on 18 April 2011
As a thirteen year old I had no concept of the behind-the-scenes struggle to keep Doctor Who on air; I had no more knowledge of the programme's dwindling audiences or fan and press criticisms of its producer - John Nathan-Turner. What I did know was that after 18 tortuous months my favourite programme was back; with a promised fourteen week long epic story which would see my hero on trial for his very existence!
This long-awaited box set from 2entertain separates the trial into four individual stories; the first, written by fan-favourite Robert Holmes, is entitled `The Mysterious Planet', and sees The TARDIS hijacked and brought onto a space station on which an inquisition has been set up to investigate The Doctor's interference in the affairs of other worlds and races. As the camera pans across the side of the giant spaceship it is clear that an effort is being made to improve production values and this is immediately successful with such an impressive start to the story.
We are subsequently introduced to the mercenary Sabalom Glitz, played with relish by the excellent Tony Selby, and his faithful assistant `Dibber'. The pair are classic Holmesian creations and add weight to a somewhat unoriginal storyline. Switching between the inquisition and the events on the planet Ravalox, where Glitz and Dibber are attempting to knock-out a mysterious transmitter, The Doctor watches from the court as he and his assistant, Peri, become involved with a rebellion which seeks to overthrow the planet's despotic ruler `The Immortal'.
The DVD extras are a mixed bunch - `The making of The Mysterious Planet' gives a fascinating insight into the (for the programme) groundbreaking model effects, and explains how the Doctor Who production team pulled out all the stops to improve the show's legendarily ropey special effects. Two features involving Colin Baker and promoting the new series, from Wogan and Blue Peter respectively, are painful reminders of how crude 80s talk shows and children's magazine programmes were in comparison to today's vibrant and youth oriented counterparts. Baker sweats his way through an interview with the Irish legend whilst Linda Bellingham tries not to mention those Oxo ads and damns Doctor Who with her faint praise. The BP segment tells us that Janet Ellis' `Pa' helped build the robots for The Mysterious Planet and spends about 30 seconds with an increasingly be-whiskered Sixth Doctor and the operator of the robot Drathro. A pre-Weakest Link Anne Robinson presents Points of View which emphasises how hard to please fans of DW were, even then. The obligatory Photo Gallery rounds things off.
Disc two features the second segment of the trial, `Mindwarp', which sees the return of the slimy `Mentor' Sil, last seen in 1984 story `Vengeance on Varos'. This time, the TARDIS lands on Thoros Beta, home of the Mentors and host to ghoulish experiments aimed at prolonging the life of Kiv, Ruler of the Mentors, by transplanting his brain into another body, as his own is wearing out.
The garish pink colour overlay that greets The Doctor and Peri as they arrive on Thoros Beta's coastline has dated badly, but the story itself is meatier than its predecessor, and gives the viewer more to think about; almost too much at times. Nabil Shaban is suitably repellent as the amoral and avaricious Sil, whilst Christopher Ryan predates his recent appearance as a Sontaran warrior with an appropriately weary and paranoid Kiv. Unfortunately, Brian Blessed predictably hams it up as warlord Yrcanos, and the overtly sci-fi costumes worn by many of the cast are too redolent of a mid-80s edition of Top of the Pops.
The frequent returns the courtroom just about manage to avoid disrupting the flow of the story too much, and the sparring between The Doctor and The Valeyard keeps proceedings from becoming too stagnant.
Episodes 9-13 of the season are collected together under the title: Terror of the Vervoids. This segment is included as The Doctor's defence; The Hyperion III is a deep-space vessel which houses a dark secret; what is agronomist Professor Lasky hiding in the Hydroponic Centre and who is bumping-off the passengers one-by-one..?
The story is notable for being the first in the show's history to introduce a companion for The Timelord without giving them a back-story. Melanie Bush is a computer programmer and fitness freak whom we first see attempting to get The Doctor to lose some weight, by forcing him to ruse an exercise bike and feeding him copious quantities of carrot juice! The pair arrive on The Hyperion III and are quickly used by the Commander of the vessel (who appears to have met The Timelord before) to investigate the murders; whilst in the courtroom The Doctor and The Valeyard continue to bicker.
