 unloved is an understatement, something expressed loud and clear by most of those involved in its making. Colin is particularly vocal in his grouchiness over the trial concept, referencing the “small brains” who must have come up with it; he claims to have no idea, but he remains the bearer of great enmity towards Eric Saward after all these years, so it’s evident who he’s thinking of (it seems it was actually Eric’s small-brained-then-girlfriend Jane Trantner). And he’s right. It probably wasn’t the best foot forward to hit the ground running and show what the show could achieve. But neither were multitudinous choices, from a lead actor who couldn’t be persuaded to hit the treadmill (running) in the interim, to lacklustre directors, hideous costume design and dubious guest stars.
There are many ideas in The Trial of a Time Lord that are really good – and a good few that really aren’t. As one who, somewhat against the grain, likes to think of this as the last season of proper Doctor Who, with everything that occurred since – from a gurning idiot who thinks he’s God all the way through to the current cynical and backfiring gender switch – an aberrant fever dream of Colin in the Matrix, I’d maintain that the concept could have been made to play. The concerns about serialised storytelling were really neither here nor there (a common excuse, but viewers of soaps never had a problem). However, the story isn’t just a mess conceptually; often it’s logically and narratively incoherent too.
And yet, all that said, The Trial of a Time Lord’s format didn’t kill the show any more than the Season 18 revamp did. Viewers didn’t show up for the first night. They weren’t even interested in trying it. Which can only mean it would have taken a completely new broom to attract sufficient attention. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen, just by the fact that the show was cancelled/ suspended with the same production staff remaining in place. Is The Trial of a Time Lord a disaster? I don’t think so, although I have a dim view of various segments. But even as one who remains cautiously positive about it overall, I can’t deny that it’s botched.
Terror of the Vervoids
(Episodes 9-12) Two Trial stories, in particular, have jumped about in my estimation over the years. At times (and initially) I’ve found Terror of the Vervoids moderately agreeable. At others, the confluence of dialogue, design and performance (and music) has been borderline intolerable. All such issues were fully present and (in)correct on this visit, albeit this is a story that operates in a mostly inverse capacity to its immediate predecessor, with a reasonable first couple of episodes that accelerate rapidly downhill once the star monster makes its presence felt.
The Doctor: The weird atmosphere down there could lead to phantasmagoria.
Actually, most of the performances in Vervoids are decent enough; it’s just that the cast are called upon to play pure cardboard, and pure cardboard spouting typically over-verbose Pip and Jane Baker dialogue (“Bless them” as Eric says). Their penchant for the florid phrase has justifiably been mocked over the years; it isn’t so much the fact of their love of language as that it’s largely devoid of wit or sense of flow, and at times seems predicated entirely on looking up words in the dictionary rather than a desire to sound remotely naturalistic (“…broaden the vocabulary of the viewer” as Colin puts it, is a positive spin. But then, anyone also tempted to swallow his assertion that “you’ll never find any plot glitches” in their writing should take a look at About Time’s “Things that don’t make sense” for the story). At other times, their facility for cliché admittedly takes on a degree of inept charm (the “web of mayhem and intrigue” referred to by “Tonka” Travers).
I suggested the first two episode are the better ones, and indeed, in terms of fulfilling Saward’s “Agatha Christie in space” remit, the Bakers do a serviceable job. Almost too much so, as there are too many threads with characters going through the motions too indifferently to care much about. It’s only really when they have to integrate the science-fiction element – never their strongest suit, as their approach is strictly ’50s B-movie – that the story falls on its arse. Once there are monsters involved – particularly contenders for the series’ most hopeless – everything else about the story inevitably takes a back seat, making the balance of elements in Chris Boucher’s Robots of Death seem all that much more keenly considered and inspired by comparison.
The Doctor: I didn’t even hear the dinner gong.
Terror of the Vervoids is thus a story that’s really begging for Tom Baker to take the piss out of it (for all that the also space liner-set Nightmare of Eden is derided, it manages to be funny and tell a cracking story. Plus, the monsters are vastly superior). Instead, Honor Blackman is left nearly choking on “I must have been blinded by professional vanity!” (she fares better being obnoxious and labelling the Doctor a fool, following where Kinda’s Panna left off a few seasons prior).
Elsewhere, Mel’s sadistic descriptions of Ruth Baxter (“That monstrosity in there, what is it?”) and the Doctor’s of the same (“sad travesty”) are so grossly insensitive, they’d be more at home in the pure parody of Airplane! And perhaps her carers should just stop giving Ruth sandwiches if she throws them everywhere each time? Maybe soup instead? Somehow, Michael Craig, even though he’s given the most ludicrous of the all-round ludicrous dialogue (“Whoever’s been dumped in there…”), emerges with dignity intact.
