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The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment One)
aka The Mysterious Planet
Finally, however, Nathan-Turner and Saward elected to abandon their entire slate of adventures. This was finalised by the decision of BBC upper management to pare Season Twenty-Three down to just fourteen episodes. This flew in the face of the spirit (if not the letter) of earlier claims that the reversion to shorter episodes would mean longer Doctor Who 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, and began to develop some potential projects, including an updated version of the soap opera Compact (retitled Impact). Ultimately, though, Powell, asked the producer to remain on Doctor Who for one more season.
Nathan-Turner and Saward agreed that the shorter season meant they needed to approach its format more creatively than in the past. By May, they were working on the idea of the entire year consisting of the Doctor being put on trial by the Time Lords -- effectively mirroring the series' real-life status. Grade and Powell okayed this idea, and by July 5th Nathan-Turner and Saward had devised the characters of the Inquisitor, the Valeyard (at this point intended to be an evil future incarnation of the Doctor, as implied by his name, an old word meaning "Doctor of Law") and Mel, who would replace Peri as the Doctor's companion mid-season. Peri, for her part, would be killed off.
The structure of the season would be inspired by Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, with the Valeyard and the Doctor using adventures from the Doctor's past, present and future as evidence. In order to get as many "first episodes" out of the brief season as possible, it was decided that the trial would consist of two four-episode stories (the "past" and "present" segments) followed by three two-episode stories -- although the first two two-part stories (both set in the Doctor's future) would be closely linked in order to save money. The writer chosen to pen the first and concluding serials was Robert Holmes, who had most recently contributed The Two Doctors to Season Twenty-Two and would have authored Yellow Fever And How To Cure It for the original Season Twenty-Three. Holmes' Wasteland was commissioned on September 2nd. The title was changed to Robots Of Ravolox and, by November, to The Mysterious Planet.
Holmes completed his scripts early in 1986, and these were passed along to Powell for routine approval. With no reply forthcoming, Holmes then set about writing the season's final segment, Time Inc.. It was not until February 24th that Powell issued his comments, and they were hardly complimentary. Powell took issue with several aspects of The Mysterious Planet, most notably its humorous content (seemingly at odds with Grade's wishes that this become more predominant in Doctor Who), the level of the Doctor's involvement in the events on Ravolox, and the gradual introduction of the Trial scenario. In Holmes' drafts, the fact that the Doctor is before the courts is not made clear until the second episode.
Holmes -- who by now was ill with liver-related difficulties -- was frustrated by Powell's last-minute indictment of his story, as it meant he would have to suspend work on Time Inc. to return to a set of scripts he believed were long since finished. Saward, for his part, was livid, believing that Powell was demonstrating a lack of respect for the veteran writer. Things were not helped by the fact that Saward's relationship with Nathan-Turner was deteriorating, with the script editor feeling his producer was expending too much time wooing Doctor Who's American fan base. To make matters worse, first-time director Nicholas Mallett -- who had been a production unit manager on Blake's 7 before helming episodes of Crossroads and EastEnders amongst other series -- had already begun work on the serial. Finally, Nathan-Turner and Mallett were able to convince Powell that only minimal changes to Holmes' scripts were necessary; the major modification was that the Trial scenario would now be made clear right from the very start of episode one.
Nathan-Turner himself cast some roles for Serial 7A. Both the Valeyard and the Inquisitor would appear throughout the season, and hence took on a higher priority than would normally have been the case. To play the Valeyard, Nathan-Turner chose Michael Jayston, a veteran actor with numerous credits on stage, film and television, including the movies Nicholas And Alexandria and Zulu Dawn and the TV series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The Inquisitor would be portrayed by Lynda Bellingham, who had appeared in such programmes as The Sweeney and General Hospital. Nathan-Turner also cast Tony Selby as the conman Glitz, aware that there was a possibility Holmes might want to revisit the character in Time Inc.
Nathan-Turner wanted a strong hook to kick off the new season, and so agreed to spend more than £8,000 on a forty-five second model sequence, utilising what was then the most sophisticated motion-controlled camera available. (Fortunately, some of the cost would be offset by the fact that the portions of the footage could be reused as establishing shots throughout the season.) This was the most expensive special effects shot in the entirety of Doctor Who's twenty-six seasons. Nathan-Turner also asked a young freelance musician named Dominic Glynn (whom he had already commissioned to provide the incidental music for The Mysterious Planet) to rearrange the opening title music -- although Glynn was given only five days to complete the task.
