Before we begin the longest story in Doctor Who‘s history, I have a confession to make.
Sue: Is this Colin’s last story or not?
Me: Yes, it is. But…
Sue: But what?
Me: It’s 14 episodes long.
Crash zoom on Sue’s face.
Sue: HOW MANY EPISODES?!
Me: Calm down, calm down. It’s not so bad. The episodes are only 25-minutes long again.
Sue: I don’t care how bloody long they are, how am I supposed to remember what happens over the course of 14 episodes? And how can they possibly sustain a story for that amount of time? That 10-part Patrick Troughton was pushing it and I love Patrick Troughton.
Me: We’ve done a 12-part William Hartnell as well.
Sue: Have we? I must have blocked that out.
Me: Are you ready?
Sue: As ready as I can be for a 14-part Doctor Who. This had better be good.
Sue: They’ve changed the theme music again. It’s horrible. The dum-de-dums are alright, I suppose, but the rest of it sounds like it was done on a cheap Casio keyboard.
Her mood soon changes, though:
Sue: 14 episodes of Robert Holmes. Okay, I can live with that.
Sue: Oh, wow.
The camera sweeps over a space station.
Sue: Are we watching the right version? Isn’t it one of those CGI things where the fans have tarted it up a bit? Am I allowed to watch this?
Me: Yes, this is what it looked like in 1986.
Sue: Wow. This is what Doctor Who looks like now.
The TARDIS is caught by a tractor beam which pulls towards the space station.
Sue: If the first shot is anything to go by, the next 14 episodes are going to be great.
The Doctor finds himself in a darkened courtroom where a mysterious figure in black is sitting with his back to us.
Sue: It’s not, is it?
Me: Don’t be silly. He was eaten by a dinosaur, remember?
It’s the Valeyard.
Sue: Oh, it’s that man from Crossroads again.
Me: It isn’t Ronald Allen. It’s Michael Jayston. Like that’s going to help you.
Sue: He looks familiar.
Me: In the original television version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy he played the same role that Benedict Cumberbatch played in the movie.
Sue: So he’s the 1980s Benedict Cummberbatch. Okay.
A group of Time Lords and an Inquisitor take their seats in the courtroom.
Sue: Oh, it’s her. The OXO lady.
Me: It’s Lynda Bellingham. She played James Herriot’s wife in All Creatures Great and Small.
Sue: That’s right. She took the part when his wife regenerated.
Me: Yes. A cow sat on her.
The Valeyard’s inquiry into the Doctor’s actions begin on the planet Ravalox.
Sue: Peri’s jacket is a bit Hi-Di-Hi, but bold colours and stripes were all the rage back then, so you can’t blame her for that. My hair was exactly the same as hers back then as well, except mine was blonde. I’ve destroyed all the photos.
The Doctor and Peri hike through a damp forest. I pause the DVD.
Me: Do you notice anything different about this?
Sue: Yes, they’re shooting it on video. Is it Betacam SP?
Me: I’ll find out for you. How do you feel about them using video on location?
Sue: It was misty when they shot this, so it’s very forgiving at the moment. It’s always going to look flatter than film, but at least we won’t get that jarring effect when they switch between indoors and outdoors. Besides, I like video. I learnt my trade on it so I can’t really complain about it.
The Doctor’s progress is monitored by two intergalactic wide-boys.
Sue: Oh, it’s him. He’s been in everything. I like his sideburns. You could get away with them today. I could get the clippers if you like, Neil.
Me: No, thanks.
Sabalom Glitz tells his partner, Dibber, that he suffers from a deep-rooted maladjustment, brought on by an infantile inability to come to terms with the more pertinent, concrete aspects of life.
Sue: Good old Robert Holmes. This is what we want.
The Doctor and Peri find an entrance to a hidden passageway.
Sue: I bet you like the music. It sounds like Tangerine Dream techno bollocks to me. But it has an old Radiophonic Workshop feel to it as well.
Yes, she actually said that.
The Doctor and Peri find a strangely familiar staircase.
Sue: I bet this is King’s Cross tube station.