As noted, the bigger problem is that while the likes of Denys Hawthorne (Rudge), Malcolm Tierney (Doland) and David Allister (Bruchner) are all serviceable, they’re such a dull bunch that it’s impossible to care about their machinations. Rudge is in league with the Mogarians? Okay, fine. We’re asked to believe that Hallet/Grenville was “a maverick” but there’s no way Tony Scoggo’s filing-clerk performance gives that impression. The smaller roles fare better. Yolande Palfrey makes a memorable Janet (Gary Russell, who is “terribly fond” of Pip and Jane stories, popularised the idea that she’s a poisoner in DWM’s The Complete Sixth Doctor). And Simon Slater, consigned to one episode and offering Mel a mysteriously vague-but-come-hither parting threat, applies an easy naturalism to Kimber (his exchange with Palfrey, “Perhaps it’s a piece of space flotsam”: “You make delicious coffee, Janet” is by far the best delivered in the story).
It isn’t only the Vervoids’ suggestive design that scuppers them (every aspect of their visuals is woefully misjudged; leaves glued on jumpsuits?). Or how they sound. Pip and Jane have seized the killer vegetables idea in such a literal way (so they create revolting compost heaps) and with such B-standard motivation (standing around smoking, discussing tactics in West Country accents) that they’re never less than laughable. And Chris Clough fails to make a judgement call that, since they clearly don’t work, he will conceal them as much as possible.
Elsewhere, though, he does a decent-enough job attempting to inject threat and danger into Terror of the Vervoids. His Season 23 work is much less problematic than the subsequent two seasons, where he really doesn’t seem to care. The the Party Nine cliffhanger’s staging is excellent, and still stands up. But the production design is generally awful (model work aside, ironically, which really didn’t need new FX).
Besides the Vervoids, there’s a bog-standard look to the space liner, with garden furniture, cramped corridors and the kind of cheapness that reeks of P&O (the gymnasium). I mean, maybe that’s intentional, but combine it with Andrew Rose’s awful costuming (he was much more suited to Caves of Androzani) and Malcolm Clarke’s erratic score, and it’s something of an aesthetic assault. At times, the music offers the kind of industrial doom of Alien³. At others… well, there’s the Doctor’s workout tape, whereby Clarke seems to have decided the only way to approach the horrific sequence was to make it even more nightmarish. The Mogarians come across reasonably well, and I like the mind-game tactic of one knocking Janet’s tray out of her hand and then saying “Sorry” (he probably added “bitch”).
Mel: Never mind the Just So stories.
The Doctor and Mel? Yes, I suppose the Doctor is more likeable here, but Colin is at his most stylistically disastrous. Besides, I honestly prefer him displaying acid wit to the patented Pip and Jane’s linguistic contortions that bring out his worst ham (they also have him go on about his Judas goat analogy three times, so they clearly thought they were onto something genius there). Bonnie is served even worse stinkers from the off (“When I start to call you Neddy…”), and her irrepressible energy and perkiness simply grate. Yeah, I’d much rather have Peri whinging constantly.
The Doctor: I don’t remember that!
Compared to the mess of Mindwarp, the trial material is at least straightforward. You can see exactly where the made-up stuff is because the Doctor draws attention to it. But it also means that every cut back to the trial room is utterly inane. The Valeyard, never subtle anyway, is at his least considered and calculated, blundering into situations in order to score cheap points (and among the many inconsistencies, it’s unclear why he makes these mistakes, when he has clearly reviewed the material in order to insert fabrications). The Doctor, meanwhile, is almost as stupid as the High Council; they only went and approved the use of Ravalox footage as evidence when it shines a light on their culpability, while he only picked a piece of evidence where he could be easily fingered for genocide. And as others have pointed out, can you just pick and choose and change the charge under Gallifreyan law? I guess so. There’s also the minor detail that it would also be much easier to become exercised by the ins and outs of said charge and the Doctor’s culpability if they weren’t in service to such a shit monster.
Terror of the Vervoids is very patchy then, and that’s without even getting into the logistics of its future-tense evidence (one might make arguments about the nature of being taken out of time, but it still doesn’t really wash). Patchy in the same way Mindwarp is very patchy, so if you’re going to argue who was the better script editor on the basis of the Trial’s middle segments – Eric or JN-T – I reckon it’s near enough a dead heat.
(Episodes 5-8) The most divisive story of the era? Some hailed Mindwarp as an instant classic (DWB gave it 96.5%). Others were roundly less convinced (the DWM season survey placed it bottom). I’ve tended to the latter view, regarding it as an unmitigated disaster in terms of plotting but not without its plus points. On last viewing, I tended to a guardedly positive verdict, but this time I’m very much back to frustration at it being an almost brazen mess.
The Inquisitor: You realise the Matrix of time cannot lie?
