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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ….
Mindwarp is the story which suffers most for being part of the Trial format. Like The Mysterious Planet the action stops periodically whilst not terribly interesting points are debated in the Trialroom. For example, in episode five, there are six courtroom scenes, several of which don’t serve any particular purpose (apart from providing some exposure for guest stars Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham).
But more serious than this is the Doctor’s growing realisation that what he’s watching on the screen varies significantly from his own memories. Story-wise, this is interesting – but it does damage the narrative, how can we care about what we’re watching if it might not be true?
This concerned Colin Baker, who in rehearsals queried whether certain scenes were real or created by the Matrix. Eric Saward was unable to clarify, so this leaves sections of the story feeling a little unsatisfactory. We can say that the Doctor’s interrogation of Peri on the Rock of Sorrows in episode six and the end of episode eight are at least two examples of faked pictures.
On the original transmission, the end of episode eight was a shock (even allowing for the crash-zoom into the pouting face of Colin Baker). That this ending is negated later in the season is a fatal flaw. It would have been far better to have it revealed that the Time Lords were responsible for Peri’s death – since they took the Doctor out of time before he could save her. Instead, we have the fudge that it never really happened.
If we put aside the problems with the Trial format, then Mindwarp is still a solid, if unspectacular, Doctor Who story. Brian Blessed is the main guest star and he produces a typical Brian Blessed performance. Even by the mid 1980’s, he was (in)famous for his larger than life performances and he delivers a typical one here. He has a greater range than this though (at times he’s quietly menacing in I Claudius) so it’s a pity he couldn’t have had a more subtle character to play.
Nabil Shaban returns as Sil, much more of a comic relief than he was in Vengeance on Varos. Christopher Ryan (clearly an actor who can’t appear in Doctor Who unless he’s encased in latex) is very good as Kiv, Sil’s boss. Patrick Ryecart gives a typically smooth performance as the unscrupulous Crozier whilst Thomas Branch is able to overcome the difficulties of restricting make-up to deliver a touching turn as Dorff. It’s not all good news though, as Gordon Warnecke is monumentally wooden as Tuza, but his bad performance is an exception.
This is Nicola Bryant’s last story and, as has become a familiar story trope, she spends the majority of it fighting off somebody’s unwelcome attentions. It surely can’t be unintentional that Yrcanos shares a number of character traits with the Doctor (they both shout a lot, for example). The Peri/Yrcanos romance must be the least convincing since Leela/Andred and it’s interesting to ponder exactly how much of a say Peri had in matters. After the Doctor was removed from Thoros Beta she clearly had few other options than to stay with Yrcanos, but after the Doctor realises she’s still alive he never seems particularity interested in visiting to see how she is. Poor Peri!
Nicola Bryant does have some good material though (her final scene is stunning) and there’s some nice exchanges between Peri and Yrcanos.
PERI: Why do they want Tuza?
YRCANOS: Execution one at a time, that’s how it will be.
PERI: Oh. Oh, it’s strange. Ever since we came to Thoros Beta I’ve been homesick. Not so much for a place, but a time. I just want to be back in my own time with people I love.
YRCANOS: What is that? Love?
PERI: Well, it’s when you care for someone or something more than yourself, I guess.
DORF: More than yourself?
PERI: Well, I know it sounds crazy, but, sometimes more than life.
YRCANOS: I care nothing for mine.
PERI: How can you say that, Yrcanos?
YRCANOS: Well, on my planet of Krontep, when we die, our spirit is returned to life, to be born in a more noble warrior.
PERI: Until what? Where do you end after all your brave deaths?
YRCANOS: You become a king! Me, after my next death, I join the other kings on Verduna, the home of the gods.
PERI: To do what?
YRCANOS: Why, to fight! What else?
PERI: Well, that figures
If the Trial sequences don’t help the story, then the decision to have the Doctor act out of character for several episodes is also not a great move. Colin Baker’s abrasive performance during parts of S22 hadn’t found favour with some, so S23 (particularly with its reduced running time) should have concentrated on making him a more accessible character. Of course, at the time nobody knew that Baker would shortly be sacked by BBC management – if he had stayed on then this wouldn’t have mattered so much.
