Click here to return to the main site.

DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Trial of a Time Lord


Starring: Colin Baker
RRP: £49.99
Certificate: PG
Available 18 August 2008

The twenty-third season of Doctor Who was lucky to be made at all given Michael Grade’s dislike of the programme. The show had been put on hiatus for a year following criticism of Colin Baker's first season. Feeling very much under threat it was felt that, in a real sense, this season would be watched very carefully by the BBC and that the show was effect on trial, at which point someone had the awful idea to set the whole thing up as a trial.

The season didn’t open with a great show. One of the biggest failings of the whole season was to set it as evidence at a trial. This meant that the action would cut back and forth between the story and the action in the court, spoiling both strands of the narrative.

Disc one: The Mysterious Planet (episodes 1-4 originally broadcast 6 to 27 September 1986). Directed by Nicholas Mallett, Written by Robert Holmes.

We glide through space until a cathedral like space station comes into view. Once past its gothic spire a beam shoots into the void trapping the TARDIS and bringing the Doctor to trial for his misdeeds. This is a great opening shot which still holds up today. As part of the prosecution The Valeyard (Michael Jayston) presents the Doctor's and Peri’s visit to Ravalox, a seemingly low technology world ruled by the warrior queen Katryca (Joan Sims), but beneath the surface the robot L3 protects valuable secrets - so valuable that Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby) has come to steal them...

The show suffers from the problems previously described; the continual to and fro between the courtroom and Ravalox only serves to pull the audience out of the action and for what? The Courtroom scenes are verging on the truly appalling. It’s bad enough that everyone appears to be hamming it up, but the script by the late great Robert Holmes did not do the man's legacy, or Colin Baker, any favours.

Baker's Doctor comes over as childish, spending much of his time addressing the Valeyard as anything ending in "yard" - boatyard, knackers yard - make your own ones up, it’s bound to be in there somewhere. Linda Bellingham attempts to inject a bit of gravitas into her role as the Inquisitor, but spends most of her time trying to mediate between the Valeyard and the Doctor, as they try to top each other in the pomposity stakes.

Not all is lost with the story. The sets look great and L3 makes for an impressive prop. Tony Selby’s Glitz worked so well he reappeared in Dragonfire and the novel Mission: Impractical and Linda Bellingham’s Inquisitor would reappear in Big Finish’s audio play Gallifrey. It’s difficult to be over critical about Colin Bakers portrayal, though I know that there are those that are. In truth the show never really did him justice, the often poor scripts and that ridiculous panto-coat were just a few of the mountains he had to climb. Anyone who has heard his work on the Big Finish audios will be aware of how far he was able to take the character, creating hues and depths that just rarely appeared in his two short seasons.

There is a virtual cornucopia of extras on all four of the discs and Auntie Beeb continues to astound me with the loving care given to detailing every aspect of this show. For The Mysterious Planet there are two commentaries. The first is a full-length commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby and Adam Blackwood, the second is for episode one only and is presented by script editor Eric Saward as well as the usual subtitled production notes. The rest of the extras are the usual mix of excerpts from shows of the era that featured the Doctor, so you get the inevitable Blue Peter bit (6 min, 53 sec) with Mark Curry and Janet Ellis talking to Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford; the designers and operators of the L1 and L3 robots; with Peter Duncan bring up the rear with an interview with Nabil Shaban, who played Sil.

There are a few extended and deleted scenes (8 min, 31 sec); the usual Trails and Continuities (10 min), which is a bit of a slog, but worth it to see Colin Baker trying to kill Roland Rat; and the motion-control opening scene (1 min, 16 sec), oddly enough in complete silence. Of course there are longer pieces such as The Making of The Mysterious Planet (25 min, 03 sec), which includes Colin Baker, Nichola Bryant, Michael Jayston, Tony Selby, Eric Saward (script editor), Mike Kelt (visual effects designer), Dominic Glynn (composer) as well as others. It’s a fairly honest look at what was good about the show and what went wrong.

To finish off we have Colin Baker and Lynda Bellingham on the Wogan show (14 min, 25 sec); Points of View (2 min, 24 sec); three music videos; and a photo gallery.

Disc two: Mindwarp (episodes 5-8 originally broadcast 4 to 25 October 1986). Directed by Ron Jones and Written by Phillip Martin. The trial continues with the Valeyard producing another example of the Doctors flagrant breaking of Gallifrey’s laws of non-interference.

