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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Trial of a Time Lord
Volume 1


Authors: Terrance Dicks and Philip Martin
Read by: Lynda Bellingham and Colin Baker
Publisher: AudioGO
RRP: £18.35
ISBN: 978 1 4458 2648 6
Release Date: 02 September 2013

The TARDIS has been taken out of time and the Doctor has been brought before a court of his fellow Time Lords. There the sinister prosecutor, the Valeyard, accuses the Doctor of breaking Gallifrey’s most important law and interfering in the affairs of other planets. If the Valeyard can prove him guilty, the Doctor must sacrifice his remaining regenerations. To begin his case, the Valeyard focuses on an adventure from the Doctor’s past...

After the random sequence in which Target Books published the print versions of the novelisations based upon the Trial of a Time Lord season (with Terror of the Vervoids released first in September 1987, followed by The Mysterious Planet in November 1987, The Ultimate Foe in September 1988, and Mindwarp in June 1989), AudioGO has restored some semblance of order with the talking book versions, presenting them in two sequential box sets, of which this is the first.

It begins with The Mysterious Planet, written by Terrance Dicks, based on Robert Holmes’s scripts for Parts One to Four of The Trial of a Time Lord. This was the final complete serial that Holmes contributed to the show (he sadly died midway through writing the concluding Trial two-parter), and it is interesting to note the similarities to his first one, The Krotons. As in The Krotons, a robotic entity, in this case Drathro, is revered as a god by a carefully controlled society of humans. Every so often, gifted young people are selected to join “the Immortal” – but, in a neat spin on The Krotons, in which the star pupils are killed, here they end up working for Drathro, rather than being eaten by him as rumoured.

The novelisation gets off to a very good start, with a detailed depiction of the Time Lord space station, which dominates a graveyard of derelict spaceships “like some enormous baroque cathedral”, and a long section of text devoted to the Doctor himself. Dicks didn’t get many chances to describe Old Sixie (this is his only Sixth Doctor novelisation, unless you count the closing paragraphs of The Caves of Androzani), and he clearly relishes the opportunity, taking in the man’s “full-lipped and sensual” face, “the jutting beak that was his nose [which] seemed to pursue the Doctor through most of his incarnations”, and “a multicoloured coat that might have made Joseph himself feel a pang of envy. Reds, yellows, greens, purples, and pinks, all in varying shades and hues, fought savagely for predominance.”

However, the rest of the book is not nearly so imaginative. Aside from an illuminating description of how Marb Station’s condensation plants work, this is a standard script-to-prose adaptation of the kind that Dicks used to churn out during the late Seventies and early Eighties, when he was writing the vast majority of Who books. This is all the more surprising given that usually this writer particularly enjoyed adapting Holmes’s work – but then, this story is far from Holmes’s best work.

It doesn’t help that we are denied the diversity of voices provided by the television cast. Some of the dialogue is difficult to follow when not imbued with the meaning and variety instilled into it by the original players. Reader Lynda Bellingham (who played the Inquisitor) does what she can with the material – giving Glitz a distinctive nasal tone, for example – but many other characters fail to stand out. It is often impossible to tell where Humker’s speech ends and Trandrell’s begins, and vice versa. I frequently found my concentration slipping, and I’m sure I would have had trouble following the plot if I wasn’t already familiar with it from the screen version. 

The author gives the story a hopeful conclusion, which helpfully restates the unanswered questions it leaves behind. As in the television version of Terror of the Autons, the Doctor finds that he is rather looking forward to his next face-off with his rival Time Lord...



The Valeyard presents the jury with the second piece of evidence against the Doctor: a dramatic adventure on the planet Thoros-Beta, which led to the renegade Time Lord’s summons to the Court of Enquiry. However, as the Doctor watches the scenes on the Matrix, he is puzzled by what he sees – his behaviour is not as he remembers. Only one thing is certain: on the evidence of the Matrix, the Doctor is surely guilty as charged...

Working from his own scripts for Parts Five to Eight of Trial, Philip Martin’s novelisation Mindwarp has a lot more depth to it than The Mysterious Planet. He kicks off by describing the Doctor’s inner turmoil, his fears and concerns about his hazy memory of events on Thoros-Beta. There’s an additional TARDIS scene with the Time Lord and Peri approaching the planet. The author makes it clear that the Doctor’s behaviour is affected by Crozier’s brain-pacifying machine, and precisely when the effect wears off. He explores Kiv’s origin, and that of all his kind: they begin their lives as mindless, swamp-dwelling amphibians, some of whom mutate, developing larger brains and becoming Mentors. As a result of all this extra detail, Mindwarp occupies four of this box set’s seven discs, running to well over four hours (compared with just over three hours for The Mysterious Planet).

Curiously, Martin does not describe his returning villain Sil in any great detail, perhaps on the assumption that the audience will already be familiar with the character.

Some of the author’s changes to the narrative sit less well, especially in the context of the other Trial novelisations. He introduces the Keeper of the Matrix a couple of stories early, giving him the name Zon. Towards the end of the book the Valeyard is preparing to present more evidence for the prosecution, during which he plans to delve into the Doctor’s possible future – whereas on screen and in the novelisation Terror of the Vervoids, this evidence is used by the Doctor in his own defence. The final chapter is a particular eyebrow-raiser. Like Dicks, Martin gives his story a happy ending. Contrary to the televised series and the novelisation The Ultimate Foe, we are told that the High Council of the Time Lords showed mercy to Peri and Yrcanos, altering the course of history and transporting them to 20th-century California, where Yrcanos becomes an all-in wrestler, with Peri as his manager. However, there is no need to despair at this seemingly irreconcilable difference, as Nev Fountain offers an explanation in Peri and the Piscon Paradox!

Reader Colin Baker (Old Sixie himself) provides a great range of voices for the many and varied characters. He seems to particularly enjoy being the snivelling Sil and the bellowing Yrcanos. Sometimes the voices are quite different from the actors who played the characters on screen – Baker’s Frax sounds vaguely Northern, for instance, while Tuza becomes Spanish – but then this isn’t supposed to be a carbon copy. There are also some impressive shifts in emotional range, including a poignantly convincing weeping Peri – for a male actor to pull that off is quite an achievement.

It may seem odd that the Trial stories are being presented in a couple of box sets like this, as opposed to four separate releases or one big box containing all four. However, there is a degree of symmetry to the two tales in this collection. It ends with the Doctor being removed from Thoros-Beta and brought to the space station for trial, which is, of course, where we came in.

Mindwarp is easily the better of the two books in this set. In fact, I enjoyed it more than its television counterpart, despite the continuity-warp at the end.


Richard McGinlay

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