Trial: The Mysterious Planet

Oh boy. Where to begin? Perhaps with the absolutely atrocious theme tune. It’s barely recognisable as the Doctor Who music, it’s weak and it’s messy. I had no idea this version existed, and it managed to take me by surprise every time. I was startled and insulted by its shitness as each episode opened with a whimper. Weirdly, the middle eight in the end theme isn’t terrible, but the rest of it is just nothing but a disappointment.

But then, in the first part, it’s followed up by what’s probably the most impressive model shot the show’s ever had. I’m a huge fan of the BBC visual effects team of this era, and you can always rely on that set of model makers to deliver, even when the rest of the production is going to pot. This is the first episode to have been broadcast in my lifetime, and the show’s starting to get pretty close to how I remember TV being when I was tiny. Not only are the locations shot on video now, it’s even the type of tape stock that gives the look I associate with some of my earliest TV memories.

The aforementioned model shot leads into the establishment of the trial setting, and it’s so, so weird. It’s enjoyable in and of itself, thanks to the pedigree of Lynda Bellingham and Michael Jayston, along with a far less irritating performance from Colin than we’re used to. He really is so much better when he’s not with Peri, as his outbursts and anger are much more tolerable when they’re not aimed at people who are supposed to be his friend.

But the premise is misguided at best. In universe, it’s fair enough, and I like that they acknowledge the fact that it’s happened before, but in the implementation it feels like a parody of a courtroom drama, rather than something that exists in the real world. In fact, it really reminded me of The Jasper Carrott Trial, so I simply couldn’t take it seriously, even when The Valeyard is trying to raise the stakes every time we see him. The constant crash zooms in to Colin’s big daft face didn’t help.

I think it’s a bold and somewhat dangerous move to turn an entire season into an allegory for your behind-the-scenes drama, and most likely a foolish one. You’re asking for trouble when you have your lead character deriding the action for being boring, and questioning the point of it being shown at all. The discussions around the Doctor and violence could have been clever and interesting, but it was just all a bit too on-the-nose. I’m assuming the stuff about details being censored from the evidence will become relevant later (I have enough prior knowledge to know there’s a twist, but not exactly what it is), but so far it’s just a bit jarring – the interruptions really take you out of the main story.

I mean, it’s taken me this long to even mention that there is a main story; that’s how much of a distraction the trial is. The emphasis is perhaps slightly wrong, as the bits on the sort-of-eponymous mysterious planet feel like they deserved to carry more weight. The premise of the Earth being ripped from its place in space and time is certainly a strong one, but they didn’t find time to explain why. The format of this season also slightly scuppers any sense of peril; any cliffhangers where The Doctor’s in danger don’t really work when you know it’s essentially just a flashback.

The big robot ruling over a primitive set of humanoids, and selecting the cleverest and youngest ones to serve him, is essentially The Krotons again, and I wasn’t terribly keen on this element of the story, other than the gags about their sacred books. I quite enjoyed Glitz and Dibber though; they’re nothing we haven’t seen before, but they were fun to spend time with, and I always enjoy not knowing what side people are on. But can everyone stop objectifying Peri, please? I’m sure there have been companions who were subjected to worse sexism than this, but not for a while, and this stands out because it’s the fucking 1980s – the show should know better by now.

But you know, it’s weird. This is clearly a rubbish story/segment/season, but I enjoyed the experience of watching it more than I did for most of the previous season, and looked forward to the viewings each night more than usual. Dropping back down to 25 minute episodes helps, along with the rubber-necking factor of wanting to watch an absolute disaster unfold. But to give it its due, it is completely different to anything the show’s done before. It’s probably worse than anything the show’s done before, but as the shorter seasons lead me hurtling reluctantly towards the end of the classic run, I’m amazed and glad that I’m still finding it this much fun.


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