Going Underground

In episode two of The Trial of a Timelord we find out a bit more about Ravalox’s underground civilisation which seems to be ruled by a being known only as the immortal by all of the people living under the ground. This immortal is actually a robot who has controlled the underground civilisation for centuries and gives them food and water, unless they disobey him when all of that stops, so he isn’t a very benevolant leader.

He also selects two people from the city to enter his castle and they are the only people who are allowed to see the immortal. Noone else knows what the immortal looks like as he speaks to them through headseats and there are cameras all over the city where they can contact him but of course they are a one way communication device for them to talk to the immortal.

It is a bit strange that Immortal only wants young men to enter his castle and it is rather noticeable that there are very few women in this story. It is also noticeable that the Immortal is not very keen on letting people go up to the surface as it is clear that the surface is not the dangerous place that it once was and is perfectly safe to live on, not that the people who live underground believe that it is thanks to the immortal careful management of them and also his rather barbaric practices of killing people who disagree with him, apart from a select few people who he has not managed to pull the wool over their eyes.

Once again the guest characters get all of the best lines in this episode mostly Glitz and Dibber who are really growing on me as characters. I am not too sure that Tony Selby is that convincing as a a totally immoral mercenary, but he is certainly channeling Arthur Daley a bit too much if you ask me, as I think that he is not meant to be a lovable rogue, but a rogue plain and simple.

Dibber on the other hand is a bit more how I would have expected Glitz to be like, to the point and dangerous to know, which you don’t get that impression from Glitz, or at least I don’t.

Merdeen is also not quite the character that you thought he was from the first episode and in this episode we find out that he is actually a good guy and whenever the immortal orders people to be stone he sees them to the surface of the planet, he is setting them free onto the surface. What a nice chap Merdeen is.

We of course get more court room sequences but a little less than the first episode and whilst they are quite nice and Michael Jayston is superb as a the Valeyard I do wish they would just forget about them and just have the Ravalox stuff, but as the story is called The Trial of a Timelord it cleary is not going to be forgotten about, more’s the pity.

The Trial

The first new Doctor Who to be broadcast for more than 18 months started promisingly with a new version of the theme, which I think is one of the better versions of the theme, and a, frankly, amazing piece of model making as the camera swept around the ship which then dragged the TARDIS into a blue beam and then the Doctor into the court room.

This first episode set up the premise of the series well with the establishing scenes set on the space station which also appears to be a time lord court where the Inquisitor presides. We also meet the prosecutor, the Valeyard, who is presenting the case against the Doctor.

The Doctor is suitably peeved at being dragged away from some exciting adventure that we knew nothing about into a court room where he seemed to be the subject of an enquiry about his behaviour.

This episode was basically a mash up of court room sequences which were pretty much just the Doctor arguing with the Valeyard with the Inquisitor trying to control the pair and the evidence presented by the Valeyard, and the presented evidence itself.

In this section the Doctor and Peri arrive on a planet called Ravalox, which is suspiciously like Earth in almost every way apart from its location, and which was apparently ravaged by a solar storm, and should not contain life.

Of course it would be a rather boring story if the planet was empty and wouldn’t be a good piece of evidence for the prosecution. So we meet two characters called Glitz and Dibber. Glitz and Dibber are mercenary’s who will do anything for money and are a pair of well written characters which is often a trademark of Robert Holmes stories and these characters are no exceptions.

For a planet that is not supposed to contain life there are a hell of a lot of people living there both above and below ground including a primitive tribe who live on the surface of the planet and a group of people who live underground who are equally as primitive.

Ravalox sounds like an interesting place which might be a future Earth, but light years away from where it should be. The scenes set underground do appear to be rather London underground like which also indicated that the planet is a version of Earth in the far, far future despite what the Doctor believes due to the planets location.

If anything the court room sequences got in the way of the narrative of the story and it was only the interplay between Colin Baker and Michael Jayston which made those sequences interesting and the constant interruptions to the main action did get a bit tiresome as the stuff on the planet was much more interesting that what was going on in the court room, until the end when the enquiry changed into trial for the Doctor’s life.

The episode then ended with the obligatory close up of Colin Baker’s face, so business as usual there.

Greased Lightning

Revelation of the Daleks Episode One

For once we don’t open with a lengthy TARDIS scene, which is actually a nice change and the TARDIS just arrives on a planet and the story begins. It actually takes quite a while for the Doctor to actually get involved in the story proper and, in this first episode, all the Doctor and Peri do is get to the place where they wanted to be, but the story happily trundles along without them.

The Daleks are present from the very beginning of the story but don’t really do a great deal in this episode except trundle about. Davros is also present despite seemingly being blown up in his previous appearance but now appears to be for some reason stuck in a cylindrical column which he spins around in.

