The Ultimate Foe
The Ultimate Foe was the unbroadcast title given to episodes 13 and 14, the concluding episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord, the series-long storyline that constituted Season 23 of Doctor Who. The on-screen title was simply The Trial of a Time Lord. This story marked the final canonical televised appearance of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. After much controversy had surrounded the Sixth Doctor’s era, the BBC decided to recast the Doctor the following year to start with a clean slate, ending Baker’s tenure prematurely.
In addition, this story marked the final appearances of the Inquisitor and the Valeyard as recurring characters, and a final appearance of Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown in a cameo to give her character closure under happier circumstances than what the events of Mindwarp had offered.
This was also the last of the Master’s annual appearances on the show; he wouldn’t appear again until Survival in Season 26. Finally, the conclusion of Season 23 offered a significant revelation which gave insight on the possible origin of the Valeyard. However, after Colin Baker was dismissed from the series, the story arc between the Sixth Doctor and the Valeyard was dropped. Decades later, Big Finish Productions would resume the arc in audio story format.
Season 23’s finale was the final story to which longtime scriptwriter Robert Holmes contributed. He passed away from illness shortly before its completion. Unfortunately, this would cause the writing process to suffer many setbacks before entering production.
The sudden demise of Holmes served as the catalyst for a notorious fallout between script editor Eric Saward and then-executive producer John Nathan-Turner. Saward, now left without Holmes, had to complete the last episode by himself. Nathan-Turner, however, rejected his script, who felt Saward’s proposed cliffhanger was presented in a way that would encourage Michael Grade, the BBC controller at the time, to make it into a series finale, after Grade had already tried to cancel the series altogether. The Doctor and the Valeyard would have tumbled through the Matrix, fighting to the death, with the battle’s outcome left unknown, but with the assumption that they would be locked in eternal combat if no one intervened.
Not the first time Saward had butted heads with Nathan-Turner over creative direction, his aggravation was enough this time that he chose to resign from his position, banning use of his scripted ending in further dissent, effectively making this his last contribution to the televised series. The conclusion of the story ultimately fell in the hands of writing couple Pip & Jane Baker, who were left to figure out an ending of their own. They were prohibited access to the original script and given no bearing on how the story was meant to end, but still did what they could to wrap up the loose ends and encourage the continuation of the classic series a little longer.
Episode 1 (Trial of a Time Lord Part 13)
The Sixth Doctor insists that the footage from the Matrix has been tampered with. The Inquisitor brings the Keeper of the Matrix to testify. He is adamant that the Matrix can be accessed only by senior Time Lords with appropriate keys. The Doctor maintains his innocence, accusing the Valeyard of manipulating the evidence to his own ends and that someone can make a duplicate key. The Valeyard denies any such interference and closes his case.
Meanwhile, two travel pods arrive on the station. They open to reveal Mel and Sabalom Glitz. They enter the court just in time to assist the Doctor’s defense, saying they had been sent by someone unknown to help prove that the Doctor acted in good faith. This anonymous benefactor makes himself known, appearing on the view-screen from inside the Matrix – it is the Master. He entered the Matrix with a duplicate key and has been watching the courtroom drama unfold but is, for some reason, unwilling to let the Valeyard win.
The Doctor questions Glitz about the secrets he was hoping to obtain from the Sleepers. He learns those secrets were stolen from the Matrix. In retaliation, the Gallifreyan High Council moved Earth to hide the theft and prevent a rescue. The Doctor is outraged at the corruption of his own people, realizing that he has been framed to prevent the truth from emerging. The Master adds that the Valeyard is an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker impulses from the future, falling somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations. The High Council offered him the Doctor’s remaining regenerations if he could convict the Doctor. The Inquisitor insists the trial consider all the evidence, but the Valeyard flees the court through a door into the Matrix.
The Doctor and Glitz follow through the door, finding themselves in a recreation of Victorian London created by the Valeyard. The Doctor is attacked by a hand from a rain barrel, but Glitz saves him and hands him a note from the Master which leads them to the Fantasy Factory. As they approach, Glitz is shot with a harpoon.
In the courtroom, the Master explains that the evidence presented throughout the trial was mostly correct, but with small errors designed to convict the Doctor. These included the death of Peri, who actually survived to become Yrcanos’ queen. He admits that the Valeyard would make an even more powerful enemy than the Doctor, but this way he could be rid of them both. He also insists that the High Council answer for what they have done and has allowed the people of Gallifrey to witness the court proceedings.
