Timestamp #144: The Mysterious Planet

Doctor Who: The Mysterious Planet
The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts I-IV

(4 episodes, s23e01-e04, 1986)

 

Changes about with a darker theme tune and intricate model and special effects work. The same old creepy smiling intro remains a constant.

Swimming in effects is the TARDIS, drawn off course into a space station in the middle of nowhere. The Doctor emerges from the time capsule, confused and stumbling into a room where he is put on trial by his fellow Time Lords. The trial is spearheaded by the Valeyard and is overseen by the Inquisitor. The latter remarks that he has been put on trial once before for his meddling. He’s also been stripped of his title of Lord President of Gallifrey.

The Valeyard commences his trial of the Doctor with the tale of his adventure on Ravalox, which is contained in detail inside the Matrix. The assembled Time Lords begin to watch an episode of Doctor Who, and this whole thing goes kind of meta.

The adventure begins as Peri and the Doctor roam the forests of Ravalox, a planet virtually identical to Earth (but not in the same location) that is destined to be destroyed by a solar fireball. They are watched by Glitz and Dibber, a pair who try to shoot the Doctor but miss their respective opportunities. The travelers find a cavern, which apparently contains the L3 robot that the assassins are trying to destroy. As the Doctor and Peri proceed inside, the find a sign for the Marble Arch tube station, and Peri mourns the death of her home planet. Ravalox is Earth.

In the courtroom, the Doctor objects to what he considers a waste of time. He also questions where Peri is during this whole affair, which the Valeyard finds interesting. The Doctor has forgotten where he left her, presumably a side effect of being “taken out of time.”

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

The Doctor continues into the depths of the station alone and Peri gets captured by the local natives. In the clean and shiny underground complex, the Doctor picks up a bottle of water and is apprehended for theft. Water is life, and those who steal it must die by stoning. He has a discussion with Balazar, the leader of the water guards, and discovers that the man’s job is to read the sacred texts of Marb Station – Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, and UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose by H.M. Stationery Office – before being placed for the stoning. He tries to deflect the rocks but ends up unconscious anyway.

Meanwhile, Glitz and Dibber make their way to the native village to meet with their leader. They claim that the malfunctioning navigational beacon in their village, which Katryca and her people treat as a totem to a god, is what brought the fireball to Ravalox. The assassins try to overpower their guards and fail. They are soon joined in the village by Peri.

In the courtroom, the Valeyard proposes that the inquiry become a full trial of the Time Lord, with the penalty being his death. Presumably, not just regeneration as it was before, but a full-blown execution. I guess they’re semi-serious about this (despite their previous history of asking and compelling the Doctor to interfere).

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

Officials arrive and interrupt the stoning, and the robot (“the Immortal”) demands that the Doctor and Balazar are brought before him. The Doctor is cautioned not to look upon the Immortal – “On pain of being turned into a pillar of salt, I imagine.” – before being sent into the robot’s inner sanctum. The robot, known as Drathro, commands the Doctor to work with his two human assistants.

In the village, Peri is introduced to the queen, promised many husbands, and then placed in captivity with the assassins. Glitz and Dibber share their plan to destroy the robot, but Peri balks at mass murder of the underground civilization. The captives are taken before Katryca where Glitz is chosen as a sacrifice to the god as penance for his crimes. The trio stage an escape with Glitz and Peri heading to Marb Station while Dibber destroys the black light converter tower.

The Doctor identifies the problem with the black light system, even though it is outside his area of expertise, but Drathro forbids it since his instructions are to maintain an underground civilization, not one above ground. The Doctor rigs a trap and escapes, and Drathro sends a utility drone to pursue him. During the search, Merdeen (one of the guards) tells Balazar to head for the surface. Balazar objects, but Merdeen assures him that the firestorm has been over for hundreds of years.

Balazar and Merdeen find the Doctor and offer to help him escape, but circumstances bring Peri’s team and the Doctor’s team together at the entrance to Marb Station, trapped between the armed tribesmen and the service drone. Luckily, Balazar recognizes the leader of the tribesman as his friend Broken Tooth and convinces him to shoot the drone. The tribesmen insist that the Doctor and the collected crowd return to the village.

After another courtroom interlude where the Inquisitor expresses her distaste for primitive violence, the episode continues in Marb Station with a confrontation between Merdeen and Grell, a fellow guard who overheard Merdeen’s discussion with Balazar. Drathro breaks the tension by dispatching Merdeen to find Balazar as his assistants reactivate the drone.

Returning to the village, the Doctor, Peri, and the assassins are brought before Katryca. The Doctor offers to repair the totem, but she tosses the lot in a cell. They are inadvertently freed as the drone breaks down their cell and captures the Doctor.

