As I opined in the reviews of The Ultimate Foe and The Mysterious Planet, I think that The Trial of a Timelord gets a pretty rough ride from fans. I cannot help but feel that if the show had continued in the vein of Season 23, rather than take the direction it did in Season 24, then perhaps the show would have been better ready to survive into the 1990s – although I also opined today that any Doctor Who that survived to the nineties could have featured a guest appearance by the Spice Girls – so perhaps we should count our blessings!
As with most of this season there are two story levels – the ongoing trial of the Doctor for ‘Actions unbecoming a Timelord’ – and the presented evidence of one of the Doctor’s adventures, in this case on the planet Thoros Beta. A lot of the problems with this story result from the fact that as part of his overarching scheme to frame the Doctor, the Valeyard has tampered the evidence. At the same time, a key feature of this story was to be that the Doctor loses his mind following the episode 1 cliffhanger of having mental experiments performed upon him, voluntarily helping the villains and only regaining his mind by the last episode. Both are great ideas – combining the two together not only confused the viewers, it left poor Colin Baker unsure how he was meant to be portraying the Doctor in any given scene – and it very sadly shows!
For all of the flaws, the story features a triumphant return by Nibil Shaban as the villainous Sil after his memorable debut in Vengeance on Varos, and a very interesting ethical question as warped scientist Crozier looks to prolong the life of the Mentor ruler Lord Kiv by transplanting his brain into another living being. In theory it also was intended to provide the shock to end all shocks – and I am not referring to Brian Blessed’s unforgettable interpretation of the warrior King Ycarnos! With all due spoiler warnings – at the end of the final episode, Crozier has succeeded in transplanting Kiv’s mind into Peri’s brain – effectively killing Peri. What is shown is the Timelords pulling the Doctor out of proceedings (leading directly into the start of The Mysterious Planet) and taking control of Ycarnos to assassinate everyone in the room – including Peri/Kiv. The story finishes on the stunned cliffhanger of the Doctor coming to terms with Peri’s apparent death – apparent because this did not sit well with the test viewers, so they later decided to make it a part of the Valeyard’s fabrication!
Mindwarp is therefore another example of a good story that is too clever for it’s own good. Let me put it this way – if Season 21 had finished with Caves of Androzani, and Season 22 had instead begun with Vengeance on Varos and concluded with Mindwarp (killing off in the process the utterly useless Timelash and Twin Dilemma) I think the entire Trial season would not have been needed, and Baker would have gotten the full Season 23 and 24 he deserved. Instead of which … we can only wonder …