Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord

Well, since I’ve started posting today, I’ll see if I can keep going long enough to catch up with the pile of Doctor Who DVDs that I need to write about. This one is a bit unusual – the whole of the 1986 series was billed as a single story, though depending on how you look at it, it could be four stories with some framing devices. The title reflects the status of the show at the time. Doctor Who had been off the air for an unprecedented 18 months following the cancellation of the planned 23rd season, and it was indeed on trial…

The framing narrative involves the Doctor being taken to a Gallifreyan space station, where he is placed on trial for breaking the law against interfering. Now as he’s been doing that all along, often with the active encouragement of the Time Lords, this seems a little unfair. But the prosecutor, known as the Valeyard, seems determined to have the Doctor condemned. Evidence is produced, showing some of the Doctor’s adventures. While the episodes were labelled as parts of a single story, the sections had different writers, and informal titles were assigned to them.

The Mysterious Planet

A fairly traditional run-around, featuring warriors, robots, con-men and deep secrets about the planet Ravalox. All of this with interjections from the Doctor as he’s forced to watch his actions being played out on a screen in the court.

There’s the usual mix of extras on this first DVD, including a “Making of” documentary and the ubiquitous production subtitles.


Things get a lot worse in this story, which involves Brian Blessed being Brian Blessed[1], and some very nasty experiments. Experiments which lead to Peri being killed as her body is stolen by an evil alien. This is just around the time the Doctor is pulled out of time and put on trial. Only things that are seen to happen aren’t all as the Doctor remembers them.

And there’s a similar collection of extras on disc two, too. These include the ever-popular production subtitles and a “then and now” look at some of the locations used.

Terror of the Vervoids

Now things get a bit more odd than usual. The Doctor presents evidence in his defence – an adventure from his future, in which he’s accompanied by Mel[2]. Bad Things are happening on a starliner, with conspiracies, murder and some very aggressive vegetation. The Doctor manages to sort all that out, only to find that by presenting this evidence, he’s opened himself to a charge of genocide…

Extras on this disc include a look at the stories that were planned for the series that was cancelled, as well as the usual bits and bobs.

The Ultimate Foe

In which all is revealed. The Master is playing in the Matrix, the absolutely secure (not) store of all Time Lord knowledge. The Valeyard is some weird projection of the Doctor, containing all the evil bits of him[3], who wants the Doctor to be executed so he can have all of the Doctor’s remaining regenerations[4]. Lots of surreal silliness follows in the virtual world of the Matrix, with the Doctor eventually emerging triumphant, and being offered the job of President again. He naturally runs away again….

More of the usual extras, including a general look at Colin Baker’s time in the show.


This was good in parts. Some of it made no sense at all, some of it was enjoyably silly, and some of it (mostly the Doctor’s commentary on the evidence) a bit annoying. Anyway, it was successful enough for the BBC management to agree to bring the series back, on the condition that Colin Baker was replaced.

[1] He does it so well…
[2] We never see them meet, so who knows where she came from….
[3] This doesn’t make any more sense now than it did in 1986, really…
[4] Which leads on to the idea that the “12 regenerations” thing was a legal rather than a physical limit…