Sunday, 17 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 8

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Eight: Season 24 (1987)

When Robert Holmes died unexpectedly in 1986, Saward was left to write the unfinished scripts for the season by himself, and the pressure became too much for him. His confidence deserted him and he resigned from his post, becoming almost a recluse and refusing to speak to anyone from the world of Doctor Who for several years. JNT was left with a catastrophe on his hands as deadlines loomed and he had only four finished (or at least workable) scripts out of seven.

Once again, he was saved by the assistance of the ever-reliable Terrance Dicks, who took Holmes and Saward’s basic outline and turned it into one of the darkest, most memorable, and most moving Doctor Who stories of all time - a fitting tribute to Holmes.

Season 24 begins with the two-part story Mysterious Planet, written chiefly by Holmes with only some input from Saward and a very small amount of re-writing by Dicks. It sees the Doctor, Peri and Rek investigate a, well… mysterious planet, which is revealed to be Earth in the far future, having been moved into the wrong part of the universe by sufficiently advanced technology. Unusually for a Doctor Who story, several plot threads remain unresolved at the end of part two when the TARDIS departs the planet, including who was responsible for ‘stealing’ the Earth.

Mysterious Planet is followed by Trial of A Time Lord, which makes up the remaining five episodes of the season. The early parts were written by Holmes and Saward, but as the story progresses it becomes increasingly the work of Dicks. The TARDIS is diverted to the planet Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords, and upon arrival the Doctor is arrested and put on trial by his peers. In a twist that demonstrates the Time Lords’ mastery of time travel, the crimes the Doctor is accused of he has not yet committed.

As the Doctor defends himself in court from the accusations of the prosecuting counsel, a Time Lord known as the Valeyard, Peri and Rek, who do not stand accused and so are at liberty, must attempt to prove the Doctor innocent. To do this they mentally enter into the Time Lords’ computer Matrix (which harked back to Holmes’ 1976 serial Deadly Assassin) to look for any clue that might help save the Doctor. Unfortunately there is another mind in the Matrix, one hostile to them and in control of the illusionary environment. In a shock ending to episode 2, a phantom warrior in pseudo-samurai armour, played by Brian Blessed, kills Peri.

The final three episodes see the convoluted plot established by Holmes and Saward in parts 1 and 2, as well as the unresolved plot threads from Mysterious Planet, skilfully unravelled by Dicks. The crime the Doctor is accused of is causing the death of Peri, which only occurred because she was trying to save him. But these events have not happened yet; they are merely a projection of the future by the Matrix. So Peri is revealed to be still alive. But the Doctor cannot interfere in future events without breaking one of the Time Lords most important laws, so he cannot save Peri without condemning himself. He is caught in a trap that must lead to either him or Peri dying.

The Doctor does not hesitate in attempting to save Peri. He takes the place of Rek in the Matrix, and recognises his opponent is his old enemy the Master (Anthony Ainley, making his final appearance in the show). The Doctor saves Peri, outwits the Master (who was disguised in the identity of the Valeyard), and exposes the corrupt Time Lord High Council who were responsible for stealing the Earth in Mysterious Planet. All charges against the Doctor are dropped (though he is, technically speaking, guilty).

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