The Trial of a Time Lord - Parts 5-8:


Region 1
in a 4-story box set

Region 2
4-story box set
VHS Video
4-story box set
(Doctor Who Story No. 145, starring Colin Baker)
  • written by Philip Martin
  • directed by Ron Jones
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Richard Hartley
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The brain altering experiments on the planet Thorus Beta bring the Doctor into another deadly encounter with the alien slug Sil and the warlord Yrcanos, while Peri finds herself at a loss to know Who to trust....

DVD Extras include:

  • Full length audio commentary by Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), and writer Philip Martin.
  • "The Making of Mindwarp" featurette (20 min.) adding Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Brian Blessed (King Yrcanos),
    Patrick Ryecart (Crozier), and script editor Eric Saward.
  • "Now and Then" location featurette for the entire season, including a brief history of Doctor Who location recording formats (21 min.)
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (9 min.)
  • Photo Gallery Sound Effects Montage (7 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles by Richard Molesworth
  • special commentary by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as she sees her Part Fourteen scene for the first time.
  • Lenny Henry Doctor Who sketch (4 min.)
  • In-studio charity parade of Dr. Who regulars

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord instead.

Although not having as impactful an opening, or opening episode, as the previous story, this adventure is ultimately much more appropriate for and better integrated with the idea of "The Trial of a Time Lord". The central conflicts between the characters are drawn a little more compellingly, and it builds to a far more riveting and unforgettable climax than its predecessor.

The opening shot re-establishes the space station on which the trial is taking place - the very sort of wise move that this show often neglects. Our first two scenes in the trial room are as silly as anything from the last adventure, and appear to be here solely to motivate the changes of attitude and address between the three speaking roles, now that Philip Martin is writing for them instead of Robert Holmes. I suspect a script editor has added these. But the story might well have been better off without being polluted by less successful elements of the previous story in these unnecessary transitional sequences, because throughout the rest of the story, cuts back to the trial room are short and to the point, and always seem to have a worthwhile point to begin with.

Thorus Beta is a cool setting for this tale, and the very thing the new millennium Doctor Who needs more of - a planet obviously and proudly alien, serving as a financial and scientific meeting place for beings both exotic and familiar looking. It is a bit disappointing that corridors cut out of the rock are used so profusely and repeatedly without at least a few maps turning up somewhere to help expand the story's geography. This is still pretty good, but won't quite visually outdo the geography that the last adventure gave us.

Today's planet fares best when being established with its very cool, bizarrely tinted location shots. A great place to see the TARDIS materialize, but too bad it couldn't have landed on a dryer piece of the shore. The Doctor and Peri's exploration scenes are good while on location, but once into the indoor rock corridors, they seem to get trapped in cliché routines. Although a good plot is building, the exploration beats are far from the strongest we've seen on the show.

Compelling Characters

The cast of characters is fairly strong though, and as more and more of them come into play, the story becomes more and more interesting. Sil is back, and unlike in "Vengeance on Varos" (story no. 139), he actually gets a lot of fun, good quality interaction with Colin Baker's Doctor. Nabil Shaban gives another highly entertaining performance, and is one of the story's biggest and most memorable draws.

Other members of Sil's race are present as well. Christopher Ryan brings a very nice character, or pair of characters, to life as Lord Kiv, Sil's slightly eccentric boss. Ryan is probably more famous in Doctor Who circles now for playing leading Sontaran characters in the New Millennium version of the show. Strange that he decided to put on the same voice for such wildly different characterizations.

Of course, Brian Blessed's larger than life portrayal of the warlord King Yrcanos threatens to steal the show, but doesn't quite because the rest of the cast is still strong, and Blessed supports and works well with them. But you can expect fantastic energy and unusually surprising choices with the delivery of nearly every one of his lines. Some may question its believability, but its entertainment value is certainly high. In many ways, the appeal is very similar to that of the modern Klingon - the honourable, culturally mysterious, enthusiastic warrior - and Yrcanos comes before Klingons had re-invented themselves in favour of this cult appeal in the Star Trek spinoff series.

Sadly the action for this story is a bit of a letdown. Yrcanos is often in the middle of it, but what's really lacking is careful blocking, and the freedom of single camera work. And of course decent laser beams. The demonstration of this story's most prolific weapon on the beach in Part Five works, thanks to close-ups of the weapon and an interesting effect on the target (no doubt helped by the scene's weird tinting) that they couldn't hope to repeat during the later battles. But really, some good superimposed lasers could have brought the story's action up another notch, and video effects man Danny Popkin isn't going anywhere near it. Sad.

