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Recap / Doctor Who S23 E4 "The Ultimate Foe"

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The Doctor gazes into the abyss, and the audience gazes back. At least we can't see his coat... (I think we're done with the coat jokes... for now.)

"In all my travels throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here! The oldest civilization: decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core! Power mad conspirators? Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen — they're still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of absolute power: that's what it takes to be really corrupt!"
The Doctor, finally fed up with the Kangaroo Court he's been thrown into, ripping into his own people's despicable acts with a lovely monologue.

Production code: 7C

The one where Colin Baker gets fired.

This two-episode serial first aired from November 29 to December 6, 1986.

Picking right up where the previous story left off, The Ultimate Foe opens up with the Doctor being accused of genocide. The Doctor objects, and both he and the Valeyard get into a well-written argument that suddenly ends when Sabalom Glitz and future companion Melanie show up almost literally out of nowhere. When the Doctor asks how they got there, the Master shows up to torment the Doctor and everyone else— revealing that Ravalox was really the Earth, thrown out of whack by the Time Lords to cover up the theft of classified info from the Matrix (no, not that one! We've been over this!). The Doctor, realizing that the whole trial was part of the cover-up and supremely angered by this newly-revealed and unprecedented display of hypocrisy (given that this is his second trial by the Time Lords for lesser displays of interference, and that the first one ended in his execution), chews out the court, declaring Gallifrey's eternity of unchecked power a greater evil than any Monster of the Week he's ever faced. Furthering his gloating, the Master reveals that the Valeyard is really the Doctor.

Well, not exactly. The Valeyard is a piece of the Doctor: specifically, the Doctor's dark side, split off from around the last of his regenerations. Even when being specific, this origin is incredibly abstract.note 

Either way, the Valeyard flees into the Matrix and the Doctor and Glitz pursue. Inside the Matrix, the Doctor and Glitz are tormented by the Valeyard. The Valeyard continues to gloat in his own way, while Mel and the entire judge and jury stare at the viewscreen.

Not much later, things go back to the courtroom, where the Doctor is convicted of his so-called crimes and will be executed. Only it's all an illusion, and the Doctor knows it's an illusion, but Mel doesn't know that he knows, so she runs into the Matrix to try and stop it all. The Valeyard gets furious about this, deciding to vanish for the time being. Meanwhile, Glitz and the Master decide to steal the records of the Matrix to make some cash in a story that goes nowhere, as a trap ends up paralyzing the two and they don't appear again for the rest of the episode.

Finally, the Doctor and Mel find themselves face-to-face with the Valeyard, and his plans to destroy the current government of the Time Lords. Through a brief struggle, the Valeyard spits out technobabble about things not going his way and is finally defeated (OR IS HE...?!). The Time Lords saved, the random Time Lady presiding over the trial tells the Doctor that Peri survived and is living with King Yrcanos after his rambling that she would be his queen... for some reason. Mel and the Doctor leave together, presumably for him to drop her off somewhere for his future self to pick up later, so he can eventually meet her for the first time (See the Past Doctor Adventures novel Business Unusual... or maybe the Big Finish Audio "The Wrong Doctors". Either one works.note ), and the Sixth Doctor goes on to many, many more adventures, where th—







Anybody know the name of a good animator?

Though few really notice, the two episodes were written by four different people.

Part 1 was written by Robert Holmes and script editor Eric Saward together; because Holmes had died of a sudden disease before finishing Part 2, Saward finished that by himself and preserved the Bolivian Army Ending intended by Holmes. However, his draft was rejected by Producer John Nathan-Turner, who felt Holmes's ending was an easy excuse for the BBC to cancel the shownote . Having had one too many Creative Differences with Nathan-Turner, Saward quit the show, took the script with him, and threatened to sue if anything resembling his script went to screen.

The final draft of Part 2 was written by Pip and Jane Bakernote  of "The Mark of the Rani" and "Terror of the Vervoids"; because of legal problems with Holmes's estate and Saward, the Bakers were prohibited from even knowing about the original script, resulting in a finale with a massively different tone from its direct predecessor's.

