Tonight at 8:30 – Family Album (5th May 1991)


Family Album was described by Coward as “a sly satire on Victorian hypocrisy”. It’s set in the comfortable drawing room of the Featherways family, who have just returned from their father’s funeral. The atmosphere is decidedly formal to begin with, but when the new head of the household, Jasper (Denis Quilley), suddenly breaks into song for no particular reason it triggers a rapid lightening of mood ….

This one has quite the cast. I never knew that Denis Quilley could sing, but sing he does (as do several other cast members – which explains, in part, why the likes of Bonnie Langford and Jessica Martin appear today). It’s a slight pity that all the songs were clearly pre-recorded (when Jasper launches into the first song, Quilley’s voice suddenly gains a large dollop of recording studio echo) but since this isn’t the sort of playlet where realism is key, let’s not quibble.

Joan Collins has undergone yet another transformation. Sporting a rather uncomfortable set of teeth, I doubt she’s ever looked quite as unglamorous as she does here. She’s cast as Lavinia, the eldest daughter of the family, and the one who – initially at least – is by far the most prim and proper. A spinster, and likely to remain so, she begins by casting a disapproving eye when the others begin to make slightly merry, but after swigging some wine she soon gets into the spirit of things.

This isn’t the play with Collins’ largest role, but Lavinia still manages to make the most important story contribution.

She reveals towards the end that their father had made a new will just before he died, leaving some of his money to his several mistresses and the rest to a new church, which was due to contain a gaudy memorial to himself. Lavinia – with the assistance of Burrows, the butler – destroyed the will, thereby ensuring that the family would all receive their inheritances.

Although it was broadcast nearly thirty years ago, it still slightly takes the breath away to remember this was transmitted on BBC1. It’s hard to imagine such a piece, even with this sort of top quality cast, slotting into the schedule today. Goodness knows what the audience watching at the time made of it – personally I love it, but the way the characters continually break into song with no warning would probably have taken most people by surprise. And maybe it wouldn’t have been a pleasant surprise …

Especially since the opening few minutes would have primed them to expect something quite different – a bleak(ish) drawing room playlet.  The way the rug is pulled from beneath the audience’s feet by the reveal that not only was the late head of the household an incurable letch but also that his children (all seemingly stolid and staid citizens) find it very easy to revert to the innocence of childhood at the drop of a hat, is a little stroke of genius.

Dominic Jephcott and Charles Collingwood are further strong additions to the cast whilst John Alderton seems to having a whale of a time as Burrows, the ancient family retainer. Sporting reasonably convincing old-age make up, Alderton manages to milk each comic moment for everything it’s worth.

I’m happy to report there was no laugh track on this one, so hopefully the remainder of the series will be equally unaffected.

Family Album is an odd treat from a series that continues to surprise and entertain.


Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen


Back in 1987, the rock’n’roll stylings of Delta and the Bannermen seemed to be a quaint reminder of a far-ago age.  Yet more time now separates us from the original transmission (a shade under thirty years) than the gap between the first broadcast and its 1959 setting.  Funny thing time …..

Maybe it’s the retro setting, but time seems to have been pretty kind to Delta.  True, the story remains rather dreamlike and insubstantial, but it’s hard not to warm to it.  On the negative side, it’s a shame that Gavrok remains hopelessly undeveloped – he wants to exterminate the Chimeron race because he wants to – meaning that Don Henderson has to make bricks out of straw (Henderson has a nice line in simmering anger but little else, alas).  Delta herself, as portrayed by Belinda Mayne, is presented with a little more in the script to work with, but this is torpedoed by Mayne’s passionless performance.

I’ve also never been able to decide whether the fact that Weismuller can get straight through to the White House from a humble police box is supposed to be deliberately stupid or whether Malcolm Kholl just hoped nobody would notice.  But given that Weismuller and Hawk are given the job of tracking a satellite with the aid of a very basic telescope, I think it’s probably the former …..

