Doctor Who #651: The Mysterious Planet Part 1

"Where as yours is a simple case of sociopathy, Dibber, my malaise is much more complex. A deep-rooted maladjustment, my psychiatrist said. Brought on by an infantile inability to come to terms with the more pertinent, concrete aspects of life." "That sounds more like an insult than a diagnosis, Mister Glitz."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.6 1986 as The Trial of a Time Lord Part 1.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is put on trial by the Time Lords. The first piece of evidence has him and Peri land on Ravalox, introducing Sabalom Glitz and Dibber.

REVIEW: It's back to back for us, but for viewers back in the day, there were 18 months of "retooling" between the end of Season 22 and the start of 23. And you know what? The first episode LOOKS retooled. Doctor Who seems to have improved. It's not the new theme song, which I can only describe as more "scintillating", but the opening shot of the space station is the most sophisticated special effect in the program's history, crazy motion control and the TARDIS getting tractored in. Unfortunately, though it's not too apparent in the first story, we'll soon discover they blew their whole wad on this one effect, leaving the the next 14 episodes with the small budget Doctor Who's always been used to. Yes, 14 25-minutes episodes. This is the shortest season yet, and THAT is a sign of things to come more than the fancy station. At least they'll be able to reuse it all season long since this is where the framing tale takes place. The Doctor's been taken out of time for an inquiry led by the Valeyard, the Inquisitor and a jury of his peers, an inquiry that will turn into a trial by episode's end. The structure will still showcase four separate stories, but we'll keep returning to the courtroom where these stories are, for lack of a better word, screened (see Theories). I can promise you these interruptions will become quite grating over time, but in Part 1, they're kept to a minimum and don't get in the way.

The biggest improvement for me is the relationship between the Doctor and Peri. Though the lines COULD be read as bickering, the actors turn it into more playful teasing, and the Doctor is downright warm to his companion. Time has passed, clearly, Peri's hair is longer and their relationship has grown more cordial. She's still quick to want to leave, but none of that wavering "scared voice" she used to do. It makes me sad that they've only got two stories with this dynamic (thank God for the audios). In Peri's reaction to the apparent destruction of her world, newer fans will recognize Rose's in The End of the World, but it really HASN'T been destroyed. Civilization has fallen, and there is the mystery of the planet being on the other side of the universe now, but Earth/Ravalox is still inhabited. Society has been split in two. Celtic primitives led by a Boudika figure, and the technical people who live in the bunker thinking of science as a religion. The connection to the Planet of the Apes is evident, though it obviously reminded me of The Face of Evil first.

Robert Holmes is in good form here, showing off some of his great wit, for example in the choice of "sacred texts" the Reader of the Books holds dear. "UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose by HM Stationary Office" indeed! Holmes also creates his second most famous comic double act in Glitz and Dibber (#1 being, who else, Jago & Litefoot). Dibber's really just a goon whose function is to set Glitz up, but Sabalom Glitz really is quite amusing. He's a cutthroat rogue with counterbalanced self-awareness and self-delusion, who blames his criminal behavior on bad psycho-therapy. I've always thought Tony Selby looked and sounded like producer John Nathan-Turner, with his perm and extravagant demeanor. Is it just me? He wasn't created to be a JNT avatar, but perhaps it'll come out in later appearances. Or is it here in his passive-aggressive responses to Dibber, or his attempt to con Katryca? Only Holmes and Saward know for sure.

THEORIES: All evidence is shown on the screen via the Matrix, which is described as the sum of all knowledge (i.e. Time Lord knowledge). In practice, however, it seems able to extrapolate events in television form! Have we been watching Gallifreyan archives for the last 22 years?! What's really going on? According to Part 3, it's what the TARDIS records via its telepathic circuits, uploaded to the Matrix either in real time (whatever that would mean for a time ship), or more likely, every time it lands on Gallifrey or some Time Lord facility. The Time Lords have contacted the TARDIS in the past, so it can probably be done remotely as well. It's a tough life for Time Lord renegades with stolen TARDISes. There's always someone eavesdropping.

VERSIONS:
Scenes deleted from this episode and found on the DVD include the Doctor arguing the Matrix does not contain all knowledge, the TARDIS' landing in a particularly rainy spot, a courtroom interruption about how the Doctor knew about Ravalox, and a notion shared with Peri that he might stay a couple years to write a thesis. She doesn't seem into it.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The sixth Doctor era feels like it's shed its skin, turned the page, etc. with an improved Doctor-companion dynamic and a witty script right out of the gate.

5 comments:

Bill Doughty said...

I love this whole season, even with the trial cutaways. Anything that gives 6 a chance to use big words, look smug, act petulant, and rant without strangling anyone is okay in my book.

Siskoid said...

That's fair. The fact this got a High from me means I may be on my way to re-evaluating my opinion on the whole thing.

We'll know in 2 weeks.

LiamKav said...

It's been ages since I've seen Trial and I don't own it, so I can't remember... which episode is it that has the Sixth Doctor's epic rant at the Time Lords? If I was compiling a list of best Doctor (all of them) moments, it would be on it.

"Ten million years of absolute power. That's what it takes to be really corrupt."

Siskoid said...

"In all my travelling throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation: decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core. Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen - they're still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power. That's what it takes to be really corrupt."

It's in The Ultimate Foe, so either Part 13 or 14, probably the latter.

LiamKav said...

In light of "Last of the Time Lords", it makes the Doctor even more right.

 

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