Doctor Who episode 658: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Thirteen (29/11/1986)
‘Most of what you saw was true.’ Except all the really dramatic bits, like Peri dying. Those were all made up. I think it’s a stroke of genius to bring back the Master as the Doctor’s key witness for the defence, and Ainley doesn’t disappoint as he leers over the court room, gently flirting with the Inquisitor, mocking the Time Lords’ love of propriety, and dramatically blowing open the conspiracy to conceal the theft of Matrix secrets by devastating the Earth. This might have been enough anyway: ‘causing ripples that’ll rock the High Council to its foundations’ and ensuring no-one else has the pleasure of revenge on the Doctor is perfectly Master-ish.
But there’s more. ‘I’m not prepared to countenance a rival,’ the Master says, grinning wolfishly at the Valeyard. Then, he reveals that the High Council ‘made a deal with the Valeyard, or as I’ve always known him, the Doctor, to adjust the evidence, in return for which he was promised the remainder of the Doctor’s regenerations’. I like the concept of an evil future incarnation of the Doctor, one who really has gone bad and is prepared to consider any means to justify an end. I think it’s shakier because we don’t get much sense of what that end is, other than continued existence and, perhaps, a chance to impose order on the universe – if Mr Popplewick’s comment ‘I prefer to call it order, and the holy writ of order is procedure’ is to be believed. The best thing about it all, though, is the low-key way it’s revealed.
This is Robert Holmes and Eric Saward’s final work for the show and there’s a vague whiff of the greatest hits being trotted out. The Matrix combines The Deadly Assassin’s brutal surrealism (Steven Moffat totally stole the hands on the beach for The Magician’s Apprentice) with The Talons of Weng-Chiang’s queasy Victoriana; Popplewick is a final stab at bureaucracy (with viciously brilliant one-liners like, ‘The very junior Mr Popplewick isn’t permitted to expect anyone’). And above all, the grubby politicking of the Time Lords, which prompts the Colin Baker clip reel speech of ‘ten million years of absolute power’. And as it’s Robert Holmes’ greatest hits, it’s the single best episode of the Trial.
Being Popplewick-pedantic, it also includes a final outing for the least likely bit of Sawardian dialogue (no one, ever, says ‘Neither am I a [blank]’ as Mel does here). Langford isn’t as good in this as the (recorded later) Vervoid segments, largely because she gets such rotten dialogue (‘That’s it, Doc. Now we’re getting at the dirt!’). The Doctor and Glitz’s arrival in the Matrix looks like the opening titles for Mr Bean.
Next episode: The Trial of a Time Lord – Part Fourteen
Thank you to James Cooray Smith for clarifying who wrote which parts of the script. And read his Black Archive on The Ultimate Foe – it is superb