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Recap / Doctor Who S23 E3 "Terror of the Vervoids"

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Anything remotely Freudian you see in this picture is purely the product of your dirty mind. The Doctor's coat (fortunately not pictured here!), on the other hand, isn't

"This is a situation that requires tact and finesse. Fortunately, I am blessed with both."
The Doctor neatly sums up how awesome he totally is and not fluffing his own ego. Or not. Or both.

Production code: 7C

The One With… the killer clitorises.note  Also the one where Bonnie Langford screams in tune with the theme song.

Written by Pip and Jane Baker. This four-episode serial first aired from November 1—22, 1986.

Picking up from where we left off last time, the Doctor has been given some time to recover from his reaction to Peri's unfortunate demise. Still, it's nowhere near time to wrap up the trial. Instead, it's finally the Doctor's turn to present evidence in his "trial." With the reason that he will improve, the Doctor decides to present an adventure that hasn't happened yet (described as his "near future"). We resume watching the Doctor watch... the Doctor.

The Doctor's future companion Mel, who the viewers never get a chance to be properly introduced to, will apparently spend a lot of time badgering him to exercise and trying to persuade him to drink carrot juice. This will result in Colin Baker messing around on an exercise bike, so at least it's somewhat amusing. The Doctor will be relieved when the TARDIS receives a distress call from a luxury space liner, the Hyperion III. Of course, the Doctor can't ever refuse a cry for help (if it will get him away from exercise and carrot juice), so he will decide to assist. Upon entering the Hyperion III, though, the Doctor will declare he "senses something evil" about the place, but will continue on exploring anyhow. Hobnobbing around with the crew for a while, the Doctor and Mel will discover that the distress call was completely faked. But the Doctor will be convinced that the call was real for some reason, so Mel and the Doctor stick around — deciding to enjoy the spaceship scenery for a bit before they'll part ways. The Doctor will nose around, while Mel will randomly decide to exercise.

The Doctor will flirt with the hostesses of the ship, while Mel will overhear that things are going wrong with the secret plant research going on inside the ship's bowels. In fact, some "Demeter seeds" will have been stolen, silver seeds that look like painted stones. So the plant research crew will go to investigate, while the head woman Lasky will berate her subordinates for the fools they will have been. Or something.

Meanwhile, there will be a murderer on the loose, with the body being dumped in the trash compactor. The Doctor and the captain of the Hyperion III, Commodore "Tonker" Travers, will banter while Lasky will continue to berate her subordinates. Mel, for her part, will decide to tell the Doctor about Lasky's strange behaviour — but the Doctor will berate her for trying to be smart, yelling at Mel to go investigate on her own. In the present, the Doctor objects to his own defence presentation — claiming that someone's altering the record of the future. The Valeyard laughs at the Doctor's apparent ineptitude, and the Doctor keeps ranting about the Matrixnote  being altered, which is apparently impossible. So, the Doctor gets depressed as we continue to watch the future.

Back in the future, Mel will arrive at the hydroponics bay of the Hyperion III and persuade a random crewman to help her investigate. Nothing good will come of this, as the poor random crewman will be electrocuted the second he tries to open it. We will be left seeing the hydroponics bay explode; Mel will scream as the whole thing explodes around her. Meanwhile, a camera surrounded by a green mist will wander around killing people. The Time Lords object to this, claiming that Mel was the one that could have died in the future rather than the hapless crewmen who will die. Why they complain about this when it's in the future is anybody's guess, but Wibbley Wobbley Timey Wimey. Mel will be questioned as to why stuff will blow up when she's around, but Mel will convince everyone that this has to be some sort of sabotage. So, the Doctor and Mel will begin to investigate the crew, and most of the passengers will have something to hide in some form from our investigating duo. In fact, several of them will not be what they seem. It will all be very Agatha Christie, if Agatha Christie had ever thrown in a twist ending in which the hero will have to battle genetically-engineered plant creatures with homemade hand grenades.

As it turns out, most everyone will have a motive for murdering someone. And, as luck would have it, most everyone will also make sure that their actions result in murder as well. The second-in-command of the Hyperion III will decide to hijack the ship for... some reason... but not before another will decide to steer it into a black hole. As you might guess, he will fail. Also, those plant creatures will decide to call themselves Vervoids, who will decide to dedicate themselves to spraying fog in people's faces and toss them onto compost piles. The amount of bodies found on the Hyperion III will rise while the Doctor will futz around, continually flipping between Jerkass and actually trying to figure out what's going on. Finally, everyone but Mel, the Doctor and a handful of the people on the Hyperion III will be dead, and the ship will be getting close to Earth. This is bad, as the Doctor will reveal, if a single Vervoid steps on the Earth, they will become a threat worse than the Daleks (or something like that).