But if the story is somewhat flimsy fare, then the performances more than make up for it.  Stubby Kaye is delightfully amiable as the bumbling Weismuller whilst Richard Davies brings to bear all his sitcom experience when delivering these sort of lines.  “Now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?”

And there’s the rub.  If you believe that Doctor Who should be grim and gun-happy (like, say, Eric Saward) then Delta isn’t gong to appeal.  Otherwise, there should be plenty to enjoy here – although even I, unreconstructed Delta fan as I am, can’t sit through the honey/bees scene without squirming.  There should have been another way.

Had Sarah Griffiths toned down her “Welsh” accent then she might have made a very decent companion.  She certainly works well with Sylvester – the moment when a distraught Ray (miffed that the love of her life, Billy, is making eyes at the newly arrived alien lady) grabs the Doctor for an energetic dance is just one delight amongst many.

Always a pleasure to revisit this one.

Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea? Doctor Who – Dragonfire


Back in 1987 Dragonfire topped the DWM best story poll.  Maybe this was because it was the most “traditional” story of the season and that was why it appealed to the fans.  But though it’s a decent enough romp, the lack of logic in the plot (and some of the performances) are a bit of a problem.

Edward Peel, as the villanious Kane, is one of Dragonfire’s highlights though.  Peel doesn’t have to do a great deal – except loom menacingly – but he looms very well.  He does has the benefit of playing against Patricia Quinn as Belazs, who has a nice line in frustration and despair.  Tony Osboa as Kracauer isn’t so good though – he’s rather overplaying throughout all his scenes.  And Kracauer is clearly not too bright.  Having agreed with Belazs that it would be a good idea to kill Kane, he then waits around after sabotaging the temperature controls for Kane to wake up and kill him.  Not a good move!

I also have to mention the ice statue created of Kane’s dead partner, Xana.  He’s clearly delighted with it – “A work of artistry, my friend. Incandescent artistry. I could almost believe Xana lives again.” – but it doesn’t look very impressive to me and not even a terribly good likeness of Xana from the brief picture of her that we see.

The Doctor and Mel are on the hunt for a Dragon, assisted, in his own unique way, by Glitz (Tony Selby) and Ace (Sophie Aldred).  The icy lower levels allow McCoy plenty of opportunities to slip and slide, whilst episode one ends with a notorious cliffhanger – as the Doctor, well, hangs off a cliff.  Apparently it should have been made clear that the Doctor had to go down since he couldn’t go back – but why wouldn’t he have waited for Glitz?  And how did Glitz get down in order to rescue the Doctor?

Bonnie Langford was uncertain for a long time whether or not to return for S25.  When Dragonfire was written it still wasn’t decided, so there were two endings scripted – either Mel went off with Glitz and Ace joined the Doctor, or Ace left with Glitz.  As it was, shortly after the first studio session Langford decided to leave after all, so Ace would become the Doctor’s new traveling companion.

Kane has a tempting offer for Ace
Kane has a tempting offer for Ace

Sophie Aldred was incredibly inexperienced (Dragonfire was the first time she’d been inside a television studio) but she acquits herself well.  The character of Ace is not as well defined in this story as it would become – but given the fact that many companions never develop at all during their time on the show, the growth and journey of her character is quite remarkable.  For some fans in the late 1980’s, it was Aldred’s show with McCoy playing second fiddle.

Some of the plot-threads in this story will be picked up and developed across the next two seasons, and already we have the sense of a damaged girl hiding behind a tough, streetwise facade.

MEL: You’re from Earth?
ACE: Used to be.
MEL: Whereabouts on Earth?
ACE: Perivale.
MEL: Sounds nice.
ACE: You ever been there?
MEL: No.
ACE: I was doing this brill experiment to extract nitroglycerine from gelignite, but I think something must have gone wrong. This time storm blows up from nowhere and whisks me up here.
MEL: When was this?
ACE: Does it matter?
MEL: Well, don’t you ever want to go back?
ACE: Not particularly.
MEL: What about your mum and dad?
ACE: I haven’t got no mum and dad. I’ve never had no mum and dad and I don’t want no mum and dad. It’s just me, all right?
MEL: Sorry. What about your chemistry A level, then?
ACE: That’s no good. I got suspended after I blew up the art room.
MEL: You blew up the art room?
ACE: It was only a small explosion. They couldn’t understand how blowing up the art room was a creative act.