About Time was one of those that came out thoroughly in Mindwarp’s favour, in spite of diligently documenting all the ways in which it’s thoroughly incoherent. I won’t go through them all here, but the chief of them is expecting a viewer to be satisfied with the studious lack of clarity over what is made up and what isn’t (you can make a reasonable argument that most of episode eight is cobblers). Colin’s frustration over whether he was playing scrambled brain, sneaky planner or made-up Doctor is entirely understandable. Even the relatively straightforward skeleton of the plot – seeking a brain transplant for Kiv while dealing with Brian Blessed’s troublesome warlord – is not without its issues (like just how Crozier makes the leap from surgery to transference of consciousness, or why Kiv becomes a ranting nutter upon arriving in Peri’s body – unless this is a replication of the issues with the Raak).
Mindwarp’s trial scenes also tend to get praised as more on point than the preceding Holmes episodes, but I’d rather argue they lack The Mysterious Planet’s wit (“maladjusted psychotic sociopaths” etc) and are largely repetitive until the conclusion (when the Inquisitor curiously takes on the mantle of font of exposition).
Yrcanos: His name is Dorf and you are scum!
The dialogue and humour are generally all over the place. There are some lousy, lousy lines (“Sil, stop gyrating your throat”; the “skedaddle test”; pretty much every conversation between Peri and Yrcanos, whatever Blessed’s fantasy may be about it being a nicely developed relationship). Most of what worked in Vengeance on Varos is now diluted and delivered at its broadest. Sil has been reduced to comic relief (Shaban was right to complain about this), while the sensitive Old Mentor, oddly cited as Holmesian by fans of the story, is laboured and irksome. And Blessed, to be frank, is more tiresome here than he is loveable; he’s too big for a production this small, and I have some sympathy with the idea that he and Ryecart should have swapped roles.
Crozier: He need never die!
Ryecart is great, though. He makes his dialogue sound five-star and treats the part both seriously and wryly, giving Crozier a suitably strained edge. And as has been noted, his sip of tea while attending to Kiv is marvellous (even if the cup is obviously empty). Trevor Laird also provides a likeably jaded weariness in response to pretty much everything. Gordon Warnecke, meanwhile is outright appalling.
Peri: Come on now, boys. Let’s not get carried away.
Bryant is given more germane character business for her final story, but much of it isn’t very good. Again, she suffers the unwanted attentions of lecherous men (“Dirty old warlord”) and jarring attempts to give her substance (politics, explaining what love is). It’s only when she gets all Kiv’d up that she has something to dig into.
But if Saward hasn’t really helped her at this late stage, that’s even more true of the Sixth Doctor, doubling down on him as untrustworthy, manipulative and shady (whatever the truth of the evidence). The idea, post-Season 22, was to soften the character, but this finds him at his least likeable. Saward couldn’t resist making the Sixth Doctor bad, it seems. And while Colin may have been up against it, he doesn’t help matters by trying to compete with Blessed for the hammiest performance; after he’s been experimented on, he appears to be attempting a Worzel Gummidge impression. Were it not for his final trial shock (“You… killed Peri”), I’d single this out as his worst performance.
The Valeyard: I suggest you always were just like that, my dear Doctor.
In the absence of a functioning plot, it’s down to the execution to salvage the ailing ship. I’m always surprised when this one is labelled well directed. I mean, yes, compared to his work on Time-flight, Ron Jones has been reborn as a veritable auteur, but that’s not really such a recommendation. Mindwarp has some very good sets – including effective use of long shots of the lab – and superb lighting (those strobes are like a Ridley Scott Barclays ad), but it’s choppy, messy, and erratically staged and edited, with little sense of pace or escalation (the odd scene excepted). But then, the widely acclaimed The Curse of Fenric also suffers from exactly those issues.
The use of Paintbox is distinctive, of course, and the score from Richard Hartley is atmospheric. But that’s all it is. It doesn’t provide much variation; it’s just “there”. Now, no argument; the climax to Part Eight is extremely well done, from the Doctor reversing into his TARDIS to the slow-motion assault by Yrcanos, to the stunned silence that follows in the courtroom. But that doesn’t retrospectively make up for what has gone before.
One thing I’ve always been unwavering on, though, is that this is a story that improves as it progresses, Parts Five and Six being much less effective than Seven and Eight. Which is, of course, all relative. Saward thinks this is the best of the season, but then, it’s not like he has many options. Mindwarp has flashes of the quality attested to by its adherents, but it’s entirely dissatisfying as a piece of storytelling.
