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Trial of a Time Lord: 1-4

Production Code: 7A

First Transmitted

1 - 06/09/1986 17:45

2 - 13/09/1986 17:45

3 - 20/09/1986 17:45

4 - 27/09/1986 17:45


The TARDIS is drawn to a space station where the Doctor is subjected to a Time Lord inquiry into his behaviour, presided over by an Inquisitor. The prosecuting counsel, the Valeyard, presents the first piece of his evidence, which consists of a recording played back on a screen linked to the Matrix. It concerns a visit by the Doctor and Peri to the desolate planet Ravolox, which turns out to be a future Earth, shifted light-years through space.

The court watches as the pair get caught up in a conflict between the surface-dwelling Tribe of the Free, led by Queen Katryca, and the planet's other inhabitants, a group of subterranean technocrats and their robotic ruler Drathro.

Two shady off-worlders, Glitz and Dibber, are meanwhile attempting to appropriate from Drathro some mysterious 'secrets' - details of which are censored from the Matrix record. The 'secrets' are eventually destroyed, along with Drathro, as a result of the Doctor's actions.

Episode Endings

The Valeyard suggests to the Inquisitor that what started out as a mere inquiry into the Doctor's behaviour should become a trial, and that if he is found guilty the sentence should be the termination of his life. The Doctor looks shocked.

The Doctor, Peri, Glitz, Dibber and the underground dweller Balazar are trapped between the advancing Tribe of the Free and Drathro's L1 robot. Peri asks what they are should do and the Doctor replies: 'I don't know. I really think this could be the end.' The Doctor looks concerned.

The Doctor and Peri encounter Merdeen, one of Drathro's 'train guards', in the corridors of the underground complex. He tells them that he is hunting. When the Doctor enquires who his quarry is he replies: 'You'. He raises a crossbow weapon and fires.

In the Time Lord courtroom, the Doctor derides the evidence so far presented by the Valeyard. The Valeyard retorts that better is to come, and that when he has finished the court will demand the Doctor's life. The Doctor looks defiant.


A Christmas Carol (the trial's use of past, present and future adventures).

Genesis 19 (Lot's wife).

The Water Babies ('And still the lobster held on').

Post-holocaust movies.

Arthurian myths

The Mad Max films (especially Glitz/Dibber designs).

Planet of the Apes.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Robin of Sherwood.

Zardoz (the books).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : [To Peri] "Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal."

The Doctor : [To the Time Lords] "In all my travellings throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here! The oldest civilisation, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen - they're still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of absolute power - that's what it takes to be really corrupt!"

Dialogue Disasters

The Valeyard : "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum."

Double Entendre

"Haven't you got a ring you could rub?"

The Inquisitor : "I would appreciate it if these violent and repetitious scenes could be kept to a minimum."


The Cloister Bell rings as the TARDIS is drawn to the space station. The trial takes place on a Time Lord space station [above Gallifrey, or is it a TARDIS in flight? It has at least six TARDIS bays, from which TARDIS snatching beams can project]. The beams are powered by the mental energy of many Time Lords. The Doctor is charged with conduct unbecoming a Time Lord, and transgressing the First Law [of Time].

The Valeyard thinks that the High Council were 'too lenient' [in allowing the Doctor's CIA sentence to be quashed after The Three Doctors]. The Inquisitor and Trial staff were appointed by the High Council, but are independent of it. When taken out of time, the Doctor suffers from amnesia [a convenient condition to explain the problems of multi-Doctor meetings] and can't remember where he left Peri.

The evidence is shown from images taken from the Matrix, the repository of all knowledge. The Matrix can access experiences from all Time Lords, and anyone within the range of a modified TARDIS. [The Doctor's older TARDIS may have been 'bugged' during Arc of Infinity.]

The Doctor doesn't believe in ghosts (cf The Face of Evil). In his pockets he carries a torch, an oil can, a paper mask, a teddy bear, and a bag of sweets. Black light is not his field. The Doctor has been deposed as President of Gallifrey for neglecting his duties. He says he has been in several such enquiries before [a reference to The War Games, and also to the tribunal of Season 6(b) (see The War Games)].

