Trial Of A Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet

Over the past two days, I’ve been watching the first four episodes of the Trial Of A Time Lord story arc, these four together known as The Mysterious Planet. This was a comeback for 6th Doctor Colin Baker after the show had been canceled for reasons undisclosed, and the trial theme was meant to reflect the show’s position itself as being on trial for its very existence. I don’t recall having seen these in The Olden Days (when I was sporting a permed mullet, no lie, and wearing a lot of turquoise besides) so this was a fresh experience for me.

As usual the first thing that strikes me about the classic series is the pace. Of course these are four 25-minute episodes, so things move a bit more slowly than in current episodes, though, to be fair, more quickly than in the earlier years.

I watched the episodes straight through night before last and then with cast commentary last night, and the second thing that strikes me is the shocking difference in expectation regarding what constitutes good television. I found myself shouting at the screen, “Rubbishy rubbishy rubbish!” There were good bits; certainly the repartee between Glitz and Dibber, the conmen out to get some extremely valuable secrets, was lovely. But I was singularly unimpressed with most of the acting, dialogue, premise, the whole lot. Yet the people doing the commentary (Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby, Adam Blackwood) seem to find it quite good. At one point they decry what’s become of the BBC; alas it’s all gone to the dogs. I just don’t see it. As an aside, I’m more forgiving of Nicola Bryant’s inconsistent American accent now. Her British accent is just as inconsistent, so maybe that’s just a speech thing in general for her.

The third thing is Oh. My. Goodness is ever The Doctor a jerk. It’s nice that he’s much less of a jerk here than previously, but he’s still a jerk. It’s important to me that The Doctor be likeable. It’s ok to be arrogant and fallible, but he has to be at heart(s) a really decent and endearing person, and Colin Baker’s Doctor never was. I wanted to crew cut him and stab him in the eyes. I try to remember that this is the 80s during the rise of the mean-spirited sitcom, so maybe that’s why it was supposed to be okay. I never liked it, even in the 80s.

Fourth – I really want Madame Inquisitor’s headdress. So pretty! The Valeyard can keep his leather helmet. I won’t talk too much about costumes and sets – there are legitimate reasons they’re variously bad and good, but I really do want that lacy hat!

Speaking of The Valeyard, though I don’t recall having seen these episodes, I know enough lore to know who the Valeyard is supposed to be. I’m watching him for any indication. If it’s so, I wonder … well … how. Given the current series I mean. Would it be a “time can be rewritten” situation?

More impressions:

I have never liked fidgety robots. It wouldn’t occur to a robot (or android we’d say now, since we know robots as mostly brainless factory machines) to waste power squirming about. Gesticulating, maybe, if it adds communicative value, but not twitching and shifting and such.

In such a sterile undergound environment, I don’t get the point of paint-spattered helmets and grubby uniforms. How did they get that way? Why? I get that if water is scarce, you won’t be doing laundry, but how are they getting so messy to begin with?

I love the holy books. Moe-by-Dick indeed. I think it was Colin Baker who mentioned A Canticle for Leibowitz in the commentary. Classic sci-fi represent, yo!

Interesting. The Doctor says he’s 900 here. Did he maybe mean nearly 900? For as we know, the 9th Doctor is 900 at the very start of Series One.

These helmets remind me of the cat with a melon on its head.

Though I’ve fallen for Glitz’ type before (no more!), I really like Dibber. He is what he is, and no need to do a song and dance about it. He thinks in practical terms. He gets the job done. Too bad he’s a bad guy.

I could swear that tattoo on Dibber’s neck changes from scene to scene. Sometimes it looks like Kokopelli and sometimes it looks like burst veins.

So this power conversion system collects UV rays and converts them into black light. And this can power an underground complex, including a big fidgety robot. And blowing up the converter can cause an explosion (or implosion, depending on where you are in the script) that could de-stabilize the entire Universe with the mighty power of black light. Good thing they didn’t use it to make their white socks glow in the dark or something; that would be pretty frivolous, right?

I can’t believe they actually used a “Look! Over there!” distraction. On a robot.

“If we stay for this explosion we shall all be killed.” Snert. I love how the cleverest kids are also the stupidest.

I complained a bit about the cast commentary, but really it was rather enjoyable. There’s a fun interaction between the cast members and they do share in some of the recognition of absurdity in the episode. A lot of comments about the ambient culture of the time pass me by. I didn’t grow up on Blue Peter and Wogan so I don’t really grok what they meant to people.

So far, not so very impressed, and I understand the courtroom scenes are only going to get more annoying as we go on, but still there are charming moments. And I’ll be capping them!