The Trial of a Timelord: The Mysterious Planet (1986)

Whilst Doctor Who has been put on gardening leave for 18 months, the BBC relented to fan pressure but left a sting in the tale. It was clear that the BBC considered Doctor Who to be a joke and something that they didn’t particularly want on their channel. The ‘argument’ that was put against it was that it looked cheap and tired. Well my response would have been to put a lot of money into it and wait for the ratings to rise. Just look at Doctor Who since 2005, money put in the right places and the series reacts well. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant would return to the series however there were substantial changes made. Instead of 26 x 25 minute episodes or 13 x 45 minute episodes we got just 14 x 25 minute episodes. The series is broken down into four stories but there is a main story arc very much like in the new series. The title is a sort of pun. The series itself was being put on trial and it was too close to call to say what the outcome would be. In the DWM Mighty 200 poll from September 2009, the entire Trial of a Timelord series was voted in 142nd place. This section was voted the least favourite out of the four which isn’t a surprise. The first four episodes are nicely called ‘The Mysterious Planet’. Written by Robert Holmes who is rightly considered the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time. It’s a shame that his final contribution to the series is such a weak one.

The opening shot is perhaps a false indication as to how the series is going to pan out. By the look of it the time that the show was off the air was enough to insert a new freshness that the series desperately needed. Alas within about 3 minutes the hope had gone away. The story starts with the Doctor being informed that he is being charged for “conduct unbecoming a Timelord”, essentially interfering in the affairs of other worlds which at this point he had been doing for 23 years. Here we are introduced to the Inquisitor (Oxo Ad Mum Lynda Bellingham) and the Valeyard (Michael Jayston).

The story that the Valeyard uses in this section of the story is set on the planet Ravolox was your pretty much standard story. The planet had primitives but there was an evil lord who was holed up living underground never venturing out because they believe that the surface had been destroyed by a fireball. However it turned out that the surface had recovered but it was actually Earth and had been moved from its original course. The characters are perhaps the most interesting thing about this story. There are some really nice characters such as Drathro. Ok it’s a robot but compared to most robots in the history of Doctor Who, I found Drathro to be quite entertaining. Merdeen is a character that starts of irritating but develops into a great character and by the end he’s one of the best characters. However not all work. Queen Katryca was what I would call a plot plugger and that means she was there to stop the plot flowing through before being pulled out and letting the story progress. It was a shame that they cast Joan Simms as like Beryl Reid four years earlier she was miscast. Like a normal Robert Holmes story there is an entertaining double act. In this story its Glitz (Tony Selby) and Dibber (Glen Murphy). Their harmless but quite ruthless. They originally think (well Glitz anyway) thinks that the Doctor and Peri are after the secrets. It’s worth watching jut for their scenes.

The story plods along at a reasonable pace but is stopped every time it starts to get interesting by returning to the courtroom. I can understand that it’s a trial but why they didn’t just have a three minute scene at the beginning and the end is beyond me. The cliffhangers were also appalling but that’s a claim I make at all the episodes (except for part thirteen). Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant’s friendship onscreen is better than it has ever been and this helps create a more family friendly feel to the series than there had been in the previous series. Their performances both together and separate were very good and shows that despite the extended time between series they were starting to settle down into the role.

Whilst the story itself isn’t the best that Robert Holmes ever did (partly because he was ill and died shortly after) it’s a lot better than his earlier contributions such as ‘The Krotons’ (1968/69) and ‘The Space Pirates’ (1969). As part of the series it’s the weakest of the main stories but as we will find out the series gets better as it progresses.

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