Monday, July 12, 2010

Serial 101: The Androids of Tara - The Key to Time Part IV

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Anthony Reed

Background & Significance: Smack in the middle of The Key to Time, producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read found themselves one story shy of a full season. Then, to make matters worse, one of the writers had to back out due to "personal reasons".

With everything else taken care of and running out of options, they turned to David Fisher, who had written the previous story "The Stones of Blood", which the two leading Doctor Who men had been most pleased with (obviously their standards are not as high as mine).

They told him to write something in the vein of what the original writer had written. Something swashbuckling and exciting and full of rope swinging and adventure. Something that was reminiscent of... Perhaps Ivanhoe or Robin Hood. Something like that.

"The Androids of Tara" was the result of that project.

And what a fun, fun time it turned out being.

Really, this is one of those stories that I've had on my mind for a long time. I just love that title. Androids. of Tara. That's just... wonderful. And boy this wasn't anything about what you'd think it'd be about, but I just did not care. What. a. romp.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We open in The TARDIS, with The Doctor and K-9 playing chess.

Also, I love it.

Romana enters, decked in white again, and asks them what the hell is going on and why they aren't doing it.

Ugh. Women. Telling you to work. Constantly. What a bitch.

The Doctor argues that they're due for a little break, especially because they've found the first half of the segments, meaning they are *far* ahead of schedule.

She retorts by telling him he's gonna get Checkmated in twelve moves. K-9 corrects her, saying it'll be eleven.

Romana puts the TARDIS down on Tara, as that's the location for the next piece of the Key to Time. The Doctor tells her to get dressed (saucy) and then she heads off to this handy clothes rack, which I find hilarious for some reason.

While Romana does that, The Doctor roots through one of his cabinets, looking for a fishing rod. Which he finds. Yay.

Oh, and then we see Romana's horrid costume.


The Doctor and Romana head outside, Romana leading the way with the tracker. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a differing opinion on what to do, as The Doctor seems pretty keen to go out and go fishing.

Romana is indignant. How can he possibly think about going out and going fishing on a day like this. Ugh. Men. But The Doctor says that it's perfectly okay, because they've traveled lots and gone and done things, but The Doctor's planning on taking the next fifty years to rest.

She asks him what he expects them to do about The Key to Time. He tells her to go get the piece on her own if it's bothers her that bad. He doesn't seem to care. So whatever.

And now we're following Romana on an adventure! Hooray! She finally gets to go off and do something meaningful.

After lots and lots of walking (during which there is bush rustling and she thinks she's getting followed), Romana finally gets to a clearing, where she follows the tracker to a statue.

She alights the tip to a small stone dragon at the foot of the statue and reveals.

The Fourth Segment of the Key to Time

Wow. That was... that was easy. Okay, then...Short blog kids. Time to go home until-

Wait a minute... What was that... did you hear that? In the bushes. Was it...

Ah geez.

Lucky for Romana, a dashing chap in noble clothes comes out to attack and fend off the beast with an electric saber.

His name is Count Grendel, and he has a huge nose. No. Really. It's massive. Huge, even. It's like Cyrano de Bergerac level of silly.

Anyways, he's chased off the ghoulish freak child demon animal thing (don't worry. It doesn't show up again, so it's fine) and he asks Romana about herself. She responds very positively and politely. Good for her. Good, good for her.

Count Grendel calls the current woods his woods and that he lives in the Castle Gracht, just a short ways away. He calls the Key to Time funny looking and notices that Romana's hurt her ankle. Ever chivalrous, he carries her and takes her back to his castle on horseback.

Oh, and he has to register the stone for some  such b.s. Really, we know he just wants to get into her pants or something.

Elsewhere, The Doctor is lying down, taking a nap as he fishes. And then some buffoon with a sword, one of those fancy Tara electric jobbies, comes in and zaps him awake.