Mindwarp seems to be a slightly less focused story than Vengeance on Varos. Varos had a clear satirical point to make, whilst Mindwarp doesn’t – and at times feels much more like generic Doctor Who. It’s also saddled with some pretty poor dialogue – “Nobody likes brain alteration” – which suggests that Eric Saward’s attention was elsewhere. Indeed, he’d soon be gone and his eleventh hour walkout would be another blow to an already beleaguered season.
Doctor Who’s fall from grace in the mid 1980’s was dramatic and sudden. In 1983 the series celebrated its 20th Anniversary and still seemed to be regarded as one of the nation’s favourties. But by 1985 the series was tagged as old fashioned, violent and dropping in popularity.
Doctor Who needed friends in high places, but it was sadly out of luck. Previously, executives and programme controllers had both enjoyed the series as well as recognising its importance in the BBC1 schedules. But by the mid 1980’s a new breed was in place – Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell disliked the show and their dislike became public knowledge.
Therefore, in 1986 it was clear that the series was in trouble. Initial omens for S23 weren’t good. The episode count was slashed to fourteen 25 minute episodes, film was replaced by VT for exterior shots and there was a general feeling that the budget was much tighter than before. If the reduced episode count had ensured that more money was spent on each story then that would have been understandable, but apart from the odd impressive FX shot the series looked as cheap as it had for a long time. Foreign filming (a regular occurrence during the previous three seasons) now seemed to be a thing of the past.
With only fourteen episodes, the programme needed to make an instant impact, but it’s fair to say that the most calamitous decision was to have an overall umbrella theme of the Doctor on trial. Given that the series was fighting for its life with the BBC executives, it clearly struck JNT and Eric Saward as a witty idea to have the Doctor do the same.
As it stands, the Trial sequences slow each story down, as periodically the action is paused for the Doctor, the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) and the Inquisitor (the late Lynda Bellingham) to debate what we’ve all been watching. The Trial only really comes into its own in the last two episodes, but at the start of the series that’s three months away. How many people would stick with it throughout all fourteen episodes and remember the plot threads from this first story which are only answered three months later? The ratings tell their story on that one.
The Trial starts with The Mysterious Planet which was Robert Holmes’ final complete script for the series. Holmes died whilst writing the first of the two episodes designed to wrap the season up and it’s long been regarded that his illness played a factor in the slightly underwhelming nature of this story.
The Mysterious Planet feels like a first draft and although there are familiar Holmesian traits (such as the roguish Sabalom Glitz) there’s a certain lack of sparkle. It’s a perfectly serviceable story (although it draws heavily on Holmes’ own back-catalogue) but after being off-air for 18 months, Doctor Who needed to come back with a bang and this was a little disappointing, It’s certainly no Caves of Androzani, that’s for sure.
Whilst looking for inspiration, Holmes seems to have drawn upon his debut Doctor Who script, The Krotons. Drathro, like the Krotons, remains unseen by the population and regularly takes the two most intelligent work-units to live with him. Although Drathro actually puts their genius to some use, unlike the Krotons.
While the story is a little underpowered, there’s still plenty of good moments. The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has noticeably softened since S22 and therefore it’s a shame that Nicola Bryant’s days were numbered, particularly since this is the last story where she has decent interaction with the Doctor. And as with The Two Doctors Colin Baker benefits from having Robert Holmes write his dialogue.
DOCTOR: I know how you feel.
PERI: Do you?
DOCTOR: Of course I do. You’ve been traveling with me long enough to know that none of this really matters. Not to you. Your world is safe.
PERI: This is still my world, whatever the period, and I care about it. And all you do is talk about it as though we’re in a planetarium.
DOCTOR: I’m sorry. But look at it this way. Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.
Tony Selby seems to be enjoying himself as Sabalom Glitz. Glitz is derived from other Holmes creations, such as Garron, but there’s a slightly harder edge to Glitz (at least in this story).