The Mysterious Planet
(Episodes 1-4)The mucking about Jonathan Powell caused the Trial opener is well documented, with the humour-over-violence edict leading to the charge that it had too much of the former (he found Glitz and Dibber pointless, of all elements to pick on). Saward, and then JN-T, embarked on the necessary amendments. What is most evident, however, above and beyond the general slackness and lack of orchestration director Nick Mallett brings to bear (see also his other two stories), is that The Mysterious Planet is dramatically suspect. And I say that as one who, on balance, does quite like the story (Gareth Roberts makes a case that this is a great script let down by the execution in The Complete Sixth Doctor, but that’s a very charitable reading).
The Inquisitor: Are these unpleasant scenes necessary to your case?
Holmes has come up with a piece that serves a function – a dubious function, in terms of being a crucial jigsaw piece of the overall trial arc – but by serving that function he includes a series of elements that simply fizzle. The retrograde stone-age tribe is pure stodge, with none of the intriguing variations offered the Sevateem; there’s little room for wit or developed performance, except as a means for other characters to take the piss. As a subplot, they’re dead in the water.
The inhabitants of Marb station are similarly stagnant, with only Drathro and his bleach-blonde pupils offering a rather static, verbose variation. The story isn’t building to any clear purpose or tangible goal, even when Glitz and Dibber – the piece’s only dynamic element, not just humorously so – blow up the black light converter. There needed to be a threat or additional factor with some weight, something unforeseen (the Sleepers still being alive and reviving, say) to upset matters at the end of the Part Three, but the story is laid out pretty much in the first episode, and nothing really galvanises interest as it progresses.
Glitz: Oh, you’d look good with a back full of spears, Dibber.
That said, I always find it agreeable if inessential viewing. Much of that is down to the classic Holmes double act™ of Glitz and Dibber. So no, it doesn’t especially bother me that Glitz seems to be projecting himself as a hard guy murderer in the first episode but hides behind Dibber subsequently; Selby’s so entertaining in the role, and given so many repeatable lines, he manages to carry The Mysterious Planet through its frequent rough spots. Dibber’s great value too, Glen Murphy perfectly encapsulating the muscle element but also undercutting Glitz’s attempts at showmanship and smarts (his response to black light: “Oh, yeah. We got so much of that, sometimes we can hardly see”). And even if it comes from Holmes’ pen, it feels like an appropriate summation of the Saward approach that it’s the mercenaries, not the Doctor, who resolve matters (which also, handily or not, exonerates him).
The Doctor: Oh, why did you stop it at the best bit? I was enjoying that.
The Valeyard: I’m sure you were.
The Doctor: Clever, eh? That trick with the umbrella.
The Valeyard: Most ingenious.
I don’t even find the much-derided Trial elements (yes, even the scrapyards, boatyards, graveyards) a drag. No arguments, many of them are entirely superfluous, even as meta value (“Can’t we just have the edited highlights?”; “I didn’t appear to be hurrying there”; “What now?”: “Yes, now!”) I enjoy the back and forth between Jayston and Baker, and occasionally, it’s even inspired (above). As is, occasionally (again), the choice of the trial itself, however many epistopic interfaces of the spectrum may need adumbrating along the way. The Doctor learns he is the victim of pervasive Big-Brothering (“The accused is clearly ignorant of the latest methods of surveillance, my lady”) and selective evidence.
Although, in that regard, the most glaring issue with The Mysterious Planet, beyond its lack of internal tension, is that the incident should have been selected as evidence at all. It’s the height of foolishness that the prosecution should have volunteered information that would draw attention to its and the High Council’s culpability – “propelled by the mental energy of so many Time Lords” is a curious reference I always liked – regardless of the occasional insufficiently bleeped reference to the Matrix. It’s this that really exposes the lack of thought Saward put into his epic.
The Valeyard: The crime was in being there, Doctor!
The vague genesis of the Valeyard kind of works, in terms of a distillation that would probably fall apart if you tried to pin it down, but the conspiracy element needed to be rigorous. In respect of which, I’ve also always thought it disappointing that the Doctor’s input here was entirely restricted to the trial room; far more effective if something similar to The Deadly Assassin had gone down in terms of mapping out the political machinations and the Doctor’s investigating the same, rather than a Master ex machina doing all the expositional heavy lifting.
Katryca: Be silent, fat one!
If the casting of Jayston and Selby is a boon, and Bellingham not so much, JN-T at least gets the credit for coming up trumps with two out of three. It’s Mallett, perhaps surprisingly, who bears responsibility for the disastrous casting of Sims; that he wanted French and Saunders for Glitz and Dibber tells you everything else you need to know, since his direction throughout is nothing if not underwhelming. I’ll give points to the really very good lighting of the Marble Arch set, and also to the chase at the end of Part Two, but that’s largely down to other departments. In particular, Dominic Glynn’s incidental score managing to inject some life into the proceedings.
The Doctor: Never believe what is said, Balazar. Only what you know.