The Doctor asks to know what's going on, but the two people talking to him, Swordsmen Zadek and Farrah, tell him he's fishing on the private hunting grounds of Prince Reynart. The Doctor protests, but gets a few more friendly zaps from the electric sword. The Swordsmen then randomly ask The Doctor if he has any experience with Androids, to which The Doctor, under penalty of zapping, wholeheartedly agrees to go along with the plan.

So Romana and Count Grendel (even the name sounds nefarious) arrive at the Castle Gracht, which Grendel proudly proclaims as quite escape-proof.

Grendel takes Romana into Madame Lamia’s lab. Also, just so we’re clear, Madame Lamia is a peasant and Count Grendel’s surgeon. They call Romana a masterful job and Grendel orders her disassembled and plundered for parts, especially her head, which he calls “quite remarkable”


The Doctor arrives at the chalet of Prince Reynart and swordsman Farrah, a pompous arse of a man, gets overzealous with his electric sword and burns off part of The Doctor’s scarf. Prince Reynart enters and The Doctor complains, but gets called a peasant and other such nontrue things.

And then he takes a seat and Swordsman Farrah zaps the table. FOR NO REASON.

What. An. Arse.

The Prince offers The Doctor an amount of gold to fix an android, and The Doctor refuses and asks for half the amount. Prince Reynart brings The Doctor to the android, And ummmm…Can you tell me what’s wrong with it? I sure can.

Maybe its face is missing?

Elsewhere, Grendel and Lamia draw a line on Romana’s throat. Why? Because they are going to remove her head. Is Romana trying to do anything to stop them? No. Not at all. She’s just kinda lying there under restraint.

Romana, instead of making such a huge deal about the fact that they are going to CUT OFF HER HEAD, points out that her ankle still hurts. Lamia examines it, and, after examination of other places on her body, determines that Romana is not an android.

Well duh. I mean, I coulda told you that.

Because she is not, Grendel orders her tranqued. Which she is.

The Doctor finishes his initial examination of the android and asks why Reynart wants it fixed. The Prince reveals the android’s face and reveals his true intentions…

See, The Prince is set to be crowned King tomorrow, at the appropriated hour. Unfortunately, because of the laws of Tara, he has to be on the throne at EXACTLY the right moment, or his inheritance is forfeited. Even if he showed up a bit later, it’s gone and handed off to someone else.

So why is this a problem? Prince Reynart is worried… No. Sorry. He’s sure. SURE that Count Grendel will position guards and men at EVERY entrance to try to stop Reynart from getting there.

But how would he do it? By forcing him into chess matches or drinking contests? Seriously. He’s at the frakking palace. What could Grendel possibly do that close to the main seat of power?

And this… this is just hilarious. I’m sorry, but the politics of this whole thing is so ridiculously awesome. Reynart being five minutes late because his coach hit a unicorn or because his teddy bear died or ANY reason is enough to stop the whole ceremony from taking place.

Not only that, but EVERYONE knows that Count Grendel is nefarious and has evil, dastardly, bastardly plans for Reynart. SO WHY DOESN’T SOMEONE TAKE HIM OUT OR USE THE PRINCE AS BAIT? It’s so insane it’s amazing.

Reynart reveals that he plans to use this android (which the Doctor calls “George”) to swap out and be a decoy for him, distracting Grendel and his men enough to allow Reynart to slip into the castle and become king.

Okay. So I guess that works. I still think we should just call Grendel on his sneakiness.

A bit later, The Doctor completes the really really good looking copy of Reynart. George (I’m calling the android George from now on. Keep up) heads off to bed and Reynart orders wine brought in so they can celebrate.

Farrah brings in the wine, and they toast. But something’s wrong. Reynart feels funny.

And then he collapses! Oh no! The Prince has been poisoned!

Farrah draws his sword, but he collapses too! Oh no! He’s been poisoned too!

And then Zandek draws his, but he collapses, similarly poisoned.

The Doctor, fighting back the imminent collapse, struggles to try to make it to the door. Which he does, slowly succumbing to the poison that will assuredly kill him.

But who would do such a thing!

The Doctor collapses in front of the chalet’s door as it swings open and reveals…

Count Grendel!

