Season 23

The Mysterious Planet. Mindwarp. Terror of the Vervoids, The Ultimate Foe.

Hang on, no. Make that The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, The Ultimate Foe, Time Incorporated.

That’s clearly wrong. It’s The Trial of a Time Lord 1-4, The Trial of a Time Lord 5-8,The Trial of a Time Lord 9-12 and The Trial of a Time Lord 13-14.

No, no, NO. It’s just one big story, The Trial of a Time Lord, no divisions, no individual parts.

Oh, season 23! How you tease…

What would we have done without Season 23? It (or its absence) gave us so much. A whole new set of ‘missing’ stories! Arguments about what the real stories were called! A TARDIS tin that could be used in a future DWM feature! (For those who can’t imagine a time before DVD, you need to know that the original VHS releases were put in a cardboard box inside a TARDIS tin with a picture of one of the Doctors on the bottom. Neither box nor tin fitted neatly alongside the jewel cases of all the other Doctor Who VHSes on your shelf and no one could afford to buy six sets to get one for each Doctor. Did the manufacturers not understand Doctor Who fans *at all*?) Endless speculation over Peri’s fate and Mel’s introduction! Imaginary comparisons between Robert Holmes’s plans for ending the season, Eric Saward’s plans for ending the season, and the season ending we actually got! A new entry in the fan lexicon (hiatus: surely we’re the only people who regularly use the word without adding ‘hernia’)!

There are a lot of problems with Season 23. When neither writer nor script editor know which bits of the story are real and which are the result of Matrix tampering, how on Earth is the poor viewer supposed to follow what’s going on? The unprecedented ‘previously on Doctor Who’ precredit sequences aren’t going to help anyone if the sense wasn’t there in the first place. And then, having characters making negative comments about the action they’re viewing is… foolhardy, shall we say. An open goal for any watching critics.

Oh, there are some wonderful moments in this season too, make no mistake. The opening model shot has often been praised. Sil returns. Episode 13’s gothic Victoriana is quite, quite lovely. Colin Baker and Michael Jayston are uniformly excellent. Crozier is a chilling villain and there’s BRIAN BLESSED. A Doctor Who murder mystery story is such a fun idea, it’s surprising it’s never really been done before. Peri’s exit is stunning: horrifying, memorable and upsetting.

Ah yes. Peri’s exit. There’s always a conflict between the demands of drama and desire. *Of course* we don’t want Peri to be dead. (Just as *of course* we’d like Donna to remember her adventures, or the Second Doctor to collect Jamie again.) Undoing the heartbreaking endings is ‘nice’, but it throws away all the dramatic impact retrospectively. Doctor Who is trying to have its cake and eat it, and just ends up with a few disappointingly stale crumbs.

Having cake and eating it is Season 23 all the way through. CAKE EATEN: Peri’s dead! DESIRE TO STILL HAVE CAKE DESPITE IT BEING ALREADY EATEN: But in case that upsets people, we’ll say that actually she’s a happy warrior queen. CAKE EATEN: This is the longest Doctor Who story of all time! DESIRE TO STILL HAVE CAKE DESPITE IT BEING ALREADY EATEN: But in case that’s too much for people we’re dividing it into four bits. CAKE EATEN: There’s nothing you can do to stop the catharsis of spurious morality! DESIRE TO STILL HAVE CAKE DESPITE IT BEING ALREADY EATEN: oh, actually, turns out there is something you can do.

It’s the wasted opportunities that grate the most. A story about the Doctor on trial should have been amazing – it’s not as though he hasn’t done a few morally dubious things in his time. A companion who leaves with the Doctor before he’s met her! Imagine what timey-wimey stuff Steven Moffat could have done with that. Tom Chadbon’s back but isn’t playing Duggan – that’s almost as wasted an opportunity as Jacqueline Hill returning and not putting her in a cardie. The villain turns out to be an evil version of the Doctor himself – Amy’s Choice shows just how effective that idea could be. The Doctor not being able to trust his own memories is a scary concept – he’s the hero, both he and we have to be able to trust he knows what he’s doing. The pairing of the Sixth Doctor and Peri is much more comfortable this season, but we’re barely allowed to see them enjoying each other’s company.
But of course, the most wasted opportunity of all: “Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.” The Sixth Doctor had so much more potential. This shouldn’t have been goodbye.

Memorable Moments

1. “Well, I suppose there is a billion to one chance there was a place called Marble Arch on Ravalox.” Peri and the Doctor make an upsetting discovery. The Trial of a Time Lord Part One
2. “Warm. Not cold. My body is warm. Wonderful. Legs. Toes. Toes wriggling.” Oh my. Chills down the spine. Peri loses her hair, but gains one of the most effective companion departures ever. The Trial of a Time Lord Part Eight
3. “In your house in Pease Pottage, you had a large garden. What did you do with the plants and weeds you uprooted?” The Doctor and Mel discover the Vervoids’ version of a compost heap. The Trial of a Time Lord Part Twelve
4. “Should you unexpectedly die, our blessed proprietor, Mr J J Chambers, insists he inherits your remaining lives.” Dickensian bureaucracy inside the Matrix. The Trial of a Time Lord Part Thirteen