The eponymous plant creatures are impressively realised, whilst the guest cast - including Honor Blackman - seem to be enjoying themselves. With hindsight Mel could have made a decent companion and she and Colin Baker spark off each other well throughout. Sadly this was not to be, as the story proved to be Baker's swansong, being the final instalment of the season to be filmed; subsequently I felt that Mel and the Seventh Doctor never quite gelled in the same way.
The final instalment - The Ultimate Foe - is a two part story that is mostly memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Valeyard's dying line: "Doctor, there's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality" is probably the best/worst line ever uttered in Doctor Who, whilst Mel's discovery of a `megabyte modem' cruelly highlights how out of touch the production team were and the gobbledygook that became a feature of Pip and Jane Bakers' scripts. As a way of bringing the trial to an end it is fine and there are some memorable moments such as The Doctor being sucked under the ground in the matrix and Tony Selby's devious Sabalom Glitz twisting and turning like a trapped eel as he tries to work out which will be the winning side. Overall the trial is good fun but is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
on 7 November 2013
The mid-1980s were a very turbulent time for "Doctor Who." After the 22nd season ended in 1985, the show was cancelled. There was a bit of an uproar from the public, and BBC bosses were forced to rethink it, its status then changed from cancelled to 18-month hiatus.
"The Trial of a Time Lord" kicks of with a spectacular effects shot, A space station which hovers in silence. The camera slowly moving toward it and moves its way around the exterior finishing on a bust of blue light which the TARDIS enters. This is without a doubt the best effects sequence in the Classic Series.
Told over 4 separate stories, interlocked with scenes from a Gallifreyan courtroom and the trial, this is rather quite a gripping story from the beginning to the end/ Colin Baker gives (unbeknown to him) his final performance as the Doctor and it is by far his best portrayal. Sadly we lose Nicola Bryant during this season and for some weird and unknown reason the Doctor Who team thought it would be a great idea to give us Bonnie Langford as the new companion.
You get guest stars with Brian Blessed and Honor Blackman, Lynda Bellingham appears as the Inquisitor in the trial.
The writing is absolutely superb and also feature Robert Holmes final script for Doctor Who which he sadly passed away whilst writing.
The DVD box set also has some great special features. One I would highly recommend is Trials and Tribulations, a documentary looking at Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor and a great insight into the behind the scenes goings on during Colins tenure.
All in all it is a box set definitely worth purchasing.
on 14 April 2013
Beware of spoilers below:
This was the first series after the suspension, and I can't help feeling this story didn't help the show's already troubled reputation. The 'trial' was clearly a self-aware attempt to reflect on the series itself being put on trial by the BBC. What is damning is there's a strong case for the series being laid to rest, at least for a few years. After 18 months of preparation (the trial idea was suggested very early on) it often seems as though they're making it up as they go along. If you're going to write something as complicated as a 14-part tale of intrigue like this, you make sure you have it planned our properly. Ensuring the writers and actors actually know what they're doing might also be an added bonus. It speaks volumes that only writer Robert Holmes and script-editor Eric Saward knew how this story was supposed to end. After Holmes unfortunately died and Saward walked out, we have an unresolved ending with Gallifrey descending into chaos and the only person who could do anything about it toddling off wittering about carrot juice with a companion he's never met. The Doctor is put on trial - the prosecution uses a case in which he saves the galaxy and then another case the prosecuting Valeyard lambasts him over the deaths that occurred. Rather than pointing out the obvious flaws in the prosecution (that none of them would be here now were in not for him, and that the Time Lords abducted him before he could save his companion and prevent the experiments the Time Lords wanted stopped) the Doctor just rants like a buffoon. He then presents a case in which he commits genocide as his defence. Seems like the trial really was reflecting the show itself.