Other elements – the L1 trundling around, the costume design generally, the gunk tank – are the kind of thing that makes the series easy to mock. Drathro makes for a strikingly imposing design, but he’s less successful as a “villain” (although, he earns points for logically confounding the Doctor). Which is why the story never really climaxes. Like Drathro, it stutters and falls on its face. The Doctor and Peri? Well, I never had much of an issue with his Season 22 persona, while the attempts to make Peri do more than stammer simply expose how lacking she is as a character. Both have equally yuk costumes, I’ll give them that.
The Ultimate Foe
(Episodes 13-14) The conclusion to The Trial of a Time Lord may have a lot to answer for, in terms of opening the door to the massive and unnecessary retcons of Who lore that followed, some of them subsequently ignored (the Cartmel master plan, the half-human Doctor, the various batty, convoluted and incomprehensible Moffat manoeuvres, and most recently the Chibnall – the same Chibnall who went on Open Air following this season to decry poor Pip and Jane – fanwank of fanwanks that outdoes Cartmel for making the Doctor “mysterious” again, for which read singular and godlike in stature. Which has, after all, been the nu-Who modus operandi all along).
The Doctor: I want you to meet my dark side.
Here, it’s the daffy idea that the Valeyard is a distillation of all that is evil within the Doctor (“the composite of your every darkest thought”), lying “somewhere between his twelfth and final regeneration”. It doesn’t scan logically, but it’s just vague enough conceptually – vagueness of concept is the hallmark, and for some the bane, of the season – that it almost works. Maybe I’m just being overly kind because I like the Valeyard and Jayston’s performance. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see it coming, and it’s the kind of broken-universe idea that fits with the sour world views of Saward and Holmes (it isn’t only Time Lord society that’s suss; it’s also the hero in whom we’ve invested so much). But mostly, I think it’s because, as a stylistic exercise, the last two parts of Trial never fail to enthral and engage, which is the sad rarity for ’80s Who.
The Master: You really are the archetypal philistine!
Is that vouching for the triumph of style over substance? Yes, in terms of the failure of Trial to reach a satisfying resolution in various respects (not least, establishing precisely what evidence was faked). Tat Wood was impressed by “the slickness, the pace and the daring of the whole production” before emphasising all the ways it fell down elsewhere. Likewise, Gary Russell noted “All it sets out to do is wrap it all up and be entertaining. Whilst succeeding, to a large extent, on the latter point, it falls desperately short of the former”. Russell goes on to suggest it amounts to both Holmes and P&J’s worst contributions to Who, which is as daft as dissing City of Death. I actually agree with The Discontinuity Guide’s conclusion regarding Trial. Well, not the bit where they suggest “the plot hangs together remarkably well” but “Episode 13 is a masterpiece, and, considering the production nightmare, 14 achieves near greatness”. It isn’t nearly enough to salvage the parts that don’t work in what went before, but it makes them feel less glaring in retrospect.
Glitz: Tell the Doctor, I didn’t send him down the Milky Way for nothing.
Things that are rubbish: retconning Peri’s death, even if, with the benefit of hindsight and given that Mindwarp is gibberish, it doesn’t feel nearly as egregious; Mel, it goes without saying. But even by her standards, she’s given some real clunkers here (“Doc”; “Sydney Carton heroics”; “getting to the dirt”; almost everything she says, actually); P&J’s riper dialogue and conundrums (“spurious morality”; “Disseminate”; and regardless of Colin’s efforts to back them up, the “megabyte modem’). About Time details many of the logistical issues with the story, from the time period (Ravolox happened centuries ago) to physically breaching the Matrix, to the Valeyard’s plans (at least, the P&J Plan B), and they’re all valid, but I still find the wrapping up of the plot far less problematic than the getting there.
The Master: It takes time, Doctor, but eventually, you get there.
Things that are great:
Glitz. “Oh, I see. He humiliates you by throwing harpoons at me”. Pip and Jane even manage to write him decently, with the Master’s hopeless attempts at hypnosis.
The Doctor. I’ll stand up for his “Ten million years of absolute power” speech, but even more his “Did you say… the Doctor?” Colin’s right to like this story, because its surrealist qualities entirely suit his excessive persona.
The Master. This is possibly the best Anthony Ainley Master story; certainly, it can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with The Five Doctors (remember when they used to claim he went off the boil after his first couple? No, Ant was always delivering gold when the material was up to snuff). His deus ex Master presence, “enjoying myself immensely”, may still have its madcap side (such as his motivation re the Valeyard vs Doctor), but there’s a sedate, relaxed aspect to him that’s far preferable to all that nu-Who gurning (“If I might intercede?”).
The location night (and day) shoot is wonderful atmospheric and clued up on Clough’s part; it still shocks that his subsequent work for the series is downright bad.
