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The Trial Of A Time Lord Segment One
(aka The Mysterious Planet)
An amnesiac Doctor is put on trial for his life by the Time Lords and their prosecutor, the Valeyard, who uses the Matrix to show the court the Doctor's recent past. The TARDIS arrives on Ravolox, a planet in the far future supposedly ravaged by a solar flare. In fact, it is perfectly habitable and home to the warlike Tribe of the Free, led by Queen Katryca. The Doctor and Peri soon discover that Ravolox is actually Earth, having been somehow moved light years across space, and that a second race of people lives underground, governed by the robot Drathro. They also meet conmen Glitz and Dibber, who have come to steal Drathro's secrets. But Drathro is dying, and his passing will set into motion a chain of events which will tear Ravolox apart.
The first half of 1985 saw a succession of grim tidings confront Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward. First, in February, the BBC decided to postpone the start of production on Season Twenty-Three by a full year, from Spring 1985 to Spring 1986. This, in turn, would delay the start of transmission from January to September 1986. When Doctor Who returned, it would revert to the twenty-five-minute format of its first twenty-one seasons, as opposed to the forty-five-minute episodes which the production team had implemented for Season Twenty-Two. And finally, around the end of May, it was decided that Season Twenty-Three would consist of just fourteen episodes. This flew in the face of the spirit (if not the letter) of earlier claims that the return to shorter episodes would mean longer seasons; it was also very demoralising for both cast and crew.
Under the circumstances, Nathan-Turner hoped that he might finally be assigned to a new programme, but BBC Head of Series and Serials Jonathan Powell asked him to remain on Doctor Who for one more season. As such, Nathan-Turner and Saward began to plan for the future. They agreed that the shorter season meant that they needed to approach its format more creatively than in the past, and Saward suggested that all fourteen episodes could be linked by an umbrella theme. Since none of the stories already in development would suit this structure, they would have to go back to square one and start work on Season Twenty-Three all over again.
The idea chosen by Nathan-Turner and Saward to run through the season was a scenario in which the Doctor was put on trial by the Time Lords -- effectively mirroring the series' real-life status. This met with the approval of Powell and BBC1 Controller Michael Grade, although Grade argued for the introduction of a new Doctor to revitalise the programme in the eyes of the audience. Nathan-Turner successfully defended Colin Baker, suggesting that the actor just needed more time to win over the viewers.
The production team then worked to establish the framework of the new Season Twenty-Three. The Doctor would be summoned for trial, with Time Lords from the future brought back in time to comprise the jury and officials. The judge and prosecutor would be selected anonymously by the Matrix but, as the season progressed, it would be revealed that this process had been tampered with -- raising suspicions as to the true motives of both characters. Eventually, the prosecutor would be unmasked as an evil future Doctor. The evidence in the trial would take the form of the Doctor's exploits; inspired by Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol, there would be stories from the Doctor's past, present (that is, his most recent adventure prior to the trial) and future. On instructions from Grade, there would be a greater emphasis on humour over violence, following repeated viewer complaints during Season Twenty-Two.
Whereas Nathan-Turner had rejected Grade's advice to change his leading man, he did feel that it was time to replace Nicola Bryant's Peri with a new companion. Peri would be killed off midway through the season, with a new character named Melanie “Mel” Bush joining the Doctor thereafter. In the meantime, though, the relationship between the Doctor and Peri would be softened, as neither Baker nor Bryant had enjoyed the constant bickering which had defined their characters' rapport throughout Season Twenty-Two. An outline for Mel was released on July 5th, indicating that she would be a computer programmer and fitness enthusiast from Pease Pottage, West Sussex. The same day, descriptions of the trial judge and prosecutor were also distributed. These characters were now referred to as the Inquisitor and the Valeyard -- the latter being an obsolete term for a “Doctor of Law” and hence a clue to the prosecutor's true identity.
