Doctor Who episode 646: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part One (6/9/1986)

‘Can’t we just have the edited highlights?’ This is the big re-launch after the hiatus and… It’s not bad, actually. The new opening music sounds more contrite and modest than the electronic screeches of the (definitive) Peter Howell arrangement, but the immediate post-titles sequence is amazing, by far the most impressive effects shot to date. Some effort has clearly been put into fixing the perceived flaws in the Doctor and Peri’s relationship: they’re portrayed as pally, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye. The Doctor is an indulgent teacher to Peri’s prickly student. He reassures her when she’s upset and scared, and tries to offer words of comfort when they realise they’ve materialised on a post-apocalyptic earth. When she stumbles and squeals, he rushes back to check she’s OK. This is pretty much how it should have been all along.

Trial1

The Ravolox plot isn’t anything special – but again, the script involves the Doctor and Peri investigating and uncovering a mystery, rather than arguing in the TARDIS while the guest characters info-dump at each other. Within the first 20 minutes, the Doctor has been captured by one group of natives, and Peri by the other – generic Doctor Who, but the mechanics work much better than the Season 22 trick of keeping them out of the action for ages. Even the nuts and bolts of the production just straightforwardly work: the giant robot Immortal is revealed with a slow pan of the camera and a musical sting rather than just wandering into shot. Glitz and Dibber are quickly established as mercenaries on a mission. Only the interior of Marb Station is disappointing: far too gleaming and pristine. But that’s offset by the beautifully drizzly OB of the Iron Age Tribe of the Free village. It’s not an exciting and off-the-wall relaunch, it’s focused on getting the basics right.

I think that’s helpful not only because it proves the series can still do the basics well when the production team put their mind to it, but it also means that the Ravolox sequences don’t over-complicate matters. The real story is in the court room where the Doctor and the Valeyard can provide a wry running commentary while they watch a typical episode of Doctor Who on TV. It’s Gallifreyan Gogglebox, and it’s quite funny. ‘Why do I have to sit here watching Peri get upset?’ grouches the Doctor. And, when the action pauses for a cliffhanger, ‘Why did you stop it at the best bit?’ The Doctor and the Valeyard have become Arak and Etta. In its own way, this is as clever as Vengeance on Varos.

Next episode: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Two

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episodes 644 & 645: Slipback – Episode Five & The Final Episode (8/8/1985) | Next Episode...

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