Location work began on April 7th, with sites including the Butser Ancient Farm Project -- a replica of an Iron Age settlement -- and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Country Park, in Hampshire. Stars Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant had decided by now to tone down the acrimony between their characters, believing that the relationship between the Doctor and Peri would have matured between seasons. Beginning with The Mysterious Planet, location footage would be recorded on Outside Broadcast (OB) video tape instead of film, the latter being reserved primarily for special effects sequences.
Around this time, Nathan-Turner had decided that the entire season should be broadcast under a single title: The Trial Of A Time Lord. Meanwhile, the many pressures under which Saward found himself -- his faltering rapport with Nathan-Turner, the illness of his good friend Holmes, the perceived hostility of Powell, and significant problems with the final six episodes of the Trial -- finally caused him to resign his position. Nathan-Turner therefore took over the script editor's duties in addition to his own.
Studio work on Serial 7A began with a two-day session from Thursday, April 24th. Actor Roger Brierley, cast as Drathro, was initially supposed to don the costume but refused at the last minute. Consequently, Mallett sought agreement from visual effects designer Mike Kelt to have one of his assistants, Paul McGuiness, perform as the robot while Brierley read his lines, safely off camera. During rehearsals for the second studio block, scheduled to begin on Saturday, May 10th, Mallett became worried that there was not enough material in episodes three and four; Nathan-Turner quickly wrote an extra scene of Broken Tooth and Balazar arguing and also extended some of the latter courtroom scenes. Unfortunately, problems were encountered on what should have been the final recording day, the 12th, when it was discovered the giant screen, on which the Valeyard's evidence was to be presented, was first delivered to the wrong studio and then found to be too large. With the resulting delays, the scene of the Doctor arriving on the space station could not be taped; this was finally completed on June 13th, as part of the final day of work on the second Trial segment.
Despite Mallett's fears, episode four actually overran its allotted time, as did episode one. To compensate, several segments were removed or trimmed, including some material from the courtroom. This included what should have been the second trial scene, in which the Valeyard observes the Doctor revealing confidential Gallifreyan information to Peri and the Inquisitor asks the Doctor why he visited Ravolox in the first place. A later loss was the Valeyard's pronouncement that Humker and Tandrell would have repaired the system problem themselves were it not for the Doctor's interference, and the Doctor noting that the situation on Ravolox had endangered the entire universe.
Episode one of The Trial Of A Time Lord was broadcast on September 6th, bringing to an end the seventeen-month wait which was Doctor Who's longest hiatus to that point. Realising that viewers might have trouble following a fourteen-part story, Nathan-Turner began writing continuity announcements to be aired before each installment, starting with episode two. Unfortunately, the first such broadcast did not occur until part three, and even then a synopsis of episode one only was inadvertently narrated.
|1||6th September 1986||5.47pm||24'57"||4.9m (69th)||72%|
|2||13th September 1986||5.47pm||24'44"||4.9m (75th)||69%|
|3||20th September 1986||5.48pm||24'18"||3.9m (98th)||70%|
|4||27th September 1986||5.46pm||24'20"||3.7m (97th)||72%|
|Script Editor||Eric Saward|
|Incidental Music||Dominic Glynn|
Principal Guest Cast: Lynda Bellingham (The Inquisitor), Adam Blackwood (Balazar), Roger Brierley (Drathro), Tom Chadbon (Merdeen), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Billy McColl (Humker), Glen Murphy (Dibber), Sion Tudor Owen (Tandrell), David Rodigan (Broken Tooth), Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz), Joan Sims (Katryca).
Novelisation: The Mysterious Planet by Terrance Dicks (book 127), November 1987; cover by Tony Masero.
Video Release: The Trial Of A Time Lord, episodic format, October 1993; three tapes; PAL (BBC Video cat.# 5008) and NTSC (Warners cat.# E1140) formats available; cover by Alister Pearson. The PAL-format release was packaged in seven special limited edition TARDIS tins alongside the other segments of the Trial; each TARDIS tin variant featured a photograph of one of the Doctors on its base.
Rankings: 92nd (63.56%, Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings website, 22nd June 1999); 123rd (59.76%, DWM 1997 Annual Survey).
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