Dominic Glynn’s score is one of the series’ very best, complementing the visuals perfectly (that cue when Jayston delivers his first evil laugh of Part Thirteen is marvellous).
Mr Popplewick. The hands in the barrel. The hands on the beach. This is also – going back to the general sentiment in my introduction – the last time the Doctor is really up against anything beyond him. From here on out, he isn’t just someone, he’s THE one (well, you might get away with Season 24, but do you really want to?) Alas.
Mel: How utterly evil!
And then there’s the trial-within-a-trial in Trial Part Fourteen, which is far superior to Saward’s equivalent. I don’t really think we missed much in not having Eric’s version. Okay, some of the Bakers’ more verbose dialogue would have been remedied, but the time vent idea was weak sauce, and his favoured cliffhanger was all well and good, but not that worthy of principles. Whenever I revisit Trial (which is probably too often), I always know that, getting bogged down in the middle section, if I plough on through, I’ll be rewarded. And I always am.
The Trial of a Time Lord overall:
The Mysterious Planet
The DVD’s making-of doc is effective enough, with a large chunk – ahem – of Colin berating the dangerous strategy of the premise and decisions that were “not necessarily a great idea”. There’s also attention rightly given to Dominic Glynn, whose score is one to be proud of (if not so much his version of theme).
Behind the Sofa – Colin is ever keen on getting the boot in (noting he requested the continuity regarding his being President), and is accompanied by Nicola and Bonnie. Strickson, Waterhouse and Hines are “okay”, but the pattern is Strickson providing a critique of the production standards while Waterhouse acts the discerning fan.
The Doctor’s Table – If you always wanted to see Colin stuffing his face, and interrupting everyone else when he isn’t, this is for you (his response to receiving the pudding dessert says it all). Apart from marvelling that Nicola is knocking sixty and that Jayston is remarkably tolerant of Baker – they’re friends apparently, and he only tells him to shut up once – it’s notable for Colin denouncing prosecco. It’s all fairly amiable, but as these extras often are, overlong. Questions are asked as courses progress, with such subjects as breaking the law, Pease Pottage and which incident you would revisit if you could. There are also requests for stories on Joan Sims, Nabil Shaban and Brian Blessed (Bonnie’s wins, for telling how the latter pulled a sink from the wall during Cats). There are also numerous variations of snog-marry-avoid. Last line is Colin’s “Any more puddings?”
Extended Edition – Worthwhile? I’d say not, since nothing here feels vital. The first episode has by far the most additional material (about five minutes), including a “semantic” point about the capacity of the Matrix as a data source and a foiled attempt by the Valeyard to suggest the Doctor has been gaining access to information confidential to the High Council (re the fireball). Also, the TARDIS landing, the Doctor’s thesis about art and further “felicitous discourse” with Dibber. The third features an alarming bit before the Doctor delivers his alarming Tom/Pert impression where he grabs Peri to him and tells her to “Beware the Hun!”. The fourth, like the first, manages to disrupt the flow with the Trial (some would say it’s too late for that) with the suggestion that Humker and Tandrell might have repaired the black light and the Doctor interjecting after his line about the destruction of the universe.
The making-of is so-so, notable for Blessed attempting to convince us that the Peri-Yrcanos arc was touching and believable. And informing us that Ryecart “never knew his bloody lines!”
Behind the Sofa – The responses are generally quite positive (“He’s so Brian Blessed, isn’t he?”) and Colin runs through his method of dealing with the plot (“The reason I behaved appallingly is because I never did”) Frazer thinks Kiv Peri sounds like Joanna Lumley.
There are a couple of filler pieces (Sixth Doctor Revisited, 50 Years in the TARDIS), notable only for Steven Moffat finding “nice” things to say about the era.
Again, the extended episodes add nothing essential, although Parts Five and Eight have the most amendments. Five sees the Valeyard attempt to curtail the proceedings on the basis that they’ve seen quite enough to reach a guilty verdict (“If you want the Doctor’s head, you must work for it”), while the Doctor repeatedly stresses the importance of the missing evidence from the previous story. There’s another courtroom scene in Seven (the Doctor’s offered a glass of water), while Eight has a bit more of the old Mentor, a discussion between the Doctor, Yrcanos and Touza, and an over-extended piece of Yrcanos zapping Kiv.
Terror of the Vervoids
Making of – This season’s are disappointingly rudimentary, given the potential (but then, there is the Stradling doc). There was a book on Janet being revealed as the murderer in the production office, apparently. Which couldn’t have been worse than the actual reveal (the story would have been considerably improved by ditching the Vervoids altogether. Just have a few more vegetable-infected scientists). Hickman recounts how WH Smith objected to his putting a Vervoid on the cover of DWM and proposes the idea that it’s a great story for the Sixth Doctor. Malcolm Tierney observes that Chris Clough was quite lackadaisical, while Colin suggests that was deceptive, and he knew exactly what he was doing. And then Colin watched Seasons 24 and 25…
Behind the Sofa – Bonnie’s very likeable on this (“I’m just glad we didn’t have social media then”) while Strickson, as ever, offers the most considered criticism (too complex and ornate regarding the Vervoid designs). Waterhouse, meanwhile, gets the best comment (asked by Hines what he’d do if a plant came into the room now, he replies “Offer it some water”).