Things tick along quite nicely for the first two episodes.  The Doctor/Glitz and Mel/Ace make two good teams but everything collapses in episode three as there’s no escaping the major plot flaws.  Kane’s been imprisoned on Svartos for three thousand years, so why has he only decided now to escape?  And if the Dragon (the biomechanoid) is his jailer (and how exactly does this work?) then why does it contain the key which enables him to escape his exile?

And the silliest part of all – are we really supposed to believe that during the last three thousand years, when he’s been running the galactic equivalent of Bejam, he’s never once checked to see how things were going on his home planet of Proamon?  It was destroyed by a super-nova two thousand years ago and nobody thought to tell him or he didn’t discover this for himself?

There’s an echo of The Hand of Fear here, but at least Eldrad had a good excuse for not knowing about the current situation on Kastria as only his fossilised hand remained, buried deep in the Earth’s surface for millions of years.  Therefore you can’t blame him for not keeping up to date with the latest news (unlike Kane, of course).

Episode three also has the rather uninspiring bug hunt with McLuhan and Bazin and rather too much of the cutesy Stellar (Miranda Borman) for my taste.  So ultimately Dragonfire is a bit of a damp squib, though the future was looking brighter.

S23 and S24 had been difficult times for the series, but S25 and S26 would see something of a creative rebirth.  As it remained scheduled against Coronation Street there was a general public indifference and the critics were rarely kind either.  Doctor Who might have become a beleaguered and largely unloved series, but it still had a few tricks and surprises up its sleeve.

Here’s to the future. Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen


Delta and the Bannermen is another good story from Doctor Who’s most unfashionable season.  It may be pretty light fare but there’s something infectious about the production that induces a feel-good factor.  Well, for some people anyway.  Others can’t get beyond the Ken Dodd factor.

Doddy is something of an infamous guest star, but he’s only on screen for a couple of minutes so he’s not really much of a problem.  His appearance does indicate that this isn’t going to be the most serious of stories, but while there may be plenty of comic moments everybody tends to play it pretty straight, well most of them anyway.

Richard Davies, as Burton, was a familiar face from British sitcoms (a regular on Please Sir and a guest at Fawlty Towers, for example) and his performance is pitched at that level.  After all, it’s difficult to deliver lines such as “now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?” without having a certain comedy knack.  Davies has the knack and his bewildered but enthusiastic presence is one of Delta’s many strengths.

Hawk (Morgan Deare) and Weismuller (Stubby Kaye) are also good value, although they don’t have a great deal to do with the main plot and their subplot (looking out for an American satellite) is rather odd, to say the least.  But it’s Stubby Kaye! In Doctor Who! He may be dressed as the oldest teenager in town but he gives a charming turn.

The main plot (Gavrok hunting down the Chimerons) remains somewhat vague.  We never know why Gavrok hates the Chimerons, so he’s ultimately a rather sketchy villain.  This lack of motivation meant that it required a good actor to make something out of a fairly nothing role and Don Henderson certainly delivers.  Henderson was a popular television face (The XYY Man, Strangers and Bulman) and he’s able to generate a suitable level of boo-hiss villainy.

Sadly, the object of his pursuit (the Chimeron Queen, Delta) is something of a weak link.  Belinda Mayne gives a rather colourless, passionless performance and it’s hard to really connect with her or sympathise with the plight of her people.  The other main female lead (Sara Griffiths as Ray) was much better.  It’s easy to see why Ray was originally planned as companion material, although if she had joined she would needed to have brushed up on her end of episode acting.  At the end of episode one she’s threatened with death, but there’s a singular lack of anxiety on her face – just a look of mild inconvenience!

