Magic Bullet Productions

56 Stupid Things About "The Trial of a Time Lord”
(And 44 Cool Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 405/6


Episodes 1-4/The Wasteland/Robots of Ravolox/The Mysterious Planet/That Thing with Joan Sims in It

1. It’s often said that “The Mysterious Planet” is terrible because Robert Holmes was ill when he was writing it. Actually he wasn’t, so apologists will have to find some other reason.

2. The only explanation given by production documents for why the trial is taking place on a space station is that “The Doctor is not very popular on his home planet of Gallifrey.” Well, fair enough then.

3. The Village of the Free is an actual living-history museum, the Butser Ancient Farm Project, a site for the reconstruction of prehistoric and ancient Roman architecture.

4. The Free, however, appear to have no social infrastructure at all; in their village we see no blacksmiths, no weavers, nobody engaged in gathering or farming-related activities bar one woman in Episode 2 with a mortar and pestle. The suspicion thus forms that they are in fact a tribe entirely composed of primitive supporting artists.

5. There’s something entertainingly Philip K. Dick about the idea of small tribes of people living in different Underground stations, jealously guarding a few books from years past. Some miles to the west of Marb Station, the people of Chancery Lane Station are no doubt worried about the theft of their precious copy of The Devil Wears Prada.

6. There are no animals on Ravalox. This flies in the face of everything we know about how ecology works.

7. However, the whole underground-technocrats/overground-primitives idea had at that point been done by everyone from H. G. Wells to Monica Hughes, so when the scenario is finally revealed midway through episode one, the heart does rather sink somewhat.

8. “Revelation of the Daleks” Recyclingwatch, Iteration One: The Doctor and Peri arrive on a planet, represented by the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, in the middle of some unusual precipitation, they wander around grousing at each other while watched by hidden observers, and then at the end of the episode, the Doctor gets a rock dropped on him.

9. The idea of CCTV cameras in underground stations was probably a lot more avant-garde at the time. Now, it just seems postmodern.

10. Dibber: “Where we come from, a woman can have as many as six [husbands]!” Peri: “It’s very similar on my planet, except we usually have them one at a time.”

11. Drathro’s acolytes are a camp duo straight out of Round the Horne, such that one half-expects them to break out into a chorus of “ooh, no he’s not, Mister Drathro!” at any minute.

12. The Doctor even addresses one of them as “Handbag” in episode 2.

13. Confronted with the accusation that he is breaking Time Lord rules by interfering with the affairs of others, the Doctor fails to respond with “oh yeah? How about your involvement in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, ‘The Mutants’, ‘Colony In Space’, ‘The Brain of Morbius’, ‘The Three Doctors’...” and thus deserves everything he gets in the courtroom scenes.

14. One of the Time Lords in the courtroom has an ill-fitting hat, with the point hanging cockeyed over his left brow.

15. “All that is known is within the Matrix.” “Oh, a micro-organism in a drop of water might think it knows the universe, all it knows is that drop of water.” One of the best exchanges in 1980s Who, but unfortunately it was cut.

16. Broken Tooth wears what is visibly the remains of the same sort of jumpsuit Balazar wears, which is a nice touch of detail.

17. Between the rumours that Drathro “eats people,” the fact that nothing is explained regarding the fate of all the other youths “selected” by Drathro other than Tandrell and Humker, and the existence of a giant magimix capable of shredding whole human beings in the “Food Chamber,” one is left with the impression that the main foodstuff in Marb Station is Soylent Green.

18. Drathro’s West End location, obsession with black light, and box of microdots, suggests that he is in fact trying to set up an avant-garde nightclub.

19. The Doctor’s attitude in episode 4, arguing to Drathro that humans are more important than him, is rather specisist-- Drathro clearly is an intelligent life-form with a right to his own existence, a fear of death and greater knowledge and organisation than all the humans in the story put together, so, when one thinks about it, one does have to ask why he should sacrifice himself for his charges.


