"The Mysterious Planet" is the title that has been given to the first four episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord, the season-long storyline that constituted Season Twenty Three. This story also brought to an end the show’s first official hiatus.
When it was announced, in February 1985, that the start of Season Twenty Three would be postponed from January to September 1986, Producer John Nathan-Turner and Script Editor Eric Saward considered salvaging at least some of the stories that had already being prepared for the new year - albeit with significant alterations.
This proved to be difficult due to all the scripts in progress having to be modified for the more traditional twenty-five minute length - after it was decided to not to continue with the forty-five-minute episodes. Also it was felt that the show had become too violent, and this element needed to be replaced with more humour. Therefore the fourteen episodes that make up The Trial of a Time Lord season was a replacement, after the 18-month hiatus, for the original aborted Season Twenty Three.
As well as abandoning the original planned stories a decision was made by the BBC to reduce the number of episodes for Season Twenty Three from twenty six to just fourteen. This meant that John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward needed to approach the format of this season more creatively than in the past - and so the idea of the entire season consisting of The Doctor being put on trial by the Time Lords - effectively mirroring the show’s real-life status where the programme itself was on trial at the BBC.
This first story bore the working titles "Wasteland", "The Robots of Ravolox" and finally "The Mysterious Planet". It was, however, presented on screen as parts one to four of The Trial of a Time Lord season of stories, rather than under an individual story heading, though "The Mysterious Planet" is the name most commonly used for the first four episodes that make up the first story of The Trial of a Time Lord season.
The structure of this season was inspired by Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, with The Valeyard and The Doctor using adventures from The Doctor’s past, present and future as evidence. With "The Mysterious Planet" therefore reflecting the ‘past’.
Robert Holmes was chosen to write "The Mysterious Planet", along with the final story of this season. Robert Holmes had recently contributed the Season Twenty Two story "The Two Doctors" and would have authored "Yellow Fever and How to Cure It" for the original Season Twenty Three.
On completing his scripts these were passed to Head of Drama Jonathan Powell for routine approval. With no reply forthcoming, Robert Holmes started to write the season’s final story. However, when Jonathan Powell finally issued his comments, and they were hardly complimentary especially with regards to its humorous content (seemingly at odds with Michael Grade’s wishes that this was to become a more predominant feature in Doctor Who), the level of The Doctor's involvement in the events on Ravolox, and the gradual introduction of the trial scenario. In Robert Holmes’ original drafts, the fact that The Doctor is before the courts is not made clear until Part Two.
This last minute indictment of this story meant that Robert Holmes would have to suspend work on the season’s final story to return to a set of scripts he had believed were long since finished. Eric Saward was also livid believing that Jonathan Powell was demonstrating a lack of respect for the veteran writer. To make matters worse, first-time director Nicholas Mallett - who had been a Production Unit Manager on Blake's 7 before helming episodes of Crossroads and EastEnders amongst other shows - had already begun work on the story. Jonathan Powell however, was able to ne convinced that only minimal changes to Robert Holmes’ scripts were necessary - the major modification being that the trial scenario would now be made clear right from the very start of Part One.
This story was the last complete Doctor Who story written by Robert Holmes. Its plot is similar to Robert Holmes’ first contribution to the show, the 1968/69 Second Doctor story "The Krotons". In both stories, an alien machine subjugates a humanoid civilization and forces its brightest young people into its service.
Along with the Sixth Doctor, The Valeyard and The Inquisitor are present for all fourteen parts that make up The Trial of a Time Lord season. Both of these characters (The Valeyard at this point was intended to be an evil future incarnation of The Doctor, as implied by his name, an old word meaning ‘Doctor of Law’) were devised by John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward. As both appeared throughout the season, and so took on a higher priority than would normally have been the case, John Nathan-Turner decided to cast these key roles.
To play The Valeyard, John Nathan-Turner chose Michael Jayston, a veteran actor with numerous credits on stage, film and television, including the movies Nicholas and Alexandria and Zulu Dawn and the television series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Callan and The Power Game.