GLITZ: You know, Dibber, I’m the product of a broken home.
DIBBER: You have mentioned it on occasions, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: Which sort of unbalanced me. Made me selfish to the point where I cannot stand competition.
DIBBER: Know the feeling only too well, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: 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.
DIBBER: That sounds more like an insult than a diagnosis, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: You’re right there, my lad. Mind you, I had just attempted to kill him. Oh, I do hate prison psychiatrists, don’t you? I mean, they do nothing for you. I must have seen dozens of them, and I still hate competition.
The core of the story (a group of primitives who treat various technological devices as items for worship) is a very familiar one and Joan Sims is, at best, merely acceptable as Katryca. We’ve seen far too many similar civilizations in previous Doctor Who stories for the Tribe of the Free to make any particular impression, sadly.
But although The Mysterious Planet is uninspired, it’s not particularly bad. On it’s own merits it’s perfectly watchable and would have slotted in very comfortably mid-season to many a series of Doctor Who. As a season-opener for what looked like a make-or-break year, it falls somewhat short though.
Saward hadn’t been particularly happy with the way Resurrection had turned out (as he felt he’d been strait-jacketed into adhering to previous Dalek continuity). Revelation is very much his own story and is all the better for it. Although, in fact, it’s not really a Dalek story as they only appear briefly throughout. Llike Genesis, it’s very much Davros’ story.
Terry Molloy is spellbinding throughout. Despite being stuck in a perspex tube for most of the two episodes, he’s a constant, malevolent presence. Graeme Harper tends to shoot him largely in close-up and this helps to create a sense of claustrophobia. Harper is also skillful in dealing with the Daleks. Seen head-on, they’re never that impressive – so Harper elects to shoot them close-up (so we only see a part of them gliding through the frame) or from low-angles (which makes them loom over people). Another interesting shot is when Davros offers Tasambeker immortality as a Dalek – and a Dalek eye-stalk comes into view on the right-hand side of the screen.
Although Harper’s direction isn’t as immediately impressive as The Caves of Androzani, there’s still more than enough interesting visual touches to mark this as something above the norm. And like Androzani, he’s assembled a first-rate cast.
As a devotee of Robert Holmes, Saward seems to have inherited one of Holmes’ familiar story traits – namely that of the double act. Indeed, Revelation is full of them (Kara/Vogel, Tasambeker/Jobel, Takis/Lilt, Orcini/Bostock, Grigory/Natasha as well as, of course, The Doctor/Peri).
Saward obviously enjoyed writing for these combinations and the only drawback is that the Doctor is pretty much superfluous to the first episode. He and Peri arrive, get attacked by a mutant, climb over a wall and then a statue appears to collapse on top of the Doctor – that’s the end of part one and we’re half-way through the story. In fact, the Doctor could have turned up a minute before the episode finished and it probably wouldn’t have impacted the story at all.
He has slightly more to do in the second episode, but it’s the likes of Orcini that Saward seems to be much more interested in. As is probably well known, Eric Saward never really cared for the Sixth Doctor and Revelation (either consciously or unconsciously) has virtually written him out of the narrative. His infamous Starburst interview from 1986 was the first time it became public knowledge that he didn’t consider Colin to be Doctor material and this was enough to sever their relationship forever. So for example, you knew that if Eric Saward was present for a Sixth Doctor DVD commentary, then Colin Baker wouldn’t be.
But if the Doctor struggles to make an impact, the rest of the characters fare much better. William Gaunt is lovely as the world-weary assassin Orcini, wishing for one final, honourable kill, accompanied by John Ogwen as his grimy squire, Bostock. They are hired by Kara (Eleanor Bron) and her fawning, obsequious secretary, Vogel (Hugh Walters) to assassinate the Great Healer (aka Davros). The initial meeting between Kara and Orcini is a good example of Saward’s new-found comic touch.
VOGEL: Be seated, gentlemen.
ORCINI: We prefer to stand.
