Big Finish Folly, Part 107 – The Trial of the Valeyard, by Alan Barnes and Mike Maddox
And now we return to our regular schedule, ploughing through the last third of the Sixth Doctor’s chronology. This particular “season” of stories is another grab-bag of guest-stars and returning characters like the season that showcased Frobisher, the Meep, and the brilliantly barking Peri and the Piscon Paradox. Over the next few weeks we’ll go to both Venus and Scotland, as well as cross over into another of Big Finish’s ranges to pick up a couple of likely characters as companions. First, though, we look at the return of the Sixth Doctor’s nemesis, and twisted shadow-self – The Valeyard…
Unless you’re a Big Finish Main Range subscriber, you won’t actually be able to hear this particular play until it gets a general release in December 2014 – it was first released as a subscriber bonus the previous December. Being something for the uber-fans then, it’s kind of self-referential and continuity-laden in a manner that I guess is supposed to give us thrills, as well as helping to tie up some of the loose ends from the entire Trial Of A Timelord season. At least, that’s what I think it’s meant to be doing. As it stands, it doesn’t settle anything, and though I can never get enough of Michael Jayston’s wonderful voice I can’t help thinking that it’s all a bit… well… ok-ish.
The central idea is a good one – the Valeyard having been defeated, it is his turn to face trial – and he wants the Doctor to defend him. There’s room for plenty of character conflict here, especially with Lynda Bellingham also returning to cause trouble as the Inquisitor. Instead, the play opens with the Doctor launching into a ten-minute tirade about how he doesn’t want to be here. Seriously, I went to the shops and back in the time it took for the plot to be set into motion. And it’s a talky play too – okay, it’s going to be talky, it’s audio, and a three-hander, but it never quite makes the leap that I was looking for into something that really hooks the listener.
The Doctor’s bluster and volume gets a little overbearing in these confines, and it’s a relief when the Valeyard’s scheme – yes, there’s a scheme, it’s not a spoiler! – finally kicks in. Some of the canon references are lost even on me. I ended up as lost and frustrated as the Inquisitor, and as glad as the Doctor that it was all over. A shame – I wanted to like it more than I actually did.