The Doctor will save the day, of course, destroying all the Vervoids before they can get loose and wipe out animalkind with those lovely hand-grenades made of what will be poison to the Vervoids. Back in the courtroom (and the present), the Doctor claims the presentation as evidence that sometimes his meddling is necessary for the greater good, or will be in this case. The Valeyard counters by pointing out that he's just confessed to committing genocide, and calls for an immediate death penalty. The camera zooms in dangerously close to the Doctor's face as the episode ends...


  • 6 Is 9: There's a scene early on where a newly-embarked passenger goes into the wrong room because of reading the tag on the room key upside down. Let's not ask how she managed to unlock the door to the wrong room with that key...
  • Actor Allusion: In Mel's first scene, she is shown training the Doctor who's on an exercise bike. Colin Baker gained a noticeable amount of weight inbetween the 22nd and 23rd seasons.
  • Anachronic Order: Apart from the trial segments, this is actually the chronological latest of the Sixth Doctor's televised stories (not counting his appearing in "Time and the Rani" for just long enough to get a bridge dropped on him), as it's set after the trial.
  • Batman Gambit: The Doctor submits this adventure as evidence supporting him, but it seems it either had been altered or altered after the fact in the Matrix because at the end of the last episode, the Valeyard changes the accusation to the Doctor to genocide, a far worse crime than he had originally been presented with.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: No less than three sets of villains with entirely different goals in this story, namely Doland, Rudge and the Mogarians, and the Vervoids. Four if you include Bruchner, who ends up going nuts and trying to kill everyone.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Doctor states that there's no point in trying to reason with the Vervoids because there's no way they'll be able to see humans as anything but an enemy, due to their "instincts." He makes a point of stating that they're not necessarily wrong to feel that way, but that doesn't mean the humans should just let themselves be slaughtered. Laskey's attempt to talk the Vervoids down bears the Doctor's observations out.
  • Body Horror: Ruth Baxter's infection by Vervoid pollen and transformation into a Vervoid-Human hybrid.
  • Casting Gag: Michael Craig (Commodore Travers) was known at the time for his role in Triangle as the captain of a North Sea ferry.
  • Detrimental Determination: A team of researchers do everything they can to ensure the success of an experimental procedure for producing the titular Vervoids, plant-based humanoids that they hope to use as manual laborers on Earth. However, the illegality of the experiment and the dubious methods used to get around the law result in them compromising the safety of not only each other (with one assistant being horribly mutated in a lab accident), but also the other passengers on the Hyperion III, especially when the Vervoids become sentient enough to plot the extinction of all animal life on Earth.
  • Distress Call: Hallett sends a faked distress signal to lure the Doctor to the Hyperion III. Someone else (shown to be the Doctor, but likely Doland in reality) later destroys the communication room to prevent a real distress signal being sent when things start getting ugly.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Part of Rudge's reason for turning hijacker is that he's sick of people like Commodore Travers ordering him around and talking to him like he's an idiot.
  • Exty Years from Publication: The story takes place in 2986.
  • Faking the Dead: One of the early murder victims turns out to have faked it and gone into hiding. He gets murdered again, properly this time, later on.
  • Final Solution: The Doctor is forced to destroy every existing Vervoid in order to protect humanity. However, the Valeyard immediately seizes upon this fact to point out that the Doctor is guilty of genocide; noting that Gallifreyan law makes no exceptions in this case, the Valeyard ends the story by proclaiming that the Doctor should be put to death for his actions.
  • Gambit Pileup: Doland wants to get the Vervoids to Earth and sell them for a huge profit. Bruchner wants to destroy the Vervoids and all the team's research. The Vervoids themselves are afraid of being eaten and play the humans off each other, killing them when the opportunity presents itself. Rudge and the Mogarians intend to hijack the Hyperion III. Hallett/Grenville is trying to expose Lasky and her team. The Commodore is covertly using the Doctor to solve the mystery of what's happening on the ship. And near the end, the Doctor tricks Doland into revealing that he has been responsible for a lot of the chaos on the ship. The only ones without some ulterior motive are Mel, Janet, and, ironically enough, Lasky, who is presented as the Big Bad for the majority of the story.
