Review [DW]: “Terror of the Vervoids”

23×3. Terror of the Vervoids
Writers: Pip and Jane Baker
Director: Chris Clough
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor mounts his defense by displaying an adventure from the future, in which he and new companion Mel Bush arrive on board the space liner Hyperion, only to become involved in a murder mystery as they discover that the scientist Doland is scheming to sell a plant-race known as Vervoids into slavery.

Review: At the level of a whodunit in space, “Terror of the Vervoids” mostly works, though it does get a bit overcomplicated in the final episode. The writers assemble a worthwhile cast of characters and slowly increase the stakes as the body count rises and the Doctor and Mel discover that some of the passengers are keeping secrets. The Vervoids don’t have much personality, but they are still portrayed with something of a tragic air, attacking based on their instinctively hostile view of animal life, and the Doctor clearly regrets that he wasn’t able to find a nonlethal way to stop their attacks. This is also Mel’s first serial, and while her fixation on physical fitness can feel gimmicky, she’s also appealingly proactive, even entering the fray without the Doctor on occasion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well in the context of the trial setup. For starters, I have to object to the entire notion of the Doctor using evidence from the future. Do the Time Lords normally access information on their own futures using the Matrix, and shouldn’t that have some pretty major effects on their civilization if they do? Wouldn’t the fact that the Doctor *has* a future point towards an acquittal or at least a more lenient sentence, given that the Valeyard has been pressing for execution? Will the Doctor remember having seen this when it actually happens in the future, and wouldn’t that potentially alter the course of events? In general, this seems like a misguided “wouldn’t it be cool if…” idea that should have been nixed before the script even got off the ground. Second, the Doctor suggests that the evidence will show that he “improves” and makes a point of the fact that he was explicitly asked for help by the Hyperion’s crew. The implication here would seem to be (though I suspect it won’t be borne out in future serials) that the Doctor will actually be taking a more reticent and conservative approach in the future, whereas I’d have preferred to see him defend a more proactive approach and argue that the Time Lords’ standards are too restrictive. As a “defense” to the metatextual trial taking place, this is actually a pretty weak and uninspiring argument.

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

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