Some time seems to have elapsed since Revelation of the Daleks, judging by the Doctor and Peri's relationship. He is about to continue his name at one point: 'by Dr...' [indicating that his title precedes a longer, Gallifreyan name: see The War Machines].

Earth and its 'constellation' [its sun and solar system] has moved 'a couple of light years' [thus still in the Milky Way]. The Doctor dates these events as at least two million years after the 20th century. Only part of Earth was affected by the fireball [but Drathro's colony and its escapees might be the only survivors]. The Sleepers, from Andromeda [a particular system in the Andromeda galaxy], found a way into the Matrix 5 years ago, fled [immediately] to Earth, which was [straight away] devastated by a fireball.

[They went into suspended animation underground, hence the name, but have all died while waiting for a rescue mission that found no trace of Earth's solar system, leaving Drathro in sole charge of the secrets they stole.]

The Tribe of the Free have had several visits from space travelling plunderers before [knowledge of the Matrix theft, and that Ravolox is Earth, seems widespread]. Their earth god is Haldron. They use Ensen guns [stolen from previous travellers]. The three sacred books of Marb station are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, and UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose by 'H.M. Stationery Office'. The underground dwellers call their world UK Habitat.

Glitz knows some Latin, and lots of Palare (see 'Carnival of Monsters'), has been to prison many times, seen many psychiatrists and comes from a polygamous society. He knows of the Time Lords, and is wanted in six galaxies. He's from Salostophus, in the constellation [galaxy] of Andromeda [and perhaps close to the Andromedans]. His currency is the Grotzi (plural Grotzis). Drathro is from Andromeda [the same place as Glitz, judging by the latter's familiarity with the robot type] and has heard of Gallifrey.

Mention is made of blind speelsnapes (see Revelation of the Daleks). Siligtone is the hardest known metal in the galaxy. A black light explosion could affect the whole universe [so black light isn't just infrared, as it is scientifically]. The aerial converts ultra-violet into black light.


Season 6(b)

The Location of Gallifrey

The Doctor's Age


The space station and Ravolox, in the Stellian galaxy [another name for Mutter's Spiral/the Milky Way?], actually Earth, in London, near Marble Arch tube station, two million years after the 20th century.

Future History

Ravolox/Earth was 'destroyed' by a solar fireball 5 years before this story.



Many well-known performers feature in guest roles. You can spot: Lynda Bellingham, familiar to viewers as the 'Mum' in a long-running series of television commercials for Oxo stock cubes, appearing here as the Inquisitor; Michael Jayston, whose many television credits include roles in Callan and The Power Game, looking suitably menacing as the Valeyard; comic actress Joan Sims, popular as one of the team from the Carry On ... films series, portraying warrior queen Katryca; and Glen Murphy, better known for his starring role in the LWT fire service drama series London's Burning, playing Glitz's sidekick Dibber.

David Rodigan, who played Broken Tooth in this story, was better known as David 'Roots' Rodigan, a reggae music DJ on London's Capital Radio.

Roger Brierley, the actor credited as Drathro, provided only the voice. He was originally to have been inside the costume as well, but found he could not work in such a confined space. Visual effects assistant Paul McGuiness stepped in and took his place.

Fashion Victim

The Inquisitor's taffetta collar.

The Valeyard's hat.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Colin Baker

Peri - Nicola Bryant

Balazar - Adam Blackwood

Broken Tooth - David Rodigan

Dibber - Glen Murphy

Glitz - Tony Selby

Grell - Timothy Walker

Humker - Billy McColl

Katryca - Joan Sims

Merdeen - Tom Chadbon

Tandrell - Sion Tudor Owen

The Inquisitor - Lynda Bellingham

The Valeyard - Michael Jayston


Director - Nicholas Mallett

Assistant Floor Manager - Stephen Jeffrey-Poulter

Assistant Floor Manager - Sally Newman

Costumes - Ken Trew

Designer - John Anderson

Incidental Music - Dominic Glynn

Make-Up - Denise Baron

OB Cameraman - unknown

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Joy Sinclair

Production Associate - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Eric Saward

