Trial: Mindwarp

Well, that was unexpected. I loved that. All the ingredients were wrong, but somehow that was perhaps my favourite Colin story so far. This is despite him being absolutely peak Sixth Doctor in terms of his baffling behaviour. The exaggerated cruelty and ruthlessness were clearly been played up to show that something is not right, even though he was effectively not much different to how he started out.

The difference here is that there’s some kind of method to the madness, because you’ve got the “present” Doctor on trial, and in these scenes so far he’s been acting much more like how I expect The Doctor to act. He’s eloquent, morally superior and his anger is being channeled in the right directions. I’m still not clear whether his turncoat behaviour in the flashbacks is due to (Adam) Crozier’s experiment, a clever ploy or a result of some bastard meddling with Matrix, but I expect things will make more sense by the end of the serial/season. Or maybe not, considering I’ve just read that Colin was never told which of those three options it was either.

One thing I am sure of is that this isn’t actually what happened to Peri – that spoilery ship has sailed a long, long time ago. Nevertheless, it was a bloody effective death within the context of this segment. Maybe I was reading too much into it because I knew what was coming, but it seemed to be all leading up to it. The Doctor, either seemingly or actually, abandoning her, making her feel isolated and longing for her own time, and then eventually failing to save her. I thought she was a goner at the end of Part Three/Seven, which is one of the bleakest cliffhangers of all time.

Regardless of whatever her fate is retconned to in about a week’s time, this is the end of Peri, and I can’t say I’m sad to see her go, other than the fact that I’m absolutely dreading being subjected to Bonnie bloody Langford. Nicola Bryant is clearly likeable and a good actress, but the writing consistently let her down throughout her stay, and there was just no chemistry whatsoever between her and The Doctor. It all seemed like a bit of a cock-up, and it’s a shame that Nicola/Peri wasn’t around in a more stable era for the show.

Back to this story, and I enjoyed the courtroom scenes a little more this time round; they feel a lot less tacked on now that important plot details are being revealed within, and The Doctor’s amnesia gave this an extra edge, whilst also fixing the problem of a lack of peril in the flashbacks.

But the main setting was also a lot more interesting this time, which surprised me – I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see Sil again, but he seems somewhat improved since last time, with clearer speech and more effort taken to make his pretentious language flow naturally. Christopher Ryan being his cohort was an unexpected bonus too – the second Young One in the last three stories.

But the main star was undoubtedly Brian Blessed, appearing here in the role of Brian Blessed. I’d hazard a guess that most Who fans consider his performance to be way too over the top, completely unsuitable, unnatural and unrealistic. I agree, but I don’t give a shit, because it’s Brian Blessed. Every time he was on screen, I couldn’t help but smile. I could watch him all day, and while his very presence outshadows everything else that’s happening at any given time, I don’t care because I find his presence so enjoyable.

RATING: 8

Vengeance on Varos

How times change. In the mid-80s, it was the video nasties that were going to desensitise us into a nation of subjugated slobs. In the mid-00s, it was reality TV, and we ended up with Bad Wolf. Colin Baker is no stranger to shows where the viewers vote on which participant gets tortured, but before I’m A Celeb he did this, which manages to combine The Hunger Games and Gogglebox, years before either of them were a thing.

A healthy slice of meta-fiction ran through the first part, thanks to the commentary from the bickering old couple. More Dave and Shirley than Steph and Dom, and their chat about his funny clothes at least reassured me that they’re supposed to be ridiculous. This built very nicely to a cliffhanger that leaned on the fourth wall to show us the process of creating a cliffhanger, but which somehow also felt real and scary.

It was good to finally see Colin’s Doctor put through the ringer, as both character and actor were thoroughly tested for the first time. You get to see what a Doctor is made of when he’s placed in constant peril, and the slightly false and formulaic nature of the prison complex allowed for surreal and experimental things to happen within a familiar format. It’s basically The Crystal Maze – or even The Celestial Toymaker – you know all he has to do is escape the room, so all manner of weird stuff can happen inside the room without being too disorientating.

While the fun stuff is going on, however, you’ve got the tedious trade negotiations and detailed political procedures to contend with. The latter isn’t too bad, largely thanks to Martin Jarvis and his Martin Jarvis face, but even without that it’s an interesting situation to explore. I could have done without Chief Officer Wario’s confusing double agent status, as that added one too many threads to follow.

The rest of it relies heavily on the success or otherwise of Sil, who’s certainly a most memorable guest star and possibly the best looking new alien we’ve seen for a while. However, he doesn’t sound as good as he looks, and he’s a little hard to understand at times. The over-complicated language – a problem that seems to be endemic during the Colin Baker era – didn’t help, as it caused his scenes to be slower paced than the rest. I liked his little tongue thing though, and am intrigued to learn that he’s coming back.

Ultimately, and somewhat unfortunately, the balance between exciting action and tedious discussion tipped too far towards the latter in Part Two. There was just so much talking, with only The Doctor throwing people into an acid bath and Peri being turned into an owl to break it up. You really felt every one of those forty-five minutes, which I guess is easier to avoid when you’ve got battles with Daleks or Cybermen to pepper throughout. This one bad experience with a longer running time is now making the prospect of sitting down to watch each day slightly daunting, when you know you have to commit the best part of an hour to something that could well be shit.

RATING: 6