Doctor Who episode 653: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Eight (25/10/1986)

‘Die well, my lady.’ It seems to me this goes beyond the bounds of what’s legitimately horrible in Doctor Who. I suspect JNT wanted Peri to die because he envisaged a similar impact to Adric’s death – perhaps a ratings bump and some newspaper coverage. It might have added a couple of hundred thousand viewers for the next episode, but I think that’s a fairly meagre reward for seeing the longest-serving current regular stripped of all her agency: at least Adric died choosing to attempt to save the Earth. She’s strapped down, shaved, gagged and drugged, and then erased like an old hard drive so Kiv can be downloaded into the body (and Sil can make a joke about how ugly it is). I suppose the series has often treated Peri as no more than meat, so perhaps it’s a meta comment. I think it’s nasty, and I’m glad the show ret-conned it almost immediately.

Trial8

I’ve enjoyed Mindwarp much more on this watch through then I ever have previously. Having blown cold on Vengeance on Varos, I’m minded to say this is the better work. Some of the problems in the earlier story, particularly its surfeit of under-developed villains, are fixed by giving the Quillam character (Crozier) more focus, having Kiv fulfil the joint roles of Chief and Sil, and making Sil a comic relief. Yrcanos is also a much more compelling rebel leader than Jondar.

It’s undermined by the trial framing narrative, which is a curious miss given Varos successfully featured characters watching events on TV. Here, though, the ending becomes a mess of stuff as the freed Alphan slaves do interpretative dance in the tunnels while the Doctor disappears from the story and Yrcanos kills everyone in slo-mo. And then, the Inquisitor, who so far has been stern but impartial, suddenly seems to pick up Michael Jayston’s script to justify the events they’ve just watched even though up until this point she’s never given any indication of advance knowledge of the details of the Valeyard’s evidence. Baker does get a decent cliffhanger speech, and in the wider context of the trial it provides a midway climax.

It’s also a climax to Nicola Bryant and Eric Saward’s regular involvement in the series. Of the two, I’ll miss Peri more, although I think Bryant was badly served by a lot of the material she was given in Season 22, when her dialogue was atrocious and too many stories treated her as a lust object. Many of those faults can be laid at the door of the script editor… Eric Saward, whose latterday career often involves appearing on documentaries to primly place the blame for everything that went wrong in 1983-86 on the head of JNT.

Being even-handed, Saward has a talent for pastiche which informs his best work on the show (Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks), and although I’m not familiar with his wider radio work, Slipback suggests an understanding of audio drama that could have been a good addition to Big Finish. But through his tenure he doesn’t appear to have cultivated writing talent (there are reports of him doing the exact opposite), and I’ve frequently complained that obvious script fixes don’t seem to have been made. It’s hard to shake the notion that the decision that JNT should be blamed for is hiring Saward in 1982 and then keeping him in a job he didn’t seem to much enjoy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Seasons 20-22 contain the most sustained run of sub-par episodes in the entire classic run, or that, from now on, the show’s quality quickly improves (YMMV) back to 1979 levels.

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

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 652: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Seven (18/10/1986) | Next Episode...
  2. Miles

    I’ve never read Peri’s sad demise summed up as well as this and exactly how I’ve felt about it since watching it as a 14 year old, and not having watched it since

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