Something to cleanse our palate after yesterday’s rather disappointing 90s Sci Fi, courtesy of UK Gold. It’s Tom Baker and Mary Tamm in The Androids of Tara, part of the Key to Time series.
The first scene, with the Doctor playing chess against K9, reminds me of one of Tom Baker’s complaints about K9, that it was hard to get a tall man like him in the same frame as K9, so he was forever crouching. Here he’s lounging.
Here, Tom Baker waves a fishing rod into the camera, for the benefit of the few people who had 3D equipped television sets in the 1970s.
The Doctor is more interested in fishing than finding the fourth segment of the Key to Time, so Romana heads off on her own. I do hope she isn’t captured.
Tara itself is a nice, green planet, so we’re spared another quarry. But something is lurking in the undergrowth, watching Romana as she searches for the segment.
She finds it almost immediately, disguised as the head of a statue.
But she’s immediately menaced by a small furry creature with an unconvincing mask.
Luckily, a swashbuckling man in a helmet drives it off with a sword that seems to shoot electricity. Lifting his helmet, he’s played by Peter Jeffrey. Traditional casting rules probably make him a bad guy, but we’ll see. It doesn’t look good, as he asks her if she’s ‘damaged’ and asks ‘your head isn’t injured?’ To those of us who remember The Brain of Morbius fondly, this kind of talk is terribly suspicious.
He’s Count Grendel, Knight of the Gracht (which seems to be pronounced graft) and unluckily for Romana, he notices the segment to the key of time, and insists it has to be registered.
He’s also upset that the statue head that used to be the segment is now missing. “It’s supposed to guard our fortunes.”
He insists on taking Romana back to the castle to tend to her twisted ankle, and ‘register’ the segment.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s fishing is interrupted by two more men, one with another of those electrical swords, who are very interested in whether the Doctor can repair androids.
Grendel takes Romana to Castle Gracht, the not entirely unconvincing matte painting where he lives. “and it’s quite, quite escape proof I’m glad to say.” No, he’s not creepy at all.
He takes her to his surgeon engineer, Madame Lamia, and they both exclaim over ‘the workmanship’ of Romana, then Grendel tells Lamia to disassemble her, a task she intends to undertake using an electric carving knife.
Of course, it’s no mystery to the audience what’s happening – the story title and the earlier conversation about repairing androids should be enough clue.
The Doctor is taken to Prince Reynart, who wants him to repair his android. It’s an android of the Prince, and he wants the android to be a decoy on the way to tomorrow’s coronation, because he’s expecting to be assassinated by Count Grendel, who would then be in line for the crown. Also in line is the Princess Strella, “but nobody knows where she is”.
Their plan might have worked too, if it wasn;t for the poisoned wine they drink to celebrate, leaving Grendel at the door, gloating.
Int he next episode, the Doctor has to hatch a plan to use the Prince’s android to stand in at the coronation, all the while with the Prince’s loyal guard (he only appears to have one) doesn’t trust him at all.
Meanwhile, we meet the mysterious Princess Strella, who, in a colossal coincidence, looks exactly like Romana, and is held prisoner by Grendel. Grendel and Lamia inject Romana with something. Probably mind control, if I know my Doctor Who tropes.
Going by the big clock in the main hall, they either have a 16 or 32 hour day.
The android Prince makes it there in time for the coronation, and during this, ‘Princess Strella’ arrives to offer her fealty to the new king, but the Doctor grabs the royal sceptre and (it appears) bashes her over the head, shouting “No!”
Episode 3, the ‘princess’ was an android, the Doctor surmises she was sent to kill the Prince. Grendel’s hunchbacked manservant, Till, visits the Doctor – he’s played by Declan Mulholland, who played the human version of Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars, in the scene which was cut originally, but replaced with a CGI Jabba in the special edition.
He comes with a deal from Lamia – Romana’s return in exchange for safe conduct for Count Grendel out of the country. Naturally, Grendel has another Romana android, ready to kill the Doctor.
The Doctor turns up early to the rendezvous, with K9, and foils the attempt on his life. But Grendel is outside the building with his men with laser crossbows. After firing on the building multiple times, and accidentally killing Lamia when she walks out of the building, he calls “Come out Doctor. Surrender. We won’t harm you.” He really must be the stupidest villain if he thinks the Doctor would believe that.
No, it’s not the Count who’s stupid, it’s the writer, as the Doctor does indeed walk out, into a hail of badly aimed laser bolts. He even comes out a second time to shout “Liar!”.
K9 cuts a hole in the back of the building and they escape, meeting Romana, having escaped earlier on a horse.