There are often complains that Dr Who needed more money. That argument was valid during the McCoy years when the show's creative head was back in place. But it seemed nobody involved with Dr Who at this point had any idea how to go about spending cash wisely. For each of the three series prior to the suspension the production team wasted half the year's budget taking the show abroad for no better reason than so the team could have a free holiday at the licence-payer's expense. More money was spent on trying to turn the show into a mimic of big US films. Where's the valid reason why Michael Grade should have stumped up more money? So the production team could go holidaying in America or Australia? So they could spend more money on spaceships and big monsters like the Myrka? No BBC budget of any size was ever going to make the show look like Star Wars or Alien.
The money in "Trial" has been similarly spent on big effects. There's the (admittedly great) opening sequence, but all it does is serve to illustrate how shabby the rest of the sets (including the half-finished-looking trial room) seem. Then there's a fantastic-looking robot which does little but stand in a control room shouting at people.
The stories themselves entertain but they're pretty lightweight. Holmes' episodes (despite being a collection of 'greatest hits') are very watchable, whilst the Sil story is kind of fun. That leads us to another bitter pill of this story. The greatest death scene a companion has had in the series' entire canon is ruined with the most pathetic cop-out imaginable. The Vervoid episodes have their moments, even if they do teat their audience like simpletons. The finale also has memorable scenes, but overall it's just a mess. The Valeyard descends from genuinely sinister bureaucrat to panto villain and at the end of it all, in a bizarre Freddy Krueger-like "see you next time" coda, appears to be alive after all.
This DVD set is worth buying just for the extras. There are 'making of' documentaries, along with a reflection on the Colin Baker era as a whole and much more. What is interesting is the "Open Air" episode from 1986. Pip & Jane Baker claim they wanted to make something to challenge the fans, but also add they thought cliché-ridden running around corridors were "what the fans wanted". Their Vervoid story must add to the evidence they believed they were writing for rather simple-minded children. Whether that's the view of the then production team as a whole can only be guessed at.
This story is entertaining, and the Doctor/Peri duo are now a more likeable team. But just don't try to think about the plot, because I'm not sure anyone making the show figured it out.
With flagging ratings, a script editor in bitter creative conflict with the producer, a final episode that had to be re-written from scratch at the last minute, the behind-the-scenes dramas faced by the production team of 1986's THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD mirrored the fictional pressures upon Colin Baker's Doctor, here put on trial by his own people.
Although the story is presented as 1 ongoing narrative, the episodes have traditionally been divided up into 4 separate sections of the trial (with the non-canonical titles: THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET, MINDWARP, TERROR OF THE VERVOIDS and THE ULTIMATE FOE). The 4 discs in the set reflect this division.
Overall, the concept of the trial itself is not a success, although the actors involved work hard (Michael Jayston is particularly good). Part of the problem is that we're never quite sure how the Time Lord's legal system works. Inexplicable absurdities of plotting mean that as a perceptive viewer following episode by episode, one cannot really take the legal proceedings seriously. Furthermore as the first 3 sections of the trial mainly involve Colin Baker's Doctor and Michael Jayston's Valeyard arguing about the events that they're watching on the Matrix screen, even as early as episode 3 the trial scenes have become repetitive and intrusive. It really should not have taken until episode 13 for things to get exciting in the court room.
Put simply TOATL was not what the public wanted and was deemed a failure. Certainly its interminable length put off the casual viewer, and perhaps it was just a bit too left field for its own good. Poor Colin Baker, as the leading man, got the blame for the perceived shortcomings of the series and was asked to leave the role of the Doctor not long after the end of the original transmission. Looking at the extras on the discs, it seems clear that most people believe this was unfair as he was simply the most obvious target and in the wrong place at the wrong time. While it's true that the horrible clown costume was a disastrous lapse of judgement and Baker was not always well-served by the scripts, he's a fine actor and on the extras he comes across as an intelligent, warm, affable and enthusiastic man.
