Trial of a Time Lord - The End?


Tony Cross rounds off our day of articles celebrating The Trial of a Time Lord with his memories of the end of an era and the beginning of something much more...

So, The Trial of a Time Lord ended.

And then the Colin Baker era came to an end.

This is not the place to outline the BBC managerial shenanigans that led to Colin’s ugly departure. Nor the reasons why there is no proper Colin Baker to Sylvester McCoy regeneration. Other people have spoken about this in detail and other people will discuss it again.

I will say that the BBC’s treatment of Colin Baker upsets me to this day. There’s a reason for this: Colin Baker is the reason I am a Doctor Who fan.

I had been watching Doctor Who since 1977 (when I might have been too young to appreciate it properly.) Tom Baker is and always will be MY Doctor. But I hadn’t ‘graduated’ to proper fandom by that point. After all I knew no other Doctor Who ‘fans’ at this point, apart from my family. It took a change of schools, where I met my friend Rick. Rick – and Colin Baker – arrived at the perfect moment. I was getting to the age where Doctor Who slowly loses its grip on a lot of people. I watched the Peter Davison era pass by but often not live. Other things were getting my attention.

Then came Colin Baker. Rick told me there was a new Doctor coming. I had no idea. So, I am (almost) the only person who has stronger memories of The Twin Dilemma than The Caves of Androzani. I still remember the shock of Colin’s new Doctor: bright, loud, dangerous and acerbic. This was not a cuddly Doctor, but why should the Doctor be cuddly. I’ve often thought the best description of the Doctor doesn’t come from Doctor Who but is from a film The Prophecy. It is not about The Doctor, it’s about angels but I think the sentiment applies: "Did you ever notice how in the Bible, whenever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like...Would you ever really want to see an angel? "

The Colin Baker era of Doctor Who has many problems but Colin was never one of them. His Doctor is Doctor-ish. There is, underneath the gruff exterior, the hearts of the Doctor. This is a Doctor that will live up to the Second Doctor’s manifesto, that there are some corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things. And they must be fought.

So, after his first season I was looking forward to his second. Even as I gradually got involved in the poisonous atmosphere that pervaded parts of Doctor Who fandom at the time. It’s fashionable now to say that the internet has bought trolls and haters out into the light but Doctor Who fandom in the mid-80s didn’t need the internet. It had DWB. This was a fandom that had grown to loathe its own programme so much that it was prepared to burn down the whole thing to get rid of those people – mainly JNT – that were making the programme that wasn’t the way they wanted it to be, which was probably what it was like when they were ten. But it couldn’t be like that. A programme that voluntarily sinks into amber is going to die.

Whatever was happening to Doctor Who it wasn’t good. The BBC seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. Doctor Who was being left behind by the special effects of film science-fiction because it made the mistake of trying to compete. The BBC tried to ditch it. Got caught up in a publicity storm that resulted in a terrible single, a tabloid spasm and the pretence that it wasn’t cancelled but on ‘hiatus.’

During the hiatus, thanks to Rick, I began exploring the Doctor Who back catalogue courtesy of sixth generation audio copies of Hartnell and Troughton stories or pirated VHS copies of Australian or US television. But I ate it all up.

By the time Trial popped up I was ready.

My memories of watching it at the time were that I loved it. I even liked Mindwarp, which I have now come to loathe. Here was Colin taking on not just the villain of the week but his own people, although I remember being uncomfortable about how the Sixth Doctor was being written as cruel. I remember being distraught when we found our Peri had died. (And I still refuse to accept the tacked on ‘happy’ ending. How is pairing off poor Peri with that raging lump King Yarcanos a happy ending for Peri in any television world except Doctor Who, which could have the emotional range of a lump of coal when it wasn’t properly focused.)

I remember then being happy when it turned out this was all a conspiracy. That the Doctor had been set up and some of what we’ve seen might not have been true. The Doctor WAS The Doctor and he was going to save us all. Again.

Peri had gone. Mel was in. Poor Bonnie Langford who, after JNT, became a favoured target of those who hated modern Doctor Who. I’ve always thought Bonnie Langford was badly treated. Not just by a set of angry fans but by the production team. Having decided to cast Langford they basically put no thought into giving her a character. History has proved Langford is a good actor. Given a bit more to do than bounce around and be Tigger to the Doctor’s Eeyore then we might have got a decent companion. Truth is I prefer Terror of the Vervoids to Mindwarp and I think Langford’s energy helps push everything along nicely.


Then Trial ended.

And Colin Baker’s era ended.

I was nearly sixteen when it finished on December 4th but by the end I was a Doctor Who fan proper. I bought Doctor Who Magazine and DWB, I’d started collecting Target books & autographs, I talked about Doctor Who a lot. Something that I still do to the chagrin of my friends and family. It was Colin Baker’s era that did this. I think it is something to do with the fact that loving Doctor Who was now supporting a lost cause and I’ve always been a sucker for lost causes.

I like Colin Baker’s Doctor a lot too, despite the BBC’s own attempts to undermine him wherever possible. I like that Colin still cares (perhaps a little too much sometimes.) I like that Big Finish have given him a second lease of life that has allowed the Sixth Doctor to be the Doctor he could have been. I like that when I met Colin Baker in High Wycombe W. H. Smith’s he was kind and friendly. I like that he was happy to sign autographs after the stage play, when Jon Pertwee wasn’t.

All these are personal reasons for loving Colin Baker’s era of Doctor Who but what can we do except base our love of any kind of artistic endeavour on personal feelings. But I remember I never missed an episode of Trial. I never missed an episode of Colin Baker’s Doctor. Yes, I wish things could have been better. I wish there had been more money. I wish the BBC hadn’t been run by people who didn’t like or care about Doctor Who.

But truth is, I didn’t care. By the time, Trial of a Time Lord was over, I was lost. If Doctor Who was a phase I was supposed to grow out of Trial put an end to that.

Images - BBC