Oh my god. Really? Dude. You’re a Count. You have a giant inescapable castle. You have a giant guard who can guard EVERY ENTRANCE TO THE KING’S PALACE. And you go yourself to carry out whatever nefarious scheme you had cooking?

Great job, sir. Doing the work and taking away jobs from the incompetent. That shows initiative. I like that.

I also love how he knew EXACTLY when to show up at Reynart’s Chalet. That’s really, really convenient timing. Way to guess exactly exactly perfectly when Reynart and all the people around him would drink the wine you had poisoned and knew exactly perfectly when to show up so that they had JUST passed out when you arrived.

But I digress. I’m sorry. I’m having fun.

Part 2:

The Doctor awakens to Farrah’s arsey electric sword at his throat. Farrah tells him to wake up, calling him a traitor and demanding The Doctor tell him where he’s taken the now-missing Prince Reynart.

Zadek believes him, and The Doctor rushes off to make sure that George is okay, which he is, which means not all is lost.

The Doctor tells them to pretend that George is Reynart and to put him on the throne at the designated time, crowning George king, but buying them all time to find the real Prince Reynart. Also, they’ll have to sneak into the castle through a secret passage, one Grendel hopefully doesn’t know about.

The Doctor calls for K-9 and then sets about putting the finishing touches on George, which he does.

And then K-9 arrives and knocks at the door. The Doctor tells Farrah to put away his sword, but Farrah doesn’t listen, and, when K-9 enters and makes everyone in the room start freaking out, he draws his sword and gets zapped.

To be fair… The Doctor did warn you, dude.

K-9 does a sweep for Romana, trying to figure out where she is, but he can’t seem to find her. Zadek and Farrah guess that she’s been captured by Grendel, especially because that’s what’s in the direction The Doctor saw Romana going last.

Back at Castle Grecht, Romana awakens from her slumber. Grendel takes her down into the dungeon and shows her the captured Princess Strella. And why is this important?

Because Princess Strella happens to look EXACTLY LIKE ROMANA.

Wow. What an amazing coincidence.

Turns out Grendel captured Strella quite a long time ago, keeping her around because she’s next in line for the throne after Reynart, so if Grendel wanted, he could marry her and then have her killed, thereby succeeding to the throne just like he wants to.

Gonna be honest? This all sounds a bit excessive. I mean, all you have to do is kill her and then you move up as next in succession. Just saying.

I mean, the sheer cost of keeping Strella locked up for a while has to add up after a while, and at some point it’d probably just have to become more financially sensible to have her killed and then save on all the upkeeping of keeping someone captured. And can you imagine the paperwork? Confidentiality agreements for the guards alone must be a hefty sum.

But now Grendel says he’s just able to marry Romana and then have her killed because Romana and Strella look so similar. And then no one will be the wiser.

And wouldn’t it strike someone as positively suspicious that Strella goes missing and then shows up to marry guy with a giant nose (when she can really do so much better) and then mysteriously dies?

Sorry, digressing again.

So during all this, Madame Lamia steps forward and makes very invasive body language. Romana comments on this, possibly disgruntling his servants, to which Grendel says, and I quote.

“Oh, she’s just prejudiced, my dear, just because I once showed her a… courtesy.”

Gross, kids. Gross.

Grendel brings Romana in to meet the similarly captured Reynart, who’s randomly sick all of a sudden. He locks the two of them up together, and then heads off to the castle for the coronation of Prince Reynart.

Back with The Doctor, he, Zadek, Farrah, and George all conspire to break into the castle to go ahead with the staged coronation while K-9 goes to the Castle Gracht to see if Romana is located there.

So they’re off. They break into one of the secret passageway cave-tunnels into the castle, managing to get past one of Grendel’s men in the process.

Unfortunately, they don’t get far before Grendel’s men find the downed guard and start to pursue them through the tunnels. Chase scene!

While this is going on, Grendel is standing in the coronation room, biding his time until the exact hour when Reynart will definitely not show up. He starts planning his ascension to the throne, ruminating on how many times to deny the crown before finally accepting it.

