The Trial of a Timelord: The Ultimate Foe (1986)

So it comes down to these two episodes. The longest season single story arc in Doctor Who history is about to reach its conclusion. This story has the most turbulent of stories just to get it to the TV screen. Episode 13 and 14 was suppose to be written by Robert Holmes (author of The Mysterious Planet) but after writing 13, he became ill and Eric Saward took over except. However due to ‘creative differences’, Eric Saward withdrew his script and according to the documentary to accompany this story on DVD, John Nathan-Turner had to get Pip & Jane Baker to write Episode 14 in just a few days. It’s an amazing achievement that they were able to do it.

This is arguably the best part of the entire Trial season. Partly because it ties up all the loose ends from the previous twelve weeks, partly because its where the story goes well and truly bonkers and also partly because Anthony Ainley returns to Doctor Who for his penultimate performance as the Master. The Master reveals the big twist about the Valeyard by informing us that he is the dark side of the Doctor. I cant quite make my mind up about whether it’s a good idea but something that was quite a joke clearly was when the Doctor said that the same person cant be the prosecutor and defendant. This is the same judicial system that can change a simple investigation into a Timelords activities and then on a whim change it to a charge of genocide.

This story does boast a relatively small cast, not including the regulars there are six actors and The Inquisitor and the Keeper of the Matrix don’t appear in it much. Michael Jayston is on fine form and it seems that Jayston has been saving this performance for the previous twelve weeks and he shines. It’s also good to have Tony Selby back as Sabalom Glitz and he acts as a sort of comedy relief to what is otherwise a very dark and intense two part story. I quite liked the bit when he arrived in the courtoom and got sidetracked by looking at part of the scenery and then also getting sidetracked when the Master is trying to hypnotise him.

It’s a shame that they waited until episode 13 to bring Ainley back because I genuinely feel that he could have livened up proceedings. The moment where he returns was a genuine surprise to me and it was perhaps the most exciting moment of the entire series. The cliffhanger was also very dramatic despite watching it in 2011 it does look slightly iffy but it was a good attempt and the resolvement in Episode 14 was also very good.

This story marks the end of the Colin Baker era. It’s a shame that his final words were ‘Carrot Juice, Carrot Juice, Carrot Juice’. It was a shameful way by the BBC the way that they just discarded of Baker’s services because I think that he wasn’t given enough support by the BBC and it wonderful that Big Finish have reinvented the character to be one of the best Doctor on the range. The Ultimate Foe isnt quite the ending that the story should have been but considering the obstacles that Pip and Jane Baker as well as JNT had, it was a good solid story.

As a season, this wasn’t a particularly fine one. There were flashes of good storytelling but there was too much wrong with it to enjoy it. I think out of the four stories that formed this season, Mindswap was the one I thought did best. The next time we would see Doctor Who it would be the final stretch for the classic era and there would be a new intro, new theme tune and more importantly a new Doctor. This is a story that should be watched because it’s an important part of Doctor Who history.


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