The Ultimate Foe – 1986 – S23 – E4/4

imageNumber : Season 23, episode 4 of 4.

Which One : The Doctor faces his ultimate foe; himself.

Cast : The Doctor : Colin Baker
Mel : Bonnie Langford
The Valeyard : Michael Jayston
The Master : Anthony Ainley
Sabalom Glitz : Tony Selby
The Inquisitor : Linda Bellingham
Mr Popplewell : Geoffery Hughes
Keeper Of The Matrix : James Bree

Written By : Robert Holmes/Eric Saward (1st part) & Pip and Jane Baker/JNT (2nd part).

Produced By : JNT

First UK Broadcast : 29 November – 6 December 1986.

Length : 1 x 25 & 1 x 29 minute parts.

Plot : The Doctor’s trial is cancelled, when he learns that the Valeyard is infact a dark reflection of himself – in league with the Master and persues them both into the digital world of The Matrix.

Whats good : The Valeyard is a brilliant concept for a Who villain, as a more ruthless version of the Doctor. The dark Dickensian feel to the episode, is a nice suspenseful touch.

Whats bad : The second part feels rushed and the (altered) outcome is not as effective as what had been originally planned.

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Review With Spoilers : The Ultimate Foe is the 4th and final episode in the Trial Of A Timelord season, it is also shorter – at only 2 episodes.

The Doctor discovers that his prosecutor; the Valeyard – is infact a shadowy reflection of the Doctor’s own personality, somewhere between his 12th and final regeneration.

As a result, the trial collapses and the Valeyard escapes into the digital world of the Timelord Matrix; with the Doctor, Mel and Glitz in pursuit.

The Matrix is much like its Warchowski counterpart and the rules of reality are turned on their head. The Doctor is attacked by a mass of disembodied hands in quicksand on a beach. A mysterious Dickensian character called Mr Popplewell, keeps appearing in every location that the Doctor ventures, sporting riddles and puzzles.

The Master is also back. Initially, aiding the Valeyard but soon realising that his new protege is out of control and potentially more dangerous than him; causing him to side with the Doctor – instead.

Whilst part 1 builds to a satisfying cliffhanger of; how can the Doctor ever hope to outwit a more ruthless version of himself? Part 2 resolves this conundrum in a less than satisfying way and envisages the Valeyard’s intentions as wanting to blow up the Gallifreyian High Council.

The reason for the mis-mash between the two episodes was that – original writer Robert Holmes died before penning a second part. A replacement script by script-editor Eric Saward was abandoned, after he resigned and refused its use – in his absence.

Therefore, during pre-production and rehearsals – husband and wife team Pip and Jane Baker stepped in and furnished a new second part, in only 3 days.

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“Oh, indeed not. The Doctor’s well matched against himself [The Valeyard]. One must destroy the other!” The Master

The original conceived ending of Saward’s script, had the Doctor and The Valeyard cast into an infinite eternal time void – one unable to outwit the other. Producer JNT did not like this downbeat finale and worried it would give extra ammunition to Beeb top brass to cancel the show. As a result, he vetoed it.

Instead, we have the Doctor outwit the Valeyard and escape the Matrix, causing an explosion which destroys the Valeyard’s created reality.

Once back at the trial room, we learn that Peri did not infact die on Thoros Beta due to the manipulated recording from the Matrix, but had actually escaped unharmed and married King Yrcanos.

The Doctor ends the episode by turning down the offer of the newly vacated Gallifreyian Presidency and leaves in the Tardis – with Mel.

What this new ending did; was undermine the power of the Valeyard character, by having the Doctor outwit him, like any other Who villain. Also, the retraction of Peri’s death undermined what had been a powerful scene in the previous to last episode – Mindwarp.

JNT wanted a more upbeat ending all round but in doing so, undid some of the good work that Trial Of A Timelord had created.

Had Robert Holmes script drafts been seen through to conclusion, then Trial Of A Timelord would have ended in a much darker and unresolved conclusion of; the Doctor and Valeyard locked in eternal combat.

In doing so – though, would have probably been the end of the show as the Beeb chiefs would likely have axed it then but at least it would have ended memorably.

🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪ (4/5)

Old Doctor Who


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