Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The Mysterious Planet"

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Nicholas Mallett

Peri: “Is there any intelligent life here?”
The Doctor: “Apart from me you mean. Don’t know. Shall we find out?”

When you’ve had eighteen months off the air and your future put into some serious doubt, it’s got to suck being a Doctor Who writer. The show had been criticised for its overt use of horror and violence in the previous year and this was the start of a shortened season, designed to amend the problem.

The first thing was to pick a central theme for the overall season. During the Tom Baker reign they had the Key To Time as an essential theme with The Doctor and Romana looking for the thing in the space of six stories. In four stories designated for this season, the theme is having The Doctor on trial.

As themes go, it’s a risky idea and one that was also explored far better in “The War Games” but with a prosecutor as dogmatic as The Valeyard, you’d have to wonder what The Doctor had done that was so bad that this other Time Lord would be baying for The Doctor’s death.

The first story that we see is an odd one. First off all, the idea of Ravolox being Earth by another name might not have been so obvious if it blatantly didn’t look like Earth. A little mystery would’ve gone a long way but Peri practically deduced that she was on her own planet in less than five minutes so mystique certainly went out the window on that one.

Five hundred years however does add a bit of legend to Earth. Namely the fact that a giant fireball nearly destroyed the entire planet thanks to a massive Totem that attracted the blaze in the first place. This is also where the duo of Sabalom Glitz and Dibber come into proceedings.

They’re there solely to get some secrets that they sell off to various governments and federations to make a mint but even they’re bothered enough by the giant Totem to warn village queen Katryca to knock the thing down. It seems that despite her army of men, she doesn’t exactly value the opinion of them and reacts by having Glitz sized up as a sacrifice for her angry god.

The Doctor’s not exactly having the best time of it either. In less than ten minute, both he and Peri get seperated. Peri as per usual got taken away by Katryca’s men and The Doctor realised that there is an immortal being called Drathro underground. Except that Drathro is a robot, so not really immortal after all.

Drathro seems to have the oddest plot of the entire story. He’s got men working for him, including two very irritating twins called Tandrell and Hunnker but it’s his desire to keep The Doctor around that’s more intriguing. It seems that Drathro believes that The Doctor will be able to keep him alive when in actuality, it’s the black light from the Totem that’s already doing that.

For parts of this serial, we see The Doctor trying to reason with Drathro over the black light that he needs. Drathro like any robot on Doctor Who is naturally devoid of caring about the human lives he’ll end up wiping out for his own survival. The Doctor’s constant protests do very little to actually persuade him otherwise.

As for Katryca, well I don’t want to use Glitz’s ageist remarks in terms of the character but she is quite annoying, isn’t she? Most of her scenes are spent spewing bile about her hatred of star travellers and her mistaken assumption that the service robot sent out to capture The Doctor is the Immortal/Drathro did lead to her own downfall in the end.

As for Glitz and Dibber, I wouldn’t trust them with my valuables but they certainly did help in their own roundabout way in stopping Drathro as did The Doctor’s quick thinking with the psychotic robot’s machine. Thanks to The Doctor, Ravolox was safe from yet another great fire.

So the question remains, why is this act of heroism such an affront to The Valeyard? He might raise some pointers about The Doctor’s characters but it doesn’t help that he’s not pulling out the most convincing of arguments against The Doctor either.

The Inquisitor might not have been the only irate with The Doctor resorting to childish nicknames for The Valeyard as well as outlandish outburst but with certain elements of the information being muffled and even The Doctor unable to remember certain things, I’m too convinced that this trial in question is a farce.

Shouldn’t The Doctor’s interference on Ravolox be seen as a good thing? If he hadn’t got caught up in events (The Valeyard did fail to note that The Doctor doesn’t actually seek out these mysteries even if he does have trouble detaching himself from them), then more people would’ve died. I hope for the remainder of this trial saga that The Valeyard is actually able to pull something serious out if he wants any credibility with the viewers. Michael Jayston’s good but The Valeyard is a tedious fellow.

As for The Doctor/Peri dynamic, it’s noticeably improved from their previous year together. Now you actually get them impression that the two of them are proper friends as opposed to be two people merely tolerating the other. Too bad the story isn’t remotely subtle about Peri’s imminent exit though.

Also in “The Mysterious Planet”

For the DVD, this story is credited as “The Trial Of A Time Lord Parts 1-4”, though the cover has the subheading of “The Mysterious Planet”.

The Inquisitor: “Doctor, you’ve heard the charges. Do you want to say anything before this enquiry proceeds?”
The Doctor: “Only that this whole thing is a farce. I am Lord President of Gallifrey; you can’t put me on trial.”

Not surprisingly enough, The Doctor has been deposed of the presidency that was unwillingly given to him in “The Five Doctors”.

Dibber (re Katryca): “You’ll never charm her.”
Glitz: “I have an uncanny knack with ageing females, Dibber. One look into my eyes and they start to melt.”

The Doctor (to Balazar): “I may look old to you, you whisker less youth but I’ll have to know that I’m in the prime of my life. I’m only 900 years old, now untie me at once.”

Balazar had labelled The Doctor/Peri as ‘Old Ones’. He also mentioned that the books they’ve had were Moby Dick, The Waterbabies and UK Habitat By The Canadian Goose.

Drathro: “I have been waiting for this day, welcome at last.”
The Doctor: “You’ve been expecting me?”
Drathro: “For centuries. I am Drathro, an L3 robot.”

Glitz: “You’re a Time Lord. Haven’t you got a ring you can rub, a magic lamp? Something for these sort of emergencies?”
The Doctor: “Hardly. More your style I would’ve thought.”

The theme for the season is notably different. Not as great as previous themes but not terrible either.

The Inquisitor: “You’re allowing your disrespect to show again, Doctor.”
The Doctor: “I’m sorry, ma’am but the question still stands.”

Peri: “They’ll kill The Doctor.”
Glitz: “We’ve all got to go some time, Peri.”
Peri: “You’re all heart.”
Glitz: “The supreme sacrifice, what a person. If I have time, I’ll compose the eulogy for his funeral.”

The Doctor went through a gamut of nicknames for The Valeyard, which included the “Scrap yard” and “knackers’ yard”. He also called Peri, “Sarah Jane” as well.

Hunnker (re Katryca): “They are coming for us.”
Tandrell: “Hunnker, you have a gift for the obvious.”

The Inquisitor: “I didn’t interrupt the evidence to commend you on your athleticism, Doctor.”
The Doctor: “Oh, well you can if you like. All compliments are greatly appreciated.”

Originally instead of this Trial season, we were supposed to get stories featuring the Ice Warriors, the Celestial Toymaker and The Rani. We missed out.

The Inquisitor: “You will apologise at once.”
The Doctor: “For telling the truth, never.”
The Valeyard: “The Doctor is well known for these childish outbursts. I do not find the ramblings of an immature mind offensive.”

Peri: “Old ones? Hey, that’s cute.”
The Doctor: “I always knew there was an evil streak in you. Old one, indeed.”

This was released on DVD back in August 2008 with the next three stories from the season. There’s a good commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby, Adam Blackwood and Eric Saward (for the first part).

Out of the four stories for “The Trial Of A Time Lord” series, I have to admit that “The Mysterious Planet” is the weakest of the bunch. Not particularly terrible but it does plod along a bit and the trial scenes are just dull to watch. The Valeyard feels a little too one note so far.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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