So if the supporting structure of the serial doesn't work what are we left with? Well actually, divorced from the trial sequences, the individual stories aren't that bad. Robert Holmes' THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET (the last full DR WHO script he wrote before his death) is a perfectly decent DR WHO story even if there is at least one dodgy cliff-hanger and the last episode lacks tension. It kicks off the series very well and the opening effects sequence with the Cathedral-like space station is magnificent - a pity the show never had the budget to sustain this level of visual flair. Its main problem is that it lacks the edge of some of Holmes' better work (such as THE ARK IN SPACE or THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI). Indeed some of it appears to be ideas recycled from his earlier work - Glitz and Dibber for instance appear to be a revamped version of Garron and Unstoffe from THE RIBOS OPERATION. Nevertheless, the story chugs along agreeably enough with some witty lines and fun performances from Tony Selby and Joan Sims.
MINDWARP (episodes 5 to 8) is for me the best segment. A bizarre mix of H.G.Wells' ISLAND OF DR MOREAU, FRANKENSTEIN and various pulp sci-fi cliches it succeeds largely because it dares to be mad-as-you-like bizarre. It boasts an eye-boggling planet, impressive sets, an excellent cast (including a glorious turn from Brian Blessed), a superb incidental score that really accentuates the weird ambience of the story's alien setting and a cracking last episode. However, the script does Colin Baker no favours as we see him turn nasty again (much as he did in his first story THE TWIN DILEMMA) further alienating his audience - even if the events we see are most likely "falsified" due to tampering with the Matrix.
I can't say I'm a fan of TERROR OF THE VERVOIDS, but there are those who say this "Agatha Christie in space" story is their favourite, and for all its faults, I have to concede that the plot, at least, is solid enough. Bonnie Langford came in for a lot of criticism for her portrayal of new companion Mel. To be fair to her, she plays what she's given in the script for all its worth. She does so professionally and competently, and one should give her the benefit of the doubt. My belief is that people simply did not like the character - and, granted, her constant perkiness can be grating. But honestly, how else would you play lines like: "that's it Doc - now we're getting at the dirt!"? VERVOIDS, for me is a case of nice idea, shame about the execution. Not only the monsters, but also the sets and effects look a little bit cheaper and nastier than almost anything else we've seen so far this season. The dialogue too is florid and ludicrous - though those who love VERVOIDS tell me this is all part of the fun. The rather feeble shots of the HYPERION III travelling through space only serve to remind one of the majestic opening of episode one and cannot help but look that little bit worse by comparison. A reasonable cast including Honor Blackman and Malcolm Tierney work hard with the material they have.
The last 2 episodes (THE ULTIMATE FOE) are miraculously good considering the production nightmare of script editor Eric Saward withdrawing the final segment at the last minute. Husband and wife team Pip and Jane Baker (no relation to either Colin or Tom) were called in at short notice to create the series finale. Episode 13 provides some nice surprises and an excellent plot-twist. The scenes in the Matrix are exciting and only in the final 3 minutes does the story disappoint. Jayston is wonderful and it's a crying shame that he was never asked back to the show.
The discs are complimented by a staggering cornucopia of extras. I felt a vast sense of relief when I finished watching the lengthy deleted scenes (the VERVOIDS deleted scenes alone feel like they could have doubled the length of the story proper)! For '80's nostalgia fans there are WHO-related clips from Roland Rat, Lenny Henry, Saturday Superstore, Points of View and Blue Peter. For fans of naff '80's music there's the unexpurgated video of DR WHO's notoriously awful answer to DO THEY KNOW IT'S XMAS? - DOCTOR IN DISTRESS. Once heard, never forgotten!
