Review [DW]: “The Mysterious Planet”

23×1. The Mysterious Planet
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Nicholas Mallett
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor is summoned to Time Lord space station where he faces an investigation – which soon becomes a trial – over his alleged habit of interfering in the business of other species, with a Time Lord known only as the Valeyard serving as prosecutor. The first piece of evidence concerns a recent trip to Ravalox, where he and Peri encounter a small group of humans undeground under the rule of the robot Drathro and another above-ground living a relatively primitive existence – and discover that Ravalox is actually Earth.

Review: The twenty-third season of Doctor Who, aired entirely under the title of “The Trial of a Time Lord,” seems to have a checkered reputation, but it actually gets off to a solid start with “The Mysterious Planet” (for clarity’s sake, I’m going to be referring to each set of episodes by their informal titles). After the somewhat labored setup of many a Season 22 serial, we get some creative worldbuilding here, with the underground humans believing that the surface is still dangerous and honoring three randomly preserved texts as sacred scriptures, while treating Drathro as an “Immortal.” The mercenaries Sabalom Glitz and his somewhat simple-minded accomplice Dibber add an element of danger and unpredictability to the proceedings, their presence also hinting that the serial’s events are part of some larger conspiracy that the Valeyard does not want discussed in court. Meanwhile, the creative team have mercifully toned down the bickering that characterized much of last season’s interactions between the Doctor and Peri, with the Doctor himself playing a more conventionally heroic role. (The script also turns cleverly self-referential when the Inquisitor asks the Valeyard if it’s necessary to see the more violent scenes in court, and the whole notion of the Doctor standing trial dovetails with the fact that Doctor Who was itself on thin ice with the BBC at the time.) If there’s one drawback, it’s that the Doctor’s courtroom outbursts and namecalling towards the Valeyard (whom he calls “Barnyard” and “Scrapyard,” among other things) do start to seem a bit childish and petulant after a while. But overall, this is a nice return to form after a flawed and uneven preceding season.

Rating: *** (out of four)

Review [DW]: “Revelation of the Daleks”

22×6. Revelation of the Daleks
Writer: Eric Saward
Director: Graeme Harper
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Necros, where Davros has been exploiting an operation known as Tranquil Repose – ostensibly providing funeral services as well as cryogenic suspension – to create new Daleks and gain control over galactic food supplies, just as local businesswoman Kara has dispatched an assassin to kill Davros and rebel Daleks attempt to capture him.

Review: I’ll say this much: “Revelation of the Daleks” is not predictable. Whether that’s because it’s creative or because it’s just a mess, I’m still not entirely sure (actually, I think it’s probably both). I can’t off the top of my head recall another Doctor Who serial where a flamboyant DJ blows up Daleks by blasting rock-and-roll at them with a sonic transmitter, where said flamboyant DJ seems to have better surveillance capabilities than whatever passes for a security force, where a subplot revolves around a somewhat simple-minded assistant’s crush on her womanizing boss, where Davros has dialogue concerning financial fraud and deceives assassins with an illusion of his own head suspended in a vat, or where we discover that people have apparently been ground up for protein and secretly marketed as food. As you might expect from such a description, this one is all over the place tonally, veering from dark comedy to action/adventure to horror, while the various characters and their subplots randomly crash into each other and/or stick around just long enough to get killed (yes, this is yet another mid-’80s Doctor Who bloodbath). In fact, the Doctor and Peri take the entire first 45-minute episode meandering their way to where most of the action is taking place, and they don’t really drive the plot so much as just get carried along by it. Speaking of the plot, I should also mention that the Daleks are having some sort of civil war, and that Tranquil Repose can’t fulfill its promise because of overpopulation and scarce resources for would-be revivals, and that two other gun-toting renegades have broken into Tranquil Repose because one of them is looking for her father’s body, and that the Doctor becomes worried that he’ll never regenerate again when he finds a statute of himself with his current incarnation’s face…and that none of this really coheres into a satisfying whole as the script jumps around from one thing to another. While this is certainly an improvement over “The Two Doctors” and “Timelash,” it’s just too disjointed and contrived for me to give it a full recommendation.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)