Doctor Who #654: The Mysterious Planet Part 4

"Oh, the black light. Yeah, we've got so much of that sometimes we can hardly see."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.27 1986 as The Trial of a Time Lord Part 4.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor fails to convince Drathro to let him fix his black light problem, so Glitz steps in with some "low cunning".

REVIEW: One of the things the Trial isn't doing very well is metatext. The Time Lords are basically watching the adventure on television, and when they comment on that action, it's to denigrate it. The Doctor thinks it was so dull he'd rather sleep through the next one, or the scenes with the twins are labelled as tedious or irrelevant. Here's the thing, I'd rather make those determinations myself. A bit of self-deprecation is healthy, but risky when there's so much at stake. It's often been said that the show itself was on Trial, coming from an 18-month hiatus, its future uncertain, which made the storyline a foolish one. The audience and the BBC Overlords are already judging your show-saving effort, why 1) not let them forget they're doing so for a single minute and 2) have the characters make NEGATIVE judgments in the audience's stead? The worst of it is Inquisitor and Doctor alike questioning the relevance of the Valeyard's evidence, which just highlights just how little the chosen adventure has to do with whatever charges are leveled against the Doctor. He's charged with interference, and yet had he not, the universe would have been destroyed and Time Lord secrets (I'll come to that below) sold on the open market! And of all the adventures available on the record, the Valeyard had to choose one with redacted pieces that could threaten the foundation Time Lord society is built on? That's so incredibly sloppy. Even worse when you consider the charge is interference, and yet the Inquisitor accepts that good being done is a permissible defense. The Valeyard is just rubbish at this.

So Time Lord secrets, eh? Obviously, I know how the season ends, but I think it's easy to figure out from this episode's redacted portion. At one point, Glitz gets bleeped for a couple words, but follows the bleep with a definition of the bleeped words - something about a net of information that contains technology beyond his wildest dreams. The bleep is just long enough to cover "the Matrix", and obviously, if state secrets were out in the world like this, it would certainly undermine confidence in the High Council's ability to keep Gallifrey safe. Some of this magical technology might even been at work moving Earth to another part of the universe, eh? Speaking of magical technology, this whole black light deal is profoundly ridiculous. An explosion on Earth/Ravalox could potentially blow up the entire universe? That's Plan 9 from Outer Space science! What do I know.. I've got a stupid mind. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! And so is the use of this term, only second in groan-causing to Holmes' reference to "five rounds rapid".

Otherwise, there's some fun patter here and there, especially from Glitz and Dibber. A few violent deaths, because it's the sixth Doctor era. A crazy lasers sequence that's fairly well done despite the dated effects (and Dibber getting everyone out of there with his trusty leaf blower gun). Merdeen generating some pathos when he has to kill a former protégé. And a pretty good explosion for an indoor set; thought Balazar was a goner for sure. I'd say the centerpiece of the episode, however, is the verbal confrontation between the Doctor and Drathro the L3 robot. I'd rather he'd succeeded in convincing the limited 'bot that life has value, rather than get trumped by Glitz's con job, but it gives Colin Baker the chance to play up the Doctor's humanistic side, something in the program that has always touched a chord with me.

VERSIONS: The deleted scenes on the DVD include Peri giving the twins directions (with a joke that would have done her character good), the Doctor explaining why the Valeyard's evidence is absurd (some more), Glitz and Dibber discussing the Immortal's defenses, and the twins looking into each other's eyes lovingly after agreeing on something for the first time. I'm unaware of important changes made in the Target novelization.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - There's a good Doctor/Drathro scene, but lots of missteps along the way and the Trial stuff is really dragging the story down.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Though my enthusiasm rather peters out by the end, the first arc of the Trial does impress with effects, locations, guest cast, dialog, and most of all, the improved Doctor-companion dynamic.


snell said...

"An explosion on Earth/Ravalox could potentially blow up the entire universe? That's Plan 9 from Outer Space science!"

Or Star Trek XI science...

Jeff R. said...

Come on, we know that the Earth has to be put back where it belongs to participate in multiple future fixed points in time, so blowing it up/doing excessive structural damage while it's on vacation could easily induce a universe-threatening paradox...

Siskoid said...

The Valeyard's point is that someone else - the twins for example - would have sorted it out in the Doctor's absence.

As for the move, do we really know the Earth's many destructions (from The Ark on) don't occur with Earth all the way over there?


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