My idea of reviewing a story from every season as its released on Blu-ray immediately ran into a problem thanks to the release of Season 23, a season that’s actually one long story, albeit a story that is clearly segmented into four parts. Rather than review the whole Trial of a Time Lord (which I didn’t have time to do due to a certain six film, six game marathon) I was going to just review one part, but that didn’t seem right either. Thankfully, on the Blu-ray, is a special “Standalone Edition” of one of the stories, with all the Trial stuff cut out, so I’ve decided to review that, and then later do an additional paragraph or two when I reach this story during a review of Trial proper. With all that said, how is Terror of the Vervoids when all the Trial stuff is removed? Let’s find out!
On board the Hyperion III space liner someone puts out a distress call, leading to the Doctor and Mel to arrive on the liner just as a series of grisly murders begin to unfold…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
He’s good now, see? He has flowers on hand!
The one thing that always sticks about to me about Terror of the Vervoids is that despite a lot of silly stuff with Mel it has quite a dark tone to it. There’s some body shock horror with a woman infected by the Vervoids, the killer plants themselves not only kill a bunch of people but stack them in a pile like we put leaves on a compost pile, and when a normally peaceful race take control of the ship so cargo stolen from their planet could be returned to them, they end up getting gassed to death. This was made all the more obvious to me thanks to this standalone edition, without the trial scenes interrupting everything you could focus more on the characters aboard the Hyperion III, and the mostly grizzly end they face.
The Vervoids are completely wiped out by the end of the story. They were made on the ship, hatched and end up being turned to brown mush by The Doctor and Mel using a special type of exploding metal… thing. Back in the Trial version of the story this gets The Doctor the charge of genocide, even though he was justified in stopping the Vervoid plague from wiping out humanity… that whole thing made no real sense, especially as… no, hang on. I’ll save my frustrations over that whole thing when I cover Trial…
The captain of the ship, Commodore Travers (Michael Craig) is another one of those characters who have “met the Doctor in the past and know to be weary” but this was actually their first appearance. Given originally this was a flash forward for the trial it made sense that we “missed out” on their first encounter, but either way he was a good, if basic leader-type. The rest of the guest cast were good too, like harsh and straight forward Professor Lasky (Honor Blackman) who tries to put all experiments first instead of human life… until the very end (which ironically costs her life) and Security Officer Rudge (Denys Hawthorne) who was on the verge of retiring and generally fed up of being treated like crap.
It also has to be pointed out that The Doctor here is far nicer and less arrogant, a sign that the plan really was for the Sixth Doctor to slowly mellow out, but instead Big Finish audios had to fill in the gap. It works well though, The Doctor here fits in well with the Doctor we know from the Audio Dramas, albeit retroactively.
Alongside genocidal plants, mutiny and alien takeovers, there is also a plot where the ship nearly flies into a black-hole. Say what you want, but this story doesn’t hang around and allow itself to get boring, that’s for sure (even more so with this version!)
“Why? Why did you create us to have heads shaped like penises?” “Erm… I thought it would be a bit of laugh. Sorry.” “WE KILL NOW!”
Ah yes, Mel… My main memories of her on TV are the mostly awful Season 24 stories, so seeing her here in an isolated Sixth Doctor story was… interesting. She’s very screamy, as per usual, though at least here it’s mostly justified. Still mostly annoying, especially all the exercise-related stuff, clearly written just because that’s what she was known for in real life…
Other than that, not much to complain about really. The main things that normally drive me crazy about this story are based on the trial framing device, so removing that has given me new appreciation for the story, really…
“Strap in Mel, this is the first of many televised adventures we’ll be having!”
Once again, removing all references to the Trial of a Time Lord, there isn’t much to talk about here. The Vervoids are completely wiped out, so they don’t return or anything.
Apparently the novel “Instruments of Darkness” features the Sixth Doctor meeting Commodore Travers for the first time, so I was going to say there has yet to be a depiction of that, but there you go. That’s… something!
Just take some paracetamol, it’ll be fine…
Terror of the Vervoids in isolation actually works really well. It’s dark, full of different little twists to stop the story from getting too slow and predictable, and the guest cast is pretty good on the whole. If only they made Mel less annoying alongside taking out all the Trial bits then this story would really score high!