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)

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