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Brian Clark

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Dominic Glyn

Visual Effects - Mike Kelt

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Can't we just have the edited highlights?' The opening shot is lovely. A good, traditional story, with great design and direction. At this stage the trial scenes aren't intrusive, and it really feels like Doctor Who on the way to an epic.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

A fourteen part Doctor Who story is not necessarily doomed to fail. Season three's The Daleks' Master Plan was only two episodes shorter, and was superb. Sadly however The Trial of a Time Lord, although a brave attempt, falls a long way short of expectations.

Its inherent weakness stems largely from the production team's apparent inability to decide whether they were making a single epic-length story, as in the case of The Daleks' Master Plan, or a sequence of separate stories with a linking theme, in the manner of the Key to Time season. The Trial of a Time Lord was certainly presented and promoted to the general public as a single fourteen part story - it was billed as such on screen and in Radio Times - and yet in the behind-the-scenes information that Nathan-Turner and Saward provided and the interviews that they granted to fanzines, both gave the clear impression that they regarded it as consisting of four separate but linked stories corresponding to the four distinct segments of the Doctor's trial.

This is reflected in the fact that most fan reviewers have actually treated the season in this piecemeal way, rather than assessing it on its merits as a whole. Each of the four segments certainly had its own individual working title - The Mysterious Planet for Parts One to Four, Mindwarp for Parts Five to Eight, The Ultimate Foe for Parts Nine to Twelve and Time Inc for Parts Thirteen and Fourteen - and their respective writers worked for the most part completely independently of each other.

It is telling that when Pip and Jane Baker were commissioned to provide a replacement script for the final episode, after Saward withdrew his, they had no idea how the story was originally supposed to end, despite having themselves written four of the earlier episodes, and nor indeed did they know how it had begun - they had to go and research this from scratch and try to put together a script that would successfully tie up all the loose ends. That they were only partially successful in achieving this aim is hardly surprising.

If the production team had wanted to present a coherent fourteen-part story, with different writers responsible for different episodes, they should arguably have devised at the outset a detailed storyline with a clear beginning, middle and end, so that each of the writers knew exactly where his or her contribution was supposed to fit into the overall picture. That they failed to do so, despite having had the luxury of the longest period ever available to any production team for the preparation of a season, can be seen as a damning indictment.

There are two valid points that could be made in their defence. First, they did at least start out with good intentions, convening a round-table meeting to discuss with the four writers originally envisaged as contributing to the season the general approach that they were required to take; it is just unfortunate that two of those four writers, David Halliwell and Jack Trevor Story, ultimately had their scripts rejected. Secondly, they could not have foreseen that one of the other writers, Robert Holmes, who set up the story in the opening segment and should have concluded it in the closing one, would sadly die before his task was completed - presumably Holmes, if no one else, had actually discussed the resolution with Saward and had a fair idea as to what it was supposed to be.

These problems need not have been anywhere near as serious as they were, however, if the production had really embraced the idea of making a fourteen-part epic in a wholehearted way, rather than taking the curious 'half way house' approach of treating it as a single story for some purposes but as four separate stories with a linking theme for others.

As it is, The Trial of a Time Lord, viewed as a whole, is simply a mess. Questions posed at the beginning remain unanswered at the end, and there is a distinct lack of internal logic and consistency. It is, for example, very difficult to believe that in the Time Lord legal system - or indeed in any reasonable legal system - the charge directed at the accused, and even the type of proceedings involved, could really be changed at a moment's notice seemingly on the whim of the prosecuting counsel. Quite apart from the obvious difficulties created by the aforementioned lack of co-ordination between all the different writers, there is the more fundamental problem that the overarching plot suggested by Saward and accepted by Nathan-Turner simply doesn't work.

