Attempting to pull together a fourteen-episode story arc for the 23rd season of Doctor Who was not a task without its pitfalls and dangers. The longest story to this point had been The Daleks’ Master Plan, twenty years earlier and even then that was a story where the overall plot was written by Terry Nation, but the actual episodes were written by Nation and ex-script editor Dennis Spooner. The decision was made by John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward to make The Trial of a Time Lord a story with four distinct segments which could easily be split between different writers with Robert Holmes penning the first four episodes. The second block became Parts Five to Eight, was designated the production code 7B, and writing duties were given to Philip Martin who had written Vengeance on Varos for Season 22. Martin provides the season with a return to the some of the ideas he didn’t explore in Vengeance on Varos, mainly the society of Mentors represented in that story by Nabil Shaban’s Sil. The Mentors of Thoros Beta are set up as extreme capitalists, only caring about what can increase their own profits and allow the highest members of society to flourish and live longer. The title of the story is Mindwarp, referring to the experiments being held to give the Lord Kiv’s consciousness a new body, as his mind is outgrowing his body.
Christopher Ryan’s turn as Kiv creates an incredibly slimy character who grasps onto his power at the top and becomes controlling of everyone around him. Kiv as a character doesn’t get much backstory, and Martin doesn’t entirely explain just what he is a lord of, but it is clear that he and Sil are meant to represent the elite class on Thoros Beta. Kiv has hired a team of surgeons who are tasked with finding him a new body, all while he is still working on expanding his own profits. He even has a silent team of slaves which carry him and the other mentors around, with discrimination on those from Thoros Alpha being displayed at several points within the story. He’s a character who plays with the lives of others and is totally uncaring as his motivation is to survive and make more money. Nabil Shaban’s return to the role of Sil is equally as slimy, as unlike Vengeance on Varos where Sil was on top, Mindwarp casts him as the underling to Kiv. Sil is duplicitous and scheming, and is ready to overthrow Kiv, and is really only held back by the fact that Kiv’s guards would kill him given the chance. Being placed in the role of a henchman gives Shaban the chance to flex more comedic skills as Sil is constantly perplexed and has all of his plans circumvented, walking on eggshells metaphorically as he really can’t do anything to save Kiv.
The surgeon brought in to attempt to save Kiv is Crozier played by Patrick Ryecart. Ryecart is an actor most well known for comedic roles, however, here he gives a fairly dramatic turn as the surgeon. The performance is tinged with minor moments of insanity, giving the character an undertone of a mad scientist, motivated by the perfecting of his ability to transfer the conscious mind of one into the empty mind of another. He’s essentially on the search for immortality and Kiv is his prime suspect. Ryecart’s interactions with the Doctor in particular show some depth to the character, as he offers the Doctor every opportunity to find a suitable subject to use to transfer the Lord Kiv’s brain into. Rounding out the guest cast is the eventual leader of the resistance Brian Blessed. Yes. Brian Blessed was in Doctor Who and it is just as over the top as you might expect. Martin has given Blessed plenty of material to work with and of course his over the top style of acting is perfect. Yrcanos of Krontep is a warlord with a real thirst for battle, with plenty of war cries and hilarious moments, but there are still some slight subtleties to the performance. Blessed is a talented actor with range, even though he is typecast as the over the top shouty types. While it isn’t enough to support the eventual reveal of Peri’s fate in The Ultimate Foe, Yrcanos is a fine character with an interesting dynamic to Peri.
Speaking of Peri, as this is Nicola Bryant’s last story, it is fitting that it has her best performance with Colin Baker. Peri here is mostly in the background for the first half of Mindwarp, up until the Doctor seemingly switches sides and we see for the first time a Peri Brown who has had enough of the Doctor. She no longer trusts him and had things gone differently there would be plenty of material to attempt to regain that trust. Peri’s eventual fate is some of the darkest and most riveting material in Doctor Who and through Bryant’s performance, some fast paced direction from Ron Jones, and a look from Colin Baker, the final ten minutes of the final episode of Mindwarp are some of Doctor Who at its absolute best. Martin’s script also serves the Doctor incredibly well, though this is mostly seen through the excellently integrated trial sequences. The Doctor is convinced that what is being viewed has been altered, and that he doesn’t remember any of the events as they occur. Of course this is denied by the Valeyard as the Matrix cannot be wrong. Colin Baker is absolutely brilliant as both the confused Doctor and the darker version of the character seen in the events, and unlike The Twin Dilemma where he comes across as harsh, this is clearly an unhinged character. On a final note Michael Jayston and Linda Bellingham serve as necessary narrators to events, Jayston’s Valeyard in particular being the clever one that gets the Doctor right into a position for him to lose the trial. The Inquisitor’s defense of why Peri had to die is perfectly given by Bellingham as well, really defining the character who has appeared since in Big Finish’s Gallifrey spinoff series. Overall, Mindwarp is the highlight of Season 23 and is perhaps Colin Baker’s best television outing, showing that even in these dark times Doctor Who still has life left. 10/10.