Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Although there was much to enjoy principally for the fans like myself, Colin Baker’s first full season was not well received generally. As well as being unfairly deemed excessively violent (e.g. certain scenes in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ and‘Vengeance on Varos’) the forty-five minute episodic format seemed unpopular. A rest and rethink was implanted leading to a much longer than usual eighteen month gap between seasons.

Returning in September 1986, a group of four separate adventure segments, linked by an overall fourteen episode single story entitled ‘The Trial of A Time Lord’ showed a season that certainly reflected a change of style. The opening adventure with the working title ‘The Mysterious Planet’ was the last complete four parter from highly regarded writer Robert Holmes. Having given the series such classics as ‘Caves of Androzani’, ‘The Ark In Space’ and ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ there are signs of his writing prowess in this segment of the Trial.

Walking through a fairly sparse leafy forest the colourfully attired sixth Doctor holds onto his trusty multicoloured umbrella, his companion, Peri, unlike previous seasons seems content to hold on his arm whilst sheltering under the umbrella. The more grown up, tasteful and stylish clothes (silver-grey slacks, gold coloured silk blouse and diagonally striped yellow blazer) and longer hair conveys a companion who has certainly developed since the previous ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ story. The interaction between her and the Doctor, as typified during their initial scenes, has also evolved which albeit being quite natural is certainly most welcome. The character of Peri has indeed developed since first appearing as virtually a screaming spoilt brat in ‘Planet of Fire’ (e.g. her scenes in that story with Professor Howard Foster).

Having located a hidden entrance the duo’s subsequent exploration inside and below ground are well handled, complemented with suitable lighting and incidental music. Of particular note is the conversation Peri has with the Doctor, following the discovery of the Marble Arch underground sign, where Peri conveys her emotions about realising that Ravolox is infact Earth. This leads to Peri’s initial reticence to explore further leading to the pair temporarily separating. For the most part I find the incidental music for this story to be mostly gloom and boom however there are a few instances where it is particularly noteworthy and memorable. One such example is the piece used whilst the Doctor initially explores the Marb station facility.

Now Robert Holmes is well known for character double acts throughout the scripts he has produced for the series and ‘The Mysterious Planet’ has certainly a few of note. First up, observing the Doctor and Peri, considering whether to kill them or not are the mercenary pair of Sabalon Glitz and his junior assistant Dibber. Tony Selby is certainly well cast as the shady trader and popular rouge, so much so that it is most welcome that he gains repeat appearances both later in the ‘Trial’ season and then again in the fairly forgettable ‘Dragonfire’ story from the following year. His assistant the fairly slow witted Dibber is less memorable although his questionable past seems to indicate that Glitz possibly freed him from a remand home for some minor criminal infringement that he perpetrated. Amongst their dialogue I was surprised to note the familiar ‘Brigadier’ phrase ‘five rounds rapid’ cropping up in the fourth episode as they clasped blasters which looked suspiciously as if they had been lifted from the ‘Red Dwarf’ series.

Assisting Drathro, the impressive looking robot controlling Marb station, are Humker and Tandrell, two prattling servants who engage in light hearted banter whilst going about their duties. Similarly dressed in scientist whites together with yellow shirts these almost identical twins seem to delight in attempting to put down each others attempts to serve Drathro and it is only the towering robotic figure that seems to keep them focused on their task. On encountering them it’s interesting to mention how the Doctor takes great pleasure throughout the story in mis-naming them (e.g. ‘Handrail and Tonker’ or ‘Humbug and Toenail’) whenever they meet. In fact the Doctor’s naturally upbeat humorous interaction with, in particular the inhabitants of Marb station is most enjoyable.

There is also a less subtle pairing between Marb Station’s patrol Chief Guard, Merdeen (marking the welcome return of Tom Chadbon (formerly seen in Tom Baker’s ‘City of Death’ story) and his deputy Grell. We are presented with a memorable scene between these two when Grell questions Merdeen’s motives and loyalty to Drathro. This eventually leads to the death of the young deputy and as Merdeen kneels over his fallen comrade he emotionally expresses his regrets in being forced to kill him and how he had originally helped him to join the guards. Whilst Timothy Walker’s Grell is decked out in the usual red and yellow guard’s uniform topped off with the often used helmets (e.g. cropping up in ‘Earthshock’ and ‘Delta and the Bannermen’) Merdeen, dressed in scaly black with a close fitting closefitting skull cap really conveys the appearance of an cold emotionless character in the service of Drathro which is largely confirmed during the story.