And that’s how you know he’s going to fail. Hubris. A classic vice!

The Doctor and Co manage to almost make it to the castle itself when they’re beset upon by guards. There’s a firefight in the tunnels, and all looks dire! The panel that opens the secret passage to the castle isn’t opening! WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?!

In the lobby, time is running out! The Archimandrite, the high priest (or something. He does the swearing in and the ceremonies) seems worried as Reynart hasn’t officially shown up yet. He starts to confide in Grendel that he might have to appoint Grendel King.

No! Don’t you get it! Grendel is the bad guy! Look at his nose! Only bad guys have that kind of nose! (Except for Cyrano de Bergerac, because that guy rocks).

The chimes ring, the hour comes, and the doors to the coronation room opens. Grendel (still hubrised out) strides into the room, only to find-

Everyone in place, exactly as they should be.

I also love how staged it looks. You know that the second before they were just SCRAMBLING. (Look at the Doctor’s face. That gives it all away)

So all is well, yes? Let us watch the glorious end of this story, where nothing goes wrong and all is happily ever after.

Hahaha. I love that ending. You just think The Doctor has completely lost his mind or something.

Part 3:

So Romana entered (or was it Princess Strella?) and The Doctor lost his mind and hit her in the head with The King’s scepter as hard as he could.

Everyone freaks out, and then they realize.

She was really an android.

The Archimandrite wonders why the hell anyone would insult his honor enough to have an android ruin the ceremony (dramatic irony: The King is currently an android). The Doctor says it’s an easy opportunity for assassination. And The Archimandrite wonders aloud who would want to assassinate the King.

Hey, dude. Maybe you should look at the guy with the nose whom EVERYONE KNOWS IS EVIL AND WANTS THE THRONE NO MATTER WHAT.

There’s a power struggle, as Grendel manages to postpone the rest of the oath takings, and tries to get his guards in place to “protect” the king, but Zadek, being the rugged old badass he is, disputes it, saying palace security is now his job.

Grendel also manages to get in a sweet jab about how Reynart isn’t talking too much, to which The Doctor steps in and says that “George” is feeling tired.

And then Grendel gets really pissed at The Doctor because he has NO IDEA who The Doctor is. Which I find hilarious.

And somehow, everyone acquiesces to retiring for the night.

Lamia calls Romana into her lab and questions her about the piece of the Key to Time, saying it’s like no substance she’s ever experienced.

Grendel bursts in, pissed as all hell that his android plan didn’t work at all because of The Doctor’s interference. Romana (being still new to this whole subtle adventuring thing) tips off that she knows The Doctor, to which Grendel orders another Romana android made for… some reason.

K-9 delivers his findings that Romana is in the Castle Gracht and The Doctor puts more finishing touches on George, fixing his speech circuits and making him ridiculously smart.

The Hunchback from Castle Gracht comes with a message from Madame Lamia. The Doctor takes the Hunchback aside and Farrah gets bristly with his sword, drawing it.

And then K-9 shuts him down like a badass, making Farrah put away his sword with just a vague threat.

The Doctor comes back and says that Grendel has offered an exchange: Romana for Grendel’s safe passage out of the country. It’s obviously a trap, but The Doctor’s going to do it anyways.

What The Doctor doesn’t know is that Grendel’s had another copy of Romana made, this one even more exact than the last one in a vain attempt to fool The Doctor (look, man. Why did you half-ass it the first time? Maybe if you hadn’t half-assed it you wouldn’t be here now).

But anyways, this one’s an even more perfect killer, designed to attack when it hears The Doctor’s voice with this really sw33t blue laser special effect.

Lamia brings Romana back to Reynart’s cell, where Romana tries to convince Lamia to let her go because Grendel doesn’t give a crap about her (even though Grendel did take her around the bend a few times and make her feel special. WAH HEY!)

But Lamia refuses. Ah well. Romana snuck a tool from Lamia’s lab, one which she can use to pick the lock on her chains.

Really, there is some weak security going on in this place.