The rather lovely Sara Griffiths
The rather lovely Sara Griffiths

Given the comic-strip nature of the story, Gavrok’s destruction of the Nostalgia Tours bus at the end of the second episode is very jarring.  The murder of thirty or forty people should be shocking (particularly those we know, like Murray) but it never really registers.  Partly because the effect doesn’t convince but also because it seems out of place in the story to date.

The likes of The Myth Makers had three episodes of comedy followed by a dark, violent fourth episode.  If things had taken a similar turn in Delta then this scene may have worked better, but events carry on as normal in episode three (with, for example, the bees attacking the Bannermen – a rather silly scene).

With two female guest roles and only three episodes, Bonnie Langford is a little sidelined in this story (she doesn’t do much at all in the last episode).  Sylvester McCoy is on fine form though.  I love his scenes with Ray in episode one, where he does his best to console her after she’s discovered that Billy (David Kinder) only has eyes for the lady from another planet.  His hesitant comforting of the sobbing girl shows a tender side to the Doctor that we don’t see very often.

“Love has never been known for its rationality”

And his confrontation with Gavrok at the end of episode two is very good, especially the last line.

GAVROK: Give me Delta and I will give you your life.
DOCTOR: Life? What do you know about life, Gavrok? You deal in death. Lies, treachery and murder are your currency. You promise life, but in the end it will be life which defeats you.
GAVROK: You have said enough. I have traversed time and space to find the Chimeron queen. I will not be defeated.
DOCTOR: As you will. I came here under a white flag and I will leave under that same white flag, and woe betide any man who breaches its integrity. Now step aside! Release those prisoners.
(A Bannerman moves to obey.)
DOCTOR: Gavrok, it’s over. You’re finished, and we’re leaving.
(But as the Doctor, Mel and Burton walk to the motorbike and sidecar, they hear the sound of cocking weapons behind them.)
DOCTOR: Actually, I think I may have gone a little too far.

All this, plus a guest appearance by the legendary Hugh Lloyd (Hugh and I, Hancock’s Half Hour) and a stack of great 1950’s music makes me genuinely puzzled as to why this remains amongst the also-rans in every Doctor Who poll.  You wouldn’t want every story to be like it, but once in a while it’s good to let your hair down and have a bit of a party – and Delta and the Bannermen certainly delivers that.

Ice Hot. Doctor Who – Paradise Towers


Like the rest of S24, Paradise Towers remains somewhat unloved by Doctor Who fandom.  Out of 241 stories, the 2014 DWM poll places Time and the Rani at 239, Paradise Towers at 230, Delta at the Bannermen at 217 and Dragonfire at 215.

Is Paradise Towers really the 11th worst Doctor Who story of all time?  I don’t think so, and whilst it has serious faults (hello Richard Briers, especially in episode four!) there’s plenty of things that do work.

Firstly, Sylvester McCoy is very good.  His performance is far removed from the prat-falling Doctor seen in Time and the Rani.  Here, the Doctor is content to watch and listen, and at times there’s a nice sense of stillness from him.  As will become clear when we move through his era, McCoy is at his best when he’s downplaying and at his worst when he has to shout and emote.

Most of his best scenes are with the Caretakers, and this one is a particular favourite.

