The Ultimate Foe:Doctor Who:Season 23
The Ultimate Foe SYNOPSIS:
Having had to destroy all the Vervoids to save the star liner crew, the Doctor is now accused of genocide by the Valeyard. The penalty is death however Melanie Bush and Sabalom Glitz have been sent as witnesses to aid the Doctor's defence. The Doctor accuses the Valeyard of distorting the Matrix evidence but the Keeper of the Matrix assures this is impossible.
From the viewer screen within the Mtrix, the Master reveals he sent Mel and Glitz and the the Matrix evidence was tampered by the Valeyard so the Doctor would be found guilty and executed. The Valeyard would get the Doctor's remaining regenerations as a reward for covering up the Time Lord conspiracy that near destroyed Earth and had it re-named Ravelox to remove a leak to the Matrix being exploited by aliens on Earth.
The Valeyard is revealed as a future alternately evil incarnation of the Doctor who then flees physically into the Matrix through the Seventh Door pursued by the Doctor and Glitz However the Valeyard has constructed a mind scape resembling Victorian London on Earth and uses created illusions such as Mr. Popplewick and the Fantasy Factory to delude and then destroy them.
Mel must convince the Time Lords of the Doctor's innocence while the Master remains the Doctor's only hope within the Matrix. The Master wants to destroy the Valeyard and take over Gallifrey once the High Council is deposed. But the Valeyard has another gambit to play to ensure the Time Lord's give him the Doctor's regenerations and to eliminate all opposition to his rule.
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The Ultimate Foe DETAILS:
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The Ultimate Foe CAST & CREW
Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor)
Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush)
Anthony Ainley — The Master
Lynda Bellingham — The Inquisitor
Michael Jayston — The Valeyard
Tony Selby — Sabalom Glitz
Geoffrey Hughes — Popplewick
James Bree — Keeper of the Matrix
Production Staff for Serial 7C-2:
Writers - Robert Holmes (episode 13) & Pip and Jane Baker (episode 14)
Director - Chris Clough
Script editor - Eric Saward (episode 13) & John Nathan Turner (episode 14)
Producer John Nathan-Turner
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The Ultimate Foe REVIEWS
From Star liners back to the Space station's trial room and then into the Matrix itself…where the battle commences against the ultimate foe.
Which is weird when you consider that on previous visits the Doctor has had to the Matrix, his mind has been sent there as in the Deadly Assassin or Arc Of Infinity but here any old person can physically just jump into the Matrix provided it's by the newly written and convenient 7th door! Which just happens to have an access point on the Trial space station. But then guess the Valeyard would have seen fit to put that in.
Thus we come to a weird hybrid of a story in The Ultimate Foe and even more than season 16, the long story arc ends on a bit of a damp squib. First there is Robert Holmes script for part 13 the last he wrote before passing into the great Writers Guild in the sky…this is actually not his best but there's a lot more meat in the Ultimate Foe than the whole of his last full story and it's just a pity he never got to write his proposed part 14, that looked great and would've ended the series on a dark note and killed the sixth Doctor off. Leaving the series open to be redefined. But then there's Pip & Jane Baker's part 14, hastily written to replace the Ultimate Foe script Eric Saward wrote based on Holmes storyline that suddenly hi-jack's the story into bizarre territory and basically cocks up the "great conspiracy' idea Holmes had in place for the Ultimate Foe
To be honest P& J had already hijacked the trial by suddenly deciding the Doctor should be charged for genocide because he offed a few plants and leaving Holmes to write himself out of that one. So instead of being on charge for interference in other planets which is what we've been sitting through 12 PARTS for, suddenly in the Ultimate Foe he's on trial for genocide and is sentenced for execution for events HE HASN'T DONE YET, nor will get a chance to do. Surely Time Lord law won't allow someone to be killed for a crime they haven't committed and won't be able to commit before being executed? That's stretching the timey wimey theory to bullshit point? Hence why I'm sure the Master is written in to intervene in affairs before everyone realises what is going on with the law and does some panto screen acting with some nice 80's music video graphics behind him.
