The Trial of a Time Lord (The Ultimate Foe): Part Fourteen

First Broadcast December 6th, 1986 @ 5.45pm (5.6m viewers)

In some respects, the story behind the scenes on this episode is far more interesting than what was broadcast. The Trial season was building to a climax which would unravel during the final two episodes. Robert Holmes, who had already contributed ‘The Mysterious Planet’, was due to compose the conclusion with Script Editor Eric Saward. Tragically Holmes became ill and passed away before the script for this final episode could be completed. Saward then finished the story based on Holmes’ notes. However, that was not the end of things.

Producer John Nathan-Turner, aware of the BBC hierarchy’s desire to cancel the show, was determined to end the season on a positive, victorious note. The original idea saw The Doctor and The Valeyard engaged in a physical struggle and falling through the Matrix, mirroring the fate of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty in the short story ‘The Final Problem’ at Reichenbach Falls. This was vetoed by JNT. Angry and mourning the death of his mentor Robert Holmes, Eric Saward resigned. He also removed his permission for the final script to be used. With locations confirmed but no script JNT quickly approached Pip and Jane Baker to compose something to fill the void. This led to an awkward meeting with lawyers present to ensure no repetition of material from the Saward original. Miraculously the pair delivered a script to close the season.

Doctor Who - The Trial of a Time Lord (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord (c) BBC

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

A megabyte modem

This is a bit mean I know but looking back on Mel’s line it’s impossible not to cringe. Now of course practically all of us have a modem in our homes. It’s how we use the internet. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a weapon. And they’re a lot smaller. A megabyte makes a little more sense as the Matrix is supposed to be a supercomputer for information storage. How a unit of measurement for digital information could be used as a weapon again eludes me. Anyway, the real Memorable Moment…

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

The concept of the Matrix is an intriguing one. It was first explored in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and has often been represented as a bizarre world. A micro-universe and the repository of all knowledge stored by the Time Lords. This led to some genuinely unnerving sequences beginning with the cliffhanger resolution. The Sixth Doctor is dragged beneath the sand but rises from it. Similarly, a barrel full of water also tries to grab The Doctor. A seeming reality lent itself well to wrong-footing the viewer. The Fantasy Factory, for example, akin to Victorian London provided a creepy environment, which unlike the majority of 80’s Who also benefitted from low lighting. So although the locations were predetermined before Pip & Jane Baker’s script was even written, it provided one of the highlights.

Doctor Who - The Trial of a Time Lord (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord (c) BBC

Memorable Moment 2 (Spoiler Warning)

With all the confusion over the accuracy of the information presented by the Matrix the opportunity to undo the death of Peri was taken. This is allegedly because Colin Baker queried it with a member of the production team and led to the revelation that Peri survived and was now a warrior queen of King Yrcanos. Nicola Bryant hates this. Fact. Listen to her watch the scene on the DVD release. She had requested a dramatic exit and got it only for it to be undone. Like Bryant, I choose to ignore this scene.

Given the circumstances the fact that we even got a final episode for this serial is extraordinary. The concept of The Valeyard being a distillation of all the evil from The Doctor’s Twelfth and final incarnations is an intriguing idea but sadly it is underdeveloped and not really explained. Unfortunately, this episode also proved to be Colin Baker’s last as the Sixth Doctor onscreen (Dimensions in Time aside). It is such a shame and a fate which the lovely Colin Baker did not deserve.

Big Finish - The Diary of River Song Series 2
Big Finish – The Diary of River Song Series 2

The Sixth Doctor: wrong place, wrong time

Colin Baker’s time as the enigmatic Time Lord is often ridiculed. As Baker himself acknowledged in an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, the criticism wounds him greatly. Certain decisions were far outside his control, such as the costume and the extended episode lengths, plus senior BBC management’s apathy for the show which verged on contemptuous. Colin Baker’s final line “Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice” is such an appalling epitaph. Fortunately, the geniuses at Big Finish have rectified things and Colin Baker is now receiving the credit his performance deserved.

  • Colin Baker – The Doctor
  • Nicola Bryant – Peri Brown
  • Bonnie Langford – Mel Bush
  • Michael Jayston The Valeyard
  • Lynda Bellingham The Inquisitor
  • Anthony Ainley – The Master
  • Tony Selby – Sabalom Glitz
  • Directed – Chris Clough
  • Writer – Pip and Jane Baker
  • Produced – John Nathan-Turner
Also First Aired On This Day…
  • The Android Invasion: Part Three
  • State of Decay: Part Three
  • Survival: Part Three


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.