He also seems to be known as the Great Healer and is also seemingly responsible for ridding worlds of poverty by providing them with a never ending supply of protein, which is very disconcerting as this is Davros we are talking about and it would seem highly unlikely that he would do anything so noble as this.

He also seems to be in control of a funeral parlour called Tranquil Repose which is also a bit of a strange thing for him to be up to, but when you realise what he is actually doing with the bodies of people whose loved ones had tranquil repose lots and lots of money to either keep in cryogenic suspension until a cure for their illness had been created or gave them a fitting send off depending on their situation then it become something that you would of expected him to do, and it is very dark indeed.

In fact the whole atmosphere of the story is rather dark and dismal and grim for early Saturday evening entertainment but is just simply excellent television. Yes the Doctor and Peri do absolutely bugger all apart from bicker with each other which have been a constant in their relationship. Indeed if the Doctor and Peri and Davros and the Daleks were not there, it could have been a totally different programme, and it still would have been riveting viewing.

This is the best directed episode of Doctor Who since Attack of the Cybermen part 2 and, as a result, the episode was always interesting to watch and the episode was chock full of excellent performances from Clive Swift as the vain, obtuse, Jobel; Jenny Tomasin as the meek and loving Tasambeker; William Gaunt as the grand knight Orcini. Even Alexei Sayle was quite good in this episode and he didn’t seem out of his place at all and wasn’t just stunt casting on the part of the producer.

I also loved the music in this episode from the great Roger Limb, which really set the scene along with the sublime direction of Graeme Harper. The writing in this episode was also amongst the best writing in the series of that year and you can tell that Eric Saward really enjoyed writing it as his enthusiasm for the script and the characters shone through.

It almost seems unnecessary to feature the Doctor as he does so very little and perhaps that is how Saward was feeling at the time, but if that was the case, we got a bleeding good story out if it, despite the Doctor being a secondary character in his own show.

Out of all of the sixth Doctor stories this is the only one the presence of the Doctor doesn’t actually improve the story and wouldn’t lose anything if he wasn’t there!

HG WHO?

In the final scene of Timelash we find out that Herbert was in fact the famous author H G Wells and that the moral of the story is that quite a lot of his later novels were in fact based upon his adventures in the TARDIS in that story, or that Glen McCoy thought that he could get away with writing a Doctor Who story by using elements of HG Wells stories if he made out that he wrote the stories after meeting up with the Doctor. Not that the Doctor was aware of that at the time and had no choice to let Herbert tag along after he stowed away on the TARDIS.

We probably should have guessed that there was a bit more to the character of Herbert than meets the eye when he really didn’t blink an eyelid at the fact that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside and at the end of the episode the revelation probably shouldn’t be that surprising given some of the character names (Vena in particular being the female character from The Time Machine) and some of the other elements of the story we have been watching (The Morlocks being the most prominent one), or perhaps they were better hidden than we think.

At least a lot of what happened in the story actually made sort of sense with the revelation at the end of the episode but it didn’t make it better as a result of that. I think that the problem with Timelash is that it followed after the Two Doctors which, for all of its faults, was a good story badly executed whereas this one was a bad story well executed which meant that the main fault with the story was the script and to be honest some of the worse aspects of the story are the dialogue even if Paul Darrow does his best to make every line as dramatic as he possibly can, even though he is often fighting a losing battle.

Now I know that Glen McCoy was new to writing when he wrote this but it seems to me that Eric Saward as the script editor probably should have done a bit more work editing this story than he actually did as it could have worked better than it actually did if it had been given another lick and polish, even if would be just to polish a turd.
I am probably being a little bit disingenuous about this story as there are plenty of worse stories than this one in the annals of Doctor Who and there have been performances a lot hammier than Paul Darrow’s as well but in many ways it is Darrow’s portrayal that makes this story worth watching if only to see him eat his way through the scenery.

One of the worst things about this story isn’t the dialogue, or the acting but it is the Bandrils who are easily the worse realised alien race ever. They make the Myrka look like a work of art and are quite frankly embarrassing. I can only assume that they run out of money after the jolly to Seville, but I am pretty sure that they could have done better than what we got.

I can see what they were trying to do with the Bandrils but they didn’t quite pull it off here. Having said that the make-up job on the Borad was rather good for its time so they did a great job on that but not such a good job on the Bandrils but perhaps they focussed more on the Borad than the Bandrils as they did appear on screen a lot less then Borad, so you can see why this happened here, and was probably the right thing to do as well.

Having said all that though, I did quite enjoy watching Timelash, despite its faults, and I think that even though it is not great Doctor Who it is far better than most stuff on TV, both then and now.