Glitz, saved by his Mark 7 postidion life preserver, accompanies the Doctor to the Fantasy Factory, where they encounter an extremely officious bureaucrat named Mr. Popplewick. Deciding to go over his head and speak directly to the proprietor, they march into the next room, only to find an identical office with an even more evasive and infuriating duplicate of Mr. Popplewick. Before letting them proceed further, Popplewick asks the Doctor to sign a document that promises his future incarnations to the Valeyard should he vanquish the Doctor, the High Council being less than trustworthy and unlikely to keep their promise. As the Doctor steps through the next door, he finds himself alone on a beach, where the Valeyard’s voice taunts him and hands emerge from the sand to pull him beneath the surface…
Episode 2 (Trial of a Time Lord Part 14)
Glitz arrives as the Doctor is dragged under, only grabbing the cloth around each of his shoes. He is amazed to see the Doctor rise out of the ground unharmed, after making a bad pun. The Doctor explains that the Matrix is unreal and that, with enough effort, he can deny the Valeyard’s traps. The Valeyard appears, taunting the Doctor. He explains that he has to destroy the Doctor’s good side to be free of all his positive traits. A cloud of nerve gas advances towards them, forcing the Doctor and Glitz to take refuge in a nearby beach hut that turns out to be the Master’s TARDIS. The Master explains the Valeyard has to be stopped because he has none of the Doctor’s morality, making him an even more evil being than himself, which vexes the Master. Lying that he wishes to help the Doctor, the Master tricks the Doctor into believing Glitz and he are retrieving his TCE from elsewhere in the TARDIS, but activates a function on his console that puts the Doctor into a catatonic state while Glitz and he hide in the corridor.
The Master’s TARDIS materializes at the Fantasy Factory and the hypnotized Doctor is sent out as bait. When the Valeyard comes out to see what is happening, the Master shoots the Valeyard with his TCE, but the beams from his weapon bounce off. The Valeyard retaliates with explosive quills that force the Master to run away. Glitz is temporarily stunned by an explosion.
Mel arrives in the Matrix to help the Doctor. They return to the station to finish clearing his name. Mel gives evidence regarding the Vervoids, but it is not enough to prevent the Inquisitor delivering a verdict of guilty on the charge of genocide. The Doctor accepts his death sentence with surprising calm.
This is not the real courtroom, but another Matrix fantasy. On the real station, Mel and the Inquisitor watch impotently as the Doctor is taken to what he believes to be his execution. Mel is unwilling to sit by meekly. She steals the Keeper’s key to enter the Matrix. She reaches the Doctor in time to save him, but he is well aware of the situation because the fake Mel had mentioned events she had not witnessed. The Doctor was hoping to encounter the Valeyard, so they head for the Fantasy Factory.
The Master, back in his TARDIS, tries to hypnotize Glitz into helping him, but has to resort to bribery when the hypnotism fails. This proves just as (or possibly even more) effective. Glitz finds the Matrix tapes containing the secrets in Popplewick’s office, while the Doctor locates a list of the courtroom judges written in his own handwriting. Glitz forces Popplewick at gunpoint to take them to the proprietor, J.J. Chambers, but is willing to trade the Doctor for the Matrix secrets, which he then gives to the Master.
The Doctor exposes Popplewick as the Valeyard in disguise, since his melodramatic nature was too obvious. He finds a laser aimed through the view-screen into the courtroom, to kill all the judges on the list as a last resort. The Master reveals to the court that the High Council has been deposed by a revolt on Gallifrey and he intends to rule in their place. He loads the tapes of the secrets into his TARDIS console, but it is a fake which freezes the Master and Glitz in the Matrix.
Mel arrives in the courtroom in time to evacuate the judges, while the Doctor stops the laser firing at the cost of creating a massive feedback surge which strikes the Valeyard, allowing the Doctor to escape back to the station. The Inquisitor dissolves the trial and tells the Doctor about Peri’s true fate on Krontep. She further suggests that the Doctor, for the third time, run for the vacant presidency on Gallifrey, but he declines, stating that she would be a better candidate. He suggests that, while the Master must be punished, leniency should be shown to Glitz as he can be reformed.
The Doctor and Mel depart in the TARDIS. She annoys him by mentioning carrot juice. The Doctor almost barrels off in the opposite direction once he learns she plans to make him exercise again, thinking he would have been better off taking the Presidency. However, he gives in to her whims when he remembers Mel has met him too early. He intends to return her to whence she came and wait to meet her in the original order.
Back in the court room, the Inquisitor orders the Keeper to improve the security of the Matrix and repair it while removing the Master and Glitz. He is allowed to requisition anything necessary for its mending. The Keeper agrees but, as he turns away, he reveals himself to be the Valeyard…