Episodes 5-8/Planet of Sil/Mindwarp/Vengeance on Varos II: This Time, it’s Thoros Beta/That Thing with Brian Blessed In It

20. Lines that sound really, really weird taken out of context: “I must ask that the court protect me from the abuse of the brickyard!”

21. “Gentlemen, may I remind you this is a court of law, not a debating society for maladjusted, psychotic sociopaths?” The Inquisitor is wrong on both counts.

22. Thoros Beta, with its green sky, purple cliffs and pink ocean, has the most 1980s colour scheme of any planet in the series.

23. Peri, in her pink top and blue trousers, appears to have colour-coordinated herself for the planet in advance.

24. “An advanced culture manipulating the destinies of a less developed civilization? If that’s what’s going on here, it’s got to be stopped,” says the Doctor, failing to consider that he falls into that very category himself.

25. “If I’d stopped to question the wisdom of my actions, I’d never have left Gallifrey.” The Doctor really is rather condemning himself through his own words this story.

26. “Revelation of the Daleks” Recyclingwatch, Iteration Two: The Doctor and Peri land on a planet, complain about the weather, wander around grousing while watched by hidden observers, then get attacked by a phenotypically-altered mutant humanoid.

27. “Then where would you be, huh? Dead! No, worse than that, poor!”

28. With two dwarf actors and several non-white actors, at least four in major roles, Episodes 5-8 is unusually equal-opportunities for mid-Eighties Who. Although since Martin went out of his way to specify the ethnicity of the major characters, the credit probably goes to him rather than the production team.

29. It’s also nice that the team went to the effort of showing us other Mentors than Sil and Kiv, suggesting that there is an actual society out there.

30. We’re willing to bet that not many of the general public know that this story is the origin of the Jon Culshaw-instigated meme of Brian Blessed appearing randomly, dressed as a Samurai and shouting “I’m Brian Blessed!”

31. Some fans appear to think that “Sagacity” is the Inquisitor’s name, despite the fact that the Doctor himself indicates in Episode 5 that it’s a title. This is rather like assuming, from a random exclamation in “The Five Doctors,” that the Master’s name is “Jehoshaphat.”

32. Problematically, both “Mindwarp” and “Mission to Magnus” are direct sequels to “Vengeance on Varos,” and, as neither one makes reference back to the events of the other story, it is difficult to see how they could both have taken place, whatever the order.

33. The shape of Sil’s head changes between “Vengeance on Varos” and “Mindwarp”. However, as Crozier indicates that Kiv’s brain transplant operation is the first of its nature, it can’t be down to that.

34. Sil’s “you are planning some treachery, yes?” speech as the Doctor goes over to his side, strongly hints that Sil knows that they are both characters in a popular drama, and that Sil is perfectly aware of its common tropes.

35. He later says “I endeavour to maintain a certain continuity.”

36. The whole subplot of Peri escaping, wandering into Matrona’s quarters, being recruited as a servant, being found out and chained to some rocks, contributes absolutely nothing to the story at all.

37. Tuza returns to the weapons dump to discover the two men he’s left to guard it aged to death, and examination reveals they’re wearing Crozier’s implants. This suggests that some of Tuza’s group have been captured by Frax, given the implants and thus forced to act as fifth columnists under threat of death. Which explains how Frax knew Yrcanos and Tuza had teamed up.

38. Why is there a resistance at all? Because, as Frax points out, they’re ineffective, and thus provide both a pressure valve for the subjugated Alphans, and a means of identifying the troublemakers. You’d think Martin would have spent more time beefing this subplot up when he was told the scripts were underrunning, than padding the episodes out with the Peri subplot above.

39. The effect of the pacifier appears to be to make the Doctor very suggestible, acting like Yrcanos when he’s around Yrcanos, and like Sil when he’s around Sil. However, the question remains as to at what point said effect wears off.