The actress chosen, by John Nathan-Turner, to play the part of The Inquisitor was Lynda Bellingham, who had appeared in such programmes as The Sweeney and General Hospital as well as in the long-running series of television commercials for Oxo stock cubes.
This story introduces the character of Sabalom Glitz (played by Tony Selby). John Nathan-Turner also cast this character as he was aware that there was a possibility this character may return in the final story of this season. As well as returning in "The Ultimate Foe" - the final two episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord season, Sabalom Glitz also appeared in the 1987 Seventh Doctor story "Dragonfire".
Actress Joan Sims, who played the part of Queen Katryca, was a popular and well-known comedy actress in the Carry On... film series.
Glen Murphy, better known for his starring role in the LWT fire service drama series London's Burning, played Sabalom Glitz’s sidekick Dibber.
David Rodigan, who played Broken Tooth, was better known as David ‘Roots’ Rodigan, a reggae music DJ on London’s Capital Radio.
Roger Brierley, the actor credited as Drathro, was originally supposed to wear the robot costume and physically play the role, but found he could not work in such a confined space. Therefore Visual Effects Assistant Paul McGuiness, who had helped design the costume, stepped in to perform as the robot while Roger Brierley read his lines off-camera.
Actor Tom Chadbon, who played the part of Merdeen, previously played detective Duggan in the 1979 Fourth Doctor story "City of Death".
Location work was carried out in Hampshire at the Butser Ancient Farm Project - a replica of an Iron Age settlement - and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Country Park. This location footage was recorded on Outside Broadcast (OB) video tape instead of film as had usually been the practice for the previous 22 years. This meant that beginning with this story the show was now completely produced on videotape (with the exception, in this story, of a brief special effects sequence at the very beginning of Part One). The use of OB for exteriors would continue for the remainder of the original run of the show, until its end in 1989.
For a strong hook, to start off the new season, John Nathan-Turner agreed to spend more than £8,000 on a forty-five second model sequence, utilising what was then the most sophisticated motion-controlled camera available. (Fortunately, some of the cost would be offset by the fact that the portions of this footage would be reused as establishing shots throughout the whole season). This was the most expensive special effects sequence used in the original run of the show. This sequence depicts the Time Lord Space Station orbiting in space and then dragging the TARDIS inside via the use of a tractor beam. The opening model shot that was transmitted was actually shorter than what was originally filmed.
This special effects sequence would be the last shot-on-film footage made for Doctor Who until the 1996 Eighth Doctor film "Doctor Who: The Movie". Ironically, the Fox network recycled this footage for its promotional advertisements for the film (even though it was not included in the movie itself). Technically, disregarding the television movie, this was the last shot-on-film footage ever shot for Doctor Who. As from the show’s revival in 2005 videotape is used which is later processed to look like film.
Dominic Glynn, a young freelance musician was commissioned to provide the incidental music for "The Mysterious Planet". Dominic Glynn was also commissioned to rearrange the opening title music - although Dominic Glynn was only given five days to complete this task. His new score for the opening theme was the shortest lived, lasting this season alone (not counting the unused 1973 version by Delia Derbyshire and Paddy Kingsland). Some saw it as an improvement on the Peter Howell version, while others criticised it for being ‘too quiet’ or ‘not scary enough’. It has since been used on the majority of the Big Finish Productions audio stories featuring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.
It was during the recording of this story that Eric Saward decided to resign from his position as Script Editor. This was prompted by the many pressures under which Eric Saward found himself, his faltering rapport with John Nathan-Turner, the illness of his good friend Holmes, the perceived hostility of the Head of Drama and significant problems that were being faced with the final six episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord season. John Nathan-Turner was therefore forced to take over the script editor’s duties in addition to his own until a replacement could be found.
It was during rehearsals for the second studio block that Nicholas Mallett became worried that there was not enough material in parts three and four. This prompted John Nathan-Turner (due to Eric Saward’s absence) to quickly write an extra scene of Broken Tooth and Balazar arguing and also to extend some of the latter courtroom scenes.