There are multiple commentary options - although the ones without Eric Saward are generally the most engaging. There's a fun little piece on the art of the cliff-hanger, with writers Rob Shearman, Joseph Lidster and Nev Fountain discussing some of the more interesting examples. The "Making Of.." features are as watchable and professionally put-together as always. The undoubted highlight is the hour long TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS which covers the story of Colin Baker's brief time as the Doctor. Hopefully you 'll leave this box set with a new affection for the 6th actor to play the role on TV. My one criticism is that Brian Blessed wasn't asked to provide a commentary. His appearance on the Making of MINDWARP feature reminded me that he's a national treasure - his impression of Her Majesty the Queen is just one of the many strange delights on offer in this weird and sometimes wonderful release.
on 28 August 2014
I bought this a few years ago. As I clicked the 'purchase' button, I was unsure as to whether or not I was making a big mistake. I grew up in the wilderness years, with only VHS recordings of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker for comfort. This season of Doctor Who has a less than stellar reputation and I was reluctant about plunging head-first into the gaudy unknown that is 80s Doctor Who.
How wrong I was.
I hope that, by now, the stigma surrounding these Baker stories has lifted and I don't need to convince you that these storied are more worth your while. I will admit: there are some dud moments, the trial scenes can feel a bit clunky and the conclusion does leave a lot to be desired. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the stories and you you get the feeling that the sixth doctor, and his relationship with companion Peri, has finally found its feet. Furthermore, despite budgetary constraints, the Doctor Who production team remain on the bleeding edge of British television at the time. There are some mesmerising effects - such as the pink sky of Thros Beta or a particularly extravagant model shot in the opening frames (which blew my away when I first watched these stories!). The writers also take a bold narrative risk by using saddling Baker's final season with such an arc-heavy storyline - a risk which I feel pays off (just!).
Love it or hate it - The Trial of a Time Lord is essential watching for any Classic Who fan. If nothing else, this season is an important piece of television history and understanding the context in which it was made is essential to understanding the final years of the original run of the show. For this reason, the extras really come to the fore in this set and are arguably more important that the stories themselves. They are endlessly watchable, lovingly made and integral to this understanding this important piece of Doctor Who history.
on 10 December 2014
This was the complete season that nearly killed off Doctor Who way back in the mid 80s. Comprised of 4 stories intermingled and book-ended by The Trial of The Doctor's life. The stories weren't that bad. And the special features were insightful and entertaining. Just a shame the tenure of The Sixth Doctor ended on "carrots"
Trial of a Timelord is the season long story that encompasses Doctor Who's 23rd season. As a story it is perhaps overlong and lightweight, however when divided up into the traditional segments (The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe) the story fairs a lot better. The first three segments are essentially recordings of The Doctors adventures being used as evidence in his trial brought about by the Timelords, with the fourth being the series finale.
The box set is best watched in individual segments as opposed to all in one go. The Mysterious Planet is a bonkers little romp with witty dialogue, Mindwarp falls between a few categories for me and Terror of the Vervoids is a fantastic little whodunit. The finale though is a mixed bag, although the story (part 13 especially) is wonderfully surreal, despite surprise appearances and revelations it does come across a tad lightweight.
The extras are very good indeed showcasing a number of cut and edited scenes, the 18 month hiatus, nice commentary's, the effect Robert Holmes death and the implosion of Nathan-Turner and Sawards relationship had on the season. However what is missing is an option to watch the first three individual stories without the intrusive trial scenes.
on 25 September 2015
To be honest Lynda Bellingham is in these DVD's she is the one on the left side of this picture and she is in all eposode 's This is a complete Box set and Colin Baker is fantastic in this serise and it is so worth buying if you really like Doctor Who you will really like this enjoy or just really like it. and go for it When i got my item the postman did not waite but i still got it and he left it with my Neighbour was nice and i am gald i got it. i will so enjoy watching it so many times and for others out there will to
on 11 July 2010
As soon as i found out that trial of a time lord was coming to DVD i wanted to get it straight away, but most places were selling it for ridiculously high prices. But then i looked on amazon and all i can say is what a bargain! this box set contains 14 episodes of who filled fun. The special effects are well in front of there time (1986), the acting is brilliant especially the strong acting from colin baker, this is no doubtably his best season. This is different from any other classic doctor who, basically its 1 story split into 4 parts, mysterious planet, mindwarp, terror of the vervoids and the ultimate foe. I would say that mysterious planet and mindwarp are the 2 best and terror of the vervoids and the ultimate foe are still good just not as good. I enjoyed it all the way through and was not disapointed 1 bit, colin baker is not my favourite doctor but i was blown away by this masterpiece and if you are a true doctor who fan (like me) you should seriously consider getting this, and anyway even if you don't like it as much as i did it's not like you've lost a load of money is it ? I hope this review helps
on 15 December 2013
This box set consists of all four linked stories that comprised the 23rd series of Doctor Who alongside a generous helping of extra features. The not exactly thrilling story arc for the season is of the Doctor being put on trial by the Time Lords (which wasn't original either; it had been done in 'The War Games' in 1969), the effect this has is that the series contains endless scenes in a dull courtroom set.