And then there's Dorf, the half-man, half-dog, werewolf character, listed in the credits as "the Lukoser". Though this idea fits more integrally into the central conflicts of the plot than similar ones back in "Vengeance on Varos", it certainly doesn't bring anything of the kind of charisma I can appreciate to the screen. Mind you, I'm not big on werewolves to begin with, and some seem to think that he's a particularly good one. For me, most of what the character is asked to do when our attention is called to him is cringefully silly and embarrassing. Dorf actually works best when he tags along in the background, and thankfully this is where he ends up most of the time.

The Companion's Dilemma

Surprisingly, this story actually gives Peri a lot to do all the way through. In fact, I don't think Nicola Bryant has been this well-served by a script since her introduction in "Planet of Fire" (story no. 135). Instead of being sidelined into a less important "B" plot, or simply tagging along behind the Doctor and others asking clarification questions, there is a real sense of her becoming the audience's touchstone character here, and carrying a good chunk of the main narrative when the Doctor's sanity appears to have gone off the deep end. Peri gets a lot of nice, emotional moments throughout this story.

Colin Baker's Doctor also gets to run the gamut of emotion and levels of sanity throughout the adventure, from many heroic and on-the-ball segments, to the flippant, callous, and cowardly as well. While this may echo prior themes from "The Twin Dilemma" (story no. 137), it is far better motivated and more palatable here. Perhaps in part thanks to this story's ability to allow Colin to react to his own behaviour via the trial, it remains easy to continue to root for him all the way through this one, and it helps "Mindwarp" become one of the important stories of his era as well.

In many ways, I think these segments of the trial have helped shape Doctor Who criticism in the years since it was first shown, and helped audiences and writers focus a little better on the actions of the main character of the show, as we wonder what other adventures might be equally fair game for the debate that ensues here. Are his values hypocritical? Does his interference manage to be helpful? Does he do more harm than good? Do others pay too high a price for his heroics? All this "Mindwarp" tackles, to the show's ultimate benefit I think. Very good stuff indeed.

Richard Hartley provides a superbly tasteful musical score for the story which works in every scene, and one that appears to be quite minimal and rarely calling attention to itself. While opening sections paint a very otherworldly musical backdrop for the story's alien location to go along with the visuals, the score's most memorable bits are saved for the final episode, particularly with the addition and excellent use of Peri's Theme during her heartfelt talk with Yrcanos.

Part Eight is one of the grandest achievements of Colin Baker's era, as it takes us through some unforgettable turning points, nicely built up by increasing tensions in the story. No spoilers here, you'll have to tune in and watch this one. I will just say that it's great that Part Four from the previous story reminded us what usually happens on a typical adventure, meaning that the successful similarities and departures evidenced here in Part Eight have maximum impact.

The one caveat I have for the final sequence is the explanation of the motivations of the Time Lords that is thrust at the audience. Firstly, the trial up to this point has featured a Valeyard who knows what is about to be shown on the viewscreen and an Inquisitor who appears to be witnessing events for the first time. Suddenly, this is reversed for no apparent reason, with the Inquisitor becoming a know-all, and it stretches credulity. Secondly, the explanations of events spouted by the Inquisitor don't really hold much logic whatsoever, either scientifically or in terms of motivating characters. We can forgive this somewhat knowing it's a bit of a cover story, something the Doctor thankfully sees through and points out immediately. But couldn't they have come up with a better cover story, something that actually still made sense on the surface?

In the end, "Mindwarp" is a highly enjoyable and important segment in the "Trial" arc, and in the Colin Baker era, and is certainly the best of his dark chapters.

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Das Urteil 5-8: Mindwarp"

Magyar: "Egy Idő Lord tárgyalása 5-8: Észcsavar"

Français: (Le jugement d'un Seigneur du Temps 5-8: Effaçage de mémoire)

Русский: "Суд над Повелителем времени 5-8: Деформация разума"

This segment's title is perhaps one of the more tricky ones to articulate in other languages. The French title "Memory Erasure" may be too specific to encompass the entire phenomenon seen in the story. The Hungarian title translates to "Mind-screw", which seems apt, while the Russian is literally "Deformation of the Mind". The Germans seem content to keep the English title for this segment; it was used on their Sixth Doctor Volume 3 DVD box set.

This story is available on DVD and VHS video as the second adventure of the Trial of a Time Lord season box set.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord
for the U.K.
VHS Video
Season 23 - The Trial of a Time Lord
NTSC in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Terror of the Vervoids"

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