Chapter 131. Doctor Who – The Ultimate Foe (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor’s defence backfires and the situation looks bleak for his trial by the Time Lords. Unexpected witnesses arrive in the form of Mel and the scheming Glitz, brought to the court by the Master. The Doctor’s oldest enemy has come to his aid for one reason – to expose the Doctor’s prosecutor, the Valeyard. Soon, the Doctor is fighting for his life deep inside the Matrix, trapped by an adversary who knows him better than he knows himself…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Key of Rassilon
  • 2. An Unwelcome Intruder
  • 3. Evil Intent
  • 4. Twelve-and-a-half
  • 5. Treason
  • 6. A World Apart
  • 7. A Lethal Greeting
  • 8. Mr Popplewick
  • 9. A Sticky End
  • 10. To Be Or Not To Be
  • 11. Out of the Frying Pan
  • 12. The Baiter Bitten
  • 13. False Witness
  • 14. Off With His Head
  • 15. Mesmeric Riches
  • 16. Point and Counterpoint
  • 17. About-face
  • 18. Two-faced
  • 19. Double-faced
  • 20. Particles of Death
  • 21. The Price of Vanity
  • 22. The Keeper Vanishes
  • 23. Carrot Juice
  • Epilogue

Background: Pip and Jane Baker adapt one script by Robert Holmes and another by themselves for the concluding episodes of the 1986 serial The Trial of a Time Lord.

Notes: The prologue recaps the trial so far, the events on Ravalox, Sil’s experiments with brain transference and the attack on the Vervoids. The Doctor has been ‘plucked out of time’ and brought to the space station where the trial is being conducted, ‘a baroque cathedral with dozens of thrusting spires and straddled with porticoes’, a ‘gargantuan hulk’ where ‘all the processes of existence hitherto experienced are suspended’. Sabalom Glitz is a ‘thief, liar, and incorrigible rogue. A coward who would sell his grandmother to save his own skin. For whom profit was a god. A wheeler-dealer devoid of conscience.’ Despite her being ‘half his size, a quarter his weight’, Glitz is initially more afraid of Mel than she is of him. She pinches him to prove that he isn’t dead (he’s spooked by the coffin-shaped capsules that have brought them to the trial station). Mel was in the TARDIS – the future Doctor’s TARDIS – writing an ‘experimental programme for one of the TARDIS’s complex computers’ when she was plucked out of time and brought to the courtroom. Glitz is also standing closer to the Doctor than he was on screen – at one point, afraid that the guards might use their guns on him, he shields himself behind the Doctor’s ‘portly form’. As the revelations begin to flow, Mel stands next to the Doctor, close enough to grab his arm in surprise. The Doctor apparently gives his adventures titles, having christened his last encounter with the Master ‘The Mark Of The Rani’.

Though the contents of ‘the secrets’ that were the focus of Glitz’s attention in The Mysterious Planet were not revealed at that time, we discover in chapter 3 that they were stolen from the Matrix. The Inquisitor admonishes the Valeyard for his attempts to silence the Master. The Master claims that the Valeyard is the Doctor’s penultimate incarnation; on TV, this is slightly less clear. Glitz claims to see a resemblance between the Doctor and the Valeyard (‘Same shaped nose. And the mouth. He’s got your mouth’) , though this is challenged robustly by Mel. Having revealed the Valeyard’s true identity, the Master, aided by Glitz, then explains the  mystery behind Ravalox and the theft of the secrets by the Andromedan Sleepers – and only after the Doctor rebukes the Time Lords for their corruption does the Valeyard flee the court. The Master claims to know both the accused and the prosecutor ‘intimately’.

The Inquisitor had been selected from many candidates to oversee the trial; she felt the appointment to be the pinnacle of her career and likely to see her ascend to the High Council. One of the jurors is a two-thousand-year-old Time Lord called Xeroniam. Glitz wears pyjamas made of ‘Attack Repulsor PolyCreman pongee’ (!), fastened with ‘Batayn Radaral buttons’. The authors provide an explanation for how the Master acquired his access to the Matrix that is… wonderfully convoluted. The Time Lords have relegated maintenance of the Matrix to the Elzevirs, inhabitants of the Moon of Leptonica in the constellation of Daedalus and specialists in micro-technology. The Master hypnotised Nilex, an individual who supervised the Matrix repair team. Nilex duplicated the Key of Rassilon and gave the copy to the Master. 