This gap is also where the Doctor Who Expanded Universe really takes over the Sixth Doctor. Since this was his last appearance onscreen, Colin Baker and the writers were left with a blank slate on which they could entirely reinvent the Sixth Doctor, correcting many of the more controversial aspects of his television era, giving him massive amounts of Character Development, many more adventures with Mel, and eventually, giving him a real finale to hand the role over to Sylvester McCoy properly.

This story provides examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: At the very least a large chunk of Season 23 is revealed to have been an inaccurate reconstruction of what really happened. Of particular note, it turns out that Peri's death never really happened and instead she is happily living with King Yrcanos (despite the fact that he seems to be violently insane, though that may just be more Matrix tampering).
  • Belated Happy Ending: Peri, assumed dead after the events of "Mindwarp," gets one of these.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The Doctor, who is a good (if sharper person) in this incarnation, unleashes one hell of a tirade on the Time Lord's when he finds out just what the hell they've actually been up too.
  • Big Bad: The Valeyard. He started off working for the corrupt Time Lord High Council, but ends up as The Starscream to them, happy to wipe the other Time Lords out along with the Doctor.
  • Big "NO!": The Sixth Doctor screams it when he is beginning to disappear into the quickstand, when hands begin to pull him down in the Matrix.
  • Bizarrchitecture with a Steampunk flavour.
  • Call-Back: When the hands grab the Doctor and try to drag him under the sand he tries to counteract the illusion by yelling "I DENY IT!". Promptly lampshaded by the Valeyard:
    Valeyard: Not this time, Doctor!
  • Character Tics: As the Valeyard notes, he still displays some of the Doctor's habits and eccentricities.
  • Creepy Children Singing: As the Doctor explores the Valeyard's Dickensian private world, Creepy Children sing "Ring-a-Ring-o-Roses" in the background; it isn't clear if he can hear them or not.
  • Defector from Decadence: The Doctor's experiences in this season kill any shred of respect he still had for Time Lord society. After this, he only misses Gallifrey once there's no going back.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Ultimate" can be taken to mean several different things in the context of the Valeyard: as the Doctor's greatest foe, as the head of this specific plot, or "final", which fits with what we can tell about the Valeyard's origins, confusing though they are.
  • The End... Or Is It?: After the Doctor and Mel depart, the Inquisitor starts organizing the surviving Time Lords with the intent of restoring order to Gallifrey. She gives an order to the Keeper of the Matrix, who then turns to the screen to reveal the Valeyard himself. Cue end credits.
  • Enemy Within: The Master's ambiguous wording when describing the Valeyard infers that he's either the Doctor himself, after all his evil took over him in a potential future, or...
  • Enemy Without: The Doctor's evil split from him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Master wants the Doctor dead, but he hates the Valeyard more, so he interferes to prove that the Matrix can, in fact, be meddled with just to prove that the Doctor does actually have a point.
  • Evil Me Scares Me: The Doctor's reaction to the Valeyard's true nature is one of abject horror. It's been argued that the Doctor is petrified of him returning in any form. The Expanded Universe went further on this, to the point that an entire incarnation's personality was locked away for a time because of that fear. Hell, even the Master fears him.
  • Exact Words: The Master's description of the Valeyard as originating from somewhere between the Doctor's "twelfth" and "final" incarnations was retroactively made into this a long time later (well, either that or the Master was just lying). At the time, it was assumed that the Doctor's thirteenth incarnation would be his final one (or just that the show was unlikely to reach the point where it would be a problem), and thus the assumption is clearly that the Valeyard - whatever exactly he is — would be created somehow when the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor regenerated into the thirteenth. Later stories made it so that we've now already seen more than twelve incarnations of the Doctor, with still more to come, and no clear idea any more of which number of incarnation (if any) we can expect to be the "final" one. If we assume that the Master was correct, then "between twelfth and final" is now retroactively just a fancy way of saying "some point after Matt Smith but before the BBC finally cancels Doctor Who for good".