He reveals to all present the Valeyard is actually the Doctor's alternate final incarnation (well that was the Holmes version) the actual version is a distillation of the doctor's evil side between his 12 & 13th incarnations which sounds pretty naff. The concept that was brought forth from the Ultimate Foe, that the Doctor's own people are actually the most corrupt people in the galaxy and worse than anything the Doctor normally battles is a pretty good one. Pity these episodes force viewers to rely on the memory of a dull 4 part story shown 2 months earlier to be the catalyst for why the Doctor is on trial in the first place and what is really going on. Why not make this a six parter with those episodes? It makes sense. It all revolves around the fact the Time Lords burnt and re-located Earth to protect their secrets. Then drag the Doctor into a farcical trial because he was dumb enough to blunder onto Earth under it's new name and get his own future incarnation to convict and execute him and somehow this final Doctor will get his sixth selves remaining regenerations????? Man who wouldn't have got confused and tuned out by this point.
Still Baker gives a credible and earnest performance, his Doctor for once seemingly right out of his depth, with hardly much bluster. While he deals with all the revelations the Master is throwing at him and everybody else, first he's been manipulated and betrayed by the Time Lords, then the greatest threat is actually an evil version of himself that flees into the Matrix.
Having bought a copy of Anthony Ainley's book panto acting for screen villains Ainley has written a sister tolme panto acting for companions which Bonnie Langford has read and follows the chapters with gusto on how to appear ineffectual and annoying…She's brought in as a witness for the Doctor and doesn't really offer much, apart from being a comic foil to the Keeper of the Matrix another character brought in that has not much to do. Perhaps he would've been a better character to have revealed what was going on as having the Master in there doing his OTT theatrical best playing off the Valeyard against the Master just clutters the storyline like a season 22 story would. Then he has the Doctor's other star witness Glitz, turn up, reliably played by Tony Selby who is a double agent for the Master. Why? For a few trinkets?
Still with the descent into the Matrix, a nod to the Deadly Assassin's mind scape episode, the introduction of the weird Mr. Popplewick (great name) and the upcoming confrontation with the Valeyard the Ultimate Foe sort of looks like it may yet pull itself out of the mess it's in. Then in come the Baker's with their episode, and do something completely different. Unrelated to what's been set up and is still the longest running episode of the classic series clocking in at 33 minutes! Suddenly the plot is changed to be an assassination of all the Time Lords on the space station (because they're 'goody goody's) planned with the help of the Valeyard and his megabyte modem, basically a couple of strobe lights attached to some clockwork cogs and all the big conspiracy plot is thrown out the window but resolved by "oh by the way there's been a revolution on Gallifrey…Oh and Peri's still alive" Hence why points were removed from my Mindwarp review.
Why would gorgeous Peri, marry some fat old over actor? Plus the Valeyard turns out to be Mr. Popplewick and The Keeper? Why not the inquisitor as well? His story is not resolved on how he really came to be there and what happens to him. Unfortunately Chris Clough's directing can't save the Ultimate Foe, it seems flat in parts as the Mysterious Planet, although there are some moodily lit scenes set around the Fantasy Factory…but it's obvious this is Dr Who lite it's made by the drama department but now looks like it's made by the children's department.
Had they stuck to the original ending with the Valeyard using a time vent to make sure his employers would stick to their bargain and then is revealed to be an old Doctor actually hell bent on stopping the Time Lord conspiracy by destroying the bad guys anyway but is stopped by his current self. It would've lent some weight to the show. Plus the cliffhanger ending with the Doctor and the Valeyard falling into an abyss in the Matrix - well Colin would've at least got a slightly decent send off - but instead his last immortal lines as the sixth incarnation of the Doctor are simply carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice. A pity he didn't at least get a decent send off - well we'll never know, the Ultimate Foe is such a missed opportunity but no - JNT didn't want to upset the punters, which is why Saward took away his original ending. Unfortunately John you already have upset them. Give it a 4 for the first episode and zero for the rest. 4/10
Now most of this stuff bores me to bloody tears anyway so its odds on that this season wasn't gonna get a high ranking from me. However, you do have to look beyond all that and wonder what it was the production team were trying to achieve at this point in what was most likely the end of the television series. Viewing figures were down cos people were bored with the thing. And one of the reasons they were bored cos there were no new ideas. And the reason there were no new ideas was because the producer and script editor were wallowing in the series past to appease fans and bring back as many monsters, Doctors, companions etc that they could. Now that they were put on notice what do they come up with? Yep; a full season that relies (again) too much on the series' past. Therefore its Time Lords, the Master, the Matrix, the Doctor and everything else that no one gave a shit about and ends in the tedium that is THE ULTIMATE FOE.