Unfortunately, problems were encountered, on what should have been the final studio recording day, when it was discovered that the giant screen, on which The Valeyard’s evidence was to be presented, had first been delivered to the wrong studio and then it was found to be too large. With the resulting delays, the scene of The Doctor arriving on the space station could not be recorded and so these were recorded as part of the final studio day for the recording of "Mindwarp" – the second story of The Trial of a Time Lord season.
Despite Nicholas Mallett’s fears, Part Four actually overran its allotted time, as did Part One. To compensate for this several scenes were removed or trimmed, including some material from the courtroom. This included what should have been an additional trial scene, in which The Valeyard observes The Doctor revealing confidential Gallifreyan information to Peri and The Inquisitor asking The Doctor why he visited Ravolox in the first place. Also lost, during Part Four, was The Valeyard’s pronouncement that Humker and Tandrell would have repaired the system problem themselves were it not for The Doctor’s interference, and The Doctor noting that the situation on Ravolox had endangered the entire universe.
This story takes place on a space station and the planet Ravolox - which turns out is actually Earth, two million years after the 20th century. The reason why Earth has become Ravalox, as well as the reason why only part of Earth was affected by the fireball, is explained in "The Ultimate Foe", the final story of this season.
The Earth was also briefly moved from its location in the 21st century. (see the 2008 Tenth Doctor story "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End"). While in "The Ultimate Foe", it is revealed that the Earth was moved by the Time Lords using a magnetron, in "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End", it is revealed that the Daleks moved Earth with their version of the device, although the story also established that a single TARDIS, operating at full power and with a full compliment of crew, is capable of moving the planet (albeit with a little help from the Cardiff rift). Gallifrey eventually gets its ‘comeuppance’ when it is relocated briefly to Earth’s solar system in the 2009/2010 Tenth Doctor story "The End of Time".
The Cloister Bell can be head ringing as the TARDIS is drawn to a Time Lord space station.
At the beginning of this story, when taken out of time, The Doctor suffers from amnesia and he can’t remember where he left Peri.
The Doctor is charged with conduct unbecoming a Time Lord, and transgressing the First Law of Time. It is revealed that the First Law of Time refers to the well-documented Time Lord policy of non-interference, as opposed to specifically forbidding a Time Lord meeting a past or future incarnation and therefore interfering with his own history, as stated in earlier stories.
The Doctor carries, in his pockets: a torch, an oil can, a paper mask, a teddy bear, and a bag of sweets.
The Inquisitor and The Valeyard are heard to refer to The Doctor’s earlier trial that was seen at the end of the 1969 Second Doctor story "The War Games". In this story The Inquisitor mentions The Doctor having ‘been on trial already for offences of this nature’. Although not referenced directly, the sentence in question was the forced regeneration of the Second Doctor and his subsequent exile to Earth. In response, The Valeyard contends that the High Council were ‘too lenient’. It is not clear if he is referring to the actual sentence that resulted from that trial or the High Council in allowing The Doctor’s sentence to be quashed after the 1973 story "The Three Doctors".
At one point The Doctor claims that he cannot be on trial as he is Lord President of Gallifrey, which The Inquisitor, when replying, announces that he had been removed for neglecting his duties.
The fact that The Doctor has been deposed by the time of this story doesn’t stop him from later using the title in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks".
Some time seems to have elapsed since "Revelation of the Daleks" - the previous story - judging by The Doctor and Peri’s relationship which is less abrasive in this story than in the previous season. Both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant wanted to show how travelling together had made their characters less combative and argumentative and that the relationship between them would have matured between seasons. Both this and the changes in their appearances, particularly Peri’s hairstyle and mode of dress suggest a long gap between this story and "Revelation of the Daleks" and allowing for many ‘unseen’ adventures in the spin-off media to be placed there.
Exactly how much time passed for the characters during the show’s 18-month hiatus has never been established. To confuse matters in this story The Doctor is heard to states that he is 900 years old, the same age that was given in "Revelation of the Daleks". However, during "The Ultimate Foe" Melanie Bush, his then current travelling companion, states The Doctor’s age as ‘900-odd’ suggesting this is an approximation.
