Monday, December 6, 2010
It's not often that anyone can knowingly leave this mortal coil at an all-time high. Those who work until they drop are faced with the prospect of no retirement benefits as well as with the fact that whatever they're working on at any given moment could be viewed as their last ever output. For every "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, there's a good few more Plan 9 From Outer Spaces haunting the Bela Lugosis of the world.
Rarely in Doctor Who, though, has someone left us without even being able to finish that final work. Robert Holmes, the classic series' unchallenged best writer, was slated to write the final two episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord, but sadly succumbed to illness in May 1986 before he could complete the latter of those installments. We would never see how Holmes would end this epic season, a season that Holmes had a great deal of involvement in its creation.
And so the last word of spoken dialogue as written by Holmes was a long, drawn out "Nooo!" from Colin Baker in the last of his 11 close-up cliffhangers of the season. In some fans' eyes, this exclamation could be seen to be emblematic of the season as a whole up to this point, and indeed the preceding 24 minutes in particular. But not in my eyes. Part 13 stands as some of the most epic Doctor Who ever produced. The revelation of the true nature of The Valeyard is remarkable Doctor Who, a dynamite moment brought to life by actors Colin Baker and Michael Jayston, and perfectly enhanced by Dominic Glynn's doom-laden score (Glynn is the real star find of Season 23).
I've said this before, but the Holmes/C. Baker pairing was electric (as if Holmes could write any Doctor poorly). Baker's oft quoted, oft repeated rant against the powers of be that run Gallifrey is monumental, and just on the right side of blustery. The Trial season started with a knowing wink from Holmes to the darkness that was going on behind the scenes, and his final episode ends the exact same way. Listen to the lines "Decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core! Power mad conspirators!" and you won't have to stroll far down the hallways of the sixth floor at the BBC to find Holmes's inspiration.
Robert Holmes, through Colin Baker, was raging against the machine in his final moments, that same machine who had the audacity to roundly criticize is earlier work in the season. Holmes's work is sad and angry, defiant and electric, summery and charming - all these elements are seen in Part 13. It isn't Talons or Androzani, and it doesn't have to be. It's as brilliant for its own reasons as any other Holmes written script, from Gonds to Milo Clancey, from Auton killing sprees to Masters of disguise, from Miniscopes to Bloodaxes, from arks in space to pyramids on Mars, from giant rats to tax evasion, from dirty gangs to giant squid, from Sharez Jek to Androgums. And I love all of them to bits.
Good on ya, Bob. Doctor Who wouldn't have been the same without you.
Posted by Steven at 3:12 PM