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Mr Popplewick Serial 7C:
The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four)
aka The Ultimate Foe

Working Title: Time Inc.

Starring: Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush).

As the Doctor's trial by the Time Lords for interfering in galactic affairs nears its conclusion, the Master appears in the courtroom, speaking from within the Matrix. He reveals that the entire trial is the result of a conspiracy by the corrupt High Council. Drathro's creators had stolen Matrix secrets and fled to Earth; in revenge, the High Council ravaged the Earth, rechristened it Ravolox, and changed its position in space to cover up their deeds. More importantly, the Valeyard is not who he seems -- he is actually the Doctor, or more precisely the distillation of the Doctor's evil side between his twelfth and final regeneration. The Doctor and Mel, brought to the trial by the Master, pursue the Valeyard into the Matrix and discover he is plotting to destroy the High Council. The Master has also summoned Glitz, however, and allies himself with the crook in his own bid for power.

Robert Holmes had originally been asked to write the first four and final six episodes of the new, trial-based Season Twenty-Three. Holmes agreed to the former -- which became his The Mysterious Planet storyline -- but was not a fan of six-part serials, and so agreed only to write the final two installments of the year, which would wrap up the trial storyline. He, producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward decided that the Master should appear in this segment. Fully cognisant of the fact that Doctor Who's future beyond Season Twenty-Three was hardly secure, they decided episode fourteen should feature a cliffhanger conclusion, so that if the series was cancelled, it would end on a particularly significant note. Inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle novel The Final Problem, which was supposed to have killed off both Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty in a fall over the Reichenbach Falls, the season would end with the Doctor and the Master locked in combat falling through a "time vent".

Holmes was commissioned to write the two-parter, called Time Inc., on February 4th, 1986. Nathan-Turner was very impressed by the character Glitz which Holmes had created for The Mysterious Planet, and asked that he return in the new episodes. Holmes, for his part, sought inspiration from the A Christmas Carol roots of the trial scenario to create the character of the Dickensian bureaucrat Mr Popplewick. Shortly thereafter, however, the severe criticisms of The Mysterious Planet by Head of Drama Jonathan Powell meant that Holmes had to delay work on the new storyline while attending to rewrites on the earlier serial. Powell's comments hurt Holmes badly and this, combined with a worsening liver ailment, meant that even when the writer returned to Time Inc. at the start of April, progress was slow. Holmes' health deteriorated to the point that he had to be admitted to hospital in mid-May; a few days later on May 24th, the man who was arguably Doctor Who's most successful writer passed away.

Holmes' death came as an enormous blow to Saward, who had come to greatly respect the author. Saward was already beginning to find his position almost untenable -- he saw little support from BBC management (as manifested by Powell's reaction to The Mysterious Planet), problems with episodes nine to twelve of the season were taking their toll, and his relationship with Nathan-Turner had suffered greatly from a series of disputes. The loss of Holmes was the final straw, and at the end of May Saward walked away from Doctor Who, leaving Nathan-Turner to take up the script editing duties.

Eventually, however, Nathan-Turner persuaded Saward to return to the series in order to finish off the final two episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord -- the umbrella title under which the entire season would now be broadcast. Saward agreed; he would serve as script editor on part thirteen, which Holmes had largely completed, and would then write part fourteen based on Holmes' original outline. Saward was insistent that Nathan-Turner not tinker with Holmes' original vision of the story; the only alteration to which he was amenable was that the Valeyard, not the Master, would feature in the Doctor's climactic plunge into the time vent.

In the Saward/Holmes version of episode fourteen, the Master saves the Doctor from the quicksand while the Valeyard kidnaps Glitz. The Doctor then encounters Popplewick again, who leads him into a trap with an illusory Mel; Popplewick too is revealed as a construct of "JJ Chambers", who is in fact the Valeyard. While news reaches the courtroom that the High Council has resigned en masse, the Master reveals that the Valeyard has materialised his TARDIS around a time vent in the Matrix. If the vent is opened for too long, there will be catastrophic ramifications for the time/space continuum. The Valeyard -- actually the Doctor's evil final incarnation, a pitiable old man afraid of dying -- plans to use this threat to force the attendant Time Lords to grant him the Doctor's remaining regenerations. Appearing again to the Doctor, the Master reveals that he was hired by the High Council to murder the Doctor in exchange for a pardon, but has decided not to follow through. The Doctor bluffs his way into the Valeyard's TARDIS just as the Valeyard is opening the time vent door. Struggling, the Doctor and the Valeyard plunge into the time vent while the Master seals the door, saving the universe but trapping the Doctor in combat with the Valeyard for all eternity.

Unfortunately, Nathan-Turner was now having misgivings about such a downbeat ending, and asked Saward to change it. Citing their earlier agreement, Saward refused. He quit Doctor Who once and for all, and withdrew his permission for Nathan-Turner to use his version of episode fourteen -- despite the fact that the locations had already been scouted by director Chris Clough (who was assigned to handle the entirety of Serial 7C, from episode nine to fourteen) and rehearsals using his script had already begun.

