“And so they took it upon themselves to act like second-rate gods.” – The Doctor of the Time Lords
Pushing on ahead to try new things, we get this section of the Trial storyline where it starts to become clear that the story telling will not be entirely linear. We skip entire sequences at the behest of the court and we’re suddenly introduced to the notion that what we see in the Matrix may not be entirely true. Again, this plus the Doctor’s foggy memory leads to some confusion (much of it purposeful) which made casual viewers not really interested in the story. I quite like all of these elements myself. I am less enamored of the storyline, however, with its characters overacted bravado and heavy make-up. I also get quickly tired of the whiny character of Sil no matter how well played he is.
The visuals in this story were also intended to stand out and push the envelope. The use of paintbox to make the sea and sky odd colors was actually rather cutting edge at the time though perhaps a bit overdone. While I don’t like the Mentors as characters, the costuming is admittedly well done. There’s also a really nice shot of Yrcanos gloating in victory after destroying the computer as sparks and flashes swirl behind him. The appearance of poor Dorf changed into a half man, half wolf is especially striking. It’s interesting that they decided to give him the aspect of a mangy rat-like face with a mouth full of teeth that he can barely close. It’s much more frightening and hard to look at than a classic werewolf.
While the story doesn’t have a lot of complexity until the end when the Time Lords suddenly intervene and orchestrate events, there are some interesting or amusing little side moments like Sil so proud to wait at the bedside of his lord so he’ll be the first face he sees—only to have Kiv shrink back in revulsion at the sight of him. Or the little exchanges that highlight the Mentor culture of greed: “Then where will you be, eh? Dead. No, worse than that. Poor!” I also find it interesting that we think we see Peri gun down in episode three. She is soon revealed to be only stunned but I wonder if the writers did this on purpose to combat a rumor mill about her demise. It would be a good red herring if that were the case.
Being her last appearance, much of this story does focus on Peri. She becomes very resourceful and intuitive in her handling of other people, acting as a mediator with Yrcanos and figuring her way out of a lot of situations. Her pity and care for poor Dorf is key to later success. She stands bravely at the end when she thinks she is going to die alone, even mocking her captors. It’s such a shame to think that after her arc overcoming the abuse done by the newly regenerated Doctor and finally learning to trust him that it is all ripped away and she is suddenly and totally let down to the point that she says “What’s happened to you, Doctor? Why do you hate me so?…I used to think that you were different, that you cared for justice and truth and good. I can’t bear to look at what you are now.” Sadly, she seemingly dies never knowing that this wasn’t the case.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
Peri’s betrayal is hard to watch given her history with the Doctor. It’s especially cruel seeing her tortured on the rock and given a glimmer of hope by the suddenly sympathetic Doctor letting her know that he’s playing for time just as she kept assuming he must be, only to quickly realize he’s just trying to trick her.
What is truly unsettling in the story, however, is to see Peri arise with a shaven head and fierce look speaking in a harsh tone and cadence as the new body of Kiv. It’s wonderfully well-acted and creepy to see her that way and sad to know that the real Peri is gone.
There are missteps in the story—from the Raak’s costume being so bad that they decided to not even show it in the shot to the silly make-up worn by most of the characters. One has to shake one’s head at the gladiator clad slaves of Sil, especially when you realize that they are all black actors. I don’t know what the producers were thinking.