So Count Grendel visits the Doctor and the android Prince under a flag of truce, and tries to offer the Doctor the throne if he gets rid of the android. This scene is very strange. It’s shot in a set with two rooms, divided by a curtain with the usual missing fourth wall. The Doctor takes Grendel through the curtain, they converse, then the Doctor goes back through the curtain, but Grendel walks around the pillar indicating the edge of the wall. I can’t work out if this is just bad blocking, a badly designed set, a badly photographed set, or all three.
After all this, Grendel tosses the spear he had tied his flag of truce to, into the chest of the android, then runs out of the room. And, somehow, he’s managed to capture Romana again as he makes his escape.
This really is the biggest load of old tosh.
In the next episode, Grendel plans to marry Romana (as the Princess) to the Prince – he threatens to kill the Princess if they don’t do as he says. His intention would be to then kill the prince, marry ‘the princess’ himself, then bump her off.
Still, at least Doctor Who regular Cyril Shaps is on hand to play the Archimandrite, who has to officiate at the wedding. Clearly Tara doesn’t care much about making royal weddings big public affairs.
The Doctor interrupts the wedding, so Grendel has a swordfight with him. He’s supposed to be the best swordsman on Tara, but the Doctor is more than a match. While Grendel is distracted, they open the gates and the Prince’s men can get in. One of Grendel’s men goes to kill the real princess, but Romana is on hand to stop him by bashing him on the head with a painting canvas. The princess also smashes a pot on his head in case you think a canvas isn’t enough to stun a large man.
Grendel runs away, the prince and princess are reunited, the Doctor has the fourth segment to the Key to Time, so all’s well, and we’re ready for another adventure. Let’s hope it’s much better.
The next story is The Power of Kroll, and at least it’s written by Robert Holmes, probably the best writer to write for the classic series.
A group of Gruff military type men, including Neil McCarthy, Philip Madoc, and Voice of K9 John Leeson in an on-screen role for once, are discussing a gun-runner who may or may not have landed on their moon, intending to ‘arm the swampies’.
McCarthy and Madoc go out on their hovercraft looking for their gun runner – naturally they find the Doctor and shoot him. Meanwhile, Romana is looking for the next segment and gets kidnapped by some green men, dropping the detector for the key, and is taken on a boat by someone who looks like a big game hunter – this would be Rohm-Dutt, the hunter the others were looking for, played by Glyn Owen.
The Doctor is taken to the refinery – a rather lacklustre minature.
The swampies get their guns from Rohm-Dutt, and they decide to sacrifice Romana to the mighty Kroll to give them good luck.
The episode hits a cliffhanger with Romana menaced by something with crab claws.
It’s not actually really Kroll, just a swampie in a costume. The real Kroll doesn’t turn up until later…
It even starts attacking the refinery and grabbing workers there…
In teh next episode, The Doctor, Romana and Rohm-Dutt are tied to a rack, being stretched until they die. Rohm-Dutt tells the Doctor that his guns came from Thawn (McCarthy) at the refinery as an excuse to kill the swampies and discredit a group called The Sons of Earth.
Luckily it starts raining, and the Doctor can smash the window by singing a high note, so the vines they’re tied to start loosening and they escape.
This really does seem like just a dreary schlep through swamps with a couple of dodgy split screens when Kroll appears. I’ve totally lost track of who I should be caring about.
In the final episode, Thawn decides to launch a space rocket, and bring it down on top of Kroll, so at least there’s something for the Doctor to do. Thawn even shoots poor John Leeson to stop him aborting the launch.
Kroll ends up threatening the refinery.
The Doctor has to face it, because he’s worked out that Kroll is the fifth segment of the Key, thus saving everyone.
Not a great pair of episodes, I have to say.
After this episode, recording stops, and underneath there’s the very end of Maroc 7 with Gene Barry.
Then, UK Gold finishes, and What’s In Store starts, running infomercials, with Dennis Weaver (TV’s McCloud) showing us a working television submerged in a miracle liquid called ‘Fomblin’ – but this isn’t a product that will let you have a TV in a fish tank – as useful as that might be – it’s actually the ingredient in AutoFom – a car care product that makes your car shinier. I love these things. They spend half an hour telling you basically the same thing over and over again.
I also like to play a game with these things. When they come to the ordering section, imagine what’s the absolute maximum you’d be prepared to pay for such a product, then compare it with the actual price. Almost always, the price is double my maximum.
After AutoFom, there’s the Great Wok of China – from a time when a wok was actually exotic.
There’s ‘PowerAce’ a 12V battery pack. £150!
Look at this guy with his office on a train. He’s even printing out stuff.
Then, just before the tape ends, there’s the king of infomercials, Mike Levy, with Amazing Discoveries. This time it’s a machine that puts sparkly gems on clothes, but the tape ends before I can see how much it’s being sold for.
- Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
- Walker’s Crisps
- Now 27
- trail: Saturday Night