DOCTOR: I suppose how you guard me is in that rulebook.
DEPUTY: Yes. Rule forty five B stroke two subsection five.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t mind having a look at that rulebook, if that’s not against the rules. I mean, after all, I am a condemned man.
(The Deputy consults the rule book.)
DEPUTY: Yes, we can count that as your last request. You’re entitled to one if you’re to undergo a three two seven appendix three subsection nine death. Not a pretty way to go.
(The Deputy passes over the rule book and the Doctor leafs through it.)
DOCTOR: How extraordinary. No, no. It can’t be true.
DEPUTY: What’s that?
DOCTOR: Oh no, no. It’s. You couldn’t possibly.
DEPUTY: If it’s there, it’s true. Rules are rules. Orders are orders.
DOCTOR: If you say so. I don’t want to make a fool of you.
DEPUTY: Read out what it says.
DOCTOR: Oh, very well, but I find it hard to credit
DEPUTY: Read it!
DOCTOR: It says here about a three two seven appendix three subsection nine death, that after you’ve been guarding the condemned prisoner for (checks his wristwatch) thirty five minutes, you must all stand up.
DEPUTY: But if we
DOCTOR: Yes, I know, I know, I find it extraordinary. I don’t really expect you to do it. But it is in there.
(The Deputy and the Caretaker stand up.)
DOCTOR: The Caretakers present must then move five paces away from the prisoner.
(They do so.)
DOCTOR: Five. Close their eyes and put their hands above their head.
(The Doctor tiptoes up to the back of the Deputy and carefully picks his trouser pocket, removing his wallet containing a selection of cards.)
DEPUTY: How long do we do this for?
DOCTOR: For about a minute and a half. You see, that’s how long the prisoner needs.
(The Doctor takes his umbrella from the Caretaker.)
DEPUTY: To do what?
DOCTOR: Find the key card to the door and escape.
DEPUTY: Sorry?
DOCTOR: Find the key card to the door and escape.

Rules are rules
Rules are rules

Clive Merrison, as the Deputy Chief Caretaker, gives a lovely comic performance throughout.  As everybody’s come up against the relentless grind of bureaucracy at some time, the rule-book spouting Deputy is something of a joy.  Richard Briers, as the Chief Caretaker, is pretty good in the first three episodes (although there are signs of the problems to come) but everything falls to pieces when he gets to episode four.

Once the Chief has been taken over by Kroagnon, Briers’ performance goes into free-fall.  It’s astonishingly bad and the question has to be why did JNT and director Nick Mallet allow him to do it?  This is probably the reason why the story is so poorly regarded, but even so, there’s some good material and performances in the rest of the story.

Tilda (Brenda Bruce) and Tabby (Elizabeth Spriggs) are great fun as the two old dears who want Mel to stay for lunch, as it were.  Their eventual fate (vanishing down the waste-disposal unit) is one of many points in the story which signify that this isn’t a Doctor Who that’s operating on a realistic level.  The tone of the piece and the performances are pitched more in the style of a slightly twisted fairy tale rather than the straight-ahead realism of, say, The Caves of Androzani.

The Kangs are interesting, with a slang language all of their own – but the casting seems a little off.  They appear have been written as gangs of teenage girls, but the actresses playing them look too old and sound too middle-class.  There’s possibly nothing that could really have been done though, since younger actresses would have had limitations on the hours they could have worked, which would have been a problem for the production.

There’s some nice satirical points in the story, particularly on the problems of urban decay.  At one time, tower blocks were seen as the only solution to the post-war housing problem, but only a few years after they were built they had become virtual prisons for some of their inhabitants.  Kroagnon’s opinion that Paradise Towers would be fine if only it wasn’t full of people is one that was shared by certain other architects.  But a building has to be designed to be lived in, not just to exist as a form of modern sculpture.

This type of tale is naturally not going to be to everyone’s tastes.  A frequent criticism of Paradise Towers is that it looks and feels like a children’s programme (an odd comment to make about a Doctor Who story surely) but I’d sooner have something like this, which is attempting something different, than another Dalek or Cybermen story.

Back in the late 1980’s, a term was coined for these types of stories – “Oddball”.  And whilst the series would later give the fans some of the things they wanted – the return of the Daleks, Cybermen, the Brigadier, etc – they would also throw a few Oddball stories into the mix.  And some of the Oddballs have aged pretty well, certainly they stand up to scrutiny better than the likes of Silver Nemesis or Battlefield.

It’s hard to imagine Paradise Towers ever being reclaimed as a classic (or even a halfway decent story) by most people, but thanks to some good performances (McCoy and Merrison particularly) it’s well worth pulling off the shelf and revisiting.