KARA: Of course. How foolish. As men of action, you must be like coiled springs, alert, ready to pounce.
ORCINI: Nothing so romantic. I have an artificial leg with a faulty hydraulic valve. When seated, the valve is inclined to jam.
VOGEL: Perhaps you would like one of our engineers to repair it for you.
ORCINI: I prefer the inconvenience. Constant reminder of my mortality. It helps me to keep my mind alert.
KARA: Oh, Vogel, we have a master craftsman here. I feel humbled in his presence. Oh, no wonder your reputation’s like a fanfare through the galaxy.
ORCINI: I take little joy from my work. That I leave to Bostock. I prefer the contemplative life. It isn’t always easy to find, so, to cleanse my conscience I give what fee I receive to charity.
KARA: Such commitment. Oh, you are indeed the man for our cause.
Davros has been busy since we’ve seen him last, and when he and the Doctor finally meet he (like all villains down the ages) is more than happy to explain his evil scheme in great detail.
DAVROS: I am known as the Great Healer. A somewhat flippant title, perhaps, but not without foundation. I have conquered the diseases that brought their victims here. In every way, I have complied with the wishes of those who came in anticipation of one day being returned to life.
DOCTOR: But never, in their worst nightmares, did any of them expect to come back as Daleks.
DAVROS: All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition. They would understand, especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!
DOCTOR: With you as their emperor. But what of the lesser intellects? Or will they be left to rot?
DAVROS: You should know me better than that, Doctor.I never waste a valuable commodity . The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein. This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems.
DOCTOR: You’ve turned them into food?
DAVROS: A scheme that has earned me great acclaim.
DOCTOR: But did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?
DAVROS: Certainly not. That would have created what I believe is termed consumer resistance. They were grateful for the food. It allowed them to go on living.
DOCTOR: Until you take over their planets.
If some of the plot doesn’t really hang together (it’s hard to believe Davros would have rigged up the collapsing statue that pretended to crush the Doctor, it’s really not his style. And why was Tasambeker exterminated after killing Jobel? That’s what Davros told her to do) the overall experience is certainly a rich one and something tonally very different from the norm.
There are plenty of highlights, for example Alexei Sayle as the DJ broadcasting to the dead and Alec Linstead as Stengos, encased within a glass Dalek and slowly turning into a monster. It’s a pity that just as the series had hit imaginative new heights it was taken off-air for eighteen months. But the style that S22 had pushed all year had clearly gone too far for some at the BBC, so that when Doctor Who returned in 1986 it would be a radically different series.
Whatever else Timelash is, it certainly isn’t dull. But although it’s difficult (if not impossible) to argue that it’s an overlooked classic, it does have some decent elements and the bad ones are, very often, good for a laugh.
The first problem comes directly after the opening credits. It should have started with the escape of Aram, Tyheer and Gazak. This short scene manages to info-dump some important information quite well (the planet has a Citadel, a rebel encapment and the planet is ruled by the Borad) and it has a sense of urgency. Instead, we open with a bickering TARDIS scene between the Doctor and Peri.
Whilst the Doctor and Peri remain stuck in the TARDIS, arguing about the Time Corridor and waiting to enter the main plot, events are happening on Karfel. Timelash has a real range of performances, which travel the scale from Denis Carey (excellent and menacing in a small role) right down to Paul Darrow. The opening scene in the inner sanctum allows us to observe some good examples of this.
It’s probably a relief that the rebel Gazak (Steven Mackintosh) is cast into the Timelash so early on. His delivery of the lines “I’m no rebel. I love this planet. My crime is merely a concern for our world, our people, our loss of freedom, and the growing danger of an interplanetary war. ” is delivered in such a flat, lifeless way that his death is really a mercy killing.
Much better is Neil Hallett as Maylin Renis. He also departs from the story quite quickly, which is a little bit of shame. Hallett was a decent actor with decades of experience (a familiar face from series such as Ghost Squad) and his early demise allows Paul Darrow to step into the breach as the new Maylin.