And then the Doctor almost reveals his full name:
The Doctor: I might stay here for a year or so and write a thesis. Ancient Life on Ravalox by Doctor –
Sue: He was going to say “Who”. We’ve been through this before, Neil.
Our heroes haven’t stumbled into King’s Cross station, but Marble Arch is pretty close (as long as the Victoria line is still working).
Sue: It’s good, this. Very Planet of the Apes. I definitely want to know more.
Peri is very upset when she realises this post-apocalyptic Earth.
Sue: This is a lovely performance from Nicola. Very believable.
And then, back in the courtroom, our first objection.
Sue: I like this. I like this a lot. Is it going to be like this all the way through?
The Doctor: Can’t we just have the edited highlights?
Sue: Yes, please! Not really. I’m enjoying this one, but I can never resist a cheap gag.
The Doctor puts things into perspective for his companion.
The Doctor: Look at it this way. Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.
Sue: That was a lovely scene. More of that, please.
Me: Have you noticed anything different about their relationship?
Sue: Yes, he’s listening to her for a change. He actually seems to care about her. It took him long enough. It should have been like that from day two!
The surface of Earth/Ravalox is ruled by Katryca, Queen of the Wild Boys.
Sue: It’s one of the Carry On women. Don’t ask me which one. The one who isn’t Barbara Windsor.
Me: It’s Joan Sims.
Sue: I hope she doesn’t send it up too much.
Down in Marb Station, the guards are led by a man name Merdeen.
Sue: Oh it’s him. You know, he was in the French one. He kept hitting things.
Sue: That’s the one. I love Duggan. The guest cast are very good this week.
The Doctor enters Marb Station, but when he innocently inspects a flask of water, he is suddenly set upon by group of angry men.
Sue: Were they working as a Formula One pit crew before the fireball hit?
When the Doctor wakes a short time later, he’s been chained to a pole. Water is so scarce in Marb Station, the penalty for stealing it is death.
Sue: I bet it must stink down there.
The Doctor is taunted by Balazar, the reader of the sacred books. These books include Moby Dick, The Water Babies, and, most mysterious of all:
Balazar: UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose by HM Stationery Office.
Sue: Brilliant. Why do people think Revelation of the Daleks is better than this? It’s beyond me.
The Doctor will be stoned to death for his crime.
Sue: Run away! There’s a corridor right behind you!
The Doctor uses his umbrella to deflect the missiles, but it’s not enough to save him.
Sue: Ouch! That must have hurt.
We cut back to the courtroom.
The Doctor: Clever, eh? That trick with the umbrella.
Sue: I don’t know what he’s bragging about. He got a rock in the face! He should spend the next 13 episodes with a black eye.
The Valeyard wants to change the rules of the game.
Valeyard: These proceedings started as a mere inquiry into the Doctor’s activities. I’m suggesting now that it becomes a trial.
Sue: Because The Inquiry of a Time Lord would be a rubbish title.
The camera zooms in on the Doctor’s face.
Sue: What a silly cliffhanger. They should have finished on the stoning. Aside from that, not a bad start.
Sue: The theme music isn’t growing on me. It isn’t meaty enough.
Marb Station is ruled by a robot known as the Immortal One.
Sue: I’m guessing that his head doubles up as a radar dish, yes?
Merdeen’s men arrive to break up the stoning.
Sue: They are taking time out from their busy paintballing schedule to do this.
Peri is captured and brought before Queen Katryca.
Katryca: I shall provide some excellent husbands for you.
Sue: That sounds like my kind of village. Although, knowing Peri’s luck, all the husbands will turn out to be sex pests.
The only people who enter the Immortal’s castle are the young men who have passed the selection process.
Sue: Young men? That’s very specific. A bit too specific if you ask me.
The L1 robot is released into the Station.
Sue: Another Dalek knock-off. We haven’t had one of those for a while. It’s rubbish.
Peri is locked up with Glitz and Dibber. They tell her not to worry about Katryca’s proposal.
Peri: I’m not romantic enough to want more than one husband.
