Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet

The Trial of a Time Lord” is an episode (or sequence of episodes, depending how one thinks about it) that I remember vividly from when I was younger. I also remember before I saw it, a friend of mine telling me some things about it that were so mind-bending I was sure he was lying. But he wasn’t.

As I watched the first four parts of “The Trial of a Time Lord” – known as “The Mysterious Planet” – it dawned on me that there is only one other Doctor I could imagine offering anything quite like the combination of belligerence, mockery, insults, deference, and sarcasm in his outbursts during the course of the trial. It is the Eleventh, played by Matt Smith. I never really thought of the continuity between those Doctors until now. It is a shame that Colin Baker’s Doctor is the favorite of very few. His role both in bringing back much of the original Doctor as well as preserving key elements of the subsequent ones, and uniting them in a single persona, is pivotal, in ways that I suspect are underappreciated by fans.

If you like Matt Smith’s Doctor, definitely give Colin Baker’s a try, if you haven’t already.

I also was struck when reading today about a rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch will have a role on Doctor Who soon, that he might make an excellent Valeyard.

There are lots of interesting elements in “The Trial of a Time Lord.” A number of them relate to religion. There is a Biblical reference (to being turned into a pillar of salt) made by the Doctor. He makes the quip when referring to an entity known as “the immortal” who turns out to be a robot, and so we have the theme of science being misunderstood by primitive people in religious terms. There is also the turning of a black light converter into a totem pole by surviving humans, who also believe that space travel angered the gods, causing a catastrophe (a solar flare) that damaged the Earth and killed most of Earth’s inhabitants. The few surviving books are regarded as sacred texts – they are Moby Dick, The Water Babies, and UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose. It is a nice touch that they didn’t have all the surviving books be classics. What history leaves behind can indeed be haphazard, and open to misinterpretation later on.

The Doctor also gets into a debate with the robot about the relative value of humans (“organics”) and robots, suggesting that those who programmed the robots neglected to include moral values.

In relation to religion, there are two key quotes from the Doctor that are really interesting and worth highlighting: “Nothing can be eternal” and “The purpose of life is too big to be knowable.”

Have you seen “The Trial of a Time Lord“? If you have never seen it but are a fan of the current show, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend it. It will remind you of everything that makes classic Doctor Who so enjoyable. And the initial sequence has the kind of special effects the show long lacked.


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