Special Edition – If you’d always been intrigued by what this would be like without the trial sequences (I can’t say I was) here you go. Complete with 5:1, motion-sickness inducing rejigged title sequence, an introductory voiceover from Colin’s Trial intro that really doesn’t fit, and some new space effects that look significantly worse than the original. If you wondered how they’d deal with the Doctor explaining how he knew about Hallet… they don’t. And, of course, the couple of blatant Valeyard fabrications are excised.
Extended Version – There’s a fair bit of additional material in the Parts Nine (running to 29 minutes) and Twelve (27) but little of particular consequence. In Nine, there’s a lame interjection from the Valeyard regarding the point at which the Doctor will embroil himself in the proceedings. The episode climax is also extended and less effective (ending on Mel screaming). In contrast, Eleven’s cliffhanger is much better, staying on Bruchner’s face as he pilots the ship into the Black hole. Twelve, despite the extensions, didn’t make me sit up and take notice, aside from another reference by the Doctor “Providing we can trust the Matrix”.
The Ultimate Foe
Making Of – Colin tells us how much he liked it (“precisely the sort of thing I wanted to do”), Eric admits P&J did a good job (they “picked it up well”) and we get a repeat of the Valeyard means “doctor of law” thing (I’d like to see this dictionary, then). Like the others for the season, it’s okay, but lacking depth.
Behind the Sofa – There seems to be complete agreement that rats are very good actors. Waterhouse is constantly trying not to overstate his fannishness, yet genuinely seems not to know the legal reasons behind P&J writing Fourteen from scratch. Colin is disappointed with the rising from the sand (“It does look like a trick shot, but it actually did happen, which is a shame”). He also continues to defend the Bakers’ concepts, but it’s not what you write, it’s the way you write it. Frazer says “Not for me, no” in response to whether it works for him as a fourteen-part epic. And Colin also says that “As we know from er, future stuff on Big Finish, it’s all a load of baloney anyway”. Dunno what he’s referring to, but bless him for holding on to BF as canon.
The Lost Season – I enjoyed Eric moaning how JNT came back from a “recce” to Singapore with only footage from a cable car ride, suggesting that would give an idea of what it was like.
Tomorrow’s Times – Not bad, but even as tumultuous as this period is, these featurettes lack punch.
Stripped for Action – A good one, and the only real criticism is that there could have been more of it. Strong contributions from John Ridgway and Alan McKenzie, while Alan Barnes rightly rates Voyager for going where “I don’t think anyone with a fannish intuition would dare to tread”. Which is the problem with nu-Who in a nutshell.
The longer edits, at least in Part Thirteen’s case, lead to an inferior version (no Glitz and Mel coffins, a different take of them getting out, a tracking shot of Victorian streets before the Doctor lands, which is much less sinister and less sudden without the same Glynn contributions). And while I like Ant’s “May I say, you’re a charming child” to Mel, I could do without her “You beast!”
In Conversation with Bonnie Langford – Easy going and entertaining, as you’d expect from Matthew Sweet. Nothing very remarkable, except to note how incredibly nice Langford seems in all the extras. It was just another job to her at the time, and she notes mostly how she wasn’t involved with all the controversy circulating and didn’t even think about staying on longer. Also how Richard Briers “got told off a lot” and how she took ninety-year-old newbie Sophie Aldred under her wing.
The Writer’s Room – A good subject, previous covered in the lost Season 23. I’ve seen Eric being accused of failing to contribute much to this, but he’s fine. He just isn’t the extrovert ex-actor and all-round egoist Chris Bidmead is. Wally K Daly has virtually nothing to say when his story (The Ultimate Evil) isn’t under discussion, and even when it is. Eric’s nursing the opinion that it’s a shame it was lost, but from the discussions and Big Finish excerpts (I know, the latter are perhaps not the best means to judge), I’m not entirely convinced.
While it sounds like a prime offender – bring back the Toymaker, thanks to Sir Ian Levine whispering poison in JN-T’s ear – The Nightmare Fair one actually comes across reasonably, even if I’m unsure Matthew Robinson was the ideal guy for it (he was more the action “stylist”). At least it doesn’t seem to have anything terrible in its basic premise, and Philip Martin, who has bothered to investigate the source material by satellite link, thought it was decent.
