Friday, March 11, 2011

7C6 - The Trial of a Time Lord 14

Let's get this out of the way right now: Part 14 is a masterpiece. Forget the enduring jokes of megabyte modems, reincarnated Peris, and carrot juice to the power of three. This is an epic end to an epic serial that feels, for once, well, epic.

It's amazing that this episode even exists at all. Fault Pip and Jane Baker all you like, but they achieved the impossible with this script. How many writers have been given the task of finishing another person's story over the course of a weekend, based only on notes and script ideas, and with a lawyer standing over them ensuring that nothing is told to them about how the story was originally intended to conclude? The only real victim in Part 14 is James Bree, who, as the Keeper of the Matrix, was intended to have a much larger role in Eric Saward's version of Part 14, but, based on his comedy reaction to Mel stamping on his foot to steal the key, this may have been a good thing.

Even with an extra five minutes worth of running time, this episode hums along with a pace unseen in the series for some time. Colin Baker is brilliant in what would sadly be his last episode. His urgency sets that pace. He and Glitz make a great team, just as Glitz later proves to be an excellent foil for The Master. When Baker shouts at Mel to return to the trial room and warn the Time Lords of impending doom, you believe him! If Mel isn't going to hurry up and run, with Baker's inspiration, you'll be the first to overtake her.

As much as I enjoy this episode, I can't help but think how Eric Saward's original cliffhanger ending of The Doctor and The Valeyard tumbling through time, a la the demise of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, would have played out. If anything, it would have forced whichever incoming production team in Season 24 to deal with the outcome, but it would have given Colin Baker's Doctor a reasonable exit from the show. Baker's last scene may be a springboard to a decade and a half worth of Big Finish audio stories, but in retrospect, his last line has become a fitting epitaph to what was publicly seen as a low ebb in the series' history. Retrospect offers a perfect chance for me, and hopefully others, to change that opinion.

That the story ended as it did does provide some closure, though - not only for the season long arc, not only for Colin Baker's era, but for the 23-year history of the programme up to this point. When Doctor Who returned in September 1987, it was with a new Doctor, a new script editor, an entirely new visual and aural approach, but not, as John Nathan-Turner would have hoped, a new producer. Having been through hell and back over the past year and a half, Nathan-Turner's reward from the BBC for helming the ship through rough waters was to remain producer of a show that was now impossible to find a producer for. With the amount of kicking it was getting from the sixth floor at the BBC, what sane individual would want that poisoned chalice? Colin Baker was the public casualty of the Trial, but Nathan-Turner endured the longer lasting wounds.

I may enjoy the Colin Baker era, but it's become a sad realization that not many others do. It's not like I can claim that it's my favourite era, either. It's never anybody's favourite era. It's the black sheep in the history of Doctor Who, which is possibly why I give it more of a chance than I would any other era. Colin Baker, being the public face of the era, took the brunt of the criticism that resulted in him losing his job. His was a tenure of pure happenstance. He was in the right place at the right time (a wedding), doing the right things to (unknowingly) impress John Nathan-Turner enough to get the job as The Doctor, and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time as the BBC lost faith in the show. If Peter Davison had stayed on for Season 22, would the show still have been canceled? We may never know the answer to that question.

The Colin Baker Era:

Best Story : Revelation of the Daleks
Worst Story : Timelash
Favourite Story : The Mark of the Rani

And now, Sylvester McCoy...


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