40. The Doctor’s behaviour in the story is cleverly written so as to leave it ambiguous as to whether his turning to the bad is faked evidence, the result of the influence of the pacifier device, or, perhaps, proof that the Valeyard is right about him, or a bit of all three. Complaints that it is confusing miss the point-- it’s clearly supposed to be.

41. And anyone who thinks the Sixth Doctor is generally a nice, stable, unselfish chap should go and watch “The Twin Dilemma” again.

42. Philip Martin, on the DVD commentary, indicates that he sees the Sixth Doctor as “a bad guy pretending to be good.”

43. It’s somewhat telling that, at the end of Episode 7, when confronted with the sight of Peri apparently being shot, the Doctor doesn’t say “OMG, Peri’s been shot!” but rather “I am not responsible for that!”

44. Trevor Laird, who plays Frax, would later appear in the new series as Martha’s father.

45. In order to save Peri’s life, Crozier suggests the Doctor go to the induction centre and find someone else to sacrifice in her place. The Doctor does exactly that, apparently without thought for the really, really unpleasant ethical implications of this. Indeed, the Doctor only appears to change his plans when the only person in the induction centre turns out to be Tuza, already rejected by Crozier as unsuitable.

46. “His name is Dorf, and you are scum!”

47. The pink Terileptil is, from the look of his teeth, clearly from the planet Colgate.

48. The Inquisitor says that there was a direct order from the High Council to halt the experiment concerning Peri at the climax of episode 8. However, after seeing the cliffhanger of episode 7, she asks concernedly “is Peri dead?” Either the continuity here is terrible, or the Inquisitor is completely untrustworthy.

49. Peri says “my legs... arse!” at one point. No really, she does. Watch Episode 8 if you don’t believe us.

50. The culmination of Crozier’s experiment appears to be the basis for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. One might possibly think Whedon had actually watched this story.

51. The mind-altered Peri acts nothing like Kiv, but, in keeping with the idea that Kiv takes on new characteristics when transferred to a host body, is instead a synthesis of Peri and Kiv, only lacking Peri’s compassion and Kiv’s charm.

52. Peri also appears to retain her disgust at the Mentor form, given what she says about Kiv’s previous host. Although it could equally reflect Kiv’s own self-disgust (indicated in the earlier cut line “worst of all inside me I am still myself.”)

53. Whatever the Inquisitor and the Master say subsequently, there’s no way that Peri didn’t die at the end of Episode 8. Why, after all, would the Inquisitor admit, in extensive detail, to the High Council interfering with the affairs of another planet-- exactly what the Doctor is on trial for-- if it isn’t true?

54. Colin Baker’s voice cracking when he says “you... killed Peri!” is probably his most impressive performance in the whole of Doctor Who.

55. Although one might add, following along from his reaction to Peri’s apparent death in episode 7, above, that he might be influenced by the fact that it was clearly the High Council who are responsible in this case.


Episodes 9-12/The Ultimate Foe/The Vervoids/Terror of the Vervoids/John, Here’s That Thing You Commissioned From Us In A Lift At The Last Minute, Love Pip and Jane

56. A story containing magic beans, giant beanstalk-monsters, a well-known Principal Boy, a fat, outrageously-dressed, pantomime dame and, in the form of Professor Lasky, a cow. No wonder people complained at the time that Doctor Who was turning into a pantomime.

57. The Doctor tells the courtroom that his evidence comes from his own future. We know from Episode 4 that the evidence presented in the courtroom is material recorded by his TARDIS, so how the hell can it record things it hasn’t been through yet?

58. If the Doctor has an adventure aboard the Hyperion III, then clearly the trial did not end in the Doctor’s execution. You’d think the Doctor, at least, would bring this up in court.

59. Also, if the Doctor has viewed the events, then surely he will remember them when the events come to pass, and the adventure won’t happen as presented. The Doctor is thus invalidating his own evidence even as he presents it. You’d think the Valeyard, at least, would bring this up in court.