Time and tide melts the snowman. Doctor Who – Time and the Rani

time and the rani

Time and the Rani seems to be nobody’s favourite Sylvester McCoy story (including McCoy himself).  It was a rather uneasy collaboration between old-school writers Pip and Jane Baker and the new script editor Andrew Cartmel.  Although I’m sure we’ll have more to say on Cartmel’s work as we move through the McCoy era, one positive step he took was to find and encourage new writers.

Eric Saward had always found the job of locating new writers to be a problem, but everything Cartmel commissioned (Time and the Rani was in preparation before he joined the series) was from writers new to Doctor Who.  And although Cartmel had a fairly low opinion of Time and the Rani there wasn’t time to do a major re-write, so the story went into production pretty much as written.

This, of course, marks Sylvester McCoy’s debut as the Doctor and his performance is, broad, to put it mildly.  There’s plenty of clowning and pratfalls (which naturally didn’t please some sections of Doctor Who fandom at the time) and it doesn’t take long before the new Doctor demonstrates his ability to play the spoons (twice!).  But buried amongst the humour are some quieter, still moments which hint at the Doctor he will become.

Mel gets to scream (an awful lot) and forge a friendship with the hot-headed rebel Ikona (Mark Greenstreet).  Like the other main characters, Ikona is very much a generic Doctor Who character (we also have Donald Pickering as the noble leader and Wanda Ventham as the proud, supportive wife and mother).  There’s a slight sense that three good actors are being wasted in fairly nothing roles, but the story does benefit from having them here.

The Rani’s back! And since she’s no longer has the Master hanging around, she needs another Time Lord to help her with the fiddly bits of her master-plan (this all gets explained in the last episode but it’s not really worth waiting for).  She snares the Doctor by diverting his TARDIS with a very small gun.  It’s worth wondering how long she spent on the planet’s surface, looking up to the heavens, waiting for the Doctor’s TARDIS to appear.  Actually, it’s probably best not to dwell on this, because it is a very silly idea.


Seemingly unconcerned that she’s triggered a regeneration for the Doctor, the Rani then plays dress-up (see The Mark of the Rani for another example of her cosplay skills).  This time she’s dressed as Mel and there’s some fun to be had with Kate O’Mara’s wicked mimicking of Bonnie Langford.

Although the story is fairly derided, it does chug along quite nicely.  The small cast means that the focus is very much on the Doctor, Mel and the Rani.  How much this appeals does depend on your opinion of all three actors – so for some this is clearly not a good thing at all.  The Tetraps are a bit iffy though – they look like men in costumes, wearing masks (which is what they are, but it’s a bad sign when they look so fake).

But whilst I can’t make the case that this is an overlooked classic, it’s possibly not quite as bad as some would have you believe.  It’s certainly not Underworld bad, which is one of those stories where I find my brain switching off during episode two and by the time the credits for episode four have rolled it’s very hard to remember exactly what’s happened during the last 75 minutes (apart from bad CSO, rocks, more bad CSO and more rocks).

Given the rather indifferent nature of The Trial of a Time Lord, S24 really needed a substantial opening story that would refire the public’s imagination.  Time and the Rani certainly wasn’t it (in fact we’d have to wait another year and Remembrance of the Daleks for the first signs that Doctor Who was starting to recover it’s strength) but Time and the Rani is a diverting enough way to spend 100 minutes.

There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality. Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord – The Ultimate Foe

Doctor Who

If The Ultimate Foe brings The Trial of a Time Lord to a slightly disappointing conclusion, the somewhat chaotic nature of the scripting of the story is probably the reason why.

Eric Saward had commissioned Robert Holmes to write the two concluding episodes.  Holmes was mid-way through episode thirteen when he was hospitalized and sadly, he was to pass away shortly afterwards.  With Holmes in hospital, Saward completed episode thirteen and, working from Holmes’ story outline, wrote the concluding episode.