In the courtroom, we learn that the Matrix files are updated with the experiences of all Time Lords no matter where they are. Further, the TARDIS can act as a collection device to add experiences within its range. The Doctor questions whether or not a Type 40 TARDIS can do this without being bugged and the Valeyard deflects. Curiouser and curiouser.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

Katryca and the tribesmen pursue the service drone and disable it. They celebrate the death of the Immortal and rush off to storm Drathro’s castle. Peri sees to the Doctor while Glitz sends Dibber for some heavier artillery. The Doctor and Peri head to Marb Station to stop Tribe of the Free before the robot kills them.

Hey, he’s all heroic again! It’s about time.

Returning to the courtroom, the TARDIS evidence tapes end as Glitz and Dibber, armed with a big gun, pursue everyone else into Marb Station. The Valeyard claims that the evidence has been classified in the public interest. The Inquisitor asks if the Doctor officially objects, but he does not. Instead, he lets the Valeyard continue with the imagery collected from the Doctor’s perspective.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

The Doctor and Peri are intercepted by Merdeen, and the guard claims to be hunting the Doctor. He fires his crossbow, but instead of killing the Doctor he strikes Grell, who was trying to capture the Doctor for Drathro. Meanwhile, Katryca’s group breaks into Drathro’s domain, but he kills both the queen and Broken Tooth. He sends the rest of the strike group to await culling while his assistants run. It seems that an explosion is coming.

In the courtroom, the Doctor and the Valeyard come to verbal blows over what they’ve seen. The Doctor disputes the relevance of what they’ve seen while the Valeyard claims that had the Doctor never been there, none of it would have happened.

He has a point, you know.

The Inquisitor also takes issue with censoring of the discussions between Glitz and Dibber.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

The Doctor returns to Drathro and tries to shut down the black light system, but the robot forbids it. The Doctor tries to reason that the robot is doomed either way, but the people who serve the Immortal can be saved. The discussion is a good back-and-forth on the value of life and finally solidifies the Sixth Doctor in the ideology of the Doctor overall.

Also, Drathro calls the Doctor out on his verbal abuse, which is fantastic.

Glitz and Dibber are in search of information so they can sell it on the black market. They find the castle entrance, presuming that five rounds rapid (The Daemons) could break it down, but Dibber objects. So, they find their way to the food chutes with Peri, Merdeen, and Balazar, but Drathro detects their intrusion and tries to kill them. Dibber blasts his way in, opening a path into Drathro’s domain, and the group join the discussion. Glitz and Dibber humorously try to salvage the situation, resulting in everyone being tied up while the assassins escort Drathro to their ship. The Doctor breaks free and tries to stop the explosion, but he is only able to limit it to the castle. The explosion also destroys Drathro, leaving the assassins a chunk of valuable rock to fund their next escapade.

In the end, the Doctor tells Balazar to take his civilization to the surface and start a new life before leaving with Peri for their next adventure.

With the episode over, the Doctor proclaims that he should be found innocent of the Valeyard’s charges, but the Inquisitor denies him his victory. The Valeyard is only getting started.

 

Not a bad story overall. The separate scene storytelling trope took a little getting used to, but the evidentiary episode was a fun adventure. The Valeyard has a point that fewer lives would have been lost if the Doctor had never interfered, but Glitz and Dibber were already on the planet and would have potentially stolen information that could have killed any number of beings. The Valeyard’s schemes appear transparent to both the Doctor and the viewer, but it’s fun to see someone using the ignorance and procedural nature of the Time Lords against them like he does.

Refreshingly, this was a low body count for this era of the show.

Additionally, the Doctor and Peri were a lot closer this time than they have been in previous adventures. It’s nice to see him being less abusive toward her.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Mindwarp

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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5 thoughts on “Timestamp #144: The Mysterious Planet

  1. Colin Baker says that the plan always had been to treat the Doctor’s 5th regeneration as traumatic and to start the sixth Doctor as unstable, but slowly have him get better. Here we see the potential that we could have had if the show hadn’t been put on hiatus. I think it would have been smarter if they’d had the Doctor evolve in this way over the course of season 22, but hindsight is 20/20, and I’m not sure that it would have helped if the last couple of stories of season 22 had a “reformed” sixth Doctor, since I think the audience had already largely left by that time.

    The fallout from the hiatus is that the show came back as 25-minute episodes, but they only get 14 per season. The upside is that their budget *wasn’t* slashed accordingly, so they had more money per episode. That’s why that opening shot is so beautiful. It’s the same technology that Star Trek: The Next Generation would use for it’s exterior shots the following year.

    I absolutely love the Valeyard and the courtroom drama. It’s nice to give the sixth Doctor an opponent who’s just as clever as he and can put him in his place.

    I’m looking forward to your opinions on the rest of the trial.

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