Living up on the surface we encounter ‘The Tribe of the Free’, a primitive but proud people apparently eking out an existence from the land around them, or so we are led to believe. I’m sorry but judging by the spotless nature of their albeit authentic looking clothes I find it difficult to grasp that these people are struggling to survive. Maybe if they had been a little bit more dirty with mud splattered costumes and faces I might have been convinced. We then come to the leader, Queen Katryca as portrayed by noted comedy actress, the late Joan Sims. Now I know it’s great to get big name stars to play parts they would not normally be associated with but despite Joan’s best efforts I remain unconvinced that she is the great ruler that she claims. The costume and the regal way in which she carries herself whether it be in her initial open air meeting with Sabalon Glitz or inside the great hall of their settlement certainly help but in the final analysis I remain, ultimately, unconvinced. As a final word on the Tribe’s Queen her ultimate demise, together with one of her closest advisers, Broken Tooth, at the hands of Drathro is, I feel is, despite being fairly brief, well handled.

As I’ve said before I am most impressed with the costume for Drathro, a marvellous creation which allows great flexibility of movement, however his wide horn shaped head is frankly a bit of a disappointing letdown. Drathro, clearly unwilling to venture out from his surveillance fortress, despatches an L3 robot in his attempt to recapture the Doctor. The L3, an obelisk shaped object mounted on twin caterpillar tracks equipped with top mounted video relay equipment seemed to present limited offensive capability (namely running into things). However I was pleasantly surprised when having located the Doctor, locked up in one of Katrica’s primitive cell buildings, unleashed electrically charged cables from it’s sides to incapacitate and then secure him ready for return to Drathro. 

The subsequent rescue leads to another pleasing nod to the past, whether it be merely for fans or general viewers it is most welcome. With just the right amount of nasal inflection Colin Baker gives a fair interpretation of Jon Pertwee when, regaining consciousness at the base of the inert L3 robot, he says to Peri ‘My head hurts abominably Sarah Jane’. This follows nicely on from the previous season’s ‘Timelash’ stories appearance of a painting of the former Doctor. I also felt that the interaction between Drathro and the Doctor in the fourth episode was slightly reminiscent of Sarah Jane Smith’s persuasive conversation with the Giant Robot in Tom Baker’s debut.

Now with this particular adventure being part of the overall Trial story I should make some comment on those linking scenes. Well, yes the first scene where the TARDIS is dragged down to the space station and into the docking port is indeed impressive, certainly for the time it was made. I particularly like the slightly revised theme tune which I am delighted to say is currently being used by Big Finish in their Sixth Doctor releases. I feel Colin Baker did show potential in the television series and it is certainly heartening to find this vindicated in their releases. The way he stumbles out of the TARDIS, uncertain, how he got there, where here was and why Peri was missing does give way to a familiar sense of irritation on his first entering the Trial room and encountering the people he meets there. His interaction with the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) and the Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham playing it very posh and upmarket) is typical of his character. I counted five mispronunciations of the Valeyard’s title spread throughout the story (episode two gave us ‘boatyard’ and ‘graveyard’, episode three weighed in with ‘farmyard’ and ‘scrapyard’ whilst episode four featured ‘knackersyard’). The final mispronunciation, that of ‘knackersyard’ was in amongst a particularly memorable blustering outburst directed mainly towards the Valeyard. This was entirely typical of this incarnation of the Time Lord but of course there was much more to come to raise his emotions higher in the subsequent segments of the trial…

In summing up ‘The Mysterious Planet’ whilst not obviously reaching the classic status of some of Robert Holmes’ previous stories does stand up fairly well on repeat viewings. Although obviously conveying a distinct change in style from the preceding years stories it is an enjoyable and welcome opening four episodes of what was, at the time, an important season for the series.

Filters: Television Sixth Doctor Series 23