At one point The Doctor is heard to nearly reveal his surname, for the only time in the entire show, but is interrupted when he says ‘by Dr...’ - so indicating that his title precedes a longer, Gallifreyan name (see also the 1966 First Doctor story "The War Machines").
In Part Three, when The Doctor is recovering from being captured by the service robot, he does an impression of the Third Doctor and calls Peri ‘Sarah Jane’ - a reference to his former companion Sarah Jane Smith. This occurs when The Doctor says the line ‘My head hurts abominably, Sarah Jane!). He is even heard to use the famous Doctor Who phrase: ‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’.
During the scene when Sabalom Glitz and Dibber come to a locked door, Glitz assesses that the only way through the door is to blast through it. He is then heard to say ‘Five rounds, rapid ought to do the trick’ This is a version of The Brigadier’s most famous lines that was heard in the 1971 Third Doctor story "The Dæmons".
The evidence is shown from images taken from The Matrix, the repository of all knowledge. The Matrix can access experiences from all Time Lords.
The Tribe of the Free have had several visits from space travelling plunderers before. Knowledge of The Matrix theft, and that Ravolox is Earth, seems to be widespread. Their earth god is Haldron and they use Ensen guns (presumable stolen from previous travellers).
The three sacred books of Marb Station are: ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville, ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley, and ‘UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose’ by ‘H.M. Stationery Office’. The underground dwellers call their world UK Habitat.
It is revealed that Sabalom Glitz knows some Latin, and lots of Polari (see the 1973 Third Doctor story "Carnival of Monsters"), has been to prison many times, seen many psychiatrists and comes from a polygamous society. He knows of the Time Lords, and is wanted in six galaxies. He is from Salostophus, in the constellation of Andromeda. His currency is the Grotzi (plural Grotzis).
Sabalom Glitz’s return in the final story of this season, and later in "Dragonfire", makes him (along with the Cybermen, the Daleks and Davros) the most-recurrent, non-leading character during the 1980’s.
Drathro is also from Andromeda (judging by the Sabalom Glitz’s familiarity with the robot type) and has heard of Gallifrey.
In the Big Finish Productions audio story "The Dark Flame" it is explained that ‘black light’ is not ordinary ultraviolet light, but energy from quantum meta-fluctuations in the space/time continuum.
During this story mention is made of blind Speelsnapes (see "Revelation of the Daleks").
The train guards’ helmets were originally created for the troopers for the 1982 Fifth Doctor story "Earthshock".
One of the myths circulating amongst fans is that the unnamed character ‘The Inquisitor’ is Flavia, who last seen in the Twentieth Anniversary special "The Five Doctors" and has presumably regenerated. This question remains unanswered in terms of the televised episodes and spin-off works however, give her a different name, Darkel.
Another myth that circulated during the run up to the start of this story was while shooting publicity photographs for this season, and also when doing television interviews promoting the season, Colin Baker sported a beard. This therefore led to the mistaken assumption, by the media and fans, that The Doctor would be bearded during this and the other stories.
While listed as a single story "The Mysterious Planet", and the three others that make up The Trial of a Time Lord season of stories, are in fact one long story making this the longest Doctor Who story, with two more episodes than the 1965/66 First Doctor story "The Daleks' Master Plan" which is made up of twelve episodes. All four parts, that make up The Trial of a Time Lord season, has fourteen episodes, if taken altogether.
Realising that viewers might have trouble following a fourteen-part story, Nathan-Turner began writing continuity announcements to be aired before each instalment, starting with Part Two. Unfortunately, the first such broadcast did not occur until Part Three, and even then only a synopsis of Part One was inadvertently narrated.
The first story of Season Twenty Three.
The first appearance in the show of The Valeyard played by Michael Jayston.
The first appearance in the show of Sabalom Glitz played by Tony Selby.
The first use of Outside Broadcast (OB) video tape instead of film for location footage.
Dominic Glynn's first involvement in the show providing the incidental music.