The structure of Season Twenty-Three was of great concern to Nathan-Turner and Saward, since there would be so few opportunities to enjoy the “first night” boost of a new serial. After dismissing a format consisting of two four-part and one six-part adventure, consideration was next given to reserving two episodes to set up and resolve the season's story arc, bookending three four-part serials. Soon, though, it was determined that there was no need to devote an entire episode to establishing the trial storyline. Instead, the year would begin with two four-part tales, before wrapping things up with three two-part stories. This was agreed upon in a meeting of the season's writing team on July 9th: the first and last stories would be written by Robert Holmes, the second by Philip Martin, the third by David Halliwell, and the fourth by Jack Trevor Story.
Holmes' involvement was important to Saward in particular, who had enjoyed a good relationship with the former Doctor Who script editor during the development of Holmes' recent scripts The Caves Of Androzani and The Two Doctors (as well as “Yellow Fever And How To Cure It”, which had been one of the abandoned storylines for the original Season Twenty-Three). Saward considered Holmes to be a reliable veteran scribe who had a profound understanding of Doctor Who; indeed, it was Holmes who had advised the production team in choosing the season's writers. Holmes' scripts for the first four episodes of Season Twenty-Three were commissioned on September 2nd as “Wasteland”.
In the meantime, Doctor Who continued to experience a series of highs and lows, both in the public eye and behind the scenes. While the truncation of Season Twenty-Three had heretofore been a closely-guarded secret, in early July the BBC accidentally sent a fax detailing the composition of the new season to the Doctor Who Fan Club of America instead of Lionheart, the company which distributed the programme in the United States and Canada. Although the news quickly proliferated amongst fans and even the British tabloid press, the BBC continued to deny the reports until finally acknowledging the true length of the 1986 season on December 18th. On July 16th, former writer and director Terence Dudley -- who had most recently scripted The King's Demons for Season Twenty -- wrote to Nathan-Turner offering to replace him as producer of Doctor Who if he wanted to move on. However, with the BBC unwilling to approve any of Nathan-Turner's other proposed projects, there was nowhere for him to move on to.
On July 25th, Doctor Who returned to the airwaves -- albeit on radio -- with the debut of Slipback, a BBC Radio 4 production written by Saward and starring Baker and Bryant. Consisting of six ten-minute installments (broadcast two per week) Slipback ran as part of the Pirate Radio 4 programme through August 8th. It was only the second original Doctor Who audio production, following the Fourth Doctor story Doctor Who and The Pescatons which had been released on LP by Argo Records in 1976. But while fans got to enjoy an extra adventure to help bridge the long wait to Season Twenty-Three, relations within the Doctor Who production office were beginning to fray. Amongst other complaints, Saward felt that Nathan-Turner was spending too much time wooing the programme's American fans, and disagreed with many of his choices of actors and directors. More and more, the script editor was working from home.
As Holmes developed his adventure, which was designated Serial 7A, its title became “Robots Of Ravolox” and then, by November, “The Mysterious Planet”. He drew some elements from his earlier Doctor Who work: aliens keeping a more primitive civilisation cowed and regularly claiming the two brightest youth had featured in 1968's The Krotons, while 1978's The Ribos Operation had also boasted humorous interplay between two conmen. His scripts were delivered on January 15th, 1986, at which point Holmes turned his attention to the season's concluding two-part story, “Time Inc”. The next day, Colin Baker was contracted for Season Twenty-Three, with an option for fourteen more episodes to comprise Season Twenty-Four.
A director for Serial 7A had now been engaged; this was Nicholas Mallett, a former dancer who had shifted gears and moved into television due to illness. Sometimes credited as “Victor Mallett”, he had been a production manager on shows like Blake's 7 before earning directorial experience on programmes such as Late Starter, Crossroads and Spitting Image. Mallett had begun to prepare for production while a copy of “The Mysterious Planet” was sent to Jonathan Powell for his consideration, as was routine.