Much has been written about Paul Darrow’s performance. Arch, would be a good way to describe it (other less polite words are also available). Like many parts in the story, it’s rather underwritten, so Darrow seems to to be doing his best to make it memorable, which he undeniably does. But for a true masterclass in good-bad acting, you can’t beat Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon. Darrow’s not in the same league.
Tracy Louise Ward is appealing as Katz. There’s nothing particularly interesting about her character, but she still manages to be very watchable. Easily the best from the guest cast is David Chandler as Herbert. He’s got the sharpest-written character (with some nice humourous moments) and he forms a good rapport with both Vena (Jeananne Crowley) and Colin Baker.
And if there’s one person holding this together, then it’s Colin Baker. Although he may have realised that the story wasn’t working, there’s no sense of that in his performance – he still gives 100% and his energy and enthusiasm help to lift proceedings immensely. But it’s not a good vehicle for Nicola Bryant as she spends the majority of the story chained up and menaced by an unconvincing rubber monster. The Board is the latest in a long line of aliens who has taken a shine to her, and sadly that’s about the extent of her involvement in the plot.
Speaking of rubber monsters, there’s the glorious appearance of the Bandril ambassador pleading for more grain, which is another highlight. There’s also some fun to be had from the gratuitous info-dumping that happens from time to time, a sure sign that the script needed at least a few more redrafts (for example, “all five hundred of us?” which very clumsily establishes how many people are present in the Citadel). The visual realisation of the Timelash, seen at the photo at the top of this post is breathtaking (for all the wrong reasons). The sight of Colin Baker dangling on a rope whilst struggling to get back to safety is something that’s not easily forgotten.
The Borad is quite an impressive villian (at least visually) and he sounds suitably menacing, thanks to Robert Ashby. His “shock” return after apparantly being killed (it was a clone that died) doesn’t really work though – as it feels like another ending tagged on to bolster an underruning episode. And as the lengthy TARDIS scene in the second episode was recorded because the episode was short, so like The Mark of the Rani there’s a sense of the story running out of steam mid-way through episode two.
But having said all this, I can’t find it in my heart to actually dislike Timelash. It’s not slapdash and shoddy like The Invasion of Time, dull like Underworld or just plain irritating like The Web Planet. It’s never going to win any popularity contests, but it’s not all bad either. Like the majority of S22 it remains fairly unloved by fandom, which is a shame, but whilst it has many faults, the commitment of the leading man certainly isn’t one of them.
The Two Doctors is, to put it mildly, a real mixed bag. Robert Holmes was asked to include a number of elements – a foreign setting (originally New Orleans, later Seville), the Second Doctor and Jamie and the Sontarans. We’ve previously discussed how Holmes disliked “shopping list” stories – this was the reason he didn’t complete his draft script for The Five Doctors for example – so placing so many restrictions on him was possibly asking for trouble. Another problem was that it was effectively the same running time as a six-parter (which was a length of story Holmes loathed).
Given all this, it’s a little surprising that The Two Doctors turned out as good as it did. Its tone is uncertain at times (Holmes always had a dark sense of humour and was probably delighted to find his whims indulged by Eric Saward) and it’s surprising to see that Troughton is somewhat wasted, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, so let’s dive in
The opening fifteen minutes or so are pure bliss. Back in 1985, the sum total of my exposure to Patrick Troughton’s Doctor comprised of The Krotons and The Three Doctors from the Five Faces repeats in 1981 and The Five Doctors from 1983. They were enough to convince me that Troughton was a brilliant Doctor and this story only cemented my appreciation of him. Although Troughton looks much older and greyer than before, there’s still a spark there and his byplay with Shockeye and Dastari is lovely. Frazer Hines, somewhat remarkably, didn’t look much older than when he bade the Doctor farewell in The War Games, some sixteen years earlier. Whilst Hines works well later on with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, it’s a pity he’s separated from Troughton for the majority of the story.