She frees herself and then turns to Reynart, who, ever the gentleman/realist, tells her to save herself, as he is too sick and weak to be anything but a burden. It would be best for her to just escape and tell everyone of Grendel’s plan.

Reynart and Romana plot Romana’s escape, unconsciousing a guard in the process. Romana makes it out to the courtyard where she somehow manages to, without ever having ridden a horse before, gallops the horse out of the Castle Gracht and to safety.

Inescapable! Ha!

While this is going on, we have an epic youtube that chronicles what happens when The Doctor heads to the meeting place for the prisoner exchange (Romana for Grendel’s freedom).

I love that he randomly has time to meet up with Romana, who randomly comes at him in full gallop.

So they escape and The Doctor manages to arrive at the chalet, where everyone is waiting for them. There’s some introductions, and then Romana and The Doctor exit to another room as Count Grendel arrives under a flag of truce.

Farrah draws his sword and demands blood, but Zadek tells him to stand down, as the flag of truce is an honorable thing, and such things should be dealt with honorably. It is the way.

Know what isn’t the way, Zadek? Kidnapping Princess Strella, drugging you, and capturing the prince and locking him away in the hopes that his disappearance might make him king. Just saying.

So yeah. Grendel enters, definitely holding a flag of truce. He laughs at how George’s batteries are drained, and then makes pleasant laughs with The Doctor, the two of them treating each other like old friends.

Grendel asks to pull the Doctor aside, and they step into a small annex where Grendel tells The Doctor that he has all the makings to be a great king. He offers them to join forces, depose the current lineage, and set The Doctor up as King of Tara.

The Doctor then turns right around and tells on Grendel to Zadek (Tattle tale!), who charges Count Grendel with treason (oh my god finally).

Grendel shouts that the charge isn’t valid as treason only works for when The King is alive. So he throws a spear at George and hits him right in the heart. He then, in the confusion manages to get past Farrah, Zadek, The Doctor and however many other guards, run out the backdoor, and somehow kidnap Romana.

Wait what?

No, really. That’s what The Doctor says. Farrah’s about to shoot after Grendel, but The Doctor pushes the gun out of his hand, yells “Don’t shoot! He’s got Romana!” and then he, Zadek, and Farrah all watch Grendel ride off with a newly captured Romana.


I mean, even ignoring the fact that The Doctor somehow figured out in the TWO SECONDS it took him to run from the inside the Chalet to the overlooking deck that Grendel managed to find and kidnap Romana, there’s still the whole problem that ROMANA JUST ESCAPED. Literally. In episode time, Romana escaped LITERALLY less than ten minutes ago. And now she’s right back where she started?

Oh my God why did you even have her escape other than to see her on a horse?!

Part 4:

So now Romana’s back in her cell with Reynhart, where Reynhart explains Count Grendel’s nefarious plan, now that all of his other plans have backfired.

He plans to have Princess Strella and Reynhart married so that Princess Strella will become the consort to the Kingdom of Tara. Then he’s going to have Reynhart killed, making Strella queen. Then he’s going to marry the now-widowed Princess Strella, making him Consort Guy. Then he’s going to have Princess Strella killed so that he will then become King.

Also, that’s a wicked fun plan and all, but why don’t you just kill them as is? You’re clearly very trusted in the Kingdom and no one is standing up to you, so you’d probably have a pretty fair shot at being King, and then once you’re King you can quell all those who’d resist your rule.

And you know what? If it was legal on Tara, you could just cut out the middle man in Princess Strella and marry Reynhart directly, but I guess that’d be too easy of a plan, wouldn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing. Over the course of this conversation, Reynhart calls Count Grendel the “Champion of Orphans and Widows”, so ummmm… Where’s THAT? I want that. I want it badly. That makes this Grendel guy either an ultra sleeze or a mega-pimp because he is hitting it off with widows and probably using goodwill towards orphans to score, and you know what? Right on, man. Right on.

See that, widows and orphans? That is the face of desire.