Much to the production team's dismay, however, Powell's response on February 24th was scathing. In an unusually detailed commentary, he took issue with several aspects of “The Mysterious Planet”, including the slow reveal of the trial scenario, the lack of clarity as to the nature of the crisis on Ravolox, and the extent of the Doctor's involvement in its resolution. Most frustratingly for Nathan-Turner, Powell seemed to contradict Grade's edict that humour feature more prominently in Season Twenty-Three, reserving some of his most stinging criticism for elements such as the Doctor's taunting of the Valeyard and the comic banter between Glitz and Dibber.
Holmes was deeply hurt by Powell's indictment of his scripts. To exacerbate the situation, the writer had for some time been battling hepatitis-related health complications, and so it was an even greater concern that he would now have to suspend work on “Time Inc” to revisit “The Mysterious Planet”. Saward was livid, and saw Powell's memo as demonstrating a lack of respect for the veteran writer. Fortunately, Nathan-Turner and Mallett were able to convince Powell that only fairly minimal changes to Holmes' scripts were necessary. The Doctor would now learn that he is on trial early in part one, rather than at the cliffhanger. The black light power converter was introduced, replacing Glitz and Dibber's original interest in depriving Katryca of a sack of gemstones. The conmen's dialogue was also rewritten to remove the heavy use of slang.
Nathan-Turner took the lead in casting several of the roles for “The Mysterious Planet”. Both the Inquisitor and the Valeyard would be appearing throughout Season Twenty-Three, and Holmes was contemplating the return of Sabalom Glitz in “Time Inc”. Mallett's initial thought for Glitz and Dibber was to approach the well-known comedy team of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, only to learn that their schedules would not accommodate the planned recording dates. Instead, Nathan-Turner offered the role of Glitz to Tony Selby, a television veteran in programmes such as Ace Of Wands, Get Some In! and Jack Of Diamonds. Selby also counted a number of film credits to his name, including Villain and Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall (along with uncredited appearances in movies like Alfie and Superman).
Cast as the Inquisitor was Lynda Bellingham. Born in Montreal, Quebec but adopted and raised in Buckinghamshire, Bellingham had attended the Central School of Speech and Drama. She won a regular role in General Hospital before moving on to such shows as Z Cars, Blake's 7 and Angels, together with movie appearances including Confessions Of A Driving Instructor. Bellingham was perhaps best known as the mother in a popular series of commercials for the Oxo brand which had been running since 1983.
Finally, the role of the Valeyard went to Michael Jayston. A successful stage actor, Jayston had appeared in many filmed versions of Shakespeare, including a starring role in the 1970 Macbeth. He then took lead roles in movies such as Nicholas And Alexandra (with the future Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, as Rasputin) before gravitating back towards television, including the 1975 version of Jane Eyre, Quiller and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
To ensure that Doctor Who's return to the screen made a dazzling first impression, Nathan-Turner decided to spend lavishly on the opening footage of the TARDIS being drawn to the Time Lord space station. For the first time, a motion-controlled camera would be used for Doctor Who, trained upon an elaborate six-foot-wide model of the station. The 45-second shot, filmed at Peerless Studios in Elstree, Hertfordshire, took a week to complete and cost more than £8,000. This made it the most expensive sequence in Doctor Who to that point, although some of the cost would be offset via its partial reuse in establishing shots throughout the season.
Meanwhile, Nathan-Turner had hired a young freelance composer named Dominic Glynn to provide the incidental music for “The Mysterious Planet”. At the eleventh hour, on March 27th, Nathan-Turner decided to commission Glynn to create a new arrangement of Ron Grainer's Doctor Who theme tune. He would be required to submit an initial version of his composition less than a week later, on April 2nd. However, the short notice meant that Glynn hadn't even had time to finish setting up his home studio, nor the opportunity to acquire a copy of Grainer's sheet music (though he was able to deduce it by ear). Nonetheless, Glynn was able to meet his deadline, and further refined his arrangement throughout the month of April.