  • Genocide Dilemma: The Doctor doesn't have to think about killing all the Vervoids, as at the very least they'll slaughter everyone on the Hyperion III, and possibly even overrun Earth when they get there. Unfortunately, this doesn't sit well with the Valeyard or the Inquisitor.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 2019 Blu-ray release of Season 23 features a cut of this story which, in addition to updating the special effects, removes the scenes relating to the trial and frames the rest as if it were a standard Doctor Who story broadcast in the "missing" season of the show starring Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford, the joke being that the viewer is finally catching up on the story as it happened from when it "actually" happened. The episodes even have a new version of the opening and closing credits, which combine the aesthetics of the original starfield titles with the presentation of the Revival Series' various time vortex titles, to reflect this.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Doctor’s evidence in his defence, while treated as valid by the court (since he was requested for aid, the court can’t say he interferes in everything), it give the Valeyard grounds to bring up charges of genocide.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Subverted; Lasky thinks that this is what happened with the Vervoids, but the Doctor points out that it's really an example of Gone Horribly Right, given how most plants will naturally try to defend themselves from animals, and the Vervoids are taking this up to eleven.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: As the Doctor himself says, "Had a single Vervoid reached Earth, the human race would have been eliminated!"
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: How the Doctor realizes that one of the Mogarians is actually a disguised Hallett: he doesn't turn his voice translator on before he speaks, and its light is off the entire time, showing that it wasn't switched on in advance. The discrepancy is so subtle that the present-day Doctor actually has to run through the scene again to show the court how he figured it out.
  • Informed Ability: The Doctor talks at length about how Hallett was a brilliant investigator with a mind quite unlike anyone else of his era. Yet all we see him do is act needlessly rude towards an old man, send a distress call to the Doctor, dress up like a Mogarian, and then die after drinking some poisoned tea. And why the hell did he use his real name on Stella Stora?
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Doland pulls a gun on the Doctor. Fortunately, the Doctor had the foresight to disarm it...and inform Commodore Travers of his suspicions.
  • Kangaroo Court: Let's face it — genocide or not, when the prosecutor is allowed to throw in new charges midway through a trial at what is basically a whim, it's a sign of a fairly dodgy legal proceeding.
  • Motifs: A very odd fixation on exercise. Mel's first scene has her coaching the Doctor on an exercise bike, characters often show up in the Hyperion's gym, and at one point, Mel raids Lasky's gym locker in search of a tape containing the Vervoids discussing their plans.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Played straight with the Vervoids, but subverted with the disguised Hallett, who is set up to possibly be the murderer but actually is one of the good guys.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The Black Hole of Tartarus. Not the sort of thing you want a madman to try flying your ship into, to say the least.
  • Noodle Incident: The Doctor met “Tonker” Travers when the latter was a Captain and saved his ship from an incident that involved “a web of mayhem and intrigue”. The now-Commodore thinks things might have gone better without the Doctor around at that point.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Of the Straight Out Of The Box variety. This serial is notorious for the Ray Gun which is so obviously an 80s era embossed label maker. This prop got a lot of screen time in this serial but fortunately, no one had to fire the thing. As an added note, presumably in order to divert attention away from the obvious fact that this was just a label maker, it was held upside down as if that were a logical design for any type of gun.
  • Old Friend:
    • Commodore "Tonker" Travers, to the Doctor. Except Travers doesn't actually appear to like the Doctor all that much.
    • Hallett is an old friend too, but unfortunately he's dead before the Doctor comes across him. He's also an old friend of Kimber, which is what gets him killed.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • A revealing aversion — the ship is named Hyperion, the same as the ship from "The Mutants". This appears trivial — you can't expect creators in 1986 to remember trivial details from 1972 — but makes a lot of sense if you know BNF 'continuity advisor' Ian Levine's first ever script tweak was to reject the name Hyperion for the ship in "State of Decay" on the grounds of this trope. Levine had a fight with John Nathan-Turner over the casting of Bonnie Langford and quit, at exactly the same time this story was being produced. From this we can surmise that the aversion was intended as a Take That! to Levine. As an extra hint, the ship was specifically Hyperion III: in other words, the third Hyperion.
    • This is the third time the Doctor has met someone named "Travers," having previously encountered Professor Travers in "The Abominable Snowmen" and then him and his daughter, Anne, in "The Web of Fear."
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Played with near the end of the first episode, when the Doctor suddenly starts speaking with even more Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness than the Sixth Doctor usually uses, and tells Mel to go and investigate the cargo hold by herself. However, the Doctor isn't under the influence of anyone or anything; rather, the footage from the Matrix has seemingly been altered to paint him in an unflattering light. The Doctor currently in the courtroom even points out that he doesn't talk like that; if anything, the "Doctor" in the footage sounds more like the Valeyard...