  • Extra-Long Episode: Part Two clocks in at 30 minutes instead of the usual 25; John Nathan-Turner found himself unable to truncate it even after cutting down the even longer first draft.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: The Time Lords are revealed to have engaged in this on a planetary scale, nearly wiping out the Earth and moving it across the galaxy, and then willing to execute the Doctor, who accidentally stumbled across the evidence without even realizing it in order to hide their own embarrassing indiscretions.
  • Government Conspiracy: Committed by the Time Lord High Council.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Colin Baker vs Michael Jayston!
  • Hijacked by Ganon: Subverted — the Master turns out to have caused most of the events of the "Trial" season, but then the Valeyard took advantage of his actions to become the real "Ultimate Foe".
  • Hypno Pendulum: Played for Laughs. The Master has a criminal named Sabalom Glitz in his grasp and is trying to hypnotize him with a pocket watch. Glitz appears to be in a trance, but says that he's only wondering how much it cost the Master.
  • Infodump: The first fifteen minutes of Part One are basically one long courtroom infodump courtesy of the Master, who reveals the answers to almost all of the questions that have been building throughout the entire Trial of a Time Lord story arc.
  • Kangaroo Court: After the revelation of the Valeyard's true identity, the Doctor says that the trial clearly can't continue when the prosecutor has such a major conflict of interest. The Inquisitor promptly dismisses this as an unimportant technicality and tries to continue with the trial, only to discover that the Valeyard fled the courtroom while she and the Doctor were arguing.
  • Karma Houdini: The Valeyard, who never reappeared in the show after this serial's final shot showed him smirking into the camera. Although this depends on if you take expanded universe material as canon or not.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Perhaps the most famous example from the series' half-century run: "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!" note  The accompanying scene doesn't make it clear if "the catharsis of spurious morality" refers to the particle disseminator that the Doctor is trying to defuse at the moment or the Time Lords' newly-exposed crimes against humanity.
  • Mugged for Disguise: If the final moments are anything to go by, the Valeyard seems to have robbed the Keeper of the Matrix of his robes.
  • Noodle Incident: Glitz claims that he and the Master have had "quite a few nicks together".
  • Not So Above It All: There is a golden moment where the Valeyard in lecturing the Doctor in his typical dour manner, even explicitly stating that he "wishes not to be contaminated by [the Doctor's] whims and idiosyncracies." ...when Glitz tries to participate in the conversation, the Valeyard teleports directly behind him for the explicit purpose of insulting him in a rather comedic way. Then again, his compulsion to out-cool adult male companions and recurring characters was always one of the Doctor's character flaws...
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mr. Popplewick is a Victorian clerk who pops up numerous times to obfuscate, torment and hold up the Doctor whilst he's trying to locate the Valeyard in the Matrix. Popplewick is a disguise used by the Valeyard.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor's reaction when the Master reveals that the Valeyard is actually the embodiment of the Doctor's dark side, taken from a point after his twelfth incarnation. The look on the Doctor's face shows he knows full well what he's capable of—and this is long before the final events of the Time War.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Stated by the Master in Part Two as to why he's helping the Doctor. He cannot stand the idea of the Valeyard being the one to do him in.
  • Purple Prose: The Valeyard is prone to overly-verbose language, because his dialogue was penned by Pip and Jane Baker.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After having put up with the Kangaroo Court of the previous season and the numerous pompous and self-righteous condemnation of his character from the Time Lords, when he learns that the whole thing was orchestrated as part of a cover-up of a theft of Time Lord secrets that also resulted in the destruction of the Earth, the Doctor takes the opportunity to tell the assembled Time Lords exactly what he thinks of them; from here on in, the only time he will ever look at Gallifrey with any sort of fondness is after it's gone.