At the same time, Mallett was preparing for the start of the location shoot, which took place in Hampshire from April 8th to 11th. Unusually, the Doctor Who team was effectively returning to the same area used for the preceding serial, Revelation Of The Daleks. However, because the earlier recording had occurred under wintry conditions, it was felt that there would be no objections to going back there so soon. There would also be a different appearance to the material recorded by Mallett's team, as the decision had been made to dispense with film (except for model and effects shots) and instead use Outside Broadcast (OB) videotape on location, a medium which had only occasionally been employed in the past. This would make editing easier and blend better with material taped in the studio.
April 8th and 9th were spent in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park at Horndean; the first day dealt with scenes in the wilds of Ravolox, while the second concentrated on the area around the tunnel entrance. On the 10th and 11th, the camp of the Tribe of the Free was actually Butser Ancient Farm near East Meon, a reconstruction of an Iron Age agricultural settlement in operation since 1970.
By now, Nathan-Turner had decided that the entirety of Season Twenty-Three would be treated as a single fourteen-episode story under the title The Trial Of A Time Lord. While this would provide the season with the added promotional boost of comprising the longest Doctor Who adventure ever (besting 1966's twelve-part epic The Daleks' Master Plan), Saward was wary of the decision, fearing that it would dissuade casual viewers from watching the later installments.
In fact, this was just one of a series of decisions made by Nathan-Turner which Saward felt were no longer compatible with his vision for Doctor Who. With his current contract as script editor having come up for renewal, he decided to take a leave of absence from the Doctor Who production office, during which Nathan-Turner would serve as both producer and script editor. This would also afford him the time to complete the season's final episode, which Holmes was now too unwell to finish. Finally, on April 13th, Saward resigned from Doctor Who. Powell denied Nathan-Turner's appeal for a replacement script editor, and instead encouraged him to try to repair his relationship with Saward.
In the midst of all of this real-life drama, production was continuing on the first four episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord. Mallett's next order of business was a two-day session at BBC Television Centre Studio 6. Taking place on Thursday, April 24th and Friday, April 25th, the focus was on scenes in the tunnel, the subway, and the hut used by the Tribe to house prisoners.
Recording for the first segment of The Trial Of A Time Lord was then intended to conclude with a three-day block in TC3 beginning on Saturday, May 10th. In use were the sets for the tunnel, the subway, the areas in and around Drathro's “castle”, and the food production centre. The scenes in the courtroom were also scheduled for the last day. Roger Brierley had been cast as Drathro, with the intention being that he would inhabit the costume constructed by the BBC Visual Effects Department. During rehearsals, however, Brierley changed his mind, and Nathan-Turner initially believed that the role would have to be recast at short notice. Fortunately, the effects team had anticipated this development, and assistant Paul McGuiness was able to wear the Drathro costume while Brierley read in his lines from off camera. Mallett had also alerted Nathan-Turner to his concern that the final two episodes were badly underrunning. As such, Nathan-Turner extended some of the courtroom material, and also composed an extra scene in which Broken Tooth and Balazar argue about the route to the “castle”.
Unfortunately, work on May 12th was badly delayed when it was discovered that elements of the courtroom set had been erected in the wrong studio, and furthermore that they would require modification to be accommodated in TC3. This debacle limited Mallett's work on these sequences, and forced the postponement of the scene where the Doctor arrives on the space station. As such, this was remounted on June 13th in TC6, during work on The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Two).
Episode one of The Trial Of A Time Lord was broadcast on September 6th. The eighteen months which had elapsed since the concluding installment of Revelation Of The Daleks represented Doctor Who's longest absence from broadcast television to date. By now, Nathan-Turner had come to share Saward's fears that a fourteen-part story might have difficulty attracting viewers as the season progressed, and so he began to write continuity announcements to recap events; these began airing with part three. By that point, however, The Trial Of A Time Lord had already lost one-fifth of the 4.9 million viewers who had tuned in for the opening episode -- and this had already represented the smallest audience for a season premiere since The Smugglers back in Season Four. The court of public opinion, it seemed, had already delivered its verdict...
|Updated 15th July 2015|
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