Dibber: Where we come from, a woman can have as many as six.
Sue: They come from Salt Lake City?
Sue finally catches the Immortal’s real name.
Sue: Jethro? What kind of name is that for a robot?
Back in the courtroom, the Inquisitor has heard enough.
Inquisitor: Is this relevant testimony, Valeyard? We seem to be straying from the point.
Sue: Yes we are, rather. She’s very posh but I’m definitely on her side. I love the court scenes.
Glitz and Dibber are led away to be burnt at a stake. Dibber isn’t very impressed.
Dibber: Now, if I was handling this execution, I’d go for a bullet in the back of the head. Much more economical.
Sue: Brilliant. They’d better not kill them. I could watch these two all day.
The Doctor is introduced to Drathro and his boys.
Sue: This programme is obsessed with autistic twins. What’s that all about?
The Doctor does a runner and Drathro has to send the L1 robot after him.
Sue: They had to speed up the video when it turned that corner. I bet it took ten minutes for it to perform that three-point turn in real life.
The inhabitants of Marb Station don’t seem to realise that it’s safe for them to return to the surface.
Sue: Hang on a minute… they’ve done this plot before. Ages ago. I definitely remember it.
Me: You’re probably thinking of The Enemy of the World. There are some similarities, I guess.
Sue: I think I preferred it the first time.
Merdeen is letting his people escape to the surface when Drathro isn’t looking.
Sue: Good old, Duggan. Maybe he’s a descendant of the original Duggan. That would make sense.
Glitz and Dibber escape from Katryca’s tribe.
Sue: A fat Han Solo and his shaved Chewbacca decide to get out of Dodge.
Dibber lobs a bomb at the Black Light Converter.
Sue: That was crap. I want to see more special effects like the one we had in the first episode.
The next thing we know, it’s rush hour on the underground’s escalator.
The Doctor: I really think this could be the end.
Sue: Yes, it’s the end of the episode. Don’t oversell it, mate.
Sue: I still don’t like the music.
Me: Ok, thanks. We get it.
Balazar recognises Katryca’s right-hand man, Broken Tooth.
Sue: Also known as Man on Jeremy Kyle Man.
Theres another interruption back at the courtroom, and this time it’s the Inquisitor’s turn to object.
Inquisitor: I would appreciate it if these brutal and repetitious scenes are reduced to a minimum.
Sue: (In her best posh voice) Yes, one would prefer it if this was more for the kids, wouldn’t one.
Me: Do you think the programme is commenting on itself? You know, all the criticisms about it being too violent.
Sue: Does this mean the programme on trial as well?
Me: Pretty much.
Sue: So what happens if the show is found guilty? Does it get a new producer?
The L1 robot snatches the Doctor from Katryca’s village.
Sue: Awww, he just wants to give him a big hug.
And then there’s another interruption so they can explain to the audience how the Matrix is capable of recording scenes when the Doctor isn’t actually present.
Sue: I wasn’t bothered about it until they mentioned it. I won’t stop thinking about it now.
Katryca’s Wild Boys attack the L1 robot.
Sue: The Matrix needs a better director and editor. That wasn’t great. Joan is good, though. She isn’t playing it for laughs, which I’m surprised about.
Katryca believes she has defeated the Immortal One.
Katryca: It is ours now. All the strange materials that bend and do not break, All the mysteries and treasures of our ancient forefathers that we shall learn to use again.
Me: They can learn the ancient art of dentistry and fix poor old Broken Tooth while they’re at it.
Glitz sends Dibber off to get the heavy weapons.
Sue: I half-expected him to pat him on his arse when he sent him on his way.
Evidence has been edited out of the court’s proceedings.
Sue: I really like this. This means I won’t feel so bad when I can’t follow something. I’ll just assume that it’s been edited out by the Time Lords. I bet it’s a big conspiracy.
The episode ends with Merdeen firing a crossbow in the Doctor’s general direction.
Sue: That wasn’t great. They should have ended it on a big close up of Colin’s face.
Oh, the irony.
