Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: Terror of the Vervoids (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
Pip and Jane Baker are two of the most maligned writers in the history of Doctor Who -- and with good reason. Of the three stories they offered the show, one border on being decent, while the other two are just absurd parodies of what Doctor Who should be. It would almost be easy to blame their failures -- both Time and the Rani and this installment of the Trial of A Time-Lord -- on a lack of script-editor and an overall lack of vision in the show. But that still doesn't excuse the scripts for being travesties to start with.
After spending the first two stories focusing on the prosecution's case, the Trial shifts to the Doctor's defense. After the devastating events concerning Peri's death, the Doctor is now forced to try and defend himself and to show that court that his meddling is justified.
With all the good the Doctor has done in the universe in the past (defeating the Daleks, saving the universe countless times over, doing the Time Lords bidding on numerous occasions), the Doctor instead chooses to draw upon the evidence of the Matrix and look forward into the future. And it's with this decision that the internal problems with the stories begin. Unlike the events played out in MindWarp or Mysterious Planet, the Doctor, as-of-yet, has no first-hand knowledge of the events. He cannot react and defend his actions as rigorously as he did in those two stories, simply because he has not yet been in the situation or gone through the thought processes that he will go through. Also, Terror of the Vervoids creates some paradoxes that, quite honestly, make my head hurt to think about them. The Doctor is on trial for his life. Assuming he loses, the events here don't unfold this way and the Vervoids probably win, thus destroying all human life on Earth. So, by seeing the future, we know the Doctor is acquitted... or is he? Is this one of those million and one parallel universes that we heard about in Inferno or is it just lazy script writing by the Bakers? (Personally, I'm going to go with the later)
All of these questions spiraling around making my head hurt, but not as much as the actual storyline we see unfolding on screen.
Even outside of the context of The Trial of a Timelord, Terror of the Vervoids is a fairly weak, derivative story. The Doctor and Mel (who gets no real introduction and suffers for it as a result) are called onto a ship bound for Earth from the planet Mogar. As usual, there are a series of deaths under mysterious circumstances (a pretty standard Who cliché) and the Doctor is quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, mystery and mayhem. There's a murderer on board, but there's also a threat to humanity itself in the form of Vervoids, who are simply plants that walk, talk and kill. The Vervoids have been bred to be a slave race of cheap labor and they are none too happy about this idea -- to the point that they decide to kill all the animal kind on board and them move on to Earth. Along the way, there's a hijacking, an almost rendezvous with a black hole, a terrifying mutant and lots of jokes about the Doctor's waist size. All of these elements on paper sound like they might add up to an interesting -- or at the very least entertaining -- Doctor Who story.
But Terror of the Vervoids is a story that collapses under it's own weight. There's a whole cast of guest characters who are simply cannon fodder for the Vervoids killing rampage. There's a slight attempt to have this story refer back to a lost adventure and give it a sense of continuity that fails as well. It's not as bad as TimeLash was, where the entire story hinges on this missing adventure, mind you. The Vervoids themselves are pretty limited and seem to develop strange and unusual powers at a moment's notice -- need some way to take back the bridge -- well, let's have those wacky Vervoids blow a lethal gas out on the bridge and knock out the guy steering the ship into the black hole. Need them to kill a whole lot of people -- give them some type of spike that comes out of their hands and pretty much instantly kills anything they come in contact with. (A side note here -- if you're breeding a race as essentially slave labor, does it make good sense to give them the method to kill and/or overthrow you?)
But none of these are as bad as the sheer coincidence it takes for the story to, thankfully, come to an end. The way to defeat the Vervoids feels like a cheat and like it comes out of left field. We can't stop them, so let's pull some magic stuff out of the vault that will kill them. Yeah, that's the ticket! The ending seems to come as a bit of a cheat and makes the whole Vervoid storyline seem ridiculous in the final few moments.
All of that said, you must wonder if there's anything good about The Terror of the Vervoids. Actually, there are a few things that rank it higher than MindWarp.
One if that the scenes in the courtroom are kept to a minimum and done in a manner that reminds the viewer that the trial is still going and stops to make a few valid points. The Trial scenes are also a lot more enjoyable here.
The next is Colin Baker's performance gets a bit better. There are flashes of the moments we saw in The Mysterious Planet throughout here -- from the Doctor's subdued return to the courtroom to his talking to Mel about the pile of human bodies the Vervoids have stacked up. It's just a shame that there are way too many other silly scenes -- the Doctor on the exercise bike for example and the constant beating to death of the joke about Mel being like an elephant -- that overshadow these nicely done moments.
Finally, there is the upping the ante of the Trial. For all its faults, the Trial takes on a new and deadly turn here as the charges are upped from meddling to genocide, creating a good deal of tension for the final two installments of the Trial that are to come. (It does raise the good question of if the Doctor hasn't committed the crime yet, can he be put on Trial for it. Also, the idea that if the Doctor knows the events that are going to happen, can he prevent them from unfolding in this way. Is it any wonder that the Faction Paradox was created for the novels... they could have a field day with Terror of the Vervoids).
All in all, Terror of the Vervoids isn't as bad as MindWarp. It's not great Who. Heck, it's barely good Who. It's just more evidence that Pip and Jane Baker were some of the lesser writers to ever churn out a Who story and that a good script-editor can make all the difference.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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