Released December 2013
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Big Finish is certainly no stranger to occasional bouts of fan service by revisiting characters and plot points from the original run of Doctor Who, and that is perhaps no more apparent than in its subscriber-oriented Bonus Releases which has featured a multi-Doctor story, a multi-companion story, and three stories with titles beginning with the word ‘Return.’ This has understandably been more prevalent across its ranges in the fiftieth anniversary year, one that began with finally filling the plot hole regarding Mel’s introduction, and it seems perfectly fitting that the Sixth Doctor’s infamous trial would again be revisited to close out the year as Colin Baker, Lynda Bellingham, and Michael Jayston again reunite.
With a limited running time, ‘Trial of the Valeyard’ takes a surprisingly long time for the Doctor to figure out what the title openly decrees by bringing to the forefront the sixth incarnation’s more bombastic and confrontational characteristics. However, once he discovers that he has been tasked with defending the mysterious Valeyard who is on trial for a crime so heinous that even the Inquisitor cannot reveal it, the three leads shine as a story that strikes at the very heart of Time Lord history unfolds. Even knowing that the Valeyard is some murky distillation of his future selves, the Doctor never trusts his charge, and the hypothesis that this is because the Valeyard represents an inevitable failure of the Doctor’s morality is wonderfully complex on a personal level. Michael Jayston’s Valeyard oozes charisma and menace throughout while always showing disdain for the Doctor who wasted his opportunity to lead the Time Lords when presented the opportunity, and it’s clear that the Valeyard is the most knowledgeable character in the trial, choosing his moments for revelations perfectly and letting the Doctor and Inquisitor squabble and come to their own conclusions as needed for dramatic effect.
More than just a figurehead, the Inquisitor is just as vital to proceedings as anyone else, and Lynda Bellingham is superb while imbuing her once fair-minded character with a greater degree of bias and borderline corruption, providing a mirror of Time Lord society as a whole at this time. With evidence and time itself seemingly tampered with and no indication of willingness to give the Valeyard a fair trial even as events begin to parallel the intervention with Ravalox that featured in the original trial, Bellingham is a true force throughout and adds a further degree of uncertainty to the important story being told. What begins as a trial in response to the Valeyard hacking into the Matrix slowly comes to encompass the Valeyard’s personal history and his time in a shadow house where those with improper or failed regeneration are held, a time in which he began to devote himself to the history and science of regeneration. Yet as the tale of Theta Ro’s importance to one Theta Sigma is suggested and intimations are provided of the Doctor’s future attempts to cheat the twelve-regeneration sanction of Rassilon, one that may not be as natural as assumed, the Inquisitor shockingly and abruptly decides to pass sentence and execute the man who just may upturn the very foundations of their ages-old society.
It’s quite intriguing to compare the Sixth Doctor’s malicious thoughts about Gallifrey and Time Lords here to the passionate dismay he experiences following their loss in the Time War and to consider how time and loss can temper even the strongest emotions. Without question, ‘Trial of the Valeyard’ is a very intimate and personal story for the Doctor, and even sticking to just this story without considering the modern television series, the sheer scope of emotions that Baker portrays is staggering and impressive as his character’s past and future are called into question. As the Vaelyard comes to suggest that he is a preordained side effect of illicit experiments into extending the regeneration cycle, the story takes an unexpected turn as the Doctor seeks to uncover the truth and comes into contact with a future self that shouldn’t exist, hinting at a very strange future and offshoot that would be incredibly interesting to explore should Big Finish ever decide to do so given their ever-expanding licences. As it is, the denouement may feel a bit rushed and predictable, and the planetary scenes will certainly appease some more than others, but the extended trial sequence that comprises the bulk of this release is a fantastic callback to Colin Baker’s final televised season that rounds off the fiftieth anniversary year in style by raising just as many questions as it answers.