Doctor Who episode 648: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Three (20/9/1986)

‘A certain amount of graphic detail is unavoidable.’ After previous episodes set the scene with some general comments on how Doctor Who works, the debate between the Doctor, Valeyard and Inquisitor here turns to the nature of violence in the show, clearly a hot topic in the context of the Colin Baker run. The Inquisitor takes the part of BBC management, asking, ‘Are these unpleasant scenes necessary?’ The Doctor is forced to defend himself (and it’s not hard to see the meta commentary here) against the Valeyard’s accusation that he ‘has a well-known predilection for violence’, claiming, ‘I’m not given to violence as the Valeyard here suggests. Occasionally I might have to resort to a modicum of force… As a means of self-defence’. The conclusion is the same as Jonathan Powell’s: ‘I would appreciate it if these brutal and repetitious scenes are reduced to a minimum.’

Hence Glitz and Dibber on Ravolox: Robert Holmes’ best comedy double act since Garron and Unstoffe, performed brilliantly. They’re immense fun, and it’s no wonder Glitz, at least, got brought back for a couple of encores. Without them, the “evidence” scenes would be fairly thin stuff – mostly existing to justify some of the Doctor’s court room assertions. ‘I can’t let people die if there’s a chance of saving them,’ he says. Which is great, given that wasn’t always obvious in the last series, but is a bit on the nose. Holmes also conspicuously fails to address one of the show’s other problems (not just of Season 22): Peri doesn’t get anything much to do but trail round after the Doctor, complaining.


The thing that crops up on Ravolox that does help to propel the court room scenes forward is some bleeped out dialogue that, it transpires, is ‘against the public interest’ to reveal. It wouldn’t be a Robert Holmes Time Lord story without the hint of a shady conspiracy, and this sequence gives us an inkling that there are darker motives behind the trial than have so far been disclosed. In the background, Holmes is carefully laying the groundwork for some good mysteries: where is Peri? Who is the Valeyard? What are the Time Lords hiding? All this, plus some good jokes (I love the moment where the Doctor complains about having to sit through scenes that don’t have him in, as if he’s read the reviews of Season 22).

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

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 647: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Two (13/9/1986) | Next Episode...

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