60. The only way this can possibly make sense is if the Doctor is being tried by the Time Lords of his own future, meaning that the events of “Terror of the Vervoids” are, to them, the past. The sole evidence for this in the story is, however, the Valeyard having emerged between the twelfth and thirteenth incarnations of the Doctor.... but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

61. However, Pip and Jane Baker cannot be blamed for any of this, and the fault really lies with Eric Saward, John Nathan-Turner, and ultimately Robert Holmes for suggesting the whole “Past, Present Future” A Christmas Carol structure to the season.

62. The Doctor’s introduction to the adventure is to say that “in order to protect a secret hidden on the space liner, one [passenger] will become a murderer.” This is true, as there is only one actual murderer in the story: Dolan.

63. However, despite what the Doctor says, it was Rudge who destroyed the communications equipment. The videoscreen in the courtroom shows the door opening after we see the faked image of the Doctor standing in the wreckage with an axe, meaning that whoever smashed the equipment had an accomplice. Dolan was working alone, but Rudge was working with the Mogarians.

64. The Doctor’s mistake can be excused, however, in that he has clearly never seen the incident before; the Valeyard must have removed the image from the Matrix before the Doctor previewed it, altered it and then returned it.

65. The visual effects shots and model scenes in this story are appalling, in stark contrast to the opening of episode 1.

66. Melanie. Bush.

67. JNT’s character description of Mel runs in part “one of those annoying young ladies, who is a ‘woman’s libber’ at all times, except at moments of great stress, when she relies heavily on playing the hard-done-by, down-trodden, crocodile-teared female.” Issues much?

68. Bruchner is described in the original script as black. Why the team then decided to cast a white actor is unknown, but it has to be said that this story is something of a contrast to the previous one in this area, having as it does an all-white cast.

69. Eighties fads in this story include aerobics, video games and French-braided hair.

70. For a luxury liner, the Hyperion III has an absolutely pathetic gym. The passengers should complain.

71. The Doctor claims that the scene in the gym where cavalierly he lets Mel go off to the cargo hold was falsified. However, he can only be referring to the wording of his exchange with Mel (and specifically the line “my dear Melanie, if you wish to pursue this completely arbitrary course, pray hurry along to the Hydroponic Centre and leave me to my static and solitary peregrinations”), as the story doesn’t work unless Mel subsequently goes to the hold with Edwardes, leaving the Doctor alone in the gym. The reason for the change is just to make the Doctor look like a negligent bastard.

72. “Any moment now, that guard will be back. He will be even less enchanted by your antics.”

73. The Vervoids originally killed their victims by strangling them with vines, and it was John Nathan-Turner who suggested the poison dart idea. Which makes rather less sense; who goes around genetically engineering servant races with a built-in weapon?

74. Judging by the state of the showers in the cabins, mildew has made the transition to space.

75. The heads of the Vervoids were apparently based on a combination of the Venus flytrap and the South American pitcher plant. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

76. How does a Vervoid know how to operate a shower?

77. For that matter, they have a strangely sophisticated understanding of human culture and science, including handshaking, black holes, slavery, genetic engineering and the meaning of such titles as “Professor,” for creatures that just emerged from pods.

78. Why does Lasky let the Doctor keep the Demeter seeds, since she owns the patent and they are clearly terribly valuable?

79. One of the Vervoids has a Liverpudlian accent. Maybe it’s been listening to Grenville?

80. How is it that the Vervoids speak English to begin with? One might perhaps give this a pass if having them speak provides a useful plot function, but nothing they say particularly contributes to the story.

81. “I’m always serious about murder,” the Doctor says. Well, perhaps, but judging by earlier stories he’s not above having a laugh over GBH, manslaughter (or Raakslaughter) and accidental homicide.