Sue: Do we know if this was shot on Beta SP yet?
Me: No, it wasn’t. Keep watching and you’ll find out soon enough.
When the story resumes, we discover that Merdeen didn’t shoot the Doctor after all. He shot some other bloke instead. Merdeen is really cut up about it.
Sue: He didn’t get a chance to tell him that he was his long-lost brother.
Merdeen takes his helmet off as an act of respect.
Sue: Is his hat made from gaffa tape? Poor Duggan. He looks like Gary Numan.
Marb Station is invaded by the –
Sue: Wild boys! Wild boys! Wild boys!
Me: Don’t forget their Wild Mum!
Drathro kills Katryca and Broken Tooth by bursting their blood vessels.
Sue: OXO mum will be furious. I’m surprised she didn’t intervene.
It’s left to the Doctor to object to the Valeyard’s tactics instead.
The Doctor: Your points of law are spurious, your evidence weak, verging on the irrelevant, and your reasoning quite unsound. In fact, your point of view belongs in quite another place. Perhaps the mantle of Valeyard was a mistake. I would therefore suggest that you change it for the garment of quite another sort of yard. That of the knackers’ yard.
Sue: That was a very good speech. A bit loud, but good. Have I told you yet that I really like the courtroom scenes?
Me: Yes, several times.
Sue: The prosecutor is very good. He has an amazing voice. He’d be a great Doctor.
Me: Do you think it’s a good idea to frame the season within a trial, then?
Sue: Yes. It’s very interesting and it implies that something more interesting is going on, which is good because the stuff on this planet isn’t all that great.
A little later, Glitz’s dialogue is bleeped.
Sue: Did he just swear?
The Doctor demands to see the sequence again.
Glitz: The Sleepers found a way into the (bleep bleep), the biggest net of information in the universe.
Sue: It’s the Matrix. What else could it be? You don’t have to be a Time Lord to work that out.
Glitz and Dibber have tooled themselves up.
Sue: They should swap guns. He should hold the red gun, it would match his shoulder pads.
The Doctor tries to reason with Drathro.
Sue: The ideas are very good in this, it’s just looks a bit… cheap. Colin’s having a good episode, though.
After a nasty incident involving a food production chamber (Sue didn’t enjoy the “comedy” gunging of Balazar), Glitz and Dibber join the Doctor in Drathro’s castle. They offer to replenish Drathro’s supply of Black light back at their ship.
Dibber: Yeah, we’ve got so much of that, sometimes we can hardly see.
Sue: Brilliant. I could watch a whole series with these two in it. Please tell me there’s a spin-off.
Drathro agrees to leave with the mercenaries, but not before he retrieves his box of secrets.
Me: There you go. That’s what they shot this on – 1 inch videotape. Drathro is going to run off with the rushes.
Drathro doesn’t make it as far as the escalator (“Now that’s something I wanted to see”) and the Doctor manages to contain the Black Light explosion before it can take half the universe with it.
Sue: Is that it? There’s 10 episodes left. What are they going to do now? And we still don’t know why the Earth is in the wrong place.
The Doctor: There are still one or two questions that have to be answered, like who moved this planet two light years off its original course.
Sue: Exactly! Is this what the next 10 episodes are all about? That could be interesting.
And that concludes the Valeyard’s opening statement.
Sue: Eh? But the Doctor’s done much worse than that. I’m sure we’ve seen him commit genocide before. That was nothing.
But there’s more evidence to come.
Sue: They should run an old one. He’s still the same person. Stick a Troughton on instead!
Me: What score are you going to give it?
Sue: I can’t give it a score, it hasn’t finished yet.
Me: Just score what you’ve seen so far. We’ll work out the average at the end.
Sue: It’s sort of finished, I suppose. Okay, it started off well but it ran out of steam. I loved the two mercenaries and I hope they’re in the next ten episodes. Peri did sod all, which is a shame, but it was nice to see the Doctor getting stuck in again. The bits I enjoyed the most were the trial scenes. I love a good story arc. The rest of it didn’t do anything for for me. We’ve seen it all before.