The trial of the century continues, and it does kind of feel like it’s been going on for a century. We’re now in to The Doctor’s defence – how come the prosecution got eight episodes and he only gets six? – and taking a glimpse into the future. I’m quite enamoured with the idea of skipping past the introduction story and seeing the new companion for the first time in situ, but in practice it’s a bit disorientating. It’s not helped by that opening TARDIS scene being a mess of chaos and noise. Just horrible.
But as time wore on, something happened which totally shocked me. I found myself not hating Bonnie Langford. Somewhat confounding expectations, Mel seems to be made of much sterner stuff than Peri. She matches The Doctor for bravery most of the time and there’s already more of a rapport between them; she’s smart enough to hold a plot-advancing conversation with him, but inexperienced enough so that he can explain certain things to her, and therefore us. That scream, though. Are all episodes from now on going to end with Mel screaming, and wherever possible a crash zoom into The Doctor’s astonished face?
Other than a less irritating scream, the one thing Mel’s really lacking so far is a reason to care about her. The lack of introduction means that we don’t know a great deal about her or her background, and we skipped all the stages where the audience become emotionally invested in her welfare. I applaud the desire to try something new, but there’s a reason why 90-odd% of companion introductions are done in a certain way.
However, where the future setting really comes into its own is with the trial sequences. As the season has gone on, the writing has been less pre-occupied with allegory about the show itself being on trial, and is instead concentrating on making the events within the courtroom more exciting, and increasingly more central to the story being told. This serial marks a slow transition from the trial being the framing material to being the main action, and it’s better for it.
The reason being that as the evidence becomes less and less reliable, the show is doing interesting things with the narrative that are actually quite far ahead of their time, in Doctor Who terms. Thus far, unless specifically informed otherwise, we’ve accepted that everything we’ve seen happened as depicted, but now we can’t take anything for granted. As the Matrix-tampering ramps up, we’re challenged to reconsider everything that’s happened so far. How much of the last section actually happened, considering The Doctor’s amnesia? With this one, is it just the bits The Doctor mentions that have been tampered with, or everything? Did The Valeyard get there even earlier than The Doctor did, and planted the whole thing?
Because if he did make the whole thing up, then he probably could have done a better job of it. I quite enjoyed the slower pace and the more light-hearted touches, but the murder mystery aspect didn’t live up to its promise. Oh, what a surprise, it was one of the three shady scientists, and the shadiest of the three at that. To be fair, I spent most of the first part distracted, trying to work out what I recognised the old passenger from. He was the old archbishop in The Black Adder!
As for the Vervoids, I liked the concept, and it gave The Doctor a chance to talk about morality and the importance of empathising with the enemy. It all boiled down to a Genesis-esque dilemma, and I can’t decide whether he made the right choice this time. But let’s face it, there’s only one thing they’re particularly memorable for. They’re a bunch of six foot fannies dressed in suits made of leaves.
Overall, don’t say this too loudly, but I’m starting to think The Trial of a Time Lord is actually pretty good. Obviously, a lot rides on the final two parts, and I have no doubt whatsoever that this production team will find some jaw-dropping way of fucking everything up. But regardless, up until this point at least, this is way better than the previous season. Still far from the show at its best, but it appears to have started the climb back up from the nadir.