The idea of the Doctor being placed on trial by the Time Lords for his interference in the affairs of other planets is not exactly an original one to start with - season six's The War Games was the first to use it, and season fourteen's The Deadly Assassin also had the Doctor being placed on trial by his own people, albeit on a different charge - and stretched over fourteen episodes it leads to a seemingly endless succession of tedious courtroom scenes that very quickly try the viewer's patience. 'The trial sequences are astonishingly dull,' affirmed Lance Parkin in Matrix Issue 49, dated spring 1994. 'The only courtroom drama in the history of television to lack any tension at all. The whole framing device is badly handled - the scripting is repetitive, the acting is lacklustre, technically it's poor: the set creaks, the vision and sound mixes to the main story are badly done, on one occasion you can hear someone clearly saying "Take six".'

The only way in which these scenes could perhaps have been rescued would have been to have had them acted out on a really impressive courtroom set with lots of visual interest and plenty of scope for variation of camera angles. The set seen in the transmitted story, however, is poorly designed, looking small and cramped and far too conventional in its general layout. This unimaginative interior is difficult to reconcile with the space station exterior and singularly fails to convey any impression of grandeur or sense of the Time Lords' power. In fact, most ordinary English county courts boast more impressive accommodation than this, and one almost wishes that all these linking trial scenes had actually been recorded on location rather than in studio - something that could have been quite easily justified in plot terms by having the whole trial set within the virtual reality of the Matrix.

In storytelling terms, too, the trial scenario is far from ideal. Admittedly it does lead to the rather amusing situation of the Doctor effectively sitting down to watch Doctor Who for fourteen weeks, passing comment on the action from time to time and making the occasional in-joke. ('I would appreciate it if these violent and repetitious scenes could be kept to a minimum,' he says at one point, in a clear reference to the criticisms aimed at the previous season; although things do perhaps get a little out of hand when he actually starts to deride the story and suggest that it is boring.)

On the downside however there are many questions raised of the 'But shouldn't the Doctor already know what's going to happen next?' sort or, perhaps even more seriously, the 'Doesn't the fact that we are seeing evidence from the Doctor's future mean that he must be found not guilty?' or 'How can he take Mel with him in the TARDIS at the end when he's not even supposed to have met her yet?' variety. The plot device of the Doctor having lost his memory is all too obviously a ploy to try to get around some of these problems, and things go badly awry in the Thoros-Beta episodes, so that it is impossible to tell if the Doctor's apparent siding with the Mentors is a trick on his part, a consequence of someone tampering with the Matrix record or the result of mental instability brought on by Crozier's experiments.

And just what exactly is the Valeyard trying to achieve? He is ultimately revealed to be a personification of the dark side of the Doctor's nature, somewhere between his twelfth and thirteenth incarnations (presumably analogous to the Watcher, the interim state between his fourth and fifth incarnations, as seen in season eighteen's Logopolis), and yet he spends much of the early part of the story calling for the accused's - i.e. his own - death and then later reveals an ulterior motive of wanting somehow to take over all his remaining incarnations - utter nonsense.

Another problem with the overarching plot is that it is highly convoluted and, even more so than most Doctor Who of this period, draws very heavily on the series' own established mythology, making few concessions to the more casual viewer who might not be altogether au fait with the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the Matrix or even the Master. What's more, in order to stand any chance of following Parts Thirteen and Fourteen, one needs to be aware of things that are established in Parts One to Four, including relatively minor details such as the mysterious 'secrets' sought by Glitz and Dibber and the suspicious excising of certain material from the Matrix record (something that, incidentally, everyone in the court seems to understand the reason for except the accused, again calling into question the rationality of the Time Lord legal system).

This must count against the story's appeal to the more casual viewer; and certainly anyone coming to it late after missing a few episodes would be very hard pressed to pick up all the threads of the plot (although there was at least a brief voice-over recap given before the start of each of the later episodes on their original transmission). 'Who in their right minds is going to remember one small subplot for thirteen weeks and wait that long for a hurried explanation to be revealed?' asked Graeme Wood in The MLG Megazine Issue 21, dated spring 1987. 'Only a fan.'

