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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 through time and space 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.

"Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice..."
—The final line of the adventure; sadly, Colin Baker's final line as the Doctor. (Well, at least on TV...)

The one where Colin gets fired.

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 major plot points like how Ravalox (from the first part) was really the Earth. 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.


Either way, the Valeyard flees into the Matrix (no, not that one! We've been over this!) and the Doctor and Glitz pursue. Inside the Matrix, the Doctor and Glitz are tormented by the Valeyard repeatedly until finally winding up in what can only be described as a world that was co-designed by MC Escher and Charles Dickens on PCP and acid. The Valeyard continues to gloat in his own way, while Mel and the entire judge and jury stare at the viewscreen like it's the Monday Night Football game.

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 all pissy 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, sadly, goes nowhere.


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?

The two episodes were written by four different people, though few really notice. The first episode was written by Robert Holmes and script editor Eric Saward together, with Holmes slowly dying from disease. He passed away without finishing the final episode, which was finished off by Eric Saward himself— and then withdrawn when Producer John Nathan-Turner disagreed with it, specifically taking issue with its preservation of Holmes' intended ending in which the Doctor and the Valeyard become trapped within the Matrix, doomed to fight one another for an indefinitely long period of time. Turner felt that the ending would've given the BBC the perfect excuse to cancel the series for real this time (having already attempted it once before, only for it to lead into the 18-month hiatus that birthed The Trial of a Time Lord in the first place). A frustrated Saward, who had been on increasingly tense terms with Turner due to irreconcilable Creative Differences and had finally reached his breaking point, proceeded to walk out on the show, taking his script with him. The final episode was then entrusted to Pip and Jane Baker (no relation to Colin or Tom Baker, who themselves are also unrelated, and none of them are related to prolific 70s Who writer Bob Baker, either), who had written previously for the series. Because of legal issues with Holmes' estate and with Saward, Pip and Jane prohibited from knowing about the original plan for the story's conclusion, to the point where they weren't even permitted to see the original script. The end result is a final episode that contrasts quite heavily with the tone of its direct predecessor, for better or for worse.

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.
  • Bizarrchitecture with a Steampunk flavour.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 episodes 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".
  • Fiery Coverup: 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 episode 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.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Purple Prose: The Valeyard is prone to overly-verbose language, because his dialogue was penned by Pip & 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 and decided to reveal in this story that it was a fabrication, seemingly without checking if it tallied with the rest of the story. Fortunately, aside from Big Finish stories that deal with it, pretty much everyone has deemed this Canon Discontinuity.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: In episode 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.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: 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.
  • The 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.
  • 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...
  • Xanatos Speed Chess

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.


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