The first story of the season is known as 'The Mysterious Planet'. The story features some good dialogue and there are some charming scenes of the Doctor and Peri conversing as friends and leaving their sniping from the previous series behind. The model work at the beginning is spectacular and the two robots are well designed. Otherwise this story is fairly average and is hampered by the trial sequences.
Next up is 'Mindwarp' which is, for me at least, the highlight of the series by a wide margin. The sets, lighting and spine tingling incidental music are all outstanding and the effects used to realise the surface of Thoros Beta are impressive. The performances are generally superb especially from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Patrick Ryecart, Nabil Shaban and Christopher Ryan. Colin Baker actually gives two fabulous performances; first as the compassionate, good natured Doctor and then as the chilling, sadistic Doctor later on.
Brian Blessed's overacting is entirely consistent with his warlord character King Yrcanos, and there is a very touching subplot involving Yrcanos and his fellow soldier Dorff who has been turned into a werewolf like creature by the mentors. Sil is even better here than he was in 'Vengeance on Varos' and the script is often very amusing (there is a hilarious scene in which an elderly mentor is exasperated by Brian Blessed's loudness). The ending is extremely dramatic and heartbreaking and Colin Baker makes it all the more so by portraying the Doctor's reaction to it so perfectly.
The series continues with 'Terror of the Vervoids'. What should be a straightforward whodunnit with monsters thrown in seems far more complicated than it needs to be. The Vervoids look a bit silly and the incidental music is often grating. Nonetheless this is still consistently entertaining and it has three well constructed cliffhangers. The story is also notable for being the debut of Bonnie Langford as companion Mel, sadly Langford isn't cut out for Doctor Who and is irritatingly chirpy.
'The Ultimate Foe' concludes the season in disappointing fashion. It's not exactly bad but it evokes memories of 'The Armageddon Factor at the end of the Key to Time season; it just isn't a very satisfying conclusion to such a long story arc. The troubled writing of this story accounts for this. Judged on its own it's fairly good. Memorable aspects include the Master's appearance, the cliffhanger and Geoffrey Hughes' performance as Mr Popplewick.
When watching this series I think it's important not to consider it as a single fourteen part story as it starts to fall apart due to inconsistencies (Why does the Valeyard present the Doctor's jaunt to Ravalox as evidence when covering up the Doctor's visit is the purpose of the trial?). It works considerably better if considered as four separate stories as all four have elements to recommend them, especially 'Mindwarp'. Colin Baker's performance throughout is very strong and these stories show what a great Doctor he could have been if given more of a chance.
So the stories are good overall but really it's the extras that elevate this set to essential purchase territory. Across the four discs there are 'Making of' documentaries for the four segments which are all worth a look, as well as 'The Lost Season' which looks at the stories lined up for series 23 before the cancellation/hiatus. 'Don't leave me this way' is an entertaining documentary in which various talking heads provide analysis of Doctor Who cliffhangers, there are some music videos of the title sequences and the (rather good) theme music which was sadly only used for this season and there is also the obligatory 'coming soon' trailer. But the best extra is 'Trials and Tribulations' a near hour long documentary about Colin Baker's time as the Doctor and the cancellation/hiatus crisis. The talking heads are all brutally honest and this is one of the best Doctor Who documentaries ever.
On the whole this is a fantastic box set which lays bare the myth that Colin Baker's era as the Doctor was a total washout.