Doctor Who #655: Mindwarp Part 1

"Nurse, could you prepare to apply the, er, skedaddle test?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.4 1986 as The Trial of a Time Lord Part 5.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on Thoros Beta, Sil's home planet, where various body and brain modification experiments are being conducted.

REVIEW: Though a new adventure, the Trial keeps barging in (and I mean OFTEN) to remind us of the seasonal arc/framing tale. It's very annoying, especially since the charges keep jumping around (this time we're asked to believe the Time Lords care that companions are put into danger), though notably, this is to be the last adventure the Doctor had before being subpoenaed. Now, if you're going to try the Doctor for all his faults, companions being placed in danger is totally on the table, but the Time Lords are just the wrong people to bring these charges. It strikes me how much more sensible the story would have been if the Doctor was on trial by entities unknown, or a cabal of old enemies. You could still have the Valeyard there - because accusing the Doctor of putting companions in danger IS VERY MUCH HIS THING - but he'd be working with characters not necessarily working with the framework of any given world's law, because the law here makes absolutely no sense. But "I would have done Y instead of X" is hardly a proper review, so let's look at the story itself...

First, Thoros Beta is a pretty exciting world to look at. As garish as everything else in the era, its pink seas and UV rocks are created with what we could describe as early color correction. Effects are definitely evolving and showing things we haven't seen before. The society we're presented with is refreshingly varied, with black, white and Asian actors sharing the screen, rare for Doctor Who even in the 80s, though things are changing. There are also several species. Humans of course, but also mutated experiments like the crabby Raak and dog-like Lukoser, Brian Blessed as a violent warlord in kabuki drag, and - surprise - Sil (in improved make-up and no ugly aquarium trolley) and another Mentor, Kiv, who are the true masters of this planet. Sil's become a weapons dealer who may be playing against his C.E.O. since he's poised to replace him should the body-mod genius Crozier fail to find a way to save Kiv from his brain tumor (or whatever's causing those headaches). It's amoral science gone rampant in the service of corporate greed, very 80s but still relevant.

The Doctor and Peri continue to share good Season 22 chemistry, the harshest banter softened by warm "I'm just kidding" smiles. The "skedaddle test" scene shows a partnership with its own coded language, characters who can grasp what the other is saying without having to spell it out. And yet, the Doctor never listens to Peri when she asks to leave, even after she demonstrates good reasons why she's serious. On the one hand, she always asks to leave, an unfortunate trait the writers have persisted in maintaining even though she's obviously been traveling with the Doctor a while. It justifies his dismissing her concerns out of hand. It's just part of their banter. But this time, it will lead to tragedy, which may be why it's the moment the Valeyard chooses to take the Doctor out of time (except, the point is botched, as we'll see in Part 4 and beyond).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good villain returns, the effects are interesting, the casting too, and the Doctor and Peri are good together. Now if only the trial would stop clumsily cutting in with "commentary".



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