“The Ultimate Foe”is the fourth and last adventure of the twenty-third season, known by the global title “The Trial of a Time Lord”. which aired in 1986. “The Ultimate Foe” has the parts that go from thirteenth to fourteenth of this season followeing “Terror of the Vervoids” and it’s a two parts adventure written in part by Robert Holmes and in part by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Chris Clough.
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is still trying to understand how it is possible that the Matrix has been altered to defend himself against the Valeyard’s charges when Mel (Bonnie Langford) and Sabalom Glitz – already seen in “The Mysterious Planet” – enter the court. They say they were summoned and the Master appears on the screen claiming he was the one who brought them there to expose the Valeyard’s machinations also providing a shocking revelation about his true identity.
The Valeyard takes refuge in the virtual reality of the Matrix and the Doctor has to chase him to save his future, but what future really awaits him?
Due to the fact that this adventure is short this DVD is very rich in extras for a total of almost two hours. There are typical contents such as the BBC announcements for this adventure, production subtitles and a gallery of picture from it. Among the files in PDF format there’s also an excerpt from the magazine Zig Zag concering the production of “The Trial of a Time Lord”.
There are comments in the adventure alternative audio track by script editor Eric Saward. In the second audio alternative track there are the comments by protagonist Colin Baker, actor Tom Selby, director Chris Clough and writers Pip and Jane Baker.
The Making of “The Ultimate Foe”. A documentary on the production of this adventure that includes interviews with several people involved in its production.
Deleted and Extended scenes. About five minutes of deleted and extended scenes.
Trials and Tribulations. An extraordinary documentary about an hour long on the Sixth Doctor age with interviews with its protagonists including some archive ones with producer John Nathan-Turner. For “Doctor Who” fans this remarkable retrospective on that turbulent period for the series is one of the best extras ever produced.
1985 Hiatus. A number of reactions to the announcement of the temporary suspension of the series from that time.
Doctor in Distress. A music video produced at the time to promote the restart of the series after the BBC had decided to pause it.
Open Air. A show of that time that saw the confrontation between various members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, authors Pip and Jane Baker and producer John Nathan-Turner about the end of “The Trial of a Time Lord”.
Saturday Superstore. A show of the time when Colin Baker was answering telephone inquiries made by fans during the twenty-third anniversary of the series.
This adventure was to be written by Robert Holmes, unfortunately his health declined so much that he could produce only a first version of the first part and an outline of the second. The tragic death of the writer forced script editor Eric Saward to write the completion of the adventure following the outline prepared by Robert Holmes but producer John Nathan-Turner didn’t agree on the end.
Eric Saward had a personal relationship of friendship with Robert Holmes and felt compelled to defend his ideas: the disagreement with John Nathan-Turner was incurable and Saward resigned denying permission to use his script.
John Nathan-Turner was forced to instruct Pip and Jane Baker to write the last episode according to his directives in a few days. In the production of the classic series of “Doctor Who” it was normal that things were done in a hurry but even by the standards of those years those were extreme circumstances and inevitably the result is contrived and a bit confused.
Robert Holmes tried to put into this adventure many elements of the Fourth Doctor classic “The Deadly Assassin“, which he wrote a few years earlier: the Doctor on trial on Gallifrey, the fight with the Master in the Matrix, the hypocrisy of the Time Lord. Unfortunately if it was already hard to adequately develop a plot complicated by the presence of Valeyard in only two parts – “The Deadly Assassin” is composed of four parts – the sad need to hire other people to complete it following the Robert Holmes death made it impossible to make “The Ultimate Foe” an adventure comparable in quality to that classic.
The final discovery that Peri is alive and the images of his death were forged contributed to the negative feedback for this adventure: first of all it undermines the tragic ending of “Mindwarp” and the fact that Peri might have become a warrior-queen is in general considered a fact absurd and a fate worse than death.
The figure of producer John Nathan-Turner is controversial: his supporters see him as almost a hero who stood for “Doctor Who” by the BBC executive of those years who didn’t like the series, his critics see him as a control freak who never wanted to leave any decision to someone else. Probably both are at least partly true.
BBC executives of the ’80s were basically trying to destroy “Doctor Who” through a budget that allowed only minimal special effects that were often ridiculous when compared with other shows of those years.
The 5 million viewers who watched the first episodes of “The Trial of a Time Lord” had been seen as a failure and an excuse not to increase the series budget only to finance radical chic programs that had half of that audience.
At the end of that season however the BBC decided to continue the series but with another Doctor and Colin Baker was unceremoniously fired.
As a matter of fact the series wasn’t canceled only because its suspension had caused many protests that have made headlines in all British newspapers and the BBC executives feared a picketing by fans that would have increased the attention even more. Better then to slowly suffocate the series.
The Sixth Doctor had flaws, starting with his costume that represented the worst of the ’80s but we can suspect that Colin Baker paid with his sacking his open support for the campaign to bring back on the air “Doctor Who” that started immediately after its suspension.
The four-DVD boxed set containing the adventures of the season “The Trial of a Time Lord” – available on Amazon UK, Amazon Canada and Amazon USA – is one that “Doctor Who” fans must have not because they’re particularly great adventures but because it’s a key year in the history of the original series. You could even say that the various DVD extras are better than the adventures because they describe those years with the witnesses of the protagonists themselves.