- The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts 5-8 (Mindwarp)
I’m a bit torn on this one, as it’s patently the least ‘sillyfun’ segment of the trial. On the other hand, it is the most interesting, even if it’s still horribly flawed. And I’m a massive British horror film fan, so this appeals to the side of me that enjoys those sick, zero-budget black comedies of the 1970s and 1980s. As this is colourful, over the top, gratuitously nasty and a bit of a mess it’s probably the most representative sixth Doctor story as well.
- The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts 1-4 (The Mysterious Planet)
I really like Robert Holmes making use of the trial format to do a ‘meta’ (shoot me now) commentary on the series. That the Ravolox bits are fairly generic Doctor Who seems entirely the point: if we were desperately invested in that adventure, the courtroom scenes would be too distracting, and wouldn’t work as well. We have to recognise the Ravolox stuff as ‘typical’ for any of the Valeyard’s criticisms (or the Doctor’s defence) to stick. Sadly, it also means that Colin Baker’s big comeback consists of him standing about watching himself have a formulaic adventure.
- The Sensorites
An ongoing theme of my ‘bottom half’ is that a lot of them have brilliant first episodes but then peter out into dull business. This is the seminal example: an astonishing first 25 minutes, including two of my all-time favourite shots of the entire series (the camera following the TARDIS crew out through the doors and into the spaceship; the Sensorite floating in space, peering in through the spaceship window). After that, it all becomes much less interesting. The novelisation is quite good.
- The Visitation
Peter Davison is very good in it. So are Michael Robins and Michael Melia. No-one else has characters, just banal monikers like ‘Scythe Man’. The Doctor loses his sonic screwdriver but picks up a gun, and proudly declaims, ‘I never miss’ which should instantly have alerted everyone that Eric Saward should never have been allowed anywhere near the script editor’s chair. There should have been another way.
- The Ice Warriors
I really enjoyed the novelisation, so when I finally saw the TV episodes (in 1998), it was a terrible shock. The repetitive and formulaic Season Five isn’t one of my favourites, and this is the weakest of the bunch: a boring script by one of the worst Doctor Who writers. I do like the Ice Warriors, and they, and some nice design work, are the best things about the story. But if I had to watch four episodes with lots of trudging between two locations against a white backdrop, I’d definitely pick Warriors’ Gate.
- The Celestial Toymaker
In theory, this is the kind of Doctor Who story I should love. But ever since I saw The Final Test on The Hartnell Years VHS, I’ve had a low opinion: 25 minutes of Jackie Lane being the stupidest companion ever, and Peter Purves trying to make jumping from one box to another look interesting, while William Hartnell plays a board game with a bored Gough. Recent complaints about its anti-Chinese, anti-Black racism (which are hard to refute, even if the intent wasn’t malicious) haven’t exactly made it any easier to like. And had this been Hartnell’s last story, as mooted, it would have been a genuinely mean-spirited and damaging way to get rid of him. As it stands, it’s just very ordinary and tiresome: Star Trek, The Avengers and pretty every ITC show did the same kind of thing but much better at about the same time.