Meanwhile, Count Grendel beckons the Archimandrite to the Castle Gracht in order to [enact his whole scheme, the one that includes a wedding, a funeral, and a wedding in rapid succession]. Not only that, but Grendel proceeds to tell the Archimandrite EVERYTHING THAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN and how fast it’s going to happen.

And the Achimandrite shrugs at him.

That’s right, man. The Archimandrite respects the man who gets around and bangs all the widows he can.

But what are the good guys going to do? This plan is CLEARLY going to work. CLEARLY. Nothing, amidst the two weddings and two murders he has planned, is going to go amiss for Count Grendel.

No, wait. The Doctor, Zadek, and Farrah are plotting to storm the Castle Gracht.

The Doctor tells the two of them to amass men and prepare to take the castle while he and K-9 travel into the castle and open the main gates from the inside.

Also, apparently there was a siege of Gracht that lasted two years. I want to know why that was. Maybe the orphans and widows got angry. Or perhaps it was those who were neither orphans nor widows.

Grendel goes to see Princess Strella to see if she’s changed her mind about marrying him. Spoilers, she hasn’t. And she doesn’t care.

He turns to Romana, telling her that this plan is going to happen and she’s going to go along with it, or Princess Strella will be killed. So now he’s blackmailing them into doing it. (Funnily enough, Reynhart at no point asks to see Princess Strella to see if she’s alright. Maybe you should do that…)

As preparations are made, The Doctor and K-9 slowly boat into the castle by cutting a hole in the stone and sneaking through the underbelly of the castle (The Doctor goes on, but K-9 stays to guard the boat).

He’s running out of time, though. Grendel has brought Romana and Reynhart to the Archimandrite so they might be married. They even got dolled up and Romana saw a hairdresser and got some fancy clothing and Reynhart probably took a bath. When did this happen? Is this more of that prison spending Grendel keeps on not caring about? That’s some bad accounting, kids. Take note.


A youtube, of course. And it is supremely choice. Highly recommended and all that, especially because this story is so much about being a high adventure swashbuckling tale, so how do you end a high adventure swashbuckler of a tale?

The Doctor has to fence Count Grendel.

Amidst all of this, Romana manages to save Princess Strella from Grendel’s evil guard and Farrah and Zadek manage to storm The Castle Gracht, so even though Count Grendel gets away, the day is saved and all is well.

The Doctor retrieves Romana from her gossiping lady-talk with Princess Strella and they run off to find the Key to Time. And then Reynhart enters and kisses Princess Strella.

Dude’s sick! Don’t do that! Both of you should know better!

But when the Doctor and Romana look for the Key, they find it missing!

No, wait. The Doctor snuck in there before the duel and pocketed it.

No! Wait! What about K-9!

The Doctor runs out to the ramparts and looks out at the moat only to see K-9 floating in a boat in the middle of the water.

And then The Doctor laughs and K-9 is adorable.


Final Thoughts?: So this rocked. Hard. Seriously, this was so much fun in ways I was not expecting it to be. What I expected to be a story with robots and such turned into a Medieval swashbuckle that was just so much crazy, crazy classic fun.

This episode was exactly the sort of thing that I love about Doctor Who. Sure you have really great episodes that blow you away and they have The Daleks or The Master or a really good writer, but there's always the ones that are just crazy and never talked about and buried gems of crazy fun.

And really, this was really strong Tom Baker. Like, really strong. This piece got a really great performance from him in places where I feel he hasn't been shining so strongly lately. You can tell he's just having a heck of a time and he's in this really great groove that just makes the entire story sparkle that little bit brighter.

That's not to say no one else did a great job. Really, this was a great job all around and everyone was exactly what they needed to be in all the best of ways. Can't recommend this story highly enough, especially because it's just so quintessentially Doctor Who in all the best of ways; in ways I haven't quite seen out of the Classic series lately.

And I still bloody love K-9.

Next Time!: 4th Doctor! A giant swamp! A giant squid! And folk who live in the swamp and worship the squid through jazzercising! Cassandra's back on Wednesday for the penultimate installment of The Key to Time!

No comments:

Post a Comment