  • Plant Aliens: Technically they're manufactured by humans on a colony world, but the Vervoids see themselves as being different enough to animals that they indiscriminately slaughter them.
  • Pun: The Doctor, seeing a worker hauling away some garbage, pats himself on the stomach and says "Wish I could get rid of my waste [waist] as easily, eh?"
  • The Radio Dies First: We even get to see the Doctor himself smashing up the communications room with an axe. Maybe.
  • Red Herring:
    • Despite Lasky being presented as the villain for the first two episodes, she actually isn't evil in any real way, just very cranky and bad-tempered.
    • Ruth Baxter turns out to be basically irrelevant to the plot, despite the second episode cliffhanger focusing on her and a lot of other Foreshadowing.
    • According to the writers, they were actually trying to drop in hints that Janet was the murderer, in particular her serving Hallett with poisoned tea and then the Mogarians being killed by someone apparently serving refreshments.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Janet. You can even see some of the background characters checking her out.
  • Screaming Woman: John Nathan-Turner asked Bonnie Langford to do a Cliffhanger scream on an "F" note, just so her scream would segue seamlessly into the ending credits. She did.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Upon sensing evil in the air, the Doctor tries leaving the Hyperion to go to Pyro Shaika. But he gets interrupted before he can finish describing its appeal.
  • Shout-Out: The two Mogarians are seen playing Galaga at one point.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: So... does the Doctor remember the trial when this happens, and is just going through the motions for no reason? Or does he have amnesia? Or will it happen different, rendering this entire episode pointless? And how will that affect Mel, who's just arrived from the aftermath of these events?
    • According to the Doctor — and later verified by the Master in the final serial — the evidence being presented throughout the trial via the Matrix is all being tampered with. Some of the events shown actually happened differently to some degree, while other events may never have really happened (or going to happen, in this adventure) at all. So even if the Doctor remembers seeing this adventure in his trial when he and Mel arrive on the Hyperion III, he won't remember the actual course of events to copy and will just have to play it by ear anyway...
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Late in the story, Lasky decides that she can talk the Vervoids into a peaceful surrender, despite the fact that they have slaughtered almost all of the crew and passengers by this point. She fails dismally, and ends up as part of the Vervoids' human compost heap. She does at least succeed in the secondary aim of distracting them long enough to enable the Doctor and Mel to get past.
    • The Doctor may also count in the frame story — quite apart from the dubiousness of his defence being "I'll improve in the future", he also fails to notice that it shows him committing a capital crime. Though given the Unreliable Narrator nature of the series, it's possible that the footage has been tampered to present it in a worse light; an Expanded Universe short story (written by Colin Baker) suggests that the actual event didn't end quite so genocidally, but a combination of malicious tampering and the Doctor's memory being affected by the paradox of seeing his future means that it has been distorted.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Vervoids, though they never really accepted that whole thing about being slaves to begin with.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: The Doctor informs the Time Lords in the courtroom that the events he is showing him via the Matrix take place "in the Earth year 2986".
  • Universal Translator: The Mogarians use these, giving the Doctor an important clue: he notices one of them didn't turn its translator on, so it wasn't really a Mogarian.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Matrix itself, if the Doctor is to be believed; it's a lesser example than "Mindwarp", since the Doctor has reviewed the evidence previously and knows what has changed.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sure, Bruchner did try to destroy the Hyperion III and kill everyone on it, but he knew that the Vervoids were up to no good, and if you believe the Doctor, their arrival on Earth would have led to disaster.
  • Wham Line: Just when the Doctor thinks things are going his way again, this exchange happens:
    The Valeyard: Every Vervoid was destroyed by your ingenious plan?
    The Doctor: Yes.
    The Valeyard: Whether or not the Doctor has proved himself innocent of meddling is no longer the cardinal issue before this court. He has proved himself guilty of a far greater crime.
    The Inquisitor: You refer to Article Seven of Gallifreyan law?
    The Valeyard: Article Seven permits no exceptions. The Doctor has destroyed a complete species. The charge must now be genocide!
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Valeyard invokes this by calling the Doctor out on exterminating the Vervoids, but only does it to swing the trial back in his favour.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: At Eric Saward's suggestion, Pip and Jane Baker used Murder on the Orient Express for inspiration. Lasky is even seen reading it at one point.
  • The X of Y: Both the story title itself, and the Black Hole of Tartarus.