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Aug 3, 2008

The Mysterious Planet is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from September 6 to September 27, 1986. It is part of the larger narrative known as The Trial of a Time Lord, encompassing the whole of the 23rd season.



The TARDIS materialises in a corridor, and the Doctor steps out bewildered and alone. He walks into a room, where it is revealed that he is being put on trial for conduct unbecoming a Time Lord. The Inquisitor notes that the Doctor has been on trial previously, and the Valeyard states that he will argue that the Doctor was shown too much leniency on that occasion. The Valeyard opens the case by using the Matrix to show the Doctor's involvement on the planet Ravolox.

The Doctor and Peri arrive on Ravolox, which is virtually identical to Earth. He tells Peri that the official records state that the planet was devastated by a fireball, but they note that the forest they are walking through suggests otherwise. They are seen by Sabalom Glitz and Dibber, who attempt to shoot the Doctor; but he moves off just in time. Glitz and Dibber discuss their plan to destroy the "L3 robot" by sabotaging its light conversion system, which has been turned into a totem by a primitive tribe on the planet.

The Doctor and Peri find an apparently abandoned building and explore it. Peri discovers a sign saying "Marble Arch" — a London Underground sign, which means that they are on Earth. Peri begins to mourn for her planet.

The Doctor asks what the relevance of this is, then asks why Peri is not with him on the station. The Valeyard answers that she is where the Doctor left her, and states that the Doctor's evident temporary amnesia - a side-effect of being taken out of time - should soon pass.

The Doctor goes into the complex alone because Peri is upset, but she is captured by two masked figures. Meanwhile, Glitz and Dibber are brought before Katryca, Queen of the tribe. Glitz claims that the totem attracted the fireball that devastated Ravolox, and asks for it to be taken down. The Queen tells him that others have asked for the totem to be dismantled, and none have succeeded. Glitz and Dibber draw out their guns, but they are overpowered and locked up.

The Doctor finds an underground complex, but is caught. He is accused of spying, and sentenced to be stoned. The Doctor tries to block the rocks with his umbrella, but is knocked unconscious.

The Valeyard proposes that the inquiry into the Doctor's activities should become a full blown trial, with the penalty being the termination of his life.

Other officials arrive and break up the stoning. The Doctor is still breathing, but before he can be killed, Merdeen receives a message from the Immortal stating that he wishes to question the Doctor. The Immortal, revealed to be a huge humanoid robot, commands its two assistants to release the service robot.

Peri is brought before Katryca, who informs Peri that as there are few women, she will need to take many husbands. She is then put in the same prison as Glitz and Dibber. They tell Peri their plan to destroy the Robot. They are taken back to Katryca, who tells them that Glitz will be sacrificed because of his attempt to destroy the great totem.

The Doctor is taken to the Immortal, who introduces itself as Drathro. He commands that the Doctor work with the two assistants. The Doctor identifies the problem, and tries to leave in order to fix it, but Drathro does not allow him to leave, as his instructions were to maintain an underground system. The Doctor electrifies the robot and his assistants, and escapes. Drathro sends the service robot to track down the Doctor. Meanwhile, Peri, Glitz and Dibber overpower the guards and escape. Dibber remains behind to plant a bomb on the Black Light converter, whilst they go to the underground complex.

In Marb Station, Merdeen tells Balazar that there has been no fire for hundreds of years, and that he should leave the complex. They encounter the Doctor, and Merdeen implores him to help Balazar escape. Peri, Glitz and Dibber, pursued by tribesmen, find the Doctor, and they flee into the Marb Station, but are trapped between the tribe and the service robot. The tribesmen shoot at the service robot and disable it. The Doctor tries to re-enter the underground complex, but the tribesmen insist they all return to the village. There, The Doctor is brought before Katryca, but she is unimpressed with his explanation of the true nature of the Totem, and puts them all back in the prison cell. Glitz confirms that the planet is actually Earth.

Drathro reactivates the service robot, and send it to the village. It breaks into the building with the Doctor, stuns him and takes him away. The tribesmen disable the service robot, and decide to attack the Immortal's castle to steal his technology. Peri rescues the Doctor from the service robot, and they set off to the underground complex to stop Katryca and disable the black light system. Katryca and tribesmen arrive at the Castle, where they are confronted by Drathro,. He electrocutes Katryca, and dismisses the rest of the tribe.

The Doctor enters Drathro's domain, promising to help repair the black light system. However, he determines it to be beyond repair, and tells Drathro that he must shut down the Black Light System to prevent a massive explosion. Drathro refuses to allow that as it would mean its own destruction. The Doctor pleads with him, saying that the explosion could destroy the entire universe, but that only makes Drathro determined to allow what he thinks is a unique event.

Balazar and Peri plead with Merdeen to help them, noting that he would die if the converter exploded. Glitz and Dibber arrive and follow them into the Castle through a food chute. Drathro attempts to kill by turning on the food processing system, but Dibber shoots him through the wall. Glitz tells Drathro that they have black light on their ship, and offers to take the robot to the Andromeda Galaxy. Drathro agrees, and leaves with Glitz and Dibber.