Naturally I couldn't give a shit about the Doctor becoming the Valeyard cos it seemed so badly thought up as an afterthought and executed just as bad that the entire revelation had as much impact as a wet wodge of toilet paper. And then at the end of THE ULTIMATE FOE it is revealed that the Valeyard is the Keeper of the Matrix or something. Again that just seemed tacked on as a last minute to give some sort of surprise ending to the series. Wow. Back when I was sixteen or so and saw THE ULTIMATE FOE for the first time I was really really bored by it. I wasn't excited about the idea of the Doctor being on trial and by the time we got to the last two episodes I wasn't really caring - and that says something from someone who loved watching Dr Who the first time round! Say what you like about the next season - at least there were four DIFFERENT stories trying something NEW!
One of the main failings of the Ultimate Foe, in fact this whole season (along side all the others) was that god awful trial sequence. Aside from being mind numbingly dull, there was only one way you could stage it and that was to have that giant TV screen positioned behind everyone's heads so that when the Doctor and the Valeyard and the Inquisitor had to watch the evidence they all had to turn their heads around 180 degrees and look at it. The limitations in those scenes were just staggering!
And then someone else turns up surprise surprise. Oh dear God the Master is back. He is on the scanner screen as large as life and with more ham than a pork butcher. FOR WHAT BLOODY PURPOSE???? He should have been left for dead at the end of Castrovalva once the new Doctor and co were introduced cos he's never done anything interesting since. Oh, other than escape from Castovalva / Xerophin / England / The Death Zone / Sarn / The Rani and whatever else.
Those scenes shot inside the Matrix are pretty dire too. By this stage in the game, the series does look incredibly cheap on video and any type of atmosphere anyone is trying to create is lost. So these Victorian London settings don't do anything for me other than wonder why anyone is bothering, although that line about the Matrix being the place where "the only logic is there isn't any logic!" pretty much sums THE ULTIMATE FOE up for me, if not the season as a whole.
THE ULTIMATE FOE suffers the same fate as The Armageddon Factor insomuch that it has to tie up a whole bunch of loose ends and plot threads that have been going through the season that the audience are hoping (yeah, right) will be resolved so they can make sense of the damn thing and get some closure. So, did anyone notice the two questions posed at the start of the season answered in this installment such as when the Earth got moved out of its universe and mysterious artifacts that Glibber and Ditz were after? I probably did but was so off my nut with the sheer tedium of it all I forgot. On top of that they weren't even strong enough plot points to worry anyone about anyway and they were resolved in two lines that could have been tacked on at the end of The Mysterious Planet!
Pip and Jane Baker were roped in at the last minute to tie everything up, but despite writing the previous adventure, they had NO IDEA how the season had started which they had to look up!! Eighteen months of planning and at no stage did Eric Saward or JNT take the two writers aside and say "Hey, this is how the whole trial thing began!" Another reason this whole thing has fallen apart is that at no stage did any of the writers actually work together or consult one another or share ideas about what they were doing. If they had then the whole thing would have been more even and there would have been a proper coherent narrative. If anything, Eric Saward wouldn't ALLOW the four writers to meet each other!! Go figure!! No wonder by the time we get to The Ultimate Foe that it just falls in a badly constructed heap. Its appalling television and as far as I'm concerned everyone involved needed a kick up the arse and the best way to do that would have been firing the lead actor. That is the only way a complacent production team will take any notice.
Zero out of ten.
Unfortunately this arc looks like it was tacked together with 6 weeks to spare, and while the Ultimate Foe starts off quite well, the second half of it looks like it's been written by someone who didn't know what was supposed to happen... which could be because it was.
And worse still, the Ultimate Foe looks like it was edited and overseen by someone who didn't know what was going on... and that's the real travesty. The trial idea itself is not the crime that JNT committed... no, the crime was not having any idea of how to finish it... I know that it was entrusted to the great Robert Holmes - which obviously couldn't happen as it turned out - but surely the person responsible for the vision of the show must have had some idea of what he wanted? It seems like the only 2 things he did was to piss off the only guy who could have done a good job with it, to the point of him quitting the show and not allowing any of his ideas to be used, and then, at the last minute, reviving Peri... I don't go for producer bashing as much as a lot of the fan boys do - but man, did he cock the Ultimate Foe up!
But in the beginning, it works well. My memories of the Ultimate Foe were that the first part was good, and then it got muddled - but over time that had become more that no, maybe the whole thing was a mess. The first part is great... well, the first 18 minutes or so...