JNT wasn’t happy with Saward’s ending (the Doctor and the Valeyard were trapped, apparently for ever, in a Time Vent) and asked for it to be changed.  Saward refused and then resigned as script editor, taking his script with him.  He also attempted to stop his section of episode thirteen from being used, but was unsuccessful.

Pip and Jane Baker were commissioned to write a new concluding episode.  For copyright reasons they couldn’t be given any details of Saward’s script.  So all they had to go on was episode thirteen and to make matters worse they had only a few days to deliver a workable episode.

Holmes’ section of episode thirteen runs up until the Doctor enters the Matrix.  After that (with one exception) the rest was scripted by Saward.  What’s interesting about Holmes’ scenes is how he takes yet another opportunity to tarnish the reputation of the Time Lords.  Holmes had started this process some ten years earlier with The Deadly Assassin.  And in many ways, The Ultimate Foe is really The Deadly Assassin II.

Episode thirteen answers some of the unanswered questions from The Mysterious Planet (although it’s debatable how many people actually remembered the points that are tidied up).  Glitz and Mel are called as star witnesses and the Master pops up.  I love the reveal of Ainley on the Matrix screen as well as his comment that he’s been sat in the Matrix watching everything and “enjoying myself enormously”.

The Master has the best seat in the house
The Master has the best seat in the house

All of the Time Lords’ dirty schemes are revealed (they’re somewhat complicated it has to be said) and there then follows a scene which could have been a game-changer in the direction of the series.

MASTER: You have an endearing habit of blundering into these things, Doctor, and the High Council took full advantage of your blunder.
INQUISITOR: Explain that.
MASTER: They made a deal with the Valeyard, or as I’ve always known him, the Doctor, to adjust the evidence, in return for which he was promised the remainder of the Doctor’s regenerations.
VALEYARD: This is clearly
DOCTOR: Just a minute! Did you call him the Doctor?
MASTER: There is some evil in all of us, Doctor, even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation. And I may say, you do not improve with age.

The origin of the Valeyard is something of a mystery and is never addressed.  There was further mileage in an evil anti-Doctor (possibly taking over from the Master as the Doctor’s main nemesis) but it was never explored again (on television at least).  But these two episodes do give Michael Jayston a chance to flex his acting muscles (and lose the hat!) and whilst the Valeyard never develops beyond a fairly stereotypical villain, Jayston does give him a bit of class.

Mel - "As truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come."
Mel – “As truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come.”

Given the scripting race against time, episode fourteen is actually a lot better than it could have been.  There’s some nice set-pieces (the Doctor apparantly convicted in a fake trial room and the unmasking of Popplewick aka the Valeyard) but the Valeyard’s ultimate plan (to assassinate various key Time Lords) is a little less than impressive.  But there’s some prime examples of the Bakers unique use of the English language to enjoy – “a megabyte modem” and “there’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality” amongst others. 

And then it’s all over.  The Doctor is free to go and leaves with Mel (paradoxically before he’s actually met her!) and the Valeyard lives to cackle another day.  Colin Baker’s final words “carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice” are perhaps not the most impressive last words he could have had – but, of course, it wasn’t planned to be his final story.

Over the last three weeks or so, I’ve really enjoyed revisiting all of Colin Baker’s stories for the first time in a number of years.  He was something of a victim of circumstances and had things been different he could have gone on for several more years and really established himself as one of the best Doctors.  But even given his rather compromised stint, there’s still plenty to enjoy in S22 and S23 and it’s with a little regret that I bid him farewell.

A web of mayhem and intrigue. Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord – Terror of the Vervoids


Anybody who’s ever studied the tortured production history of S23 will probably be aware that Eric Saward had some trouble in finding workable scripts.  Various writers were approached and submissions were made, but many of them came to nothing.  So it’s fair to say that Pip and Jane Baker weren’t his first choice to fill episodes nine to twelve –  they were commissioned more as an act of desperation when everything else had fallen through.