The Doctor realises that the black light system has already begun to self-destruct, and that all he can do is prevent it starting a chain reaction. The system explodes, but the blast only destroys the Castle, and as a result Drathro collapses. The Doctor and Peri leave Merdeen and Balazar to take the remaining inhabitants to a new life on the surface.

The Doctor announces to the court that he has saved the Universe, and starts to present his defence. The Valeyard warns the Doctor that he has more evidence to come, and that the Court will demand the Doctor's life at the end.


  • The reason why Earth has become Ravalox, as well as the reasons for the Fireball, are explained in The Ultimate Foe, the final part of the Season.
  • The relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is less abrasive in this story than in the previous season. Both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant wanted to show how travelling together had made their characters less combative and argumentative. Both this and the changes in their appearances, particularly Peri's hairstyle and mode of dress suggest a long gap between this story and their previous on-screen appearance in Revelation of the Daleks and allowing for "unseen" adventures in the spin-off media to be placed there.
  • Early in Part One, the Doctor appears to be about to reveal his surname for the first and only time in the entire series (but see The War Machines, and further discussion in "Doctor who?").
  • The Inquisitor and the Valeyard reference the events of The War Games.
  • The Doctor's claim that he cannot be on trial as he is Lord President and the Inquisitor's explanation that he had been removed were reportedly added to the script after Colin Baker noticed the apparent plot hole.
  • Recovering from unconsciousness, the Doctor briefly slips back into the personality of one of his previous selves, allowing Colin Baker to do an impersonation of Jon Pertwee. He even uses the phrase, "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow."
  • In this serial, the First Law of Time refers to the well-documented Time Lord policy of non-interference, as opposed to specifically forbidding a Time Lord meeting a past or future incarnation and therefore interfering with his own history, as stated in earlier serials.


The details available for each episode of this story are outlined in the table below[1][2][3].

Episode Broadcast Date Run Time Ratings
"Part One" 06 Sep 1986 24'57" 4.9m
"Part Two" 13 Sep 1986 24'44" 4.9m
"Part Three" 20 Sep 1986 24'18" 3.9m
"Part Four" 27 Sep 1986 24'20" 3.7m


In February 1985, the BBC announced that the planned twenty-third season of Doctor Who had been canceled. After vocal protests by the press and Doctor Who fans (including a charity single, Doctor in Distress), the BBC announced that the progamme was merely on "hiatus", and would return in September 1986. Several stories which had been planned or commissioned for the original Season 23 were abandoned in favour of an overarching "trial" theme, reflecting the fact that the programme itself was on trial at the BBC.[4]

This story was the last complete Doctor Who story written by Robert Holmes. Its plot is similar to Holmes' first contribution to Doctor Who, The Krotons. In both stories, an alien machine subjugates a humanoid civilization and forces its brightest young people into its service.[5]

[edit] Casting

The actor playing Merdeen, Tom Chadbon, had previously appeared in the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial City of Death.


The opening model shot of the Time Lord Space Station where the trial is held throughout the season was the most expensive model shot from the classic series run (costing more than £8,000).[6] The sequence depicts the Time Lord Space Station orbiting in space then dragging the TARDIS inside via the use of a tractor beam.

From this serial onwards, all location work would be recorded on Outside Broadcast (OB) tape instead of 16mm film. This practice would continue until the end of the series. The only footage shot on film for this episode was the opening special effects shot of the TARDIS. The BBC had been encouraging the replacement of film cameras with OB cameras since the early 1980s on the grounds that they were cheaper, and mixed with studio-shot material better. John Nathan-Turner had actually wanted to switch to OB shooting as early as Peter Davison's first season in 1982, but met with resistance from the directors working on the show at the time.


Dominic Glynn was hired to score the music for The Mysterious Planet, and John Nathan-Turner offered him the chance to rearrange the opening title music. His new score for the opening theme was the shortest lived, lasting this season alone (not counting the unused 1973 version by Delia Derbyshire and Paddy Kingsland). Some saw it as an improvement on the Peter Howell version, while others criticized it for being "too quiet" or "not scary enough". It has since been used on the majority of the Big Finish Productions audio plays featuring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.

Commercial releases

In October 1993, this story was released on VHS as part of the three-tape The Trial of a Time Lord set. A DVD release is due in 2008, similarly boxed with the other stories in The Trial of a Time Lord season.

In print

Doctor Who book
Book cover
The Mysterious Planet
Series Target novelisations
Release number 127
Writer Terrance Dicks
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Tony Masero
ISBN 0 426 20319 4
Release date 19th November 1987 (Hardback)

21st April 1988 (Paperback)

Preceded by The Time Meddler
Followed by Time and the Rani

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in November 1987.

External links


Target novelisation

almost fourteen years ago

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