Mel’s spirited defence of the Doctor is revealed to be a ploy to get close enough to the Keeper of the Matrix to be able to steal his key. A crowd of people await the Doctor’s execution within the Matrix. The Doctor is aware of Mr Popplewick’s secret identity before the revelation. There’s a reminder of the Master’s previous exploits, including his final scene in Mark of the Rani, where he and the Rani were trapped in the Rani’s TARDIS with an ever-expanding tyrannosaurus rex, until the creature grew so big that its spine snapped (as previously recounted in the Time and the Rani novelisation). The Inquisitor lightly rebukes the Doctor for his comments about the corruption in Gallifrey society, before she invites him to become president. In the epilogue, the Doctor explains to Mel that she has to return to her own timeline and leave him to travel alone until they meet properly.

Cover: The Oliver Elms logo settles into place from now on, as Alister Pearson paints two capsules descending down a trial-ship beam of light, with Mr Popplewick standing proudly (a stunning likeness). Pearson had painted a beautiful duo of the Inquisitor and the Valeyard in the courtroom, but the final illustration is a lot more dramatic. Consistent with the two other books published so far, there’s a flash marking this as part of the Trial of a Time Lord season (and the title page lists this as ‘The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe’).

Final Analysis: Pip and Jane Baker deliver their final novelisation and it’s like a distillation of their stories so far. They’re as exuberant with their verbosity as ever, capturing the sesquipedalian nonsense of the original TV story and turning it up a notch (a particularly nice line is the Valeyard saying to Glitz ‘I really cannot countenance such exoteric improbity’). Their intention all along was to ignite a passion for language in the viewer and we might ponder just how invested in this flowery language a young reader might be, but I have to confess… it worked for me! I scampered to the dictionary to look up every new word. They were always the best writers for the Sixth Doctor, matching his pomposity with a kindness that was sadly lacking with other writers. Here, they’re equally successful in bringing Glitz to life, creating a character whose every move is either cowardly or conniving. Even Mel is portrayed as an independent, fiery and determined individual with an unwavering loyalty and admiration for the Doctor.

While the resolution to the trial was a mess, there were extenuating circumstances. The Bakers here resist the temptation to rewrite the story from scratch; they fulfil the remit of adapting what happened on screen admirably. But, as all the greats do, they tweak along the way, adding extra motivations or backstory (some of which is bonkers!). Unlike in Terror of the Vervoids however (where they tended to infodump right before the information was required), they manage to foreshadow their additions and build upon what we saw on telly. Even if their explanation for the Master’s acquisition of the Matrix key is, er… no it’s actually insane, but all the more entertaining for it. They were inconsistent, but I’ll really miss them.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 131. Doctor Who – The Ultimate Foe (1988)

  1. I agree with you 100% about Pip and Jane. Their work on other TV shows was excellent, and they got Colin Baker’s Doctor right away. They also prove adept at turning out a decent novelisation. If only all Who writers combined speed with quality… well, we might’ve got Mindwarp earlier and without the fan-baiting different cover layout, colour and flash design. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The two things that will always stick with me from this one:

    * The fact that they added that scene at the end where the Doctor drops Mel off to reunite with his future self.

    * The “megabyte modum”! I mean, the idea of a modem having “megabyte” as a descriptor is already halfway nonsensical, but then they misspelled “modem.” Fussy 18-year-old me – who had already rolled his eyes during the televised version at the idea that a modem could be some sort of deadly weapon – was particularly snooty about how the misspelling showed that ol’ Pip and Jane clearly didn’t understand that a “modem” is a “modulator/demodulator.” The nerve! 🙂

    Bye, Pip & Jane. I miss ’em too.

    Liked by 1 person

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