Given the length of the story, it’s odd that Troughton is absent for such a long period (he vanishes fifteen minutes into the first episode and doesn’t re-appear until fifteen minutes into episode two – some forty five minutes). And after such a strong start, he’s a somewhat impotent character for the remainder of the story. He spends episode two tied up (although he has a few good scenes) and suffers the indignity of being turned into an Androgum in episode three, something of a lowlight of the story. But back to episode two, there’s a delightful scene between Troughton and Stike (Clinton Greyn).
DOCTOR: Tea time already, nurse?
STIKE: I do not understand.
DOCTOR: Just as well. A face like yours wasn’t made for laughing.
STIKE: The operation must begin at once. I am needed at the front.
DOCTOR: Yes, I heard you. What was it, a vital strike in the Madillon Cluster? Oh, dear me. Nothing changes, does it? You and the Rutans have become petrified in your attitudes.
STIKE: Nothing can change till victory is achieved. But, but I fear I might have made a tactical error.
DOCTOR: Oh? I thought the Sontarans never made mistakes.
STIKE: It is not easy being commander. The loneliness of supreme responsibility.
DOCTOR: Why don’t you resign, Stike? Take a pension.
STIKE: When I die, it will be alongside my comrades at the front. Doctor, you have a chance, in death, to help the Sontaran cause.
DOCTOR: How can I do that?
STIKE: Tell Dastari where your symbiotic nuclei is located in your cell structure. Vital time will be saved and I can be on my way.
DOCTOR: Is that what Chessene’s offered you, the knowledge of unlimited time travel? In that case, you should watch your back, Stike.
DOCTOR: She’s an Androgum! A race to whom treachery is as natural as breathing. They’re a bit like you Sontarans in that respect!
(Stike slaps the Doctor.)
STIKE: That is for the slur on my people!
DOCTOR: And for that I demand satisfaction!
STIKE: You know that is impossible.
DOCTOR: I am challenging you to a duel, Stike. That is traditional among Sontarans, is it not?
STIKE: Oh, I would dearly love to kill you, but unfortunately you are needed alive.
DOCTOR: Release me, Stike. You are not only without honour, you’re a coward as well.
STIKE: As you are not a Sontaran, Doctor, you cannot impugn my honour.
DOCTOR: Well, that didn’t work, did it?
It does worry some people that Troughton’s Doctor is working for the Time Lords (and that Jamie knows all about them). This has given rise to the Season 6b theory, but the basic truth is that this was the latest attempt by Robert Holmes to demystify the Time Lords. Holmes disliked the way they had been portrayed in The War Games (aloof, august, etc) and instead he took every opportunity to portray them as out of touch and basically corrupt. The Deadly Assassin (which so upset a vocal minority of fandom at the time) was the clearest demonstration of this and The Two Doctors, more subtly, carries this on. Holmes would, of course, continue this theme the following year in his episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord. This interview excerpt with Holmes sheds some light on exactly what he was attempting to achieve.
When I wrote The Two Doctors, it was no mistake that the Troughton Doctor knew he was being controlled by the Time Lords. The theory which myself and others who worked on Doctor Who began to conceive was that the Time Lords were in dual control of the TARDIS all the time. The first trial was a mockery, a public relations exercise, because the Doctor had become involved too close to home and something had to be done about him. That’s why he is almost half-hearted about attempting to escape, which normally he never was. He knew that they were in complete control and had been all along. To operate as sneakily as this, you would have to be corrupt, and that’s what came later, when I was the script editor. Did they not condemn the Doctor to exile for interfering in the affairs of other planets? And yet who had sent him on these missions? They had!
Episode one has some rather strange plot holes (although it’s possible to argue these away). What was reason for displaying the image of the Second Doctor apparently being put to death? If nobody was left alive then who would have seen it? And it’s incredibly sloppy to leave the equipment in place, so that when someone came to investigate they would instantly see that the Doctor’s death was a fake.