Yet another problem, again stemming in part from the somewhat tedious nature of the trial scenario itself, is that this story has arguably the poorest collection of cliffhanger episode endings in the series' history. No fewer than ten of the fourteen episodes end in exactly the same way, on a close up of the Doctor expressing intense emotion of one sort or another. Admittedly this is nothing new for the sixth Doctor's era - even his debut story, The Twin Dilemma, had three out of four episodes ending in this way - but here it is particularly groan-inducing and lacking in dramatic impact.

It must be a tribute of sorts to Colin Baker's acting ability that he is at least able to manage a slightly different expression each time (although when it comes to Part Ten, where his face is largely obscured by a gas mask, one has to hazard a guess), but this is all put into perspective by the really cracking cliffhanger at the end of Part Nine, which serves only to highlight just how inadequate the others are. If only they could all have been this good!

The story certainly begins well enough. The new Dominic Glynn arrangement of Ron Grainer's famous theme music is an improvement on the previous Peter Howell version, indeed probably the best of those used during the eighties, and puts the viewer in a good frame of mind to enjoy the opening episode. (A pity, though, that Nathan-Turner apparently never realised what almost everyone else did: that the original Delia Derbyshire arrangement should never have been dropped in the first place.) The episode then gets under way in earnest with a breathtakingly superb model shot of the Time Lord space station - although, as Willis noted in Muck and Devastation Issue Two, dated May 1987, disillusion quickly sets in: 'The opening sequence of the first episode... cheered me up considerably; a lovely, smooth piece of effects work as we see the TARDIS being drawn by a tractor beam into a vast space station. I liked it a lot... which [was] just as well [as] we were to see an awful lot of it in the next fourteen weeks. And its subsequent appearances were to reinforce a nagging feeling that set in in [Part One]: that the whole sequence was purely gratuitous; nothing to do with the story at all. Why should the trial be held in a space station anyway?... Nobody seemed to mention the fact that they were in space, so for all the difference it made the whole thing might as well have been set on Gallifrey.'

One of the most pleasing things about the scenes set on Ravolox is that, as noted by Tim Collins in DWB Number 39, dated October 1986, the Doctor and Peri are shown to have a much better relationship than in the previous season: 'Colin [Baker] and Nicola [Bryant] were finally allowed to portray their characters as people who liked each other, who joked with rather than at each other, and who were chums - not simply fellow travellers. It was a joy to see Colin putting his arm around Nicola so often and to see them smiling at each other - such a relief from the constant whining, moaning and bickering that summarised their relationship throughout season twenty-two!'

The other characters in these Robert Holmes scripted episodes are rather variable, as Brian Willis pointed out:

'Glitz, played by Tony Selby, is the best thing about this [segment of the] story; a [typical] Holmes creation in the tradition of Vorg, Garron and Henry Gordon Jago. [He is] blessed with the blarney, and as trustworthy as a hyena...

'If Glitz is the best thing..., Katryca is the worst. She is supposed to be a warrior queen, not unlike Boadicea, yet Joan Sims plays here with all the ferocity of a menopausal Avon lady.'

The 'light relief' characters Humker and Tandrell, servants to Drathro, are even more poorly depicted, and the revelation that they have been selected for their role by virtue of being the two brightest students amongst the underground dwellers rehashes an idea used by Holmes in his season six story The Krotons. In fact the most disappointing aspect of this segment of The Trial of a Time Lord is the uncharacteristically lacklustre quality of Holmes's scripts, as Willis suggested: 'This ... was Robert Holmes's last completed contribution to the series. Holmes was probably Doctor Who's best writer; he had a perfect understanding of all the elements that made it successful. The list of stories from [his] pen contains more classics than any one man has a right to... That's why it's so sad to see [this] as his swansong. It's not that it's... bad...; but there's a weariness to it, as though he was just clearing up a contractual obligation.'

< Revelation of the DaleksSixth DoctorTrial of a Time Lord: 5-8 >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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