  • Retcon: Peri's death in "Mindwarp" was meant to be real. However, between the filming of Nicola Bryant's final scenes and the end of production, John Nathan-Turner got cold feet about killing her off (given that the previous season's heavy violence was a big factor in BBC controller Michael Grade's crusade against the show) and decided to reveal in this story that it was a fabrication, seemingly without checking if it tallied with the rest of the story. Some Big Finish stories deal with these events, but pretty much everyone has deemed this Canon Discontinuity as a result of how last-minute it was. While there are very few people who actually believe Peri was killed, there are several different versions of what actually happened to her.
  • Revised Ending: Part Two originally ended on a cliffhanger with the Doctor and the Valeyard trapped in the Matrix, locked in a seemingly endless battle. However, John Nathan-Turner felt that the ending would've given The BBC an excuse to cancel the show (having already tried to do so after the previous season, which became an 18-month hiatus) and rejected it, resulting in writer and script editor Eric Saward walking out and legally prohibiting the show's staff from using any of his material. As a result, the serial's last episode was rewritten from the ground up by Pip and Jane Baker, with a new ending where the Doctor triumphs over the Valeyard and returns to the TARDIS with Mel.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: In Part Two, as is pretty much par for the course in Pip and Jane Baker scripts. Key example: "there's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality."
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Doctor quotes A Tale of Two Cities:
      It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
    • The Valeyard quotes Hamlet:
      The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Master, of all people, derails the whole plot against the Doctor. Not out of any sense of altruism, naturally, but for both the chance to pit two aspects of the Doctor against himself and topple the High Council of Time Lords. For bonus points, he makes himself this as literally as he possibly can, by revealing the plot from within the Time Matrix viewing screen.
  • Teleport Spam: The Valeyard.
  • Troll: The Doctor has pursued the Valeyard into a computerized micro-universe where the only logic is that there is no logic and where the Valeyard is already adept at manipulating his surroundings. Does the Valeyard create an utterly deadly environment where his foe couldn’t possibly survive? ... Actually, he delays their confrontation by creating an Obstructive Bureaucrat who has to fill in an interminable number of forms before he can allow the two enemies to meet, just to annoy the Doctor.
  • Uncertain Doom: The original ending would have seen the Doctor and the Valeyard subject to this, trapped within a "time vent" within the Matrix eternally battling with each other, with it unclear whether one, the other or both would eventually prevail and escape. It was vetoed by the producer on the grounds that such a cliffhanger would likely give the BBC higher-ups a gift-wrapped excuse to cancel the show like they were clearly desperate to.
  • Victorian London: Part of the story takes place in a simulation of Victorian London.
  • Villain Decay: The Master is not the title character, and had his plot hijacked by him.
  • Villainous Rescue: The Master rescues the Doctor when he's on the verge of being gassed by the Valeyard because he considers the Valeyard the bigger threat...although he promptly uses the Doctor as live bait to ambush the Valeyard.
  • Wham Episode: The Valeyard is really a corrupted future incarnation of the Doctor, employed by the Time Lord High Council to destroy the Doctor to prevent him from revealing their role in the attempted genocide of the human race. The Doctor's only ally in this is the Master, who obviously cannot be trusted.
  • Wham Line:
    The Master: They made a deal with the Valeyard, or as I've always known him, the Doctor...

Hey, don't be sad ol' Sawbones Hex got drummed out of the series after only eleven stories. He was rescued by Big Finish! Take some spare time to look at the overwhelming collection of Sixth Doctor audios. And if you want to see more of him, start HERE. But sadly (or perhaps mercifully is a better word), you can't witness his coat in action as you listen to his stories; while audio can broadcast the dulcet tones of the Sixth Doctor, it doesn't do so hot where the visual department is concerned, let alone visualizing a coat that is a certified cornucopia of clashing colour hues.

And if you really want to know what happened to the Sixth Doctor, have no fear! Big Finish released an audio series in August 2015 to deal with his regeneration story.

Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice...
— (The last words of the Sixth Doctor on TV, at least)


Video Example(s):


Doctor Who (1986)

The Sixth Doctor finally gives the Time Lords a good dressing down.

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Main / TheReasonYouSuckSpeech

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