Daly tells us how he’d never seen a Doctor Who story, which is probably why his story, with its hate ray, sounds pretty bad. There’s a brief mention for Yellow Fever and How to Cure It, with commiserations for the shopping lists JN-T would enforce (Bidmead keeps quiet here, as a prior vocal proponent of that approach, and is keen to tell Martin the Ice Warriors did turn out to be a positive for his story).
Martin’s Mission to Magnus sounds pretty awful: “a light-hearted battle between the sexes” with Sil and Ice Warriors. And I’m unconvinced by Bidmead’s The Hollows of Time (“No, it’s lumpen”, insists Eric of Bidders’ preferred In the Hollows of Time; “Oh, what a shame” says Bidders, evidently clear in his mind that, as the titlist of Logopolis and Castrovalva, he knows better). It sounds like another mess, with the Master (“Stream” anagram), Bletchley Park and Tractators (who were crap). Martin’s unimpressed (“I lost my ways several times in your story”), and a former script editor suggesting “People like you would tell me if it was too expensive” isn’t very helpful.
A good feature, but I’d need convicing – aside from having several better directors lined up than the Season 23 we got – it would have been the hit Eric hoped for.
Trials and Tribulations – Ed Stradling’s 2008 doc is probably the highwater mark of the DVD range extras, featuring interviews with all the main players (archivally for JN-T and Grade) and covering the cancellation crisis in exactly the detail it needed. Jonathan Powell (“We did try to cancel it”) doesn’t come across at all well, and pretty much has David Reid calling him out for his choices (“Jonathan Powell only wanted to make the kind of TV he liked”). Ian Levine and Gary Leigh are especially good value on the fan side (Eric on Ian leaking the fourteen episodes decision while JN-T was denying it: “It was quite fun, really”).
There’s Philip Martin on JN-T’s reluctance to have him initially (“Tell him it’s not political. Tell him It’s not Play for Today”), Doctor in Distress, and Colin being more charitable about Eric’s position than he often is but suggesting “I’d keep quiet about it” regarding Saward secretly not liking his performance but then telling all. Leigh is still impressed by the Starburst scoop, while suggesting Saward’s choice wasn’t the wisest. Levine finds the diamond in the rough of DiD (Hans Zimmer was involved). Eric admits Bonnie was decent in the audition (“I was quite impressed”) after pressing a disgruntled JN-T that he had to make sure she could act before giving her the role. Reid calls the Sixth Floor sacking Colin “extraordinary”, and JN-T is on camera saying “The clue to how you play it is – you at parties”.
Now Get Out of That – An old feature from the first season of nu-Who (hence the inclusion of several dramatic stings to punctuate its points). It’s quite enjoyable, with some amusing disagreements between professional fans on the qualities of The Deadly Assassin 2, Trial 13 and The Curse of Fenric 3. Discussions of the problems with The Mark of the Rani 1, Image of the Fendahl 1 and Genesis of the Daleks 2. Raves over Caves of Androzani 3 and near-raves over Vengeance on Varos 1. A tongue-in-cheek defence of Death to the Daleks 3, and Dragonfire 1 given its meta due before being savaged. Oh, and as far as Trial is concerned, the Doctor-zoom period is noted (while Trial 9 is rightly celebrated as a classic, Trial 11 as missing the trick).
The Doctor Who Cookbook – I haven’t been overly impressed by the last couple of Toby Hadoke pieces, but he’s entirely in his element here as “presenter” of a Doctor Who cookery programme taking up the challenge of preparing dishes proliferating Gary Downie’s classic tome (a shout out for Gail Bennett’s highly amusing illustrations too). Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton make Ocker Balls (as well as extras Kipper of Traken and plain lasagne). Frazer Hines makes Mushrooms McCrimmon and Hadoke takes on Trout’s Vegetable Soup with Dalek Krotons. Terry Molloy’s a great laugh (he still has his mint-condition signed copy) and makes Davros’ Extermination Pudding, involving bananas). Colin and Nicola handle Doctor Please Cake (a replacement for Peri’s Pineapple Cheesecake, which conjures visions, owing to Colin being allergic to cheese) and The Doctor’s Temptation. Great fun.
A few notable poll placings over the years:
1. The Ultimate Foe (1, 86, 1, 1)
2. Terror of the Vervoids (2, 106, 2, 3)
3. Mindwarp (4, 127, 3, 2)
4. The Mysterious Planet (3, 123, 4, 4)
The Trial of a Timelord: (142, 168)
Outpost Gallifrey 2003
1. The Ultimate Foe (87)
2. The Mysterious Planet (113)
3. Terror of the Vervoids (116)
4. Mindwarp (126)
1. Mindwarp (31, 52)
2. The Ultimate Foe (49, 71)
3. Terror of the Vervoids (85, 103)
4. The Mysterious Planet (100, 121)