Working quickly, Nathan-Turner contacted Pip and Jane Baker, who had just completed Segment Three of the Trial at short notice. Already aware that Season Twenty-Three was in dire straits, the Bakers agreed to write a new version of episode fourteen. Nathan-Turner provided them with a copy of part thirteen, but could not reveal any information about the original final installment without transgressing copyright law. This meant that the Bakers had to come up with their own way of tying together all the season's loose ends, using only the locations and characters Saward had provided for. They completed a draft in just three days. Nathan-Turner acted as script editor, though as with Segment Three the position would go uncredited on the broadcast episodes.

Not surprisingly, the Bakers' script differed from the Saward/Holmes version in several respects. The Master was now more overtly villainous and less of an anti-hero, while the role of the Keeper of the Matrix was significantly reduced (reportedly much to the discontent of James Bree, the actor cast to play him). The Valeyard was now a future regenerative hybrid of the Doctor instead of simply the Doctor's final incarnation, and was no longer the weak, fearful figure of the earlier draft. Popplewick was now the Valeyard disguise, and instead of holding the court ransom with the time vent, the Valeyard now used a particle disseminator. Clough found the Bakers' part fourteen to be overlong, running about thirty-eight minutes; his principal cuts were to humourous material involving the Master and Glitz.

Because Segments Three and Four were being made as though they were a single serial, episodes nine and twelve were confined to the studio while episodes thirteen and fourteen were made principally on location, beginning on June 23rd at Camber Sands at Rye in East Sussex. The production then moved to the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, a genuine Victorian plastics factory. This marked Bonnie Langford's first work on Doctor Who as the new companion, Mel. Cast and crew then returned to the studio for a two-day block beginning on Wednesday, July 16th, at which time some material for Segment Three was also recorded. The final installment featured clips from both Segments Two and Three; the former was a slow-motion image of Peri and Yrcanos which revealed that -- contrary to earlier intentions -- Peri had not died after all but had in fact been rescued by Yrcanos and was now his wife.

Despite Clough's best efforts, it quickly became clear that there was no way to edit part fourteen down to the required twenty-five-minute running length without it becoming totally incomprehensible. Nathan-Turner took the unprecedented step of asking Powell to allocate the episode a thirty-minute timeslot. Approving of the way Season Twenty-Three was now shaping up, Powell concurred. This episode wrapped up The Trial Of A Time Lord and the tumultuous season as a whole when it was broadcast on December 6th.

Although it was perhaps miraculous that The Trial Of A Time Lord had been completed at all, its reception by the viewing public was lukewarm at best. Hampered by the long break between seasons and potent opposition from American action import The A-Team, ratings for Season Twenty-Three were even poorer than for the preceding year, although Audience Appreciation figures had improved noticeably. In October, BBC1 Controller Michael Grade approached Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman about giving the programme a make-over. Newman's initial suggestions included a new Doctor more in the vein of Patrick Troughton's incarnation to be followed by a female incarnation; two younger companions (a homesick twelve year-old girl and her impetuous eighteen year-old brother); an increased emphasis on Earthbound series (set in both the present and the past); and even a new exterior shape for the TARDIS. However, after Newman had an unproductive meeting with Powell, his ideas were abandoned.

Ultimately, Grade decided to renew Doctor Who for another year, but only on the condition that Colin Baker be replaced as the series' star, despite the objections of Nathan-Turner. The producer informed Baker of the decision on October 29th and, although he had convinced Grade to let Baker return for the first four-part story of Season Twenty-Four to facilitate the regeneration into the new Doctor, Baker decided it was best, from both a personal and a professional perspective, to make a clean break from Doctor Who. Baker worked mainly in the theatre after leaving the programme. In 1988, he replaced Jon Pertwee in the stage play Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure. In the Nineties, he played the Doctor-esque title character in The Stranger series of videos for Bill Baggs Videos, narrated two novelisations of his stories for release on audio tape, and hosted the video specials Cybermen -- The Early Years and The Colin Baker Years. Baker resumed his role as the Doctor for the thirtieth-anniversary special Dimensions In Time and later for the Big Finish Productions line of Doctor Who audio plays.

Meanwhile, Nathan-Turner had been told that he would be reassigned away from Doctor Who in return for informing Baker of the decision not to renew his contract. His superiors eventually opted to renege on this promise, however, and Nathan-Turner returned to work from his winter vacation to discover he needed both a new script editor and a new leading man. With news of Baker's firing revealed to the press in early December, fans were once again speculating as to the identity of the next Doctor...

Original Transmission Details
Episode Date Time Duration Viewers Audience App.
13 29th November 1986 5.20pm 24'42" 4.4m (98th) 69%
14 6th December 1986 5.46pm 29'30" 5.6m (80th) 69%

Principal Crew
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Script Editors Eric Saward (episode thirteen)
John Nathan Turner, uncredited (episode fourteen)
Writers Robert Holmes (episode thirteen)
Pip Baker (episode fourteen)
Jane Baker (episode fourteen)
Director Chris Clough
Designer Dinah Walker
Costume Andrew Rose
Incidental Music Malcolm Clarke

Principal Guest Cast: Anthony Ainley (The Master), Lynda Bellingham (The Inquisitor), James Bree (The Keeper Of The Matrix), Geoffrey Hughes (Mr Popplewick), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz).

Novelisation: The Ultimate Foe by Pip and Jane Baker (book 131), April 1988; cover by Alister Pearson.

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: 72nd (66.94%, Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings website, 22nd June 1999); 86th (67.18%, DWM 1997 Annual Survey).


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