Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.9
So in November this year Doctor Who turns 50. Can I review every episode before then? One way to find out…
The Stones of Blood
Following on from the very sci-fi previous episode The Doctor returns to Earth in search of the third piece of the Key. Landing in rural England they find themselves near some standing stones being surveyed by an aging archaeologist and her friend Vivien Fay. Initially they think that they’ve found their lead in the form of a local druidic sect, complete with a creepy leader who performs blood sacrifices, but this turns up a dead end.
After Romana gets attacked by a doppelganger of The Doctor they trace the strange happenings back to Vivien Fay, who has been alive for thousands of years and the stones are an ancient alien race who have been crushing people to death as a sacrifice to keep her alive. Things take an even more unusual turn when Vivien traps Romana in hypserspace and The Doctor has to outwit an AI judicial system to make their escape.
As you can see this particular serial takes something of a sudden shift partway through, and it’s more than a little jarring. We jump from the drizzly moors of England with standing stones creepy around to a spaceship with an AI represented by some sparkly lights. Not that it’s a bad serial, quite a good one actually, but it’s a random direction for them to take. Almost feels like they had two unfinished stories and just jammed them together.
The final product is fun enough, with the druidic angle adding some new flavour to the story. The high point is easily the Doctor outwitting the AI judges and lawyers, relying less on action and more on good writing and character.
The Androids of Tara
The setting for the fourth chapter in the Key of Time saga takes place in quite the imaginative locale. At the outset the planet looks to be similar to medieval Europe, but with advanced technology in a few areas. For example their swords are electrified, and they have limited robotics technology. When the TARDIS lands The Doctor is insistent on taking a break and going fishing, but the ever ambitious Romana wants to find the missing piece of the Key. She insists that she can find it and return within an hour, leaving the Doctor to his sport.
Romana does quickly find the piece, but is captured by the exceptionally dastardly Count Grendel. The evil Count (is there any other kind?) is making a play for the throne and has started by kidnapping Prince Reynart’s true love, Princess Strella. He intended to use an android double of Strella to assassinate the Prince, and as Romana is a perfect double of the Princess he mistakes her for another android that he could salvage for parts.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has fallen in with allies of Prince Reynart and agrees to help repair an android doppelganger of him to subvert assassination attempts. What follows is a series of plays by both party’s trying to end up on the throne with plenty of kidnappings and replica androids for good measure.
It sounds goofy but it’s a really well scripted couple of episodes that makes use of some classic story-telling tropes. It’s good to see Romana get out from under The Doctor and partake in a bit of adventuring on her own, especially as she’s also a Time Lord with the wits and smarts of The Doctor. Whilst this is happening The Doctor gets a good back and forth going with the Prince’s stuffy swordsman Zadek. The finale features a fencing match between The Doctor and Count Grendel, something he hasn’t done in a while, and it’s awesome.
The Power of Kroll
In the penultimate episode of the Key of Time saga The Doctor and Romana land on the swamp world of Kroll (with K9 sitting out the adventure due to the terrain). They land in the middle of a conflict between the human crew of a methane refinery and the green skinned natives, known quite logically as ‘Swampies’. Although the human’s have been using the Swampies as slave labour and generally treating them like inferior life forms this isn’t the source of the Swampie anger. Instead it’s about the refinery disturbing the waters of swamp and they may incur the wrath of Kroll. As you’d expect, this totally happens and Kroll turns out to be a giant Lovecraftian squid thing.
Unlike the rest of the Key of Time series this is not an exceptional episode. Nothing terrible but this season had raised the bar a few notches and this set of episodes do not quite get there. The Swampies and their world are not exceptionally interesting, and the conflict between them and the refinery workers seems constructed just to bring out the giant squid. The squid is pretty rad though.