Thursday, July 29, 2010

7A4 - The Trial of a Time Lord 4

Robert Holmes has, quite rightly, been praised up and down over the years for many of his hallmarks: witty dialogue, double acts, satirical elements, and so on. What's not as often mentioned is Holmes's pitch perfect understanding of the importance of pacing. Some of the more successful Holmes stories really rattle on, particularly in the concluding episode. The Caves of Androzani is the most recent example of this (Episode 4 of that story starts at 11 and only increases in intensity over the next 24 minutes), but the last of his initial four episodes of Trial is right up there in building excitement.

There are several different storylines and character threads building to a conclusion in Episode 4. Can The Doctor get into Drathro's main control room? Can he make the robot see reason? Can Merdeen, Peri, and Balazar save the inhabitants of UK Habitat? What's behind the motivations of Glitz and Dibber? Why is dialogue between the two being excised from the versions of events shown as evidence in The Doctor's trial? It all makes for a riveting watch, and while a great deal of credit can be given to Colin Baker and director Nicholas Mallett (the latter making his Doctor Who debut in this), Holmes's immense talent is at the backbone of this story's success.

It's insulting that the higher ups at the BBC had the gall to pick apart Holmes first crack at this story. Even though he was, sadly, in the last year of his life, Robert Holmes still showed that he was at the top of his game. From great dialogue that mirrored the programme's tenuous standing within the BBC at the time, to a couple of his all time great "double acts" in Glitz and Dibber and Humker and Tandrell, this is one of Robert Holmes's finest stories (even if the basic plot is remarkably similar to that of his 1968 debut story, The Krotons).

I loved these four episodes (fine, I'll call it The Mysterious Planet) when I first saw them in my youth, and I still love the story today. It gets the massively ambitious Trial season off to a roaring and running start, creating such a great sense of optimism and excitement that hadn't been seen in Doctor Who to this extent for years.


Erik said...

I'm afraid you think higher of Holmes' efforts here than I--however, I am also a member of that distinct minority than fails to see what all the fuss is about with "Caves," so perhaps I'm not the best judge.

Robert Konigsberg said...


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