Friday 17 December 2010

The Mysterious Planet (Trial of a Time Lord Parts 1-4)

The Doctor is charged with conduct unbecoming a Time Lord.

Although I tend to think of the Trial of the Time Lord as four individual serials, they are united by such a tight story arc across Season 23, that it is quite a challenge to review them as such. The reason I prefer to review them as separate stories is the huge variety in quality between them.

The trial makes use of evidence in the form of three of the Doctor's adventures, one in the recent past, one which has just taken place at the time of the trial and one which, bizarrely, has not yet occurred. You can be sure that if this was an American science fiction show, this season would have included an adventure from the show's past. American sci-fi shows, and those made by Independent t.v. companies in the UK so often throw in an episode where old footage is used just to save the budget at the end of the season. Generally, those sort of episodes are very disappointing and a bit cheap. However, given the lack of repeats of Doctor Who in the UK, fans would have welcomed a story in which footage from a classic story, such as The Seeds of Doom was used. It would have been quite interesting to watch the Doctor and the Time Lords commenting on such an adventure.

The model shot of the space station in which the trial is held looks great. The problem is that it does not look in any sense Gallifreyan. The space station looks just like something from Star Wars or the Alien movies. A Time Lord space station (we are never told why this trial is not held on Gallifrey) would surely have an ethereal magnificence to it.

The trial room with its rather miniscule gathering of Time Lords looks a little pathetic when compared with the model shot of the space station. Nevertheless, as with most court scenes in television, there is plenty of room for effective drama. Colin Baker get's the chance to be rude, rebellious and arrogant. Michael Jayston is brilliant as the sinister Valeyard. The contrast between his angry restraint and the Doctor's brashness is delightful. I just love watching the way the Valeyard glares at the Doctor.

A lot of people find the periodic switch from the action of the story to the trial scenes rather intrusive. I find them rather fun, though it must be said that in the case of this first serial, this is not difficult because the Ravolox story is so dull. The plot of The Mysterious Planet is completely uninteresting; a dull runaround that is largely derived from other stories. One just feels a sense of deja vu on watching Mysterious Planet.

Sabalom Glitz and his young accomplice, Dibber help to keep the story from being unwatchable. They are a glorious Holmesian double-act. What is most hilarious is the way that Glitz takes pride in the way he is an object of speculation by criminologists and prison psychologists. He offers some biting satire of the field of criminology. It is a little hard to be sure how thick Dibber really is. At times, it seems that his wit is a little sharper than that of his boss. The rest of the guest cast are not terribly impressive. Joan Sims is especially disappointing as Katryca.

Colin Baker was clearly playing the Doctor in the Ravolox scenes as a nicer character than we experienced in Season 22. While it is nice to see him actually appearing to like Peri, it does jar a little with what we see in the courtroom, where he is as obnoxious as in Season 22. It also does not fit with what we see in the next story, Mindwarp.

The location work is quite good and the village is well designed and created. On the other hand, the suggestion that the London Underground would still be recognisable on a ruined earth a million years into the future is ludicrous. The robot is pretty good.

One thing that baffles me is that Katryca wants to give Peri some fine husbands, yet she locks her up with two scoundrels who might easily molest her. A rather perplexing decision.

Being a fan who obsesses over continuity; I really struggle with the issue of how to fit this story in with the future history of earth in other Dr. Who stories. I am not quite convinced by Tat Wood's view that the removal of Earth by the Time Lords is the same apparent destruction of earth in The Ark.

What is most interesting about the Trial of the Time Lord is the way it deconstructs the narration of Doctor Who. We are forced to ponder how accurate the reporting of these stories are. If crucial bits have been missed out of this story about Ravolox, how do we know crucial bits have not been left out of say, The Brain of Morbius?

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