Not that Saward had much to do with the story.  The dispute over his script for episode fourteen (which I’m sure we’ll touch upon when we reach The Ultimate Foe) triggered his resignation and Terror of the Vervoids went through the production process without a designated script-editor (JNT assumed these duties).

The lack of Saward isn’t really notable – as the Bakers were quite able to script a decent story off their own bat (although as per all their stories, sometimes the characters are saddled with very unnatural sounding dialogue).  Vervoids is an entertaining whodunnit, packed with suspects and red-herrings galore.  It may (like the rest of S23) look a little cheap (some of the Hyperion III seems to be cobbled together from stock) but there’s a decent set of actors and minimal interference from the trial, which makes this one of the highlights of S23.

Professor Lasky gets caught by the Vervoids
Professor Lasky gets caught by the Vervoids

Chris Clough was assigned director of the final six episodes and his influence is notable from the first shot – he’s turned down the lights in the Trialroom and everything instantly looks a great deal better.  Although there are a few instances when it appears that the Matrix has again been tampered with, this doesn’t impact the story as badly as it did Mindwarp. And episode nine allows the story time to develop with the trial sequences book-ending the episode – it’s nice, for once, to have an episode where there aren’t delays every few minutes which are devoted to discussing meaningless points.

It’s maybe just as well that the Internet didn’t exist in 1986, as the casting of Bonnie Langford would have caused it to melt.  She wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by a certain section of Doctor Who fandom (who clearly saw her casting as the final straw) but looking back at this story she’s perfectly fine.  She does lack any sort of background (inevitable since we’re introduced to her cold in this story) but Mel’s young, keen, headstrong and with a knack for getting into trouble.  She can also scream in tune with the closing sting on the theme music, which is a good trick!

True, her opening scene is somewhat iffy –

MEL: This will wake you up.
DOCTOR: Carrot juice?
MEL: It’ll do you good. Honestly, carrots are full of vitamin A.
DOCTOR: Mel, have you studied my ears lately?
MEL: It’s your waistline I’m concerned about.
DOCTOR: No, no, seriously, though. Is it my imagination or have they started to grow longer?
MEL: Listen, when I start to call you Neddy, then you can worry. Drink up.
DOCTOR: You’ll worry sooner when I start to bray.

But things do pick up after this.  It’s also interesting to note how mellow Colin Baker’s Doctor is – he’s a million miles away from the abrasive character of S22, all his previous arrogance and bluster have gone.

Once aboard the Hyperion, the Doctor and Mel mix with the guests and staff and start to uncover various conspiracies.  Clearly one whodunnit wasn’t good enough for the Bakers, so there’s a diverse series of events and problems which need to be solved.

Honor Blackman and Michael Craig are the main guest stars.  Blackman is good fun as the constantly bad-tempered Lasky, whilst Craig (although he sometimes has the air of a man who wishes he was elsewhere) is solid enough as Travers.  David Allister is quite compelling as Bruchner, the scientist with a conscience, whilst the late Yolande Palfrey manages to make something out of nothing, as the stewardess Janet.

Lurking in the air-conditioning are the Vervoids, who aren’t the most impressive monsters that the series has produced.  They’re just too polite to be particularly threatening (“we are doing splendidly”) and it doesn’t help that the actors in the suits tend to do typical monster acting – lurching from side to side and waving their arms about.

A scary cliff-hanger (something of a rarity in S23)
A scary cliff-hanger (something of a rarity in S23)

But if the Vervoids do lack a little something, then there are still a few scares to be had in the story.  Since the majority of cliff-hangers this season have ended on a crash-zoom of the Doctor’s pouting face, it’s nice to have two that buck the trend.  Episode nine gives us a chance to hear Mel’s ear-splitting scream as the Hydroponic centre explodes whilst episode ten has the creepy reveal of Ruth Baxter.

After twelve weeks, we’re now into the trial’s endgame.  Episodes thirteen and fourteen will either provide a satisfying conclusion to the previous three months or, well, they won’t.  The ultimate foe awaits ….