We enter my top five with no shocks remaining, least of all this adventure. Often voted one of the very best Doctor Who adventures ever, Peter Davison’s swansong is one of the most emotive and gripping stories to ever grace the classic series. It is also however, one of the grittiest, with an incredibly high body count, an undeniably brooding and sinister tone, and cliffhangers that left a seven year old Dan very confused.
Back in 1984, Doctor Who foresaw Twitter. No, seriously.
Without a doubt the highlight of the Colin Baker era, Vengeance on Varos is a wonderful critique on the way media and individuals treat political officials. When the TARDIS runs short of a mineral vital to its function (more on this later) the Doctor and Peri are forced to travel to the planet Varos to procure the mineral, Zeiton-7. A supposedly improvrised planet, the planet is governed by an elite who are content to keep the planet enslaved, in exchange for selling the mineral at a marked down price to the Galatron Mining Corporation, led by the insidious Mentor, Sil. The figurehead of this elite is the Governor, a man who in reality has little power because all inhabitants are required to vote on his performance, and the penalty for his inevitable failure to meet their demands is potentially lethal Human Cell Disintegration Bombardment.
It has occurred to me that poor Colin Baker is rather harshly judged on his first season. Yes, it did contain such travesties as Timelash, and such ill-executed ideas as Attack of the Cybermen, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks – but it also contained two perfectly decent and well executed stories, that would have worked well in any other era of the show. While Vengeance on Varos tends to steal the plaudits, I think it is a little unfair to dismiss The Mark of the Rani with the rest of the season.
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!
It’s always been a poorly kept secret that the female companion on Doctor Who was intended to be a bit of a looker, in order to keep elder male viewers interested. This story doesn’t even pretend to treat it as a secret – Nicola Bryant’s first appearance as Peri features her in a bright pink bikini that is so abbreviated it must have had Mary Whitehouse hurrumping into her cup of tea! By his own admission, showrunner John Nathan Turner cast Peri with the view to make Doctor Who more accessible to more mature audiences, and to the American market – and with the same flamboyance of one of his Hawaiian shirts, he proudly unveils Peri as the new companion.
After the hiatus of 1985, Doctor Who arrived back in 1986 with the distinct threat of doom hanging over the show – so it is appropriate that The Mysterious Planet, the first story within The Trial of a Timelord begins with a bell tolling ominously and little indication as to why the Doctor has arrived without his companion Peri. Whatever misgivings Script Editor Eric Saward may have had about using the trial analogy to compare the idea of Doctor Who being on trial in real life, I thought the concept overall worked rather well.
There are no words for how disappointed I was when I watched Attack of the Cybermen on VHS. I had loved The Tomb of the Cybermen and enjoyed The Tenth Planet, and having read that this story brought elements of these two stories together (and included the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller) I really wanted to see this story. My disappointment was reflected in the fact that it does not do the least justice to the older serials, and especially Tomb.