The Doctor and Peri land on Thoros Beta. The Doctor, investigating arms dealing realises that this is the home planet of Sil’s race, the Mentors. Things are not good on the planet, Crozier (Patrick Ryecart) is experimenting with brain surgery on the human population to extend the lives of the Mentors. Peri gets picked by Crozier to host Kiv (Christopher Ryan), an important Mentor's consciousness, the Doctor joins with King Yrcanos (Brian Blessed) to attack and destroy the Mentors, but before he can do this he is retrieved by the Time Lords for his trial.

During the trial the Doctor is confused.  He seems to accept that his personality is a bit pompous and bombastic, but is dismayed to see himself acting in an overtly aggressive manner, which would seem to indicate that he is in fact guilty.

Once again the trial scenes let the show down. You would have thought that none of the writers had ever seen a court procedural show as the proceedings consist of mostly arguments and random ranting. Sil remained a masterpiece of sleazy avarice perfectly played by Nabil Shaban and as ever Brian Blessed was gloriously over the top shamelessly stealing every scene he appears in. If anyone thinks that, due to this performance and his performance in Flash Gordon, he is an actor with only one tone, then they should take a look at his portrayal of Emperor Augustus in I, Claudius - the man has talent.

Not to be outdone by the first disc’s extras this one kicks off with another full-length commentary, though here the contributions are only from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Philip Martin. The rest of the offerings consist of two long pieces: The Making of Mindwarp (20 min, 23 sec) with contributions from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Michael Jayston, Brian Blessed and Patrick Ryecart, writer Philip Martin, script editor Eric Saward, TV historian Jim Sangster and writer Clayton Hickman and Now and Then (21 min, 03 sec), one of those featurettes which takes you around the shooting locations showing how they have changed. I’m sure that there are those that love this sort of thing, though personally I find them a dry ‘take it or leave it’ experience.

The rest of the extras are much shorter. A Fate Worse than Death has Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant commenting on the exceedingly cheesy ending showing King Yrcanos and Peri looking lovingly at each other like a bad shot from a nineteen eighties episode of Neighbours. You get the usual Deleted and Extended Scenes (9 min, 05 sec); The Trails and Continuities (3 min, 33 sec); Philip Schofield, with suspiciously dark hair, presenting TV Talkback (5 min, 38 sec); an amusing - I said amusing but not funny - Lenny Henry Sketch (4 min, 37 sec); and a photo gallery. Hidden amongst these extras is a real gem, even if it is a small one, as you also get the Children in Need section (3 min, 17 sec) which has Terry Wogan and Patrick Moore accepting a cheque from a large number of Who actors both past and present. It was especially nice to see Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton together again.

Disc three: Terror of the Vervoids (episodes 9-12 originally broadcast 1 to 22 November 1986). Directed by Chris Clough , Written by Pip and Jane Baker. Believing Peri to have been killed on Thoros Beta, the Doctor is finally allowed to present some evidence of his own. He chooses an episode from his future, though this causes a logical problem with predestination - if he already knows everything he is going to do, free will and all that.

The year is 2986 and the Doctor is travelling with his latest companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) when they answer a distress call from the interstellar ship the Hyperion III. There is sabotage afoot, and the doctor discovers that the hold is full of genetically engineered plants, known as the Vervoids, that have been created by Professor Lasky (Honor Blackman), the Vervoids have a cunning scheme to invade Earth.

Well, this is Doctor Who at its most formulaic. Plants invading a planet whilst flying past who knows how many suitable uninhabited planets. It's all a bit of a nonsense.

Traditionally Bonnie Langford has come in for a lot of stick for her portrayal of Mel - stick that was most probably not justified. The same people who thought Colin Baker's coat was cool, and that adding Ken Dodd wouldn’t make the show feel like a farce, would have thought out her representation prior to her inclusion in the show. The girl did what she could with the hand she was dealt. If it were possible, this is the weakest of the four stories, just because it’s a by the numbers Who story. Sure we get to chuckle over Colin Baker's weight as Mel tries to get him into shape, though I’m not sure that this would have been comfortable for Colin Baker or that it’s an acceptable behaviour to be encouraging in the audience.

