Doctor Who #663: The Ultimate Foe Part 1

"In all my travellings 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. Ha! 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."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.29 1986 as The Trial of a Time Lord Part 13.

The Master, Mel and Glitz show up, and the Doctor is drawn into a deadly game inside the Matrix.

REVIEW: The Trial comes to a head in the final two-parter, only half-written by Robert Holmes before he got sick and soon died. Sadly, though there are a couple of Holmesian moments, it's really not his best work. For one thing, he seems committed to contradicting his own Time Lord mythology. It's infuriating. The Key of Rassilon now gives one access to the Matrix, and the Matrix is a micro-universe you can enter PHYSICALLY. What the hell. And since all the Matrix is good for is rehashing The Deadly Assassin - there's even an attempted drowning - I'm not too enthused about the stuff that's in line with the past. The character of Mr. Popplewick, a collection of clerks in the Matrix are one of the better elements, playing with Holmes' distaste for bureaucracy in an amusing, Kafka-esque way (and Kafka is referenced in the overall arc, right there in the title and ultimately, in the absurdity of the plaintiff also being the prosecution). The Doctor's speech on the Time Lords' corruption (quoted above) is stellar.

Of course, this episode is important because it features a number of crazy revelations. The idea that the Time Lords moved Earth and renamed it Ravalox, even caused the fireball that killed most of the population, comes with a convoluted back story about "the Sleepers" (I suppose not to be confused with those of The Ark in Space, and only mentioned in The Mysterious Planet) that I can hardly follow. The only thing that's important to remember is that the High Council tried to hide the theft of their secrets from out of the Matrix by a major act of meddling, and the Master sees his chance to rock the foundation of his (former) society, getting revenge on the ones that made him a renegade by helping the Doctor in this case. He also reveals the Valeyard is actually the Doctor, or rather, an "amalgamation of the darker sides of [his] nature, somewhere between [his] twelfth and final incarnation", which I always took to mean he WASN'T a proper regeneration, but some kind of evil twin, bizarro self, transdimensional quantum clone, or artificially-created being (perhaps not unlike the Dream Lord from Amy's Choice). We'll talk more about his motivations (beyond wanting the Doctor's regenerations for himself) in the next review. The Master's last shocker is that Peri didn't die, but rather lived on as Yrcanos' queen, a cheap cop-out, and not any better a fate. In fact, since the Doctor was taken from the end of Mindwarp, shouldn't he be returned there at the conclusion of the season to pick Peri back up?

That's a lot of anti-climactic info-dumping from the Master at the eleventh hour. Obviously, the production forgot they'd made a deal with Anthony Ainley to appear in every single season and had to throw him a bone. So there he sits on a TV screen, like the Great Oz, explaining the plot and outing all the season's secrets. The Trial of a Time Lord was not evenly paced in this regard. His "surprise witnesses" (I'm not sure the Valeyard can use that phrase when the whole damn trial has seemed improvised and off the cuff) are characters we wanted or needed to see again, but they're a pale echo of their former selves. Glitz is fine, I suppose, but doesn't have the opportunities for pure wit he did in The Mysterious Planet. Mel gets the worst of it, however, admitting things like the fact she's "as boring as they come". Way to sink the companion before she can get her time legs! Sheesh. Otherwise, her dialog sounds like nothing a real person would ever say. "I'm Melanie, known as Mel" indeed.

THEORIES: So where are we in the MASTER'S time line? Since he knows all about the Valeyard's true identity, we should assume he's his contemporary, but that's impossible, since someone else plays the Master by the 8th Doctor's time. He can't be from Doc12½'s time. Perhaps he knows everything because he's been rummaging through the Matrix, but that would be unlikely, because he'd need to have been pulled out of Gallifreyan mean time to his objective future, like the Doctor has. The last time we saw him, he had remotely forced the Doctor's TARDIS down to 19th-century Earth, so I would theorize that he still has a means of keeping tabs on the Doctor's TARDIS, and has possibly been following him through time and space, looking for opportunities for revenge. Maybe this allowed him to latch on to the future Time Lords' time scoop, following the TARDIS to their era. If he wants the Valeyard dead, it's not because he's "his" Doctor, but rather because the Valeyard is proof he won't be able to kill the Doctor until his 13th incarnation. Of course, the Time War changes everything, including Time Lord history, because as we know, these Time Lords, contemporary with Doc12½ cannot exist. They were destroyed/time looped by Doc9 (or Doc8 just before he regenerated), and again by Doc10. Which doesn't mean they can't be restored by Doc11 or 12. Is Trial a promise of their return?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though I'm very critical of this script, there are a couple of moments well worth the watching and some important revelations.


snell said...

"...we know, these Time Lords, contemporary with Doc12½ cannot exist."

That presumes they are contemporary, which I doubt.

The Valeyard was disguised--the court seems as surprised as the Doctor--which would imply they didn't know his history, and perhaps that he had slipped back to an earlier time when he wasn't known.

Secondly, if the Time Lords were contemporary with Doc12½, they would know that they couldn't "strip him of his remaining regenerations" without changing history...a contemporary of 12½ would see that the Doctor was either in his "12th and final incarnation," and therefore had none left to strip.

Siskoid said...

That's a good theory too, though we know they're not contemporary with THIS Doc6 since the Matrix has future information on him and they do mention taking him "out of time".

Whatever the case may be, this is the story where the idea that Time Lords always meet each other in the synchronous sequence is put into question.

LiamKav said...

"They were destroyed/time looped by Doc9 (or Doc8 just before he regenerated)?"

Or Doc 8.5.

I do wonder if introducing the Eight And A Half Doctor in the same episode as actually saying the name of the Twelve And A Half Doctor by name was Moffat winking at the audience, or just screwing with them.

(Obviously, this relies on Hurt being Doctor 8.5 or something. Someone might be looking back on this post in a year and saying "gagh, how did he ever believe such a stupid theory. It was obvious from the beginning that John Hurt was playing Susan Who.)

Siskoid said...

Hurt might be 8.5, 11.5, 12.5 (Valeyard) or given the amount of regeneration energy River gave the Doctor, much farther down the line and not even a decimal.

Who the heck knows, right?


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