And if the Second Doctor’s death was phony, why should the Sixth Doctor be affected? It’s also a remarkable co-incidence that when the Sixth Doctor decides to seek medical advice he not only chooses Dastari (out of all the medical men and women in the Universe) but lands the TARDIS at exactly the point in time immediately after the Sontarans have attacked the space station. The only possible explanation for these whacking great plot holes is that the Time Lords were aware the Second Doctor had been kidnapped and subtly influenced the Sixth Doctor in order to get him to investigate.
Robert Holmes always had a gift for language, which is very much present in this story. True, it sometimes edges towards the macabre (there were plenty of examples of this in the 1970’s and it does seem that Saward was keen to exploit this). Colin Baker benefits from Holmes’ writing – he’s impressed me in his stories so far, but here (thanks to Holmes) he goes up another couple of notches. This is a good example of morbid Holmes.
PERI: Ugh! Oh, Doctor, it’s foul. Are you sure it’s safe?
DOCTOR: Plenty of oxygen.
PERI: Yeah, but that awful smell.
DOCTOR: Mainly decaying food (sniffs) and corpses.
DOCTOR: That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air. Fruit-soft flesh, peeling from white bones. The unholy, unburiable smell of Armageddon. Nothing quite so evocative as one’s sense of smell, is there?
PERI: I feel sick.
DOCTOR: I think you’ll feel a good deal sicker before we’re finished here.
And this is lyrical Holmes.
DOCTOR: She can’t comprehend the scale of it all. Eternal blackness. No more sunsets. No more gumblejacks. Never more a butterfly.
There are problems with The Two Doctors, and the major one is the Sontarans. Although they have the reputation of being a classic Doctor Who monster, they were remarkably ill used, particularly in the original series. Linx was great, thanks to a wonderful performance by Kevin Lindsey and an impressive mask. Styre was comprimised by only appearing in one episode and a slightly less impressive mask (made to ease the strain on Kevin Lindsey). Stor was pretty rubbish and the Sontarans were generally pretty ineffectual anyway in The Invasion of Time.
Which leads us on to their next appearance, in this story, and it does seem to be a case of diminishing returns. The masks here are the worst yet seen – they look far too obviously like masks (just compare them to Linx from a decade earlier). Both Stike and Varl are very tall as well, which looks a little odd – nasty, brutish and short should be how the Sontarans look. Holmes writes them quite well, and Stike has a nice military swagger, but it’s clear they’re not the focus of the story and it probably would have worked just as well with just the Androgums.
The debate about violence during S22 was a fairly hot topic and there are two main talking points here – the death of Oscar and the death of Shockeye. Oscar (James Saxon) seems to be an archetypal Holmes figure (think Vorg in Carnival of Monsters or Jago in Talons of Weng Chiang). They exist to bring a little light relief to the story with their cowardly antics, but they come good in the end – by showing unexpected reserves of courage. Holmes was never afraid to kill off sympathetic characters (Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, for example) but the death of Oscar is a jolt.
Although he wasn’t used as much as Jago, there would have been a similar shock if Greel had knifed Jago to death in the last episode of Talons. His death is supremely pointless too – although maybe that’s Holmes’ point. Throughout the story we’ve seen how groups of characters treat the species’ they consider to be lesser than them. The Doctor and Dastari consider the Androgums to be a lower form of life, just as the Androgums regard humans as little more than animals whilst Oscar has no compunction in killing moths, which he does simply for the pleasure their mounted displays brings him.
The Doctor’s killing of Shockeye isn’t a problem – it’s obviously self defence as Shockeye was out for blood. It’s just unfortunate that we have a few shots of the Doctor smiling whilst preparing the cyanide. The sight of the Doctor apparently relishing what was about to happen is more than a little disturbing – although this may not have been the intention and simply how it was cut together.
So whilst the story flags somewhat in the last episode (like City of Death and Arc of Infinity they can’t resist a run-around so they can show off the foreign location) it’s never less than entertaining across all three episodes. It’s a pity that Troughton wasn’t used better and also that the two Doctors were kept apart for the majority of the story, but apart from these niggles it’s a very decent script from Robert Holmes and in many ways it was the last one he wrote where he was fully on top of his game.