Even if the story is a little flat the extras are once again no slouch. Once more we get a full-length commentary from Colin Baker, Michael Craig, writers Pip and Jane Baker and director Chris Clough. Once more you get two long features and a number of shorter pieces. The first is The Making of Terror of the Vervoids (19 min, 19 sec) with a good mix of views from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Michael Craig (Commodore Travers), Malcolm Tierney (Doland), Chris Clough (director), Pip and Jane Baker (writers), Eric Saward (script editor), Jim Sangster (TV historian) and Clayton Hickman (Writer). One of the things you have to admire about the small documentaries that are produced for Doctor Who is the level of honesty that the participants display. Although the majority have a fondness for their time on the show, they are not above making realistic criticism of its shortcomings, which makes these features far more interesting that the normal lovey ones that you usually get on other DVDs. The second long feature is Now Get Out of That (28 min, 21 sec) another of those features that looks at the wider world of Who, this time with an examination of the cliff-hanger With writers Robert Shearman, Nev Fountain and Joseph Lidster, and interjections from actors Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sophie Aldred. Produced by James Goss. The cliffhanger had always been an integral part of the show until its reinvention and the group take a look at what worked and what stank. The last sizable feature is The Lost Season (10 min, 59 Sec), narrated by Colin Baker and with contributions from script editor Eric Saward and writer Philip Martin; it takes a look at what had been planned for what should have been the 22nd season, if the show had not been rested.

For the small stuff, you have the Deleted and Extended Scenes (14 min, 07 sec); Trails and Continuity (3 min, 13 sec), a photo gallery and a short piece from the Saturday morning Picture show (7 min 33 sec) with Mark Curry interviewing Bonnie Langford.

Disc four: The Ultimate Foe (episodes 13-14 originally broadcast 29 November to 6 December 1986). Directed by Chris Clough, Written by Robert Holmes and Pip and Jane Baker.

The Doctor has grown concerned that his evidence has been tampered with, which would mean that the Matrix, itself, has been compromised. The Keeper of the Matrix (James Bree) is summond, but before the matter can be challenged The Master (Anthony Ainley) appears proving that the Matrix is not as secure as the Time Lords believed. Mel and Glitz are called to bare witness to the Doctor's innocence. The Doctor is part of a plot to discredit him to cover the fact that the Time Lords had moved Earth and hidden it as Ravalox, using the Valeyard who is an amalgam of the Doctors darker side, if he can get a conviction he has been offered the Doctor's remaining regenerations. With the plot exposed all hell breaks loose and the Valeyard escapes into the Matrix, followed by the Doctor and the Master.

Episode thirteen is the highlight of the season. Given its inventiveness it’s a shame Robert Holmes died before he could complete his story.

The last disc contains the set's most substantial extra in the form of Trials and Tribulations (55 min, 07 sec) which is a retrospective of the whole of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor with contributions from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, producer John Nathan-Turner, script editor Eric Saward, writer Philip Martin, Pip & Jane Baker, ex-BBC Heads of Series and Serials David Reid and Jonathan Powell, continuity adviser Ian Levine and publisher Gary Leigh. This is a worthy addition to the Who historical record with some very honest and candid interviews.

Before we plough through the rest of the extras make sure you watch Doctor in Distress (3 min 46 sec), which is a truly awful music video, in the style of ‘Feed the World’. Very cheesy and very funny. I just can’t believe that they got the actors to agree to be in it. When you’ve stopped wetting yourself there is the The Making of the Ultimate Foe (15 min, 16 sec) with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Michael Jayston and Tony Selby, director Chris Clough, writers Pip and Jane Baker, script editor Eric Saward, TV historian Jim Sangster and writer Clayton Hickman. The commentary for this disc is only for episode fourteen with Colin Baker, Tony Selby, director Chris Clough, and for episode 14 only, writers Pip and Jane Baker. The commentary for episode thirteen is done by poor Eric Saward, on his own.

There is a sizable chunk from Saturday Superstore (13 min. 33 sec); Open Air (10 min, 30 sec) with a whole bunch of spotty lads pretending that they could have written a better script than Pip and Jane Baker, with Pattie Coldwell mediating between the writers and the spotty lads. I wonder how many of them grew up to be writers. To wrap the whole thing up you have the Deleted and Extended Scenes (4 min, 37 sec); Trails and Continuity (1 min, 14 sec); a compilation of the reporting of the 1985 Hiatus (3 min, 56 sec); a photo gallery; a Coming Soon for Four to Doomsday; and all the PDF material for the season.

Ultimately, this was a very uneven year with some noticeable below par writing, some good acting and some good use of sets and new technology. If for nothing else, the season is worth watching for the first stories opening shot of the Time Lord space station. Although the shows did nothing to help Colin Baker keep his job - he was not well served by the show, and this would be his second and last years playing the Doctor on television.

As a set, it is up to the usual high standards that we have come to expect of Doctor Who releases and the quality of the extras always pushes the mark up. The show is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio with a nice clean stereo audio track.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£37.47 (
£37.99 (
£37.99 (
£37.97 (
£35.93 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.