The introduction of the Master is dangerous (mainly cos it makes you wonder, if Time Lords can put their own on trial, why the hell haven't they put the Master on trial!!) - but at least it gives us some explanation of what the hell's been going on. The Doctor's rant about the corruption and evil of time lords is brilliant - and really is a defining moment for Colin Baker. He really could have built on this and relaunched himself as a new Doctor - and I'm guessing that was what Holmes had in mind. OK, so he ruins it a bit by dropping in another brickyard or whatever in the middle of it - but still, it's great stuff. And prior to that, bringing in Glitz to explain the secrets, that all works well too... and supports the fact that Mysterious planet should have been the final of the 3 installments and used as the Doctor's defence as the secrets prove his innocence... and besides, after 8 weeks - who's going to remember the dodgy ending to an average four parter?
The thing is, the Ultimate Foe is built around that earlier average four parter. And this is where it starts to get confusing... and this is probably where Holmes' work ended. So the goings on in Mysterious Planet were used in the Time Lords' prosecution in order to try and protect them? I'm not so sure about that... but in terms of being "not so sure", that's nothing compared to the explanation of the Valeyard... an amalgamation of the Doctor's evil side somewhere between his 12th and 13th regeneration... they have what now? Does that mean every Time Lord has an "amalgamation of their evil side" running around somewhere when they get to their final regeneration?
I know, as I always say, Dr Who is not a documentary - it's a story... and OK - I guess Holmes is responsible for putting some of the best "fiction" in "science fiction" - so maybe he would have been able to work this into something that was easier to buy... but gee, this makes things confusing... not just for the rest of the Ultimate Foe, but also, what's going to happen when Tennant's incumbent decides to leave? Something about the Valeyard's going to have to appear again.
If they made the Valeyard say the Doctor's evil twin brother who had been banished to another dimension (or better still, Andromeda!), and he'd found out about the secrets of Ravelox and convinced the Time Lords to frame his brother and put him on trial for in return for his remaining regenerations... then that may have been more plausible... soap opera, yes, but certainly more plausible than what we had... it just creates so many more problems!
Anyway, the rest of Part one plays out with some nice moments... I'm not so sure about Saward's contribution of Popplewick, but it does set up something for the finale, and it does keep nicely with Dickensian feel. The Master's involvement is fine - I don't mind the premise that he's there to make sure there is total chaos - during which he can take control of Gallifrey, and wipe out the Doctor(s?) in the one blow. That makes sense - and compared to a lot of his recent plans, this is a corker! And the cliff-hanger with the Doctor getting sucked into the ground in the Matrix is great - it's up there with the Matrix scenes from Deadly Assassin.
But then the Bakers take over and, while I guess it's a good honest try, it just doesn't work... the double crossing with the secrets is dumb... and we still don't know what they are. The padding to get us to the final showdown with Popplewick is painful, and the actual showdown is lame... full of techno babble that really doesn't have any gravitas. The original Saward ending would have worked better - at least it would have had some tension to it.
The matrix being tampered with should be a massive thing - I mean it's what the premise of the whole of the Ultimate Foe has become. It's basically the premise of the Time Lords! The effect of the tampering should have had the tension that we needed - but instead it gets brushed over. I wonder if Holmes had something else in store for the secrets that would have given us a half decent conclusion.
Instead, as Goldby said from day one, this is just a huge missed opportunity.
Performances I guess are mainly as per normal for the rest of the trial - although Colin Baker's speech is exceptional. And while for the most part Jayston is pretty good as The Valeyard, he looks pretty confused by the end of it all... and how the hell does he become the keeper of the key? Speaking of which, how bad is James Bree as the keeper? I guess he's supposed to be an old bureaucrat who's not very good at his job... but man, was he that bad in Full Circle and War Games? I don't remember him at all - but they would have been better off with a piece of Bree! And Mel... well... she's still annoying... and her pants are even higher...
I reckon Clough does a reasonable job with what he had to work with - part one has a great mood, and giving the matrix the whole Dickensian look is in the feel of the Ultimate Foe too... I have no problems with what he's done here... he just didn't have much to work with to tie it all together.
So, there are some great bits, some plain shit bits, but mainly just way too many bits that could have been better. Can I give the Ultimate Foe a pass mark? I don't think so... I've got Mark of the Rani as a 4.9 - the ending is just as messy in that (almost like they've been written by the same person!), but the first part of this is better than that.