1985. It was a tortuous time in the series' history. Its production had been placed on-hold after BBC Executives deemed that it had lost its creativity and credibility. Effectively, the series had been placed on 'trial' and was given one more chance to re-establish itself as being worthy of broadcast on BBC ONE.
From this traumatic time, delivered a fourteen episode story that would, ironically, mirror the potential 'summary execution' of the series if it was found guilty. Series Script Editor, Eric Saward's conceit of a THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD was prophetic, poking overt derision toward those BBC Executives who, it would seem by any means, wanted the series to whither & die, however such was the clumsiness of its structure and banal content even die-hard fans lost hope in the series remaining a fixture of BBC ONE. Bar one or two episodes, it was an undisputed calamity of ineptitude, so could the TARGET novelisations redeem THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD's reputation and garner a new set of fans?
Certainly, AUDIOGO's two-volume release of THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD's four separate novels is risky, and, even more so, to issue them as 'boxed-set' and not individually.
THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET - Terrance Dicks (1988) - read by Lynda Bellingham
MINDWARP - Phillip Martin (1989) - read by Colin Baker
TERROR OF THE VERVOIDS - Pip and Jane Baker (1988) - read by Bonnie Langford
THE ULTIMATE FOE - Pip and Jane Baker (1988) - read by Michael Jayston
So, volume one's double-header release, THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET and MINDWARP.
Returning to the Time Lord Court Room, Lynda Bellingham confidently reads/performs Terrance Dicks' novelisation of Robert Holmes' original screenplay. With that said, you would have thought that such an amalgamation of talent of two distinguished writers that the first four episodes of THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD would have heralded a thrilling, absorbing and dynamic adventure for the Sixth Doctor and Peri to be embroiled within at the start of the drama's SEASON 23. However, THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET remains a prime example of placid, flabby writing that aimlessly meanders with carelessness that at time is painful to read. In effect, it is a CLASSIC SERIES two-parter injected with a jelly-filling that plumps up the core story.
And there lays the problem that Bellingham's presentation. It's not her eloquent and vehement performance, crafting carefully delineated idiosyncratic & colourful characters at every turn of the page, but it is soporific content that is she's ploughing through. In this instance, the shortest straw had been drawn.
Certainly, Bellingham relishes bringing the caustic, sarcastic and flippant Sixth Doctor to life, and injecting a marginalisation and mild annoyingness with her characterisation of Peri Brown that was aptly realised throughout the broadcast version. Suitably, her Glitz and Dibber are delightfully as 'wide' as ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES' Derek and Rodney with a undercurrent of psychopathic militancy that was skimmed across with too much flippancy originally on-screen by Tony Selby and Glen Murphy.
The sound treatment (by Simon Power of MEON SOUND) attributed to Bellingham's voice as Drathro, the L3 Robot, instils a true chilling threat to the otherwise light-weight text; resonant, recalcitrant and irreconcilable.
Whist the first two-thirds of the novel is as pedestrian as old aged pensioner assailing an ice-coated pavement whilst wearing carpet slippers, it is the final third (disc three) that truly awakens this slumbering giant. Whilst the Court Room punctuations become less exasperating, Bellingham's reading rattles along with ascending momentum that will leave you breathless.
Take a leap of faith, it may not be taut or dynamic but allow Bellingham to guide you through the machinations and double-crossing that permeate the impossible planet of Ravalox.
Across a four-disc presentation, Colin Baker reads Phillip Martin's (own) novelisation of episode 5 to 8 of THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD, MINDWARP , with a relish and energy that becomes a tsunami of beguiling characterisation and joyous narrative to listen to. Surprisingly, this is Baker's first novelisation reading under the AUDIOGO brand, and, if this is the result, it shouldn't be the last.
Regally reassuring, Baker's Sixth Doctor is perfectly pitched as you would expect - terse, authoritative yet dutifully reverent -whilst the haplessly bemused Peri is marginally "up-scaled" to be more effective than her stereotypical televised characterisation. Throughout MINDWARP, Phillip Martin indulgently parachutes-in an array of conflicting characters that certainly Baker handles with an impressive deftness and athletic vocal agility that other readers in the DOCTOR WHO novelisation audio range would be directed to listen to before embarking on their own commission.
Baker's financially-focussed reptilian, Sil is thoroughly repulsive, though his iconic vocal 'cackle' is more reminiscent of BAGPUSS' Professor Yaffle than a vile, subservient Thoros Betan, however, the actor expertly mimics Sil's original strangulated vocal staccato rhythm that has ensured the iconic character's enduring fan appreciation. Naturally, Baker delivers a King Yrcanos gloriously ebullient yet - thankfully - restrained that melds into the story's development without being over-bearing or comical as the character had been in the televised version.
Interesting, MINDWARP seems to flit less between the machinations on Thoros Beta and the manipulations aboard the Time Lord Court Flagship, and this allows the action unfold at a more measured rate than THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET had, and, to that end, is far more enjoyable and appreciative.
DOCTOR WHO - THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD VOLUME ONE is a Curate's Egg, with, considering the writing talent of Robert Holmes, the first three-disc adventutre being the weakest, whilst Phillip Martin's tale of economic greed and the seeking of medically implanted Nirvana. Nevertheless, the release (along with expected VOLUME 2) ensures that the troubled all-too-short era of the (underrated) Sixth Doctor is not forgotten unceremoniously.