82. Why are the Vervoids upset about humans eating plants? Generally, the consumption of part or all of the plant is crucial to its reproductive cycle, without which the species could not survive.

83. How do they even know that humans eat plants? Have they been reading books about gardening?

84. Also, since humans aren’t actually eating Vervoids, why should they be overly fussed about the fate of other plants? It’d be like cats rising up and taking revenge on humanity for the existence of the pork industry.

85. The resolution is a bit of a cheat anyway, with the hold turning out to be full of the miracle substance which can eliminate the Vervoids.

86. Also, since when do leaves falling on fertile soil lead to a whole plant growing? The Doctor’s just making this up, isn’t he?

87. The Doctor knew about Article Seven, the law forbidding genocide with no exceptions, and yet introduced a story in which he destroys a whole species as evidence in his defense. You’d think he would have thought that one through a little better.

88. “It was very cliched, very routine running up and down corridors and silly monsters.... very much what the audience is expecting, not really very challenging for them to watch... the story itself has been done in a different way in the past few years, very much a whodunit on board a space liner, a very traditional sort of thing that people expect Doctor Who to fall into.... it would be nice to have something different to the norm.” --Contemporary reaction from Chris Chibnall, author of 42, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and one-time showrunner of Torchwood. And no, he’s never going to be allowed to forget it.


Episodes 13-14/The Ultimate Foe/Time, Inc/Four Writers in Search of a Suitable Conclusion

89. Episode 13 contains the resolution to the first story in the season. How many of the audience are going to remember events which took place nine weeks earlier, let alone details like the nature of Ravalox or the intentions of the Sleepers?

90. The reason for the whole trial is that the High Council are concerned that the Doctor went to Ravolox. However, nothing in Episodes 5 through 12 has anything at all to do with these events, and the High Council’s actions are only revealed in Episode 13. Had Ravolox not formed part of the evidence for the trial in the first place, none of this would have come out at all, and, as the Doctor showed no interest in pursuing the matters raised by his adventure on Ravolox, why bother pursuing him?

91. And, all this aside, the Doctor never denies that he committed genocide, which is the very issue at the heart of the trial at this point. So the whole Ravolox bit is irrelevant.

92. “Regarding the evidence against the Doctor, how much of it had been contrived?” asks the Inquisitor. The Master nobly refrains from saying “it’s all pretty contrived, ma’am.”

93. Pip and Jane Baker completed the script for episode 14 in three days. Whatever you think of it, that’s impressive speed-writing.

94. “The performance was too grotesque to be real.”

95. The true irony of the “megabyte modem”: that, had Pip and Jane Baker gone for some preposterous bit of technobabble like, say, “pentalion drive” or “trionic lattice” or “massive ultrasonic transmitter,” they wouldn’t be getting such derisive reactions from subsequent audiences.

96. Considering that all the leaps of logic the Doctor makes in the Matrix-- Popplewick being the Valeyard, the Valeyard’s plans vis-a-vis the High Council, etc.-- all turn out to be right, one can’t shake the suspicion that he’s actually shaping reality.

97. How does the Inquisitor justify dropping all charges against the Doctor? He has quite definitely been shown to be in breach of various laws multiple times during the trial, and just because he did something good doesn’t somehow erase all that.

98. And to top it off, she offers this interfering mass-murdering genocidal maniac the Presidency. What was it the Doctor said about the corruption and decadence of the Time Lords again?

99. “Gallifrey doesn’t have any crown jewels,” says the Doctor. Ahem.

100. Absolutely nothing of what the Valeyard has done has worked out, and yet at the end he has taken over as Keeper of the Matrix and is laughing as if he has won. Could it be that he’s working to some other plan, either to a) totally discredit and bring down the High Council, b) corrupt the Sixth Doctor and bring about his own existence earlier, or c) that the Doctor has, Philip K. Dick-like, never left the Matrix, and the Doctor’s subsequent adventures will now all be total fictions? You decide.


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