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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2008
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 4 February 2004
The most under rated Doctor Who of all time.
MYSTERIOS PLANET is brilliant,Drathro is impressive,Tony Selbys Glitz is super and goes on to return to Doctor Who and the secrets are interesting and go on to appear later.The first story is very original and is written by the late great Robert Holmes.
MINDWARP is very good but the evil Doctor bit is annoying.Sil makes his second and final appearence in the show(he was going to appear in the cancelled series with the Ice Warriors in a story called Mission to Magnus) bringing the story to life thanks to Nabil Shabans brilliant acting.Sil is killed with Peri in a dramatic scene(Peri turns out to survive).Philip Martins writing is very good.
TERROR OF THE VERVOIDS is also very good but sadly this story introduces the appaling Mel who lets down an other wise good story by screaming all the way through.The Vervoids are good but look a bit rude when you think about it.
THE ULTIMATE FOE is an excellent conclusion written partly by Robert Holmes(who sadly died part way through writing it).This is anexcellent end where the Master appears all questions rae answered and the Doctor defeats the Valeyard.
This is an excellent story where Colin Baker takes a great bow out as one of my favorite Doctors.
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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
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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.
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on 8 April 2015
goodbye colin baker hello sylvester McCOY what a fantastic ending for colin baker very good episodes loved the quality of the dvd when i got this from my aunt i was so shocked i loved it i watched 6 times in a row it was so good. Now I'm going to tell you what parts they have
1 parts 1 to 4 Mysterious planet
2 parts 5 to 8 mind warp
2 parts 9 to 12 terror of the voids
3 parts 13 to 14 ultimate foe!
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on 24 July 2008
After an 18-month rest and doubt cast over its future, 'The Trial of a Time Lord' is a wry summing up of 'Doctor Who' at the time. Just as the BBC were scrutinizing the Doctor's adventures, he is brought before his own people who sit him down to watch some stories and highlight what a meddlesome and reckless pain he is...But this is not clips-show - all the stories are brand new productions.
The first is amusing but a bit low-key, the second is a clever post-modern affair that deconstructs 'Doctor Who' as a way of prosecuting the Doctor and the third is a traditional monster yarn.
It all hurtles to a revelation-packed finale but, to be fair, it was all far too involving for casual viewers and was a bit of a mis-step for the show to improve its standing (why not just good, traditional stories with no confusing continuity references?). Saying this, a DVD copy allows for a better chance to piece this one together and, although it suffers all the 'Doctor Who' flaws (some cheap design and the odd dodgy performance), it is enormous fun. Colin Baker is a riot as the flamboyant show-man-like Sixth Doctor in his bizarre outfit and of the 14-episodes here, the eighth and the thirteenth are a must-see. The extras are dynamite!
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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"
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