Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts nine and ten)

Tonight, our son let us know he’s like most of fandom and is not impressed by this epic-length storyline. He doesn’t like this segment of the story, because it’s too scary, “and I don’t like the other two DVDs of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ either!” And that’s not true, because he laughed all the way through the last two episodes during all of King Yrcanos’s shouting, but the dreariness of these two has retroactively turned him against the rest.

Well, I may not care for the other two DVDs we’ve watched either, but they’re art compared to this chunk. It’s written by Pip and Jane Baker, and because they were seemingly incapable of giving any of their characters any kind of individual dialogue, everybody talks with the same voice, and it’s a voice that does crossword puzzles all day. Arthur Hewlett is here, briefly, and so is Honor Blackman, unfortunately, because she is playing to the rafters. Nobody wants to say anything bad about the actress who played Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, but she really is awful in this. Bizarrely, this story is set on a 30th Century cruise between planets, and the only passengers we see in this have speaking parts. The passenger lounge should be absolutely full of people, but I guess there just wasn’t any budget at all for even a single extra. It’s really, really noticeable.

Monday morning quarterbacking again, but if we must have had the whole season dealing with this one story, I really would have prefered if they dropped this dopey “here’s an adventure from my future” angle and just spent episodes nine through [spoiler!] dealing with the Valeyard and what he’s up to. That’s a plot that doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it needs, while this totally boring murder mystery drags on.

Joining the cast this time, it’s the odd situation of the Doctor introducing us to a companion that he has yet to meet. She’s called Melanie, and she’s played, to the abject horror of many SRS BSNSS fans in Britain, by Bonnie Langford. Most of the Who companions up to this point were played by unknowns near the beginning of their career, but Langford had a reputation. She had been a child star – I reminded our son that we saw her in Wombling Free – and was really successful in musical theater. She’d been playing Peter Pan when she was cast as Melanie. But a decade before Who, she had played an infamously bratty little girl in a popular series called Just William who was always shrieking that she would “thcweam and thcweam until she was thick.” I think she might have been similar to Angelica in the cartoon Rugrats.

Last year, when we watched that surprisingly good episode of Buck Rogers that guest starred Gary Coleman, I thought there might be a comparison. In the late eighties, there was a contingent of British Who fandom that desperately wanted the show to be taken more seriously – by the producers and by the public – and was exasperated by the show hiring sitcom stars and showbiz celebrities. I was reminded of how, when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at the memory of Buck using the “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout” kid, and I think that Bonnie Langford hit a similar chord. Remember we’re just a year away from the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation at this point, and no matter how much people may like Wil Wheaton now, the news that there was going to be a kid genius on the show made people write angry screeds to the letters page of Starlog whining that the Enterprise didn’t need a Boxey Adama.

As for me, I had no idea who Bonnie Langford was, I still haven’t seen Just William, and as soon as Pip and Jane Baker stop writing her dialogue, I’m going to like Melanie just fine.

One thought on “Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts nine and ten)

  1. I know that this isn’t an original observation, but Bonnie Langford as Mel strikes me as a British Sandy Duncan. Being unfamiliar with her non-Who work, if I were